Action Alert!

Beating Private Judgment’s Dead Horse

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 06, 2011

OK, I admit it. I’m into this topic right now (see, in the past week, this and that). I had another exchange with a Protestant who believes that the meaning of Scripture is fairly plain, and—since Christ promised he would send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth (Jn 16:13)—then with a little application and study, we can decide rightly what the Word of God means all by ourselves.

This is a common theory, and I haven’t been able to make any headway with my correspondent in raising the question of how we handle disagreements among those who are equally empowered by the Holy Spirit. Among other comments, he offers this clearly sincere paragraph:

If I cannot assert what scripture means then why study it and find its meaning? I have good warrant to prefer my understandings of Scripture because mine are based on my study of the Word and I took the time to learn the meanings. I did not get them from some institution that has bias built into its structures of teaching. God forbid that the RCC change a teaching since they can never be wrong by definition.

Well, I won’t keep you. But today I’m simply wondering which of the following is easier to believe:

  1. The Holy Spirit guarantees that each of us will properly understand the truths of Revelation on our own, though this idea didn’t develop until the 16th century and we all disagree with each other constantly about these truths, even after significant study.
  2. The Holy Spirit guarantees that Peter and his successors will not defect in Faith and further guarantees them the power to confirm the Faith in others (see, for example, Lk 22:32), given that this is what the early Church demonstrably believed and that Peter and his successors have never contradicted each other over a 2,000 year period.

I know, I know, it’s a tough one.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: hartwood01 - May. 11, 2011 10:44 PM ET USA

    Our Protestant friend is too easy of a target.

  • Posted by: FredC - May. 08, 2011 2:59 PM ET USA

    Your Protestant friend would be right were it not for sin, including original sin. The Holy Spirit will not over-ride our free will, which influences (clouds) our intellect.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - May. 06, 2011 9:58 PM ET USA

    Incredibly difficult! It's easy to rely but it's hard to think and reason it out for oneself - what do I really believe and why? This is work for the Holy Spirit! But we need to pray - and live our Fatih authentically! What was it St. Francis said, something like "go out and preach, use words if you must."

  • Posted by: - May. 06, 2011 4:41 PM ET USA

    "I have good warrant to prefer my understandings of Scripture because mine are based on my study of the Word and I took the time to learn the meanings." - and everyone else who disagrees with me, ipso facto, has not studied the word and did not take time to learn the meanings. Your correspondent has set himself up as his own Pope, infallible but without the burden of tradition or a Council!