Protestants say: 66 of them; Catholics: 73 of them.
Who is right, and how do we know?
Why the Canon is Key
Underlying every difference between Catholics and Protestants is the issue of authority.
Protestants say their sole infallible authority is the (66-book) Bible.
Catholics say it is the (73-book) Bible + Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium.
It makes eminent sense then to dig into which books make up the Bible, for we do not agree on that point, and further we don’t agree on whether it is the sole infallible rule of faith or not.
If we can get to the bottom of the canon of Scripture, it will shine light on the broader question of whether Catholicism or Protestant is true.
(As a heads-up, I’m offering a free webinar on how to help your Protestant friend understand the issue of the canon and why Catholicism is true; register for it here.)
Principled vs. Arbitrary
We say a position is principled if it is consistent with some principle, and we say one is arbitrary if it does not follow any principle.
An arbitrary position may be based on a feeling, or a whim, or an intuition, or a bias. It may be true, but it has no logical progression from a principle that we can follow to know whether it is true.
For the canon of Scripture, Catholics have a principled reason supporting their canon:
God protects the Church from error in her doctrines on faith and morals
The canon of Scripture is a doctrine that pertains to faith
Therefore we can have confidence that the Catholic canon of Scripture is true
The Protestant position on the canon cannot say the same, because Protestants reject the authority of the Church. They, beginning with Martin Luther 500 years ago, claim that the Church can and has erred many times on faith and morals.
So the first premise, that God protects the Church’s teachings from error, is rejected from the outset. Protestants further confound themselves by claiming that the contents of the inspired books of the Bible are the sole infallible authority.
But, and pay close attention here, that claim only pertains to the contents of the books themselves, and does not include the discernment of which books those are!
What a pickle.
The result is that the Protestant position that a particular set of 66 books are inspired (and none others) is arbitrary.
Protestants Don’t Like Pickles
Protestants don’t want to have such a dilemma. So they try to solve it:
John Calvin claimed the Scriptures were self-authenticating. Therefore a Christian could tell an inspired book from an uninspired one as easily telling “white from black, and sweet from bitter”.
The implausibility of Calvin’s opinion is demonstrated through many facts: if the canon were so obvious…
Why didn’t the early Church immediately identify it?
Why did even the most faithful early Christians disagree on the canon?
Why did it take til 367 AD for the first Christian to list the 27 books of the New Testament, without ambiguity?
Why do Christians today disagree on the books of the Bible?
Why isn’t the first test we give to someone becoming a Christian to read 100 books and tell us which are inspired vs. not?
Calvin was wrong, of course, on this and on many issues, and he has led millions astray in the past five centuries.
Other Protestants simply give up and say that their starting point presupposes their canon. They begin with those 66 books, via a blind leap of faith, and go from there.
How to Argue for the Catholic Canon
It is thus indispensable for a Catholic to know the arguments for the canon of Scripture and to bring it up with their Protestant friends. Most Protestants have never thought about the issue, taking for granted the Bibles handed to them as children.
I’m offering a free webinar to talk in detail about how you can help your Protestant friend see the truth of the Catholic Church by explaining the canon of Scripture to them.
Have you hit a wall in growing in holiness? For a long time I feel that I have.
Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know how to overcome this, but then I discovered an old practice that all the saints partook in to help them grow close to God.
A Reader Hits a Spiritual Wall
I’ll share it with you below, but first this question from a reader, who emailed me a year ago echoing my own struggle:
I’m a Catholic convert, going on about 10 years now. I think what has been a continual struggle for me as I grow deeper in the faith is the question “how do I grow in virtue?”
I come from a Calvinistic background. We focused a little bit on “discipleship,” but there was no concept of holiness, growing in holiness, disciplining the flesh. When one believes in the “once saved, always saved” mentality, growing in virtue or doing good deeds are not necessities, but secondary in importance. (At least in my experience.)
Anyway, as a Catholic, I do lots of spiritual reading, participate in the sacraments, especially Confession, as much as I can. This helps, and I know this is a lifelong process. But, I have yet to really find out the best steps or a systematic way to grow in holiness, or the virtues, as a serious Catholic.
