Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christianity + Paganism = Catholicism?

Is Catholicism Pagan?

          Leading up to the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I read and heard numerous illusions and direct statements that Catholicism was “invented” when Constantine made Christianity the preferred religion of the Roman Empire in 315 AD.  Christianity was then inundated with pagans and pagan priests all attempting to garner favor with the Roman Emperor by “converting” to Christianity.  Pure, Christianity – the type that was practiced before that – was mixed with all the incoming pagan practices and Catholicism was created.  To put it simply: Pure Christianity + Paganism = Catholicism. 

          This view was popularized in the 19th Century book, “The Two Babylons” by Alexander Hislop.[1]  Adherents of this view associate anything Catholic with paganism.  For example, on a local Protestant radio stations a guest stated that at the center of the courtyard of St. Peter’s Basilica – the huge church in Vatican City - was a tall obelisk.  He stated this was the Catholic Church’s way of announcing that they were promoting paganism.  He stated that the obelisk had come from the Circus Maximus, a pagan venue, and prior to that had come directly from Egypt where obelisks were used in pagan rituals.

          Others point to Christian holidays as evidence that Catholicism welcomed paganism beliefs and practices:  The word ‘Easter’ is said to come from the name “Eostre”, a Germanic pagan goddess; or that celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25th is pagan because the Roman feast of Saturnalia was right at that time.  The most damning of all is the placement of All Saints Day and the celebration of Halloween, which is the Catholic Church “baptizing” the pagan feast of “Samhain”.  Obviously, all of this was the Catholic Church’s attempt to inject paganism into pure Christianity as those espousing this view would say.

          But there are a host of misunderstandings and misrepresentations here but I want to address two fallacies first and foremost: ‘Begging the Question’ and ‘Genetic’ fallacies.  The Begging the Question fallacy assumes the conclusion of an argument in the premises.  “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” is the quintessential example of Begging the Question.  It assumes I am beating my wife.  No matter what answer I give (Yes, or No) I would be admitting that I have been beating my wife.  If this is not true, and I don’t know to point out that fallacy, it can be very difficult to get someone to believe that I don’t beat my wife.

 “I believe the Bible is God’s Word because it says it is” is another great example.  It must be assumed that the Bible is the Word of God to believe the Bible when it says it is the Word of God.  Interestingly enough both the Book of Mormon and the Quran state they come from God and are God’s words to us.

 To the Catholic issue, and to state it simply, it goes like this: “Catholicism is pagan therefor Catholicism is pagan.”  To avoid the ‘Begging the Question’ the arguer must prove the premises that Catholicism is pagan by independent evidence.  Usually, when asked to do so, I have found my interlocker falls into this next fallacy.

          The second fallacy that plays into this is the Genetic Fallacy.  Just because one thing comes before and / or is similar to another does not automatically mean the one is the cause of the other.  This means just because something in Catholicism is similar to paganism or something in one of the thousands of pagan religions came before the similar thing in Catholicism does not prove that Catholicism took it from paganism.  Let me give an example.  Atheists sometimes argue there are some Egyptian writings that show Christianity stole the idea of a god being born of a virgin, dying and rising from the dead from Egyptian cults.  Even Protestant apologists argue back that this is an example of Genetic Fallacy.  Let alone the host of other problems with the atheists argument, just because some other religion that predates Christianity has a god being born of a virgin, dying and rising from the dead (which those gods don’t actually do that), does not mean Christianity stole it from there.

          Back to the Catholic issue, to avoid the Genetic Fallacy, what needs to be shown is 1) the Catholic Church purposely took something from a pagan religion 2) That thing is incompatible with Christianity 3) The Catholic Church incorporated it purposely to warp “pure Christianity.”  The problem is there is no evidence of this.  Most of the examples above, when removed from those two fallacies and studied in a full context, suddenly have a much different appearance. 

Below are some very brief explanations of each of the accusations from above.

Prior to Constantine Christianity was completely different than after

          There are a few things to say here:  1) Constantine did not make Christianity the preferred religion of the Roman Empire.  The Edict of Toleration or The Edict of Milan (313 AD) merely made Christianity legal. 2) Of the actual teachings of Catholicism that some Protestants believe were pagan inventions due to the Edict, all of these teachings can be found prior to the Edict and in many cases 200 years or more prior to the Edict – including Christianity being call “The Catholic Church[2]  Both of these are a matter of historic record, not solely Catholic record.  A good, well researched book on the subject is “The Apostasy that Wasn’t” by Rod Bennett

Obelisk in St. Peter’s Basilica

          Yes there is an obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica.  There is also an obelisk (sometimes two) on top of most traditional churches, both Protestant and Catholic.  The shape of an obelisk is the same as a church steeple.  And just like those steeples, the obelisk in St. Peter’s Basilica has a crucifix on top of it, placed there at the time that the obelisk was moved from the long defunct Circus.  But why would the Catholic Church do this?  Several reasons: 1) Expressly to show that Christ conquered the pagan Roman Empire!  2) For so many Christians in the first 2 or 3 centuries that obelisk was the last thing they saw on this earth, including St. Peter himself.  The obelisk is a memorial of all those martyrs and that their deaths helped conquer the pagan Roman Empire.  3) The Catholic Church preserves history.  They have one of the – if not THE – largest free art museums in the world.  Art from all time periods and places are there.  A piece from the Circus Maximus is an important piece of history to remind people of all the martyrs and the Roman Empire.

