Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #23

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #23 June 2, 2023

Lay Catholic Apologists; Orthodoxy Defined; Rule of Faith; Canon Redux; Protestantism’s Magisterium of Scholars & Ever-Changing Sexual Morality; Comparative Exegesis 

The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) apologist, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism a collection of articles from his site — has graciously been made available for free. On 9 September 2006, Hays was quite — almost extraordinarily — charitable towards me. He wrote then:

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel. . . . I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable. I also don’t dislike him. . . . I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind. In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent. For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind. 

Two-and-a-half years later, starting in April 2009 and up through December 2011 (in the following quotations) his opinion radically changed, and he claimed that I have “an evil character,” am “actually evil,” “ego-maniac, narcissist,” “idolater,” “self-idolater,” “hack who pretends to be a professional apologist,” given to “chicanery,” one who doesn’t “do any real research,” “a stalwart enemy of the faith . . .  no better than [the atheists] Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” with an intent to “destroy faith in God’s word,” “schizophrenic,” “emotionally unhinged,” one who “doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation,” “has no peace of mind,” “a bipolar solipsist,” “split-personality,” and a “bad” man. He wasn’t one to mince words! See more gory details.

I feel no need whatsoever to reciprocate these silly and sinful insults. I just wanted the record to be known. I’ve always maintained that Hays was a very intelligent man, but habitually a sophist in methodology; sincere and well-meaning, but tragically and systematically wrong and misguided regarding Catholicism. That’s what I’m addressing, not the state of his heart and soul (let alone his eternal destiny). It’s a theological discussion. This is one of many planned critiques of his book (see my reasons why I decided to do this). Rather than list them all here, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.


[Chapter 8: Canonics]

The gates of hell shall not prevail

Like so many Catholic apologists, Williams is a layman. Not a Catholic theologian like Karl Rahner or Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Not a graduate of a Catholic seminary. [p. 403]

Like so many Catholic apologists, G. K. Chesterton was a layman. Not a Catholic theologian like Karl Rahner or Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Not a graduate of a Catholic seminary or even of any college. Like so many Catholic apologists, Peter Kreeft is a layman. Not a Catholic theologian like Karl Rahner or Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Not a graduate of a Catholic seminary, but a philosopher.

Like so many Catholic apologists, Malcom Muggeridge, Frank Sheed, and Thomas Howard were laymen. Not graduates from Catholic seminary, but a journalist, a lawyer, and an English professor. Etc., etc. ad infinitum. Like so many Protestant apologists (among whom he is widely considered to have been the best), C. S. Lewis was a layman. Not a graduate of a Protestant seminary or Bible college, but a professor of literature. Etc., etc.

What we’re getting from him is the usual version of Catholicism presented by lay Catholic apologists. An idealized, retro version of Catholicism. [p. 403]

In other words, they present and defend Catholic orthodoxy: the actual teaching of the Church, not the dishonest pseudo-version presented by theological liberals and dissidents, whom Hays ridiculously and quixotically pretends are the magisterium and gold standard of Catholicism. It’s a constant theme of his, but the endless repeating of a lie makes it no less of a lie or no stronger an argument.

A version of Catholicism that’s well to the right of mainstream Catholic scholarship (e.g. Bible scholars, church historians). [p. 403]

Of course it is, because these scholars Hays has in mind are to the left of the norm and the standard: the “radical center” of orthodoxy. But almost all reputable Catholic apologists are in the center of the spectrum: orthodox.

Well to the right of the contemporary hierarchy. [p. 403]

Since no infallible doctrine has been changed, this is untrue as well. They are orthodox as a group. Individuals may be, and are, heterodox on this or that issue, but as individuals they have no magisterial authority, anymore than scholars do, as persons or as a group.

From a Protestant perspective, “Scripture” (or the Bible) is the inspired record of God’s public, propositional revelation. By “public”, I mean a revelation that’s normative at every time and place–unlike a topical private revelation to provide guidance to a particular individual in a particular situation. [p. 403]

From a Catholic perspective, “Scripture” (or the Bible) is the inspired record of God’s public, propositional revelation. By “public”, I mean a revelation that’s normative at every time and place–unlike a topical private revelation to provide guidance to a particular individual in a particular situation.

If there is no viable or comparable alternative to Scripture (as defined), then by process of elimination, sola Scriptura is the only remaining option. [p. 403]

But of course there is, because that same inspired revelation teaches that authoritative tradition and a Church exist, and are infallible under certain defined conditions. The Bible itself teaches a “three-legged stool” rule of faith, not sola Scriptura.