I know a life of penance and fasting regularly certainly helps also, whether it’s Lent, Fridays, Advent, special fasts or intentions or penances. For those of us who are (hopefully) not in serious sin, but trying to do our best, I just don’t know how to go to the next level. I don’t know how to get beyond the same level in the spiritual life of not being in mortal sin, but not being a model of virtue either. I just feel at a loss, even when I ask priests. I have never gotten a practical answer.
Amen! I could have asked this same question. And for a year, I didn’t have an answer for this reader.
Then I watched this video:
Meditation? Hmm, I’ve heard of it, read about it, have no clue how to do it.
Meditation: What Is It?
Quite simply, meditation is a form of prayer where you focus your mind for a period of time on some attribute of God, Christ, His Church, etc.
For instance, you could spend 10 minutes meditating in silence on God’s goodness, or His omnipotence, or His omniscience, or Christ’s life on earth, His Passion, the marks of the Church, and so on.
It will be hard at first. You may only make it through five minutes. You may have to go into a completely quiet room or church to block out distractions. Your mind may jump around everywhere to worries, tasks you need to do, or fears, but you simply train it back to your topic of meditation.
This is not Eastern Mysticism, Buddhist meditation, centering prayer, or anything like that. It is an ancient Catholic practice of prayer.
Meditation: A Key to Growing in Holiness
Why meditate? Fr. Ripperger answers that question above: one cannot become as holy as God wills without meditation. The saints all meditated (and ascended to higher levels of prayer). One cannot conquer venial sin without meditation, a claim I had never heard before!
Meditation is the gateway to deeper forms of prayer, but you can’t bypass it. Years ago I read books by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila–two saints considered geniuses on prayer–but it was too deep for me. I couldn’t understand, practically, how to meditate and begin to penetrate into the inner levels of the Interior Castle.
In Fr. Ripperger’s talk he lays out very practical, simple ways to meditate. Sit or kneel in silence for as long as you are able meditating on some truth of the Catholic Faith. Your goal should be 15 minutes of meditation. For me that means about 7 minutes in the morning and 8 in the evening, but I’m working up to more.
Why Haven’t We Been Told About Meditation?
I have asked priests; the reader who emailed me had asked a priest. None could answer the simple question of how to grow in holiness. None recommended meditation.
Why? Were they hiding this secret?
No, I think that most priests don’t know about meditation. Like so many traditional practices, it has been largely forgotten.
It was only through my wife finding this video on YouTube and sharing it with me did I find a straightforward explanation of meditation and why it is valuable.
What I love about this new-to-me practice is that it is not mysterious or secret or even very difficult: you kneel, you quietly pray and meditate on a truth of God.
This is basic meditation. You will grow closer to God through it.
Are you looking for a way to grow in holiness this Lent? Commit to meditating for 15 minutes per day, either in the morning, at night, or splitting it up into two sessions.
To teach the theology of the body, Christopher West tells a story about two bishops seeing a prostitute:
The following story illustrates what mature Christian purity looks like. Two bishops walked out of a Cathedral just as a scantily clad prostitute passed by.
One bishop immediately turned away. The other bishop looked at her intently. The bishop who turned away exclaimed, ‘Brother bishop, what are you doing? Turn your eyes!’ When the bishop turned around, he lamented with tears streaming down his face, ‘How tragic that such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.’
Which one of those bishops was vivified with the ethos of redemption? Which one had passed over from merely meeting the demands of the law to a superabounding fulfillment of the law? (From West’s Theology of the Body Explained, revised edition, p. 215).
A striking story, to be sure. It leads me to ask myself: “Am I truly free? Have I been “vivified by the ethos of redemption”? Or am I merely meeting the “demands of the law” in avoiding to look at a scantily clad woman, for fear of lusting?
West’s version of this story has cropped up a few times in my life as a Catholic, first with a young Catholic woman that I courted a few years after my conversion to Catholicism.
She had been learning about the theology of the body, primarily through Christopher West’s work, and she had introduced me to it for the first time.
I was excited and intrigued by what I learned in the theology of the body, and she and I discussed it often.
One day, we were going to Blockbuster video to rent a movie (yes, I realize this dates me horribly; for younger folks, this was a video rental chain where you went to rent physical DVDs or VHS movies). Blockbuster was pretty awful: every tenth movie you came across featured scantily clad women and some kind of lewdness.
At this point in my Catholic life, I was still struggling with overcoming pornography and lustful sins. I suggested to my girlfriend that I disliked going into Blockbuster because it meant having to face temptation to lust, or at the least have seeds of temptation planted by seeing so many provocative video covers.
