In continuing to reflect on the audacity of Called to Communion’s justification for their attachment to Rome, I was struck by Bryan Cross’ Jesuitical efforts to distinguish the Roman Catholic from the Protestant convert’s determination to join the church he believes is true. In the post on sola scriptura that ran for miles, Cross wrote this:
The objection is understandable, but it can be made only by those who do not see the principled difference between the discovery of the Catholic Church, and joining a Protestant denomination or congregation. Of course a person during the process of becoming Catholic is not under the authority of the Church. At that stage, he or she is like the Protestant in that respect. But the Catholic finds something principally different, and properly finds it by way of qualitatively different criteria. The Protestant is seeking a group of persons who believe, teach and practice what his interpretation of Scripture indicates was the belief, teaching and practice of the Apostles. He retains his final interpretive authority so long as he remains Protestant. No Protestant denomination has the authority to bind his conscience, because [in his mind] the Church must always remains subject to Scripture, which really means that the Church must always remains subject to [his interpretation of] Scripture, or at least that he is not ultimately subject to anyone’s interpretation but his own.
The person becoming Catholic, by contrast, is seeking out the Church that Christ founded. He does this not by finding that group of persons who share his interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he locates in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say and do viz-a-viz the transmission of teaching and interpretive authority, traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. By finding the Magisterium, he finds something that has the divine authority to bind the conscience.
In other words, part of Cross’ point is that the Roman Catholic converts finds a church that has antiquity and apostolic succession on its side.
Fine. But since other churches also claim to be successors to the apostles, why isn’t the Roman Catholic doing exactly what the Protestant does? The Eastern churches have as much apostolic succession and antiquity on their side (probably more) as Rome. So the convert who comes across the importance of apostolic succession and history now needs to decide whether or not to join Rome or one of the Orthodox communions. At which point, the convert needs to choose a church that aligns with his own understanding of apostolic succession and antiquity. In the case of the convert to Rome, to use Cross’ words, he “retains final interpretive authority” so long as he needs to decide how to apply the standards of apostolic succession to the communions that claim it.
Like I say, coming to truth requires interpretation and personal choice. I understand the appeal of submission to higher authorities and relinquishing the mess that comes with discernment. But the CTC solution (and supporting rationale) resembles Homer Simpson’s wish for a Land of Chocolate.