In that respect, the sufficiency of Scripture is defined by contrast to the alternatives. They are insufficient. Indeed, they are false alternatives. You don’t have to prove sola Scriptura or the sufficiency of Scripture directly; rather, you only have to disprove rival paradigms. [p. 403]

The formal sufficiency of Scripture is defined by contrast to the alternative, sola Scriptura. It is insufficient. Indeed, it’s a false and unbiblical alternative. We can not only disprove sola Scriptura from Scripture, but also prove our rival paradigm from the Bible.

If Scripture is the only source of God’s public, propositional revelation, then it naturally enjoys a certain primacy in relation to other sources of information or belief. Divine revelation is normative in a way that nonrevelatory sources or putative candidates are not. [p. 403]

In terms of being inspired yes, but in terms of infallible authority, the norms of faith, and the rule of faith, no. Sacred Tradition and the Catholic Church are also infallible and interpretive norms. Scripture can be primary in one sense and equal in others, to tradition and the Church, and works in tandem with them, just as God the Father has “monarchical primacy” in one sense, and is equal in others, to God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, and works in tandem with them.

[T]he sufficiency of Scripture doesn’t rule out the necessity of extrabiblical evidence to identify Scripture and interpret Scripture. [p. 404]

That’s correct. But if the latter sources are used, they are merely fallible, so the standard of authority and the certainty are considerably less. And that is a real epistemological problem for Protestants (in terms of canonicity), whether they realize it or not. R. C. Sproul did, to his credit. Hays did not, and continued to play games and pretend that there was no inherent difficulty in such a scenario.

Feser fizzles

Catholic apologists typically ignore the internal evidence for the canon. It’s important to draw attention to that line of evidence. [p. 415]

That disregards the amount of internal evidence for the inspiration of Scripture and the canon of Scripture. [p. 418]

I don’t. In my article, “Are All the Biblical Books Self-Evidently Canonical?” (6-22-06), I wrote at the end:

The Bible can’t be used to produce an argument based on what individual biblical books supposedly claim, when they don’t in fact claim it. . . . I don’t deny any “self-attestation”; I only deny that this alone was sufficient to establish a known canon with definite boundaries, or that it is as sweeping a characteristic of “all” the biblical books as some Protestants make out.

Likewise, in my article, “Are All Bible Books Self-Evidently Inspired?” (6-19-06), the first draft of what later appeared in my book, The One-Minute Apologist (2007), I observed:

There are indeed several internal biblical evidences of inspiration and canonicity, yet (despite this fact), there were many differences in the early Church regarding biblical books. . . . nothing illustrates the falsity of the claim of “self-attesting” books better than the history of the process of canonization itself. . . . If everything were so obvious, how could there be so many differences? . . . Believers in the early Church (such as St. Athanasius or St. Augustine) were just as zealous for the Bible and Christian truth as Christians today. Yet they often disagreed on this score. . . .

It’s very easy to make such (somewhat logically circular) claims, and “hindsight is 20-20”; however, there is no way to test or disprove (or, for that matter, prove) them other than by looking at what actually happened in history. . . . The fact remains that there were disagreements because some books were not all that clearly inspired (and other non-biblical books seemed to be).

I also cited F. F. Bruce in agreement:

[O]nly one book of the New Testament explicitly claims prophetic inspiration. (The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 280-281)

I think Bruce was referring to Revelation: “the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:18) and “the book of this prophecy” (22:19). 2 Timothy 3:16 states that “All scripture is inspired” but of course Paul in that letter doesn’t identify which books these are. I cited another opinion of Bruce’s, too:

It is unlikely, for example, that the Spirit’s witness would enable a reader to discern that Ecclesiastes is the word of God while Ecclesiasticus is not . . . (Ibid., 281-282)

None of this is in line with Hays’ fanciful view that every single book is self-evidently inspired, thus precluding any need for authoritative Church pronouncements. Had Hays been around in, say, AD 200, surely he would have (so it would seem from his confident rhetoric) correctly identified (167 years before Athanasius) every single biblical book in both Testaments, and would have (as an extra bonus) declared that anyone who didn’t agree with him either: 1) couldn’t comprehend what was so plain in the Bible (i.e., was stupid), 2) had a judgment clouded by sin, 3) was deliberately dishonest, and/or 4) had a nefarious “Catholic agenda” complete with the obligatory circular reasoning and “infallibility regress.”

Actually, there are contemporary Catholic commentators who often admit that traditional Catholic exegesis was wrong, and Protestants were right. [p. 417]

DUH! No kidding! Seeing that the Church has only required one definitive interpretation of a mere 7-9 Bible passages, then all the other thousands could be interpreted differently, and many times (as in all fields of knowledge ands scholarship) a Protestant exegete may have been right, and one or many Catholics wrong. None of this adversely affects infallibility in the least, because it is overwhelmingly not in play. Protestant polemicists (at least anti-Catholic ones) seem constitutionally unable to comprehend how “free” Catholic exegetes are. I’ll keep telling them the truth about that. Maybe over decades it’ll eventually sink into their thick skulls.

