A silly little "what-if?" of the kind raised by Anti-Catholic Protestant fundamentalists


Let’s pretend for a moment.

Let’s pretend that I look at all the doctrine publicly promulgated by the Catholic Church, read my way through the Catechism, a few papal encyclicals, some Canon Law, and I conclude that in everything the Catholic Church appears to teach in accordance with the truth. Not only this, but I also look at the fruits that this doctrine bears in the good works carried out by Catholics in the world, and the love they have for God and one another, and I look at the marks Jesus says His Church will have in the Bible and see that the Catholic Church conforms to all of them.

Now let’s say that conclusion leads me to put my faith in the Church as the infallible teacher that Christ established through Peter and the apostles to proclaim His gospel on earth.

So far, so true.

Now, let’s just pretend that somewhere hidden deep in the vaults of the Vatican was a document no ordinary Catholic is allowed to see that says that Satan is the true lord whom the Church serves, and only preaches an exact copy of true Christian doctrine and encourages good works to ensnare God’s elect.

If I’ve put my faith in the Church on the basis that it teaches God’s word, and all I’ve ever seen of what the Church teaches says that it’s God’s word, and I believe in the Church because I want to please God, and even if I ask my priest or a bishop or even the Pope “is there anything else to our faith?” and they answer “no, that’s it.”

Would I be saved?

Or, to put the question another way, is it ever right for a human being to completely surrender his/her freedom of conscience to another person/organisation to formulate beliefs for him/her that he/she has no knowledge of.

Let me just clarify - I do not believe that the Catholic Church is the instrument of Satan, however, I do still have some issues with the idea of trusting not only in all the doctrine I’ve read and understand, but in any doctrine that the Church has ever, or could ever, promulgate, now or in the future, without knowing that I have assented to it.


Well, the RCC does not expect anyone to surrender his/her freedom of conscience to any person or organization so I fail to see the issue.


But if I say that I trust in all the teachings of the Church, and such a ‘secret’ teaching were to exist without my knowledge, I would have put my trust in it, right?


No. How can you trust in a teaching if you do not know the teaching? You are expected, as an adult Catholic, to form your conscience and then follow it. If the Church revealed a teaching such as you posit, you would be required to submit such teaching to your conscience and then follow your conscience. You can look in the Catechism for information on following your “fully formed” conscience.


Let’s put it this way–when we can clearly see that the truth resides completely within the Church how could it have any such document? Did Jesus set up a church of Satan? Did Jesus not declare that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church? Did Jesus not tell us that a house divided against itself cannot stand?

If you truly believe a document declaring the Catholic Church is of Satan then you’d have to believe that Jesus never established his Church in the first place. You’d be worse off than you were, since you could not trust the words of Christ himself.


OK, I’m literally playing Devil’s Advocate here, but if I can ‘see’ from what’s available that the Truth resides completely within the Church, then I put my trust in that Church. If there is something that I’m not seeing, I’m still trusting it. If that thing is not true, then I’m trusting in something that is untrue and unknown to me. That’s a scary proposition.

Of course, I don’t actually BELIEVE that the Church is of Satan, what I’m saying is, is it healthy to believe in something before one has seen or evaluated it? That, as I understand it, is what the Church expects us to do with doctrine. Although we are supposed to follow conscience in evaluating the doctrine we do see and do know or find out about, we’re also supposed to trust that the Church is right even about the stuff we don’t know or see. I have a slight problem with that.


Can you show the section of the Catechism or some other Church teaching that states “we’re also supposed to trust that the Church is right even about the stuff we don’t know or see.”.


I would ask the person who held this theory to tell me where shall I go then?


OK, I misunderstood. I was looking at certain passages of the Catechism, esp.

"156 What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived”.28 So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.“29 Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind”.30”

And subsequent passages about believing despite being ‘in darkness’ in the wrong context. The context of being ‘in darkness’ was about having hope in God in spite of obvious suffering in the world, not about believing despite being in ignorance. The passage above is about ‘revealed’ truths and is AGAINST blind faith, and about people being moved to believe because of the obvious sign of God’s blessing on the Church, made apparent through the Holy Spirit in us, not just believing because the Church says it has the Holy Spirit.

