I would like to thank the ATS Debate forum for hosting this debate, and my esteemed opponent, RedBird, for proposing it, and allowing me to argue in
My proposal is that the Catholic Church has had a positive influence on the world throughout its history (a slight altering of RedBird's original
statement, to reflect that the church has only existed for about 2,000 years.)
I am an engineer by trade -- I design and build things. In the world of engineering, there are three letters that we all know, live by and
occasionally curse -- ISO, which stands for the International Organization for Standardization
. If one wants to write software to
connect to an email server, use proper sterilization and disinfection methods, create a test method for screen printing inks, or perform hundreds of
other technical processes, there is an ISO certified method for it.
The establishment, dispersal and enforcement of standards is critical for our technical world -- if I want to design an electrical circuit, I don't
want to whiz away a bunch of time trying to sort out what this company's capacitor is going to do, as opposed to the same capacitor I used from a
different company last week. But standards are important for things beyond technology, as they allow us to understand complex things with an assurance
of uniformity. We mostly agree on calendars and clocks, so I can arrange a conference call with someone in Japan or South Africa without having to
sort out what "4 September 2012 at 1500 GMT" translates to in their world. If one doesn't see the value in that, call someone in Newfoundland and
ask them what time it is, lol.
The Christian faith is no different than any other complex system -- it benefits from standardization, and for about 2,000 years, that has been a role
taken on by the Roman Catholic Church. The term "catholic" simply means "universal", so one must differentiate between the different branches of
the "catholic" church -- all denominations that have descended from the church that Jesus established, through the Apostle Peter, are catholic, but
I will be referring to the Roman Catholic church, as opposed to Eastern Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant variants.
In the earliest days of the church, the primary function of the Catholic church was to establish orthodoxy -- setting the standards for what it meant
to be a follower of Christ. Was there one God? Three? Dozens? Hundreds? Early Christian variations taught all of these. Was Christ the saviour of the
Jews? Jews and Gentiles? Gentiles only? Again, there were flavours of Christianity that carried each of the three as a core teaching.
The emergence of the Roman Catholic church, in the first centuries following Christ's death, as the standard bearer of Christian orthodoxy was
critical to the faith's consistency and universalism. A Corinthian could travel to Alexandria, find a church that was "in communion" with the
church of Corinth (in other words, another Catholic church) and be assured that the teaching, fellowship and Eucharist were the same as she would find
As humans are wont to do, dissension on issues, both great and small, have brought us to a point today where it is claimed that there are over 38,000
variations of Christianity (most of those, of course, coming from Congregationalist churches, who determine their beliefs on a church by church basis,
not by an overarching authority,) but there is still the one Roman Catholic church, which continues to establish standards of uniformity in theology,
practice and worship. I was in Alaska a couple of weeks ago, and attended Mass in two different churches, and though the physical structure of the
churches, the people and the environment was different, the message, Mass and Eucharist were the same as I find in my local church.
There have been many abuses of this standardization on the part of the Roman Catholic church, but I view these as being as much about power as they
were about religious orthodoxy. In the early days of the church, heretics were treated as suggested by Christ and the Apostle Paul -- you went to
them, pointed out their error, tried to get them back into orthodoxy, and if they insisted on going their own way, you kicked them out of the church.
No "burning at the stake", no beheadings, you just told them to leave, and they did, going off to start their own church.
That changed, once the church became the power that it did, and resulted in Inquisitions, religious wars with Muslims and Protestants, and all kinds
of reprehensible behaviour, but the proscribed actions to take against heresy are still, to this day, the original, kicking them out of the church.
Can. 1364 ß1 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision
of Can. 194 ß1, n. 2; a cleric, moreover, may be punished with the penalties mentioned in Can. 1336 ß1, nn. 1, 2 and 3.
Because of its rigid enforcement of doctrinal standards, a Roman Catholic can positively aver what his faith teaches. He doesn't necessarily agree
with it, or follow it, but there is little argument as to what it actually is. That's something that a Baptist or Lutheran would struggle to do, as
it differs with each variation of that religion. In addition, all Christian churches, including Protestants, point to original Catholic Orthodoxy for
a definition of "who is Christian". Core shared beliefs, such as the Trinity, and the sacrament of baptism, are used to demonstrate that, while some
people "follow Christ", they are not Christians (examples being the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.) Though these standards, exemplified in creeds
such at the Nicene Creed, are Roman Catholic in origin, they are upheld by all Christian denominations.
This standardization, I believe, is the most important religious role that the Roman Catholic church has played over the centuries and will continue
to perform until the end of time.
In addition, from a religious standpoint, the unique approach of honouring holy persons, through the veneration of saints, serves to provide the
faithful with strong role models, who demonstrate that, no matter what one's circumstances might be, living a holy life is not merely desirable, but
also achievable by all who strive for sanctification. This points to the very Catholic notion of the daily devotion of Christians to their God -- from
the daily Mass, to structured prayers such as the Liturgy of the Hours, to the singular devotion of nuns, priests and monks, the Roman Catholic church
calls its people to an immersion in faith like no other Christian church can.
Having reviewed the religious oriented positive influences of the church, in my next post, I will look at the positive secular influences of the Roman
Catholic church, particularly as regards education, science, medicine, charity and the arts.