Moreover, sometimes Protestant exegetes massively support positions regarded as “Catholic distinctives” in a way that Steve would vehemently disagree with, such as, for example, the thirty I have documented who agree that Peter was the “Rock.” Truth is truth, wherever it comes from.

Sola scriptura . . . denies the infallibility of the church. [p. 418]

Thank you, and of sacred tradition, too. Protestants, defending this false doctrine, often overlook what it denies, over against what it asserts. What it denies (and what it contradicts in the Bible) is what Catholic apologists usually focus upon.

[T]he Catholic formulation of the Trinity isn’t all that rigorous. Consider Karl Rahner’s reformulations. [p. 419]

First of all (I reiterate for the umpteenth time) one man doesn’t definitively speak for the Church (unless it’s the pope, and even then under very specific conditions). Hays seems to perpetually project onto us the “magisterium of head counts of scholars” that in effect, functions as the Protestant authority structure. It’s a “sociological magisterium,” if you will. If lots of good ol’ evangelical and Calvinist scholars say one thing (a form of both the ad populum and genetic fallacies), then it becomes gospel truth (at least for a time). We don’t function that way, and it would be nice if Hays (not an unintelligent man) could have figured this out.

Secondly, I don’t know if Rahner “reformulated” the Trinity in heretical terms or not. I’d have to see what he wrote and thought about it. Chances are it was a legitimate development. But I certainly wouldn’t take Hays’ bald assertion of this, rather than actually examining it. If he wants to make such a claim, then he needs to present the evidence. But that was habitually too laborious for him to do. He wants to make the potshots and then retreat and laugh about people’s reactions, rather than seriously discuss the topic with an open mind.

Protestant scholars — in a burst of “inspiration” no doubt — figured out after 1930 that contraception was fine and dandy, even though no Christian group had ever held the position before that time. “Everyone” eventually started believing it in Protestant circles (especially after 1960 and the Pill), and so it then became okay! Then killjoy Pope St. Paul VI expressed the traditional Christian teaching in 1968: that it was not okay, and continued to be grave sin, since moral truths don’t change.

Recently, by the way, Pope Francis (supposedly a flaming liberal dissident, according to Hays and even many deluded or misinformed Catholics these days)  upheld and reaffirmed unchanging Catholic teaching on contraception. And it’s been like this with one moral (especially sexual) teaching after another in Protestant circles. Lots of Protestant denominations now think abortion is fine, and sodomy, and “gay marriage” and cohabitation and masturbation and divorce and euthanasia and self-mutilating sterilization procedures. You name it. I replied to arguments from Steve Hays regarding masturbation in 2007 (and — rarity of rarities! — he actually directly interacted with me a bit, before he decided I was “evil”). He claimed he wasn’t for or agin’ it, but then talked about it as a “sexual safety valve” and wrote that “the morality of masturbation is debatable”.

[A]llegorical exegesis is contrary to how later Bible writers interpret earlier Bible writers. [p. 419]

Really? Not always. St. Paul in Galatians 4:21-31 explicitly states about aspects of the story of Hagar and Sarah, “Now this is an allegory” (4:24). In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 Paul provides an allegorical interpretation of the injunction to not muzzle an ox when it is plowing corn, comparing that to the obligation to pay Christian workers. In Romans 5:14 he refers to “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, etc. There are many such examples.

Can we be sure?

[Y]ou offer no counterargument. Rather, you simply push the rewind button and replay your prerecorded message. . . . All you have is slogans. You have nothing to back up the slogans. . . . Do you think it’s clever for you to offer these snappy, unintelligent comebacks? Don’t try to
be clever at the expense of intellectual honesty or comprehension. . . . I notice that when your claims are challenged, you have nothing in reserve. So you just repeat the original claim. You don’t rebut the counterargument. [pp. 449-451]

These are remarkably accurate descriptions of Steve’s own frequent methodology. He can see and object to it in others but not in his own rhetoric and polemics.

Modern Catholicism treats Scripture as eminently fallible. [p. 449]

This is a lie. Catholicism treats Holy Scripture as it always has: as inerrant inspired revelation. See: “Vatican II and the Inerrancy of the Bible,” by Jeffrey Pinyan (10-10-10), “Vatican II Upheld Biblical Inerrancy (vs. David Palm)” [4-23-20], and “The Inerrancy of Scripture and the Second Vatican Council,” by Mark Joseph Zia, Faith & Reason, 2006.


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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.

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