          The idea that this obelisk is from Egypt and was used in pagan rituals is sketchy at best.  It is not certain where the obelisk came from prior to being moved into the Circus Maximus:  Historians disagree.  Some say it did indeed come from Egypt; some say it was a Roman creation by someone in the Roman army.  Obelisks were not carte blanche used in pagan rituals.  Many were sign posts of sorts and again it cannot be determined that this obelisk was in anyway used in any pagan ritual.

Easter is from Eostre, the name of a German pagan goddess

          Yes, Eostre and Easter sound similar, but it is only in German and English that these words sound similar.  In Latin, Greek, Italian, French and most other languages, both ancient and modern, the word ‘Easter’ is some form of ‘Pascal’ (i.e. Pasqua in Italian, Pascuas in Spanish, Pascha in Greek and Latin).  But what about all the Bunnies, chicks and eggs, surely those are pagan?  Are they?  Who created bunnies, chicks and eggs?  Did the pagans rip this off from God so that Christians could rip it off from pagans?  Or did Christians just recognize the season Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection occurred in (Spring for the Northern Hemisphere) and look for other symbols of new life in God’s creation?  As an aside note, using the Jewish calendar, Jesus’ Resurrection may have been March 25th.

Christmas is pagan

          It is not necessary to believe that Jesus Christ was born on Dec. 25th to be a Christian.  The Bible is silent on the actual date.  So why Dec 25th?  Some Protestants believe it was the Catholic Church attempting to bring a Saturnalia celebration into Christianity.  To begin with this is the Genetic Fallacy at work.  Just because two dates are similarly timed (Dec 17th-21st for Saturnalia, Dec 25th for Christmas) does not mean one has anything to do with the other.  One question I have is: How many days apart do two things have to be before they are no longer considered related to each other?  My birthday is 4 days away from my cousins.  Since mine is first did that cause my cousin’s birth day? 

          But wait there are the trees and candy canes and Santa Clause – who bears some similarity to some pagan deities.  Clearly these are pagan!  The Christmas tree comes from Germany and does have to do with paganism.  An 8th Century missionary, St. Boniface, saw German pagans worshiping and offering sacrifices to an oak tree.  St. Boniface cut down the tree.  He then pointed them to the evergreen tree as a reminder of God, the real God: it is evergreen: sign of eternal life in Christ; shaped like an arrow: pointing to heaven.  He told the German pagans to let the evergreen be their symbol of Christ.  So… again the Christmas tree is not only NOT pagan, its origins were to combat paganism.

          Candy canes are shaped like a shepherd’s crook (The Good Shepherd) and are red and white because the blood of the lamb washes us white as snow.

          Santa Claus, as portrayed in modern secular media, has nothing to do with the original 4th Century Christian, St. Nicholas, who is honored on December 6th.  Ideas about St. Nicholas may have been mixed with some pagan deities to come up with some of the particulars of Santa Claus, however, this objection is cut off at the knees: the Catholic Church has never recognized Santa as part of Christmas.  For the Catholic Church Christmas is only about celebrating the birth of the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

Halloween is pagan

          This one is huge, especially since Jack Chick decided to put out one of his pamphlets about it.  Again, there are many things to say about this, but to be brief, Samhain – the Celtic pagan festival of the 3rd and 4th Centuries – is a lunar festival, meaning, it’s timing (or date) is based on the phases of the moon.  Halloween – or All Hallows Eve (meaning, “the night before All Saints Day”) – is a solar calandar based holiday meaning the date is based on the 365 ¼ day journey of the earth going around the sun.  The timing of the two days can vary as much as 30 days.  Also, Ireland was entirely Christian by the end of the 4th Century – thank you St. Patrick – and so Samhain was no longer celebrated.  All Saints Day was first celebrated only in the area of Rome during the 8th Century.  Also, it was originally in Spring.  Later, it was made a full Church holiday and because of all the feast days already in spring, it was moved to fall.  So, for Halloween to be a “baptized” pagan holiday an 8th Century Pope must have known of an obscure, extinct, 400 year old pagan festival, celebrated thousands of miles away and wanted to incorporate it into Catholicism.  What about the Trick or Treating, Pumpkins, costumes etc?  There are many cultures that have fall festivals, harvest festivals and such that were not attached to any pagan practice or religion.  There are also customs that seem strange to modern ears that grew up in correlation to All Saints Day.  Again, though, the Catholic Church has never sanctioned any of these as official teaching / practices of the Catholic Church.  There have even been several bishops and priests warning of the dangers of some of the modern practices of Halloween.

