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#36: How Protestantism Laid the Foundations of Modern Secularism—Dr. Alan Fimister

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

Dr. Alan Fimister and Martin Luther

One of the reasons I became Catholic is I realized that protestantism had laid perhaps the sharpest ax to the foundations of Christian civilization. It did so by destroying the social nature, and thus influence, of religion. By denying that God had established an infallible Church through which the true faith could be known through all time and throughout the world, protestantism began the process of atomizing the contents of divine revelation, making them dependent on individual interpretation (whether of individual people, or individual sects), rather than public authority. This invariably initiated a process by which divine revelation itself would be excised from public life—modern secularism.

One of the most succinctly brilliant explanations of this process was provided by Dr. Alan Fimister, a British-American Catholic seminary professor who is a lawyer, historian, and theologian. In a podcast episode, Dr. Fimister laid out how the protestant “reformation” laid the foundations of modern secularism. He says the following in this relevant portion:

The “reformation” said that the principle of interpretation is private judgment. And basically Luther thought “anyone in good faith who interprets scripture will come to the same conclusions as me, so if they don’t, they’re just not in good faith.” But of course that becomes preposterous. You end up with vast numbers of people with vast numbers of incompatible interpretations of Scripture. And what that means is the whole concept of public revelation becomes preposterous. I mean, how can God bring truths into the world which are absolutely necessary for salvation, and then fail to bring a mechanism into the Church by which one can be morally certain of what those truths are? So the idea that there is no visible Church that can objectively guarantee the possibility of professing the true faith without error, once you give up on that, then you’ve basically rendered divine revelation absurd as a concept. And therefore, the “reformation” flows seamlessly into the “enlightenment,” which is the movement to eliminate divine revelation as the principle of public policy and public law.

But given that man can know the existence of God by natural reason, and therefore knows that he needs to be told by God how to worship Him in an acceptable manner, if there is no way furnished by God to tell us how to worship Him in an acceptable manner, that implies God doesn’t exist. So the holing of divine revelation below the water line by the principle of private judgment leads inexorably to the holing of the idea of theism below the water line as a principle of public policy. So you end up with a violent secularization of the civil order, and its replacement with secular ideology, which is, more or less—welcome to the 21st century.

When Dr. Fimister speaks of being “morally certain” of the truths of the Christian Faith, he is paraphrasing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 890), which explains God’s purpose in establishing the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church as follows:

The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates.

In a May 2023 article in Voice of the Family entitled “The crowning deception,” Dr. Fimister expanded on this topic further:

The decline of western civilization into the present state of intellectual anarchy and nihilistic hedonism began with certain philosophical aberrations in the fourteenth century, but the first direct blow against the vital organs of our culture was struck by the Reformation. By declaring the interpretation of the scriptures a matter of private judgement, the “Reformers” made the very idea of divine revelation absurd. What would be the point of God instructing the human race in those truths necessary for salvation through a collection of inspired and inerrant sacred texts and then leaving the interpretation of those texts to the completely arbitrary whim of each individual? Should a special intervention of the Holy Spirit be required each time if the Bible is to be read correctly, the Bible itself becomes superfluous; one might as well be given special revelations on ongoing basis if that is essentially what is happening anyway every time anyone reads the scriptures. Naturally, not in fact being of the Holy Spirit, the Protestant movement immediately collapsed into innumerable sects, each having to claim that their tiny band were Christ’s true church or that this Church is in fact an invisible set of opposed and mutually contradictory gatherings wholly incapable of fulfilling the Lord’s command to teach the nations “everything that I have commanded you.”

Sometimes one will hear the argument made that, in upholding the infallibility of the church, Catholics are putting the “teachings of men” on a par with or even above the inspired word of God. The falsity of this claim is easily illustrated. Imagine every citizen of the United States were to be authorized to take in hand his own copy of the US Constitution and interpret it for himself, recognizing no final authority beyond or above the individual’s interpretation of that document. The result would be the total destruction of the USA as a polity. Imagine instead there were instituted a Supreme Court to make final determinations concerning the meaning of the Constitution. This would secure the corporate existence of this republic. The problem of course, as many Americans realize, is that these “interpretations” can be but a thin veneer for the eisegesis that projects the personal preferences of the jurist into the document without serious reference to its original meaning. This is just what liberal protestant theologians do with the text of sacred scripture and what US Supreme Court justices do with the US Constitution. Imagine instead God were to endow the justices of the Supreme Court with a charism of infallibility so they could not in the final discharge of their official duties to interpret the constitution contrary to its original sense even if they wanted to. This would not put their opinions on the same level as the text, but quite the opposite, it would ensure the eternal primacy of the original meaning over the private opinions of the experts. This is why God endowed the Catholic hierarchy with the charism of infallibility to ensure the primacy of God’s word over the preferences of ecclesiastics.

By the same logic, without the charism of infallibility, revelation itself is absurd. With grim inevitability therefore, from the poisonous egg of the Reformation there springs forth the “Enlightenment”: the movement to eliminate divine revelation as a principle of public policy and public law. Christianity being the foundation of the western civil order, such a secularization required violent revolution. All the many revolutions which have characterized western history since the late eighteenth century are but episodes in one great unchaining of evil, the return of the seven more terrible spirits to the house cleaned and swept at the foundation of Christendom.

The movement to preserve and further this elimination of divine revelation as a principle of public policy and public law is called liberalism.

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