White claim << Now at this point I could present a number of responses that have been offered by Roman Catholic controversialists, but they all share the same circularity: the decision to embrace Rome as the final authority in all things is a fallible decision. It can produce no more certainty than any other human decision. >>
The “fallible decision” argument was demolished by Cardinal Newman in the 19th century, from B.C. Butler’s reply to the “Abridged” Salmon:
Confusing Infallibility with Certainty
It is however encouraging, on reading on a few lines further in the Abridgement [to Salmon’s Infallibility of the Church], to discover what this argument is. It is that
“our belief must, in the end, rest on an act of our own judgment, and can never attain any higher certainty than whatever that may give us.” … “I do not see how a Roman Catholic advocate can help yielding the point that a member of his Church does, in truth, exercise private judgment, once for all, in his decision to submit to the teaching of the Church.” …“The result is, that absolute certainty can only be had on the terms of being infallible one’s self.” (Salmon, pages 15f, 17, 21)
Now no one, so far as I know, has ever maintained that an act of faith, in one who has reached the age of reason, does not involve or imply an act of personal decision, and a Roman Catholic advocate has no inclination to contest this point. The Church teaches that an act of faith is a virtuous act, and no act can be virtuous unless it comes from the intelligence and will of the agent. We do not merely concede the point, we strongly maintain it. But it does not in the least follow that when I say “I believe the Church to be infallible” I am in effect saying “I believe myself to be infallible.” On the contrary, I am saying, “God, in giving the Church as a reliable teacher of his truth, has of course made her recognizable precisely by fallible people like me. She is recognizable, and I recognize her.”
Salmon has confused the notion of infallibility with that of certainty, and he appears to identify the notion of belief with that of certainty, so that (on his showing) any act of belief, whatever the object of the act, is a claim to personal infallibility – a conclusion so paradoxical that it can hardly have been intended by him.
…But though I am certain of my own existence, I am not infallible. Infallibility connotes that one is not liable to error within some whole province of truth – as the Church, according to the Vatican definition, claims infallibility in the province, not of science or politics, but of “faith and morals.” But though I am certain of my own existence, I am not free from my liability to error in the province of metaphysics; I am certain of a particular proposition, I am not infallible in a given science, and many of my judgments in that science may prove to be erroneous, though not the particular judgment (of whose truth I am certain) that I exist.
As usual Cardinal Newman states the distinction between certainty (or as he styles it, certitude) and infallibility with luminous clarity:
"It is very common, doubtless, especially in religious controversy, to confuse infallibility with certitude, and to argue that, since we have not the one, we have not the other, for that no one can claim to be certain on any point, who is not infallible about all; but the two words stand for things quite distinct from each other. For example, I remember for certain what I did yesterday, but still my memory is not infallible; I am quite certain that two and two make four, but I often make mistakes in long addition sums…
“A certitude is directed to this or that particular proposition, it is not a faculty or gift, but a disposition of mind relative to the definite case which is before me. Infallibility, on the contrary, is just that which certitude is not; it is a faculty or gift, and relates, not to some one truth in particular, but to all possible propositions in a given subject-matter. We ought, in strict propriety, to speak not of infallible acts, but of acts of infallibility…I am quite certain that Victoria is our Sovereign, and not her father, the late Duke of Kent, without laying any claim to the gift of infallibility…I may be certain that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal; otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until I am infallible myself…It is wonderful that a clearheaded man, like Chillingworth, sees this as little as the run of everyday objectors to the Catholic Religion…” (Newman, Grammar of Assent, pages 224f)
From Reply to Salmon’s Infallibility (chapter “Alleged Argument in a Circle”)
Not much else in that White article requires a response.