She responded by saying: “So you are like the bishop who looked away from the prostitute. You’ve not truly internalized the theology of the body but are only avoiding looking at women because you will lust.”
I was hurt by her words, and at the time I also felt them to be unfair. Here I was, striving to become strong in chastity, but still on the journey, and I was being criticized for not having arrived already at the destination.
Naturally, we got into an argument about it, and we ended up not going to Blockbuster. While that courtship eventually ended, it was a good learning experience for me (and hopefully for her).
What Do I Have to Do to Be Free?
Fast forward 13 years later. I’m happily married with two children. And by God’s grace, I overcame pornography addiction and lustful sins. I am free from them and their power over me, and yet I remain on guard against temptation, knowing that I am not in Heaven yet.
He told me that, while he appreciated confession, Mass, the Rosary, devotions, spiritual direction, and so on, he doesn’t think those things are capable of helping a man retrain his heart to see women without lusting after them. At best, they are necessary, but not sufficient, means to achieve purity.
I told him that the course also includes many truths from the theology of the body. But he didn’t think that that was enough either. He explained that he had grown in purity so much that he is never tempted to look at pornography or to lust, and that this type of healing and retraining can only occur through a specific kind of therapy, one that he himself coaches men on.
Now, he said, he is able to look at any woman without being tempted to lust. He went on to say that if any man isn’t at that place yet, then he is really just at the “avoidance” level of purity, only able to avert his eyes and not really free.
Sound familiar? It’s the Two Bishops story once again. Prayers and confession, the sacraments and spiritual disciplines are all well and good, I hear my friend saying, but they don’t lead to true purity. Even learning and understanding the theology of the body is not enough. The virtue of purity must be attained by some other, or at least additional, means than these traditional Catholic practices.
Another Take on the Two Bishops
I am willing to ask myself: “Have I just gotten good at avoiding temptations to lust? Am I not truly free?”
As I reflected on those questions, I could only answer “I don’t know.” I suspect my friend is off the mark, a bit too sanguine about the state of redeemed man and concupiscence, but I am not God and can’t tell you the level of my virtue. Perhaps I have simply not undergone a strong enough test to truly prove me a fraud in this regard.
But I would also answer that it doesn’t matter that much. If the net result in both cases is living chastely, then however one got there, however one may still be tempted, is immaterial. If I’m living virtuously even though it may be very hard, even though I have to avert my gaze from the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, I’m acting in a way that is pure, interiorly and exteriorly, by God’s grace.
One does not conquer pornography and lust on one’s own steam. It requires grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist itself, the Church teaches, strengthens us against future mortal sin. God hasn’t been keeping the remedies to sin and the aids to virtue secret from us. They are there in plain sight, for all to receive and have been since the founding of His Church.
“In some temptations, the only solution is to escape, to not be ashamed to escape, to recognize that we are weak and we have to escape.” — St. Therese of Lisieux
The truth is that there is a spectrum of virtue between the two bishops. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and one must flee temptation. Other times, having grown heroically strong in virtue, one is called to fight and overcome.
Teachings Old And New
In my course on purity, I highly recommend people read the theology of the body, either in its original form or via an evangelist like Christopher West. I endorse his books and ship them out to people
The teachings of the theology of the body are good, and they are one more weapon to growing in purity. It is vital to arm one’s intellect with the proper understand of the beauty of the human person and the purpose of our sexuality. Learning about these was a key element in my growth in purity.
But we are not all the same. Some men benefit from one tool over another, one devotion over another. And men are at all different stages in their journey to freedom. Men closer to the beginning may need crutches, may need to take radical steps to avoid temptation. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Some men further along in the journey may never need to avert their eyes from a prostitute or swimsuit edition. Others, just as far along, but with a different constitution, may find it prudent to continue averting their eyes. Do we drop the Two Bishops gotcha on them? I don’t think so.
Wiser, in my experience, is to recognize that every man is different, and to encourage each man to try a variety of tactics and tools to grow in purity.
Further, we should never downplay the Church’s time-honored medicines for conquering vice and strengthening virtue. God instituted them for a reason. They have the backing of His grace and power. They come with divine promises of conversion.
About those two bishops: I’m probably somewhere in the spectrum between them. But both are Catholic.