          As an aside, I find it sad and rather ironic that between modern pagans (who have no connection physically or religiously to the ancient pagans) claiming Halloween as their own and many Christians convinced it is “Devil’s Day” we are literally changing a wholly Christian holiday into a pagan one!

          There are many, many more we could go over.  Feel free to ask a specific “Catholic is Pagan because of _______” question in the comments here or on the Facebook page.

[1] It should be noted that many Protestants have disputed Hislop’s claims and commented on his poor Biblical exegesis and historical scholarship.
[2] Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, 107 AD

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Works-based Salvation

Faith and Works

          In order to grow our understanding that Catholics and Protestants have more in common than many might realize, we’ll continue our discussion with Faith and Works.

          In many publications, certain Protestants state that Catholic teaching on salvation is “works based.”  “Works based salvation” in this context seems to mean “earning your way to heaven”; a person only needs to do certain practices to be “saved” or go to heaven.  The accusation is that no belief in God is necessary.

          In an online chat conversation with the web master of a local Protestant radio station, I was told by my interlocker, who identified as “ex-Catholic”, the Catholic Church did not teach it was necessary to believe in Jesus Christ to go to heaven, you only needed to say certain prayers, go to church and do certain things to go to heaven, according to this person’s understanding of Catholicism.  They even claimed to have a Catholic Catechism implying the Catholic Church taught works based salvation.  When I asked for a specific quote from the Catholic Catechism, they were unable to give me one.

          I know most Protestants are not as ardent as this particular one was, but the knowledge is in the water in most Protestant circles, as it were, that Catholicism teaches that faith is not necessary, only works (works being defined as trying to be good enough without God).

          This is entirely false. 

First, the belief that one can be saved, without Grace, by just doing good works is called ‘Pelagianism.’[1]  The Catholic Church condemned Pelagianism in the 5th Century.  The Catholic Church even condemned ‘semi-Pelagianism’ the belief that God does His part in salvation and man, separate from God, does his part.

          On the contrary the Catechism of the Catholic Church states unequivocally, “’Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation.’ Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God]’ and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.’”[2] (Emphasis added). In addition, the Catholic Church teaches that Justification is by Grace alone, through faith.[3]

          So what is this about works?  I mean, everyone knows Catholics think they must do good works to go to heaven, right?  Yes, BUT… these are not works separate from God’s Grace.  In a nutshell, Catholicism teaches that God’s Grace is SO POWERFUL it not only makes our faith salvific, but our works as well. 

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:12-13;

“For by Grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph 2:8-10

“You see that faith was active along with his [Abraham’s] works, and faith was completed by his works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”; and he was called friend of God.” Jam 2:22-23.

          According to official Catholic teaching, all these passages show God acts first – Grace is present first.  Grace then empowers belief and good works.[4] 

‘Merit’ is the word the Catholic Church uses for good works that are a result of God’s Grace working in us.  This is often misunderstood by Protestants who believe merit means we can force God, through our actions, to give us heaven.  Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church states that strictly speaking man has no right to merit anything apart from God and any merit is first and last entirely due to God’s Grace.[5]

Far from condoning a “works based salvation,” the Catholic Church teaches that without faith – which is only possible as an unearned gift from God (i.e. Grace) – no one is ever justified, nor will anyone get to heaven.

          To end, here’s a little story that shows Catholic teaching on Salvation, Grace, Faith and Works:  There was a man who died and found himself at the Pearly Gates.  In front of the gates was a kiosk with St. Peter sitting inside.  St. Peter called the man up and said, “I need you to tell me all the good things you’ve done in your life.  I will put them into my computer and they’ll be scored.  When you reach a score of 1000, you can enter heaven.”

          A big smile crossed the man’s face.  He immediately said, “I went to church every Sunday, Holy Day and most other days as well.”

          St. Peter typed on his computer and a few seconds later said, “Very good.  That’s 1 point.”

          “One point?!?” gasped the man.  “Ok, my wife and I ran a soup kitchen for 30 years where we served dozens of people, three meals a day, seven days a week.”

          St. Peter looked at his computer.  “Very good.  That’s another point!”

          The man blanched and a cold sweat came upon his brow.  “Um, I was married to my wife for 50 years.  I was a virgin when we married and I never so much as thought about another woman!”

          “Great!  Another point!”

          The man began to get desperate, his knees began to shake.  “I said a Rosary every day for my entire life!”

          “Wow!  That’s a half a point!”

          At this the man collapsed onto his knees.  The realization of his unworthiness hit him like a ton of bricks.  He began to sob.  “The only way I’m going to get in is by the Grace of God!”

          “Congratulations, that’s 1000 points.  Welcome to heaven!”

This is Catholic teaching.

[1] Named after Pelagius, a 5th Century heretical theologian who taught Original Sin did not exist and essentially that man could save himself without God’s help.
[2] CCC 161
[3] cf CCC 1983, 1996-2005
[4] Note that the Ephesians passages denotes a difference between ‘works’ – believed to be a reference to ‘Works of the Law’ or the Jewish ritualistic cleanliness laws – and ‘good works’ which are not only not condemned, but shown to be the reason for our existence!
[5] Cf CCC 2006-2011

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Let us indulge...


          In the days leading up to, and on, Oct. 31st indulgences were center stage in many Protestant articles.  The major problem was, not one I read got indulgences right.  To be fair, most Catholics couldn’t tell you what an indulgence is and admittedly, at the time of the Reformation, Catholics were not well educated about their faith, including Martin Luther, especially about indulgences.  So, what are they?

          It might be helpful to start with what they are not.  One Protestant video stated that indulgences were where the Catholic Church “bought and sold salvation.”[1]  Another video implied indulgences were giving money to a priest who then “promised a better heaven.”[2]  Most commonly, even among poorly catechized Catholics, I have heard that indulgences were purchased as a “get out of sinning free” card.  These are all false.

          To begin to understand indulgences we must first explore the consequences of sin.  All Christians would agree there is an eternal consequence to sin (Well, ok, all Christians who believe in sin and hell, which is a decreasing number these days).  The Catholic Church teaches unequivocally, drawing from Scripture, only God can forgive the eternal consequences due to sin.[3]  Protestants and Catholics might disagree on the method or medium He has chosen to use, but that is a topic for another day.

          Recognizing what Scripture and reason show us, there are more than just the eternal consequences due to sin: there are also temporal consequences.  Many Protestants might be tempted to balk at this, but it might be helpful to know that even anti-Catholic groups agree.[4] 

          We all understand what the Catholic Church means by an eternal consequence: hurting or killing our relationship with God.  But what about “temporal consequence?”  Another way to say this is “temporal punishment” or punishment resulting from our sin that we experience in this life.  So is the Catholic Church saying that even though we are forgiven of the eternal consequences due to our sin we might still be punished?  Yup and I think we all agree with this when we take time to think about it.

How does this work?  Let’s say I steal $1,000.00 from you.  Later I have a change of heart and I ask God for forgiveness.  For the sake of argument let us say I am completely sincere.  Then I come and ask you for forgiveness.  I presume, being a Christian, you would forgive me.  Is that it?  Is everything all done?  No, of course not.  I must give back the money and even if I do there are also legal consequences to face regardless of the forgiveness I received from you and God.

Another example – one that shows the error in that previously cited anti-Catholic website’s thinking – would our parents still punish us by making us clean up a broken window even after forgiving us for breaking it?  As a father I say, oh heck yeah!  Why?  Because parents understand there is benefit for the child in it.

Wait what?  Did you just say there’s value in punishment and suffering??

The Catholic Church recognizes there is great value to suffering, as there was for Christ.  Christ’s suffering is what lead to our redemption and salvation being offered to all.  We have Christ living in us, so His power can make our suffering redemptive, in a much smaller but very real sense.  I don’t want to get lost in a fuller explanation of redemptive suffering so I’m going to skip a lot.  Sometimes God still lets us experience the punishment due to our sin to help us, among other things, realize the seriousness of our sins, to teach us not to do it again, to make reparations for our actions and thereby continue us down the path of sanctification.

          So how about Scripture?  Where is any of this in Scripture?  There are numerous examples of sin having both eternal and temporal consequences.  A good start is in the beginning of the Bible: Genesis 3:16-24.  This is after Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  We can see both consequences at play.  Listed first is all the temporal punishments that both Adam and Eve will experience because of their sin.  At the end of the passage is the eternal consequence: they’re kicked out of Eden, or their perfect relationship with God.

          Another example is King David.  King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, Uri’ah (1 Sam 11:2-22).  After Nathan confronts David – including one temporal consequence: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me…” (1 Sam 11:10) – we see the eternal consequence dealt with and another temporal consequence: “David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” (1 Sam 11:13-14).  We see that God forgives David’s sin but he still must suffer punishment.

          So… what is an indulgence?  “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven…”[5]

          I want to point out something: “…whose guilt has already been forgiven…”  An indulgence cannot be “buying forgiveness” because one must be forgiven before one can obtain an indulgence.

          How does someone get an indulgence?  First it is helpful to say that an indulgence is granted only through Christ’s power of binding and loosing given to the Church and specifically Peter.[6]  Someone obtains an indulgence through holy practices, prayers and disposition.  Two types of indulgences can be obtained: partial and plenary.  Plenary means all temporal punishment yet due to our sin has been removed.  Partial is exactly as it sounds: only a part of the temporal punishment is removed; how much is known by God alone.

          Why wouldn’t everyone just get a plenary indulgence?  Because it may not be possible for them: one of the conditions is to be free from the desire and attachment to all sin.  If someone attempts to obtain a plenary indulgence but does not meet all the conditions a partial may still be obtained.

          So, what is all this about selling indulgences?  I hope you can see that the sale of indulgences isn’t possible.  As a matter of fact abusing the granting of indulgences is, and always has been, considered sinful by the Catholic Church.  It is well known that these abuses have happened throughout Catholic Church history by individuals – the Church’s teaching on them has never changed, only become more detailed.  In some cases, Catholic clergy were saying if you donated money to the Church you could obtain an indulgence.  Giving alms (donating money) was one of the practices one could do to obtain an indulgence.  What the abuse seemed to be was ignoring the rest of the conditions (confession, prayers and freedom from all attachment to sin) in favor of just giving money.  This was misunderstood by some, like Martin Luther, to be “buying” an indulgence.  Bad catechesis existed back then too, and Martin Luther seems to have believed that indulgences were about forgiving eternal consequences, hence “buying salvation.”  If this was the intent of some of the Catholic clergy at the time – which I do not doubt – those “indulgences” were not real, did not do anything and were a sin on the part of those clergy.

          There is more that could be said but I feel we’ve gone over enough information to see there is a whole bunch of misinformation out there about Catholic indulgences and most of what you’ve heard is probably wrong.

          Now what questions do you have that we can discuss?


[1] YouTube video “Why TODAY is a Big Deal (Oct 31, 2017)” Warrior Poets Rally Point
[2] www.lightunshackled.com Intro video.  There is much more incorrect information in this video.  Some of which I will address in future items of discussion.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1441
[4] www.justforcatholics.org “Temporal Punishment”, “We readily affirm that sin has temporal and eternal consequences…”
[5] CCC 1471
[6] CCC 1478 cf Mt 16:16-18, 18:15-18.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Let's Begin a Dialogue part 2

Definitions and Source Material

     I failed to mention in my intro piece: I use the term “Protestant” colloquially.  I know many Christians do not consider themselves “Protestant” per se but we need a term that denotes the religious or spiritual decedents of the Reformation. 

    Special considerations: I do note that our Orthodox brothers and sisters, often unjustly overlooked, are not ‘Protestants’.  I do not include them in this term.  I also do not include Mormons (Latter Day Saints) or Jehovah’s Witnesses in the term; by definition they are not Christian.  I do, however, include Baptists.[1]    

     None of this is to belittle or besmirch anyone’s religion. We merely need to have a simple term when discussing the group of Christians that are not Catholic, not Orthodox, descendants doctrinally from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and / or the other Reformers.

     I also will not use the term “Roman” Catholic.  This term is very misleading.  There are 24 rites within Catholicism.  The Latin rite (nicknamed “Roman”) is just one of them.  To refer only to “Roman Catholicism” is to leave out a large portion of Catholics some of which have different practices (like celibacy).  The term “Catholic” means “Universal;” It always has and still does today. 

Source Material

      Let’s say we want to know George Washington’s thoughts on a particular topic.  We could try asking a friend who’s read a book about George Washington.  This person might be able to tell us what George’s thoughts were, but we have to recognize that the information is being filtered through several hands: 1st George’s, 2nd the book’s author and 3rd the friend’s.  The reliability of that information is more suspect because of all the steps from the source to us.  The best way to find out what George's thoughts on a particular topic is to read George Washington’s diary, in full, to get not only his thoughts but the context as well. 

     Sometimes we don’t have the time for that so we rely on authorities, such as a PhD in History with Revolutionary War and George Washington emphases.  But we must acknowledge that any step away from George’s own words is an opening for error, interpretation and biases.  We must also recognize the possibility of our own interpretation and biases even if we read George’s words directly.

     The same holds true for religious teaching of any kind.  Many, many times I shake my head when false claims about a religion (Catholic, Protestant or other) are made using secondary sources as their support.   Now a days, a simple internet search for official teaching / practices of a given religion could have set things strait, lead to a greater understanding of the religion or at least saved a misconception from being perpetuated.

     Two examples: In com boxes I have seen Protestants accused of “book worship.”  A simple search of Luther’s Short Catechism or the Westminster Confessional or other Protestant denominational teaching documents would show that the only worshiping Protestants do is of God alone.  To state otherwise is a sin against the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.”

     In turn, I commonly hear Catholics accused of worshiping Mary, Saints, statues or bread.  Again, a simple search of the Catechism of the Catholic Church would show that Catholics do not worship anyone or thing but God alone.[2]

    When trying to discuss what another religion believes it is imperative that we represent that teaching correctly.  Primary source material is best, however, an expert in that field is second best.  We, again, must also recognize that our own biases and interpretations may taint what the reality is about that religion’s teachings.

A word about denominations, personal experience and member examples

     I do recognize a difficulty in presenting an authentic Protestant teaching: there are many different Protestant denominations that believe different things.  When presenting a Protestant teaching, it is helpful to state which denomination the teaching comes from and what source one is using to present the teaching.  For example, I would not say, “Protestants believe in the Perseverance of the Saints (aka Once Saved Always Saved)” because many Protestant denominations believe you can lose your salvation.  But I could say “5 Point Calvinist denominations believe in the Perseverance of the Saints.”

   This point is less problematic about Catholicism.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the teaching document for all Catholics.  Please note that the paragraphs there in are more like thesis paragraphs and not all encompassing.  Also note that a given topic is sometimes covered several times in different ways and places in the Catechism.

Personal Experience as Evidence

     Some reading this may have been Catholic and became Protestant.  Some may have been raised Protestant and became Catholic.  Some here may have been raised Protestant, became Catholic, then returned to Protestantism.  Some here, like me, may have been raised Catholic, became Protestant and then returned to Catholicism.  Whatever the case, we may have people that have personal experience on both ‘sides’, if you will. 

     Personal experience, in my opinion, has some merit, provided it is an example of authentic teaching.  For example, someone might say that Protestants teach that the Holy Spirit is like the Force in Star Wars because someone once taught them that in a church bible study or even from the pulpit.  This is not reflected in any Protestant teaching document I know of and therefore, in my humble opinion, would not be a good example of personal experience.

      However, if someone says, “I remember being taught….” and it can be shown in teaching documents that it is an authentic belief, then that is a good example of personal experience.

     Finally, member examples, like personal examples, can have merit.  If a person acted in accordance to their religious beliefs that can be a good use of member example.  However, if a person is acting against their religious beliefs, that is a bad use of member examples.

    These ground rules will help us to get past the smoke of misconception, misrepresentation and flat out canards and on to rational discussion on substantive issues.

    Ok, I promise next essay will be an actual issue: Indulgences!

[1] There is a claim that Baptists are descendants of St. John the Baptist (See ‘Trail of Blood’) but this claim has been refuted by Baptists themselves: http://www.covenantlegacy.com/mopping-up-the-trail-of-blood-part-1/ It is historically verifiable that the Baptist denomination was started by Thomas Helwys in 1612 as an off-shoot of Calvinism. 
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 1 “The First Commandment”, paragraphs 2084-2141

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Let's begin a dialogue...

         With the celebration of the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral now past, I would like to begin a dialogue.  I maintained a respectful silence while brothers and sisters in Christ celebrated what they believe is ultimately the beginning of the way they get closer to Christ.  Getting closer to Christ is something I support and rejoice in as well.  Obviously I would disagree on the method.

          I am going to be presenting a series of essays regarding some of the things I heard leading up to and on Oct 31st.

          I am not going to be posting these as an enemy of Protestantism, as an agitator and certainly not to proselytize.  The purpose I see is twofold: 

1)    To bring Catholics and Protestants closer together in understanding one another.  The world no longer cares what “denomination” we are.  The world will try to imprison us all just the same.  If I must be in prison I would rather know that the Catholic / Protestant cellmate of mine is an ally and Brother / Sister in Christ rather than believing them to be an enemy.

2)    To present authentic Catholicism and bring a little ruach to the smoke of deception / misunderstanding the swirls around Catholicism…. And there is a LOT of misconceptions believed by both Catholics and Protestants about Catholicism.

I welcome all respectful comments both on the blog here and on the Facebook page.  If we do not talk respectfully we cannot hope to understand that we share far more in common than we disagree on.  While the disagreements are important, it is as important that we understand what each side means before we point out differences.  Many of the rancor, accusations and finger-pointing has come from misunderstanding the other side’s meaning.  If we maintain this misrepresentation and misinformation we risk sinning against the Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.” 

If we do not gain understanding we cannot hope to show the world that Jesus Christ is Lord! (cf Jn 17:20-23).

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Catholic Conversation: Sola Scriptura

Actual conversations with people of other beliefs

In this series I will present actual conversations I have had with people of differing faith traditions.  Some are email conversations, some are recollections of verbal conversations.

The following is a Facebook conversation I had with someone I used to go to church with about Sola Scriptura.  I have attempted to remove all identifying information regarding the person I was speaking with but other than that and spelling / grammar errors it is exactly what I posted.

The conversation references a quote from the well known Protestant theologian, R.C. Sprouls.  I might actually have it quoted and referenced in the post, but for the sake of new readers the quote from Mr. Sprouls is that "at best" what we can know about the books that make up Scripture is "a fallible list of infallible books."

And now, with out further delay: A Catholic Conversation on Sola Scriptura

Hey ________,

Thank you so much for the charitable tone.  In several other discussions I’ve had, I have rarely found the level of charity you have presented here.  Thank You.

If, again, you would permit me to respond: I love having these conversations.  I hope you find it equally charitable.   Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron” (27:17); I believe that understanding each other’s beliefs will better help us when we stand shoulder to shoulder as Christ’s co-laborers, battling the world, the flesh and the devil while spreading the Good News to every living thing.

That being said, due to family, work and school (both mine and the kids) I probably will not be able to respond more.  Since you were kind enough to leave me an additional resource, I will do the same.  I invite you to utilize it to help answer questions and difficulties you might have regarding my beliefs.

Please know that in no way does my critique of Sola Scriptura mean a critique on you or the millions of other faithful, holy Christians that practice it.  You, and many, many other non-Catholic Christians, have helped show me what it means to allow Jesus to live in your hearts.  Thank you.

I completely and whole-heartedly agree that Scripture is a binding authority, and that it is the inspired written Word of God.  I believe, with the Catholic Church, that not only is Scripture a binding authority on the faithful, it is God-breathed and profitable for a host of things in order that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.  If you would like a deeper understanding of how high the Catholic Church places Scripture, please read ‘Dei Verbum.’  (Google it, it’s free on the Vatican website).

My only critique is of the word “alone”.  Against this, I will present only three arguments here, but these are by no means the only ones.  I have them numbered for clarity.

1) I absolutely agree with Sproul and the article that just because the Catholic Church determined the cannon of Scripture that it does not directly follow that the Catholic Church is infallible.  The Biblical case for Church and Papal infallibility I must leave for another day.

But recognizing that the Church determined the cannon of Scripture, that fact alone is devastating to the Sola Scriptura claim, if it is to hold to even the definition presented in this article.

If Sola Scriptura is the sole and final authority, then to stay true to its own principle it must determine the content of Scripture: I must be able to find, in Scripture Alone, why 3rd John – which doesn’t even mention Christ – is in Scripture, but Clement’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians is out.  (Clement may be the one mentioned in Paul’s letter to Philippians , was baptized by Peter and learned under Paul and John.  For Catholics, he is also the 4th pope.)   

However that is a logical impossibility: every non-Catholic Christian I have ever had this discussion with agrees that Scripture cannot and did not determine itself.  Therefore, by that logical argument alone, Sola Scriptura cannot be true.

In addition, whatever determined the content of Scripture must have had authority equal that of Scripture.  (You cannot have more in the effect than is present in the cause, which is the Law of Cause and Effect).  If it did not have authority – or if that authority is not recognized, at least implicitly – then there is no argument against Joseph Smith adding the Book of Mormon, or for Ellen White for adding her writings, or for anyone to alter Scripture eliminating things they don’t agree with or adding things they believe.

If that authority was not equal that of Scripture, we have the problem of a greater effect than in the cause – a logical impossibility – or of appealing the legitimacy of the lessor authority (the cause) to the greater authority (the effect) which is also a logical impossibility.

So my first argument is the fact that Scripture Alone could not and did not determine itself and whatever did determine the content of Scripture must have authority equal that of Scripture.  This shows that “Sola” Scriptura cannot be true.

2)  For my second argument let me present an experiment here:  Read this phrase out loud:

“I never said you stole money.”

Do you understand that phrase?  I hope so.  Do you know what I meant?  Sure.  Could you accurately teach someone else what I was saying?  Well let’s see.

Now I want you to repeat the phrase, this time emphasizing the word separate by the dots.

“…I… never said you stole money.”  What does that mean now?  That someone said it, just not me.

“I never …said… you stole money.” How about now?  It means I thought it or wrote it but did not say it.

“I never said …you… stole money.” Now it means I said someone else stole it.

“I never said you …stole… money.”  Now it means I said you borrowed it, or found it but not stole.

“I never said you stole …money…” Now it means I said you stole something just not money.

Do you see how the meaning changes dramatically?  Which one did I mean originally?  

My second argument is that using “Only” Scripture, we cannot know with certainty the meaning of words and phrases in Scripture, which can only be accurately communicated by the spoken word, unless we apply an outside source.

This is also true if applied to translations:  Sola Scriptura cannot tell us whether or not a translation is good or even accurate.  A good example is the Greek word “Epiousios” found in the two Lord’s Prayer narratives (Mt 6:11 and Lk 11:3).  Besides those two usages, there is no other usage of the word found in all of history.  Scripture alone cannot tell us what it means.  Yet everyone translates it “daily” except St. Jerome, the first to translate the entire Scriptures into Latin – he was hundreds of years closer to the sources and knew Greek.

Another good example is translating ancient Hebrew.  I’m sure I’m telling you nothing new by saying that ancient Hebrew does not have vowels.  The consonant only words can have multiple meanings if the “vowels” are applied differently.  For an example in English:  “RP” could mean “rope”, “rap”, “reap”, or “rape”.  Scripture Alone cannot help us with that, we must appeal to an outside source that has authority, or all of the authority of the Old Testament is suspect.

The article and most other Protestants I discuss this with agree that there is “some place” for tradition and “proper” exegesis (sources outside of Scripture).  But if Sola Scriptura is true and faithfully applied, we find ourselves using circular logic, which is illogical:  I appeal to Scripture as my final or sole authority, but I need some outside source to help me understand that Scripture, but that outside source must be subject to Scripture, which is my final and sole authority, but I need some outside source to help me understand the Scripture that shows me whether or not the outside source is valid to help me know what the first Scripture says in the first place!  Whew!

So that outside source must, again, have authority, or be backed by authority, equal to that of Scripture so we can have certainty about the meaning of what we are reading and not get caught in yet another logical impossibility.

3) My third argument has to do with how Sola Scriptura is actually applied: the application of Sola Scriptura shows that it cannot work.

Most non-Catholic Christians would agree that if someone wants to learn how to live as a Christian, all they need to do is pick up a Bible, start reading and the Holy Spirit will guide them to know the truth.  Every essential thing we need to know to get to heaven is clearly stated in Scripture, as I’ve been told.

But what happens when two Christians, both claiming Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, come up with two opposite ideas on salvation.  Let’s use, for example, baptism:  If one person claims that Scripture says baptism is only an ordinance and has no actual role in salvation, but another person claims that Scripture says that baptism is necessary for salvation, what decides between them?   Both claim that the Holy Spirit inspired them to find this truth.  They both cannot be right.  Does the Holy Spirit create division?  No.  Well, then who is wrong not only about their reading of Scripture, but about being led by the Holy Spirit?

I’ve had numerous non-Catholic Christians say that due to sin people sometimes misinterpret things.  That is absolutely true, but that doesn’t solve the problem because I cannot look into the hearts of these two people to see who is more sinful; and even that would not eliminate the possibility that the “more sinful” person is actually right.  This is dealing with salvation: heaven and hell are on the line.

What actually happens is they will start two different churches, both claiming the truth, both claiming to be Sola Scriptura, both claiming inspiration of the Holy Spirit… but at least one of them is leading people astray.  Is this what Christ meant when he said the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth?  Is this what Christ prayed for when he prayed that all of us should be one?  Is this what St. Paul commands of us when he says that we should not disagree on ANY point of the faith?

To try to rectify the discrepancy between what Scripture plainly says against division and what was happening, two lists were created - Essentials and Non-essentials - and the quote from St. Augustine: “In Essentials, unity; in non-Essentials, liberty; in all things, Charity” was applied.  But there are two problems with this: 1) Different denominations disagree on what is essential and non-essential, all claiming the Bible and the Holy Spirit; 2) If Sola Scriptura is true then we should find this idea of “essentials and non-essentials” in the Bible and a clear list of each so that anyone can pick up the Bible and know what is essential and what is not.

As you well know, there are people who claim the Bible and the Holy Spirit to wrongly justify homosexuality, abortion, divorce / remarriage, contraception, slavery, racism, genocide (religious and racial), and a host of other evils. 

But of no less eternal importance are also the contradictory Bible Alone based claims of:  

1)      Predestination or Free Will

2)      Salvific, efficacious Baptism or mere ordinance and symbol

3)      Infant Baptism: valid or heresy

4)      The Lord’s Supper: Real Presence and required (High Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox) or “Spiritual Reality” and necessary (Calvinistic – as I’m sure you know Calvin believed that a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper was essential for salvation), “Spiritual Reality” but not required (some Reformed) or “Symbol only” and not necessary (Zwingli and followers)

5)      The role of works in salvation:  The only thing you need (Pelegianism), Christ did His part now we do ours in addition to His (Semi-Pelegianism); Faith and Works both necessary but both empowered by the free gift of Grace; or Works not necessary just Faith (as mental assent) only; or if you do try good works you’re going to Hell.

6)      The role of intercession of Saints in heaven: good and helpful practice but not necessary or you’re going to hell if you do it.

7)      Even the nature of the Holy Spirit Himself is debated: a thing, not divine, subservient to the Father and Son and should not be worshiped (Oneness Pentecostals, some other Pentecostals, Assemblies of God) or God and our worship of Him is required.

Why does this happen?  Because Sola Scriptura really means: my sole rule / final authority for faith is [my interpretation of] the Bible.  If a belief agrees with [my interpretation of] Scripture, then I accept it; If a belief doesn’t agree with [my interpretation of] Scripture, I reject it. 

I recall talking with people about why we chose the denomination we did when starting __________ church.  The response was something similar to: they agree with us more than the others.  The question arose in my brain: aren’t we supposed to look for the one that is True by God’s standards, regardless of what I believe, how I read or interpret Scripture?

When private interpretation of that sole, final rule of authority enters the picture, anything goes.  If someone is justified in interpreting, “This is My Body” as “This is not My Body” or “So you see it is by works we are justified and not by faith alone” as “so you see it is by faith alone that we are justified and not by works” and still claim the Holy Spirit led them, how are we to deny someone from saying “No one comes to the Father except through me” actually means there are other ways to the Father (Universalists) Jesus is just one of them; or Jesus never claimed to be Divine and therefor isn’t (