Book Review: The Catholic Verses by Dave Armstrong

I was away on vacation in Vermont last week, where it’s not quite “no phone, no light, no motorcars,” but it’s darn close. Dial-up Internet only, living on a dirt road, no cell phone access at home. Plus, never too hot, surrounded by nature, hummingbirds flying by. It’s just this side of Heaven.

I like to go up there and catch up on my reading. I always tend to buy more books than I have time to read, so it’s nice to spend some time catching up, keeping the backlog as small as I can. I got through about 5-1/2 books last week, and I’ll spend some time reviewing them as time permits.

I had started the Catholic Verses before going on vacation, but finished it after arriving in Vermont. This book takes 95 Verses (get it?) from the Bible that, when properly interpreted, support the Catholic view of Christianity, rather than the Protestant versions. Versions is an important distinction to make given that from even the early days of the Reformation, the early Protestants couldn’t agree on the meaning of the Bible, despite the claim that the Holy Spirit was guiding them to the true interpretation. Armstrong details how those “Reformers” knew their disunity undercut their claims to fidelity to the true Gospel, even as they could never reconcile their differing interpretations. Since that time, Protestantism has continued to split over differing interpretations of Scripture, reproducing new denominations like rabbits. (Sometimes it seems that about the only thing Protestants agree upon is that they are not Catholic.) Even those denominations that can trace themselves directly back to a Reformer often have changed much of their doctrine. Luther, for example, had a devotion to Mary and believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist while modern day Lutherans do not, I believe. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church teaches the same doctrines it taught at the time of the Reformation, which are the same doctrines it had taught in the time of Peter.

Playing upon this difference, Armstrong shows how the early Reformers (usually Calvin and Luther) disagreed amongst themselves about the meaning of Biblical verses. He presents their arguments and then shows why they fail to be convincing when viewed in the context of the entire Bible and early Christian interpretations of Scripture.

His presentation of the Reformers views is one complaint I do have about this book. Armstrong, a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, presents numerous quotes from the early Reformers where they expound on their doctrine, but some of them are so clearly self-contradictory or self-evidently misinterpretations, that I couldn’t help but feel Armstrong was deliberately picking weak arguments and not showing Protestants at their best. If those were indeed the best arguments Protestants could present then Protestantism would have collapsed almost immediately due to intellectual shallowness.

One interesting point though was where he showed Calvin misinterpreted Catholic doctrine on faith versus works and then elucidated a position that was in fact the Catholic position. Armstrong argues that if Catholics had simply promoted the definition of that doctrine as explained by the Council of Trent, the Reformation would have been much less divisive. This actually jives with my experience. I’ve read Protestant statements on this issue and never seen any real difference with what we Catholics believe. (Supporting anecdote: a Catholic acquaintance of mine once was really excited to discuss Catholic versus Protestant views of justification with a priest she knew. Before she could get really into the conversation, he interrupted her and “They believe the same thing we do; they just don’t want to admit it,” ending the conversation.)

That being said, I found his defense of Catholic Biblical interpretation to be spot-on and well-reasoned and the definite strength of this book. It definitely illuminating and worth the read, but I would recommend taking some of the defenses of Protestant doctrines with a grain of salt.

The only true political crime: being conservative

With the crazed reaction to Senator Craig’s screw-up (pun intentional), it’s easy to forget that the former Governor of New Jersey Jim McGreevey has admitted to engaging in anonymous sex in highway rest stops and that a Democrat Congressman is currently charged with assault and battery, and another is under indictment for corruption. And those are just off the top of my head.

There are plenty of examples of corruption and other wrongdoing in both parties, but only one parties offenses make the front page. Seems like the only true crime in American politics is being a conservative. All else can be forgiven.

Quote-a-palooza

“Let me now… warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party generally… A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.” – George Washington

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” – Frederic Bastiat

“We have tried to apply common sense to our pollution problems… There are three kinds of pollution today: real, hysterical, and political.” – Ronald Reagan

“No doubt one may quote history to support any cause, as the devil quotes the Scripture.” – Learned Hand

“Democracies are most commonly corrupted by the insolence of demagogues.” – Aristotle

“Al-Qaida, and its associates and sympathizers throughout the Islamic world and beyond, understand very well what is at stake in Iraq and Afghanistan- and what a glorious opportunity an American defeat there would give them. Do we?” – Paul Greenberg

“What was lost in Vietnam was not just a war but American credibility… And, as Iran reminds us, the enduring legacy of the retreat from Vietnam was the emboldening of other enemies.” – Mark Steyn

“Illegals are responsible for an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 murders each year in the United States… At the lowest estimate, every two years illegals murder almost as many Americans as jihadists in Iraq have killed in the entire war. Instead of bringing the troops home, how about sending the illegals home?” – Don Feder

“Did you know that when a patient is diagnosed with cancer in the United States, it takes an average of four weeks to begin treatment? It’s 10 months in the United Kingdom. It’s called ‘rationing of care.’ That’s what you get with national health care. When government rations the care, that means bureaucrats are making medical decisions.” – Sen. Tom Coburn

“According to the Statesman, the blogger who ‘outed’ [Sen. Larry] Craig did so in order to ‘nail a hypocritical Republican foe of gay rights.’ But there is nothing hypocritical about someone who is homosexual, believes homosexuality is wrong, and keeps his homosexuality under wraps. To the contrary, he is acting consistent with his beliefs. If he has furtive encounters in men’s rooms, that is an act of weakness, not hypocrisy.” – James Taranto

“I do not believe it necessary to amend the Constitution frequently but there are times when an amendment is justified. One such amendment should prohibit politicians from using the phrase ‘I’m going back to my home state to be with my family’.” – Paul Weyrich

“After months of scandals and political pressure, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced he’s going to resign. Gonzales said, ‘There comes a time when a man should resign, and that time for me was last January’.” – Conan O’Brien

Jay Leno: Pretty busy day in Washington today. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove went to U-Haul together to help each other move. … Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a married, conservative Republican, was arrested by a plainclothes police officer for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. Today the senator’s office said it was all a big misunderstanding. The undercover police officer said the senator tried to reach under the stall to touch him, but the senator said, no, he wasn’t trying to touch him, he was only trying to pick up a piece of paper off the floor. Who picks up paper off the floor in the men’s room? I don’t even like when my shoe laces touch the floor in the men’s room. … You know who I feel sorry for in this whole thing? The undercover cop. How’d you like to have that job? Sit in an airport bathroom all day, your pants around your ankles with a coffee and a donut waiting for guys to hit on you. … At a political forum here in Hollywood last week, Hillary Clinton said that she does not support gay marriage. In fact, she said she’s not too crazy about straight marriage anymore, either. … Fred Thompson said he’s still testing the waters in his bid for the presidency. He’s been testing the waters for what, like six months now? In fact, those aren’t wrinkles on his face- he’s starting to prune up from being in the water for so long.