In that context, my concern makes no sense.

Thank you all.


Awesome! Thanks especially for the full explanation, it can be very helpful for all of us to see what led to the question and how you resolved it. God Bless you.


R.J. Neuhaus addressed this type of thing pretty well in his book Catholic Matters–I think his example question was “what if the Catholic Church tomorrow infallibly declared Mary as part of the Godhead, constituting one corner of a Holy Quaternity?” If it makes you feel better, Neuhaus doesn’t appear to consider such questions “silly.” However, he persuasively argues that being ruled by such questions is to let one’s fears set the terms and be our effective leaders in all important matters–it’s the same fundamental error in focus as asking “what if God really means evil for me, rather than good?” Quoting JP2, Neuhaus urges (as one can never do often enough to folks as fearful and faithless as I tend to be) “Be not afraid!” God’s not sharpening a knife or setting a trap for us. And if the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, then neither is she.


I’m glad you were able to see your way clear through this difficulty. I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about what the Church expects us to believe and why. It’s good to settle our minds about such things, and it’s even better that the Church itself has helps for us to do that, isn’t it? :slight_smile:


Such a question wouldn’t be an issue for me, I believe in the Catholic Church because I believe that it is the Church that Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail against. If something like that error was proclaimed, I’d simply leave and repent of having been in error about which Church was the true one of Christ’s promise. I don’t believe Christ would hold such a mistake against any of us. I don’t think the Church would teach us to stay in the face of such blatant error, but it formulates our conscience to discern truth. That’s probably the surest guarantee of continued truth, is that Catholics have been taught by their obedience to be discerning people, and would spot an error like that (or even a much smaller error) a mile off. I also don’t believe that it would be possible, on reflexion, for the Church to conceal some evil ‘secret teaching’ without it affecting the fruits of its faith, and thus being brought to light.

I’d be interested to know what Neuhaus’s answer was, beyond simply ‘fear not’.


Our conscience is not a teacher. Conscience is a pupil. Our conscience looks to truth. Truth is a person. He speaks through His Church. To submit to the authority of the Church is to submit to Christ. To think the Church is false in some way would be to deny His authority.


Sure–and if one believes that, then everything else follows. The OP’s question may be most germane to Protestants like me, who approach the possibility of conversion with a dearth of information, and with a lot of uncertainties and nebulous suspicions. For my part, Neuhaus’s response was helpful in mollifying one or two of them.

I’d be interested in recalling the details of the full argument myself, but can’t, and I no longer have the book in front of me–serves me right for stiffing Father N. on his royalties and checking the book out from a library! Anyone who shelled out $$ for Catholic Matters would do both of us posters a service by reminding me.



Truth cannot contradict truth. At least not in the Catholic Church.


I understand this question completely. As a would-be Catholic, I am struggling with the vast teachings of the Church, and wondering if I will come to any basic understanding before I die - or if any other layperson has the same bag of belief-bits that I have, or the others have.

And I have had the idea of accepting the authority of the Church blindly (even if I have not heard of the doctrine yet) presented to me. I find it disturbing as OP does.

Dallas Catholic, you are a good person, and I trust you. I don’t know where it is in the CCC, but it was sure fed to me on the thread I started ***Help! Catholic would-be drowning in doctrine!***, and a second Help! Is my free being eradicated by the teachings of the Church? (I think that was the title). They are just moving to closure, and I was fascinated at some of the replies I received.

I am not much clearer than I was before I asked the questions, and as a child of the 21st century, I too am reluctant to give up a degree of independence wrt understanding doctrine (I can explore, but must ultimately conclude as the Magisterium concludes), and the authority the Church claims over my intellect, my spirit, and my intimate relationship with God. I understand why the Church makes the claim, but find it virtually impossible to respond appropriately.


Why, to Luther, of course. :slight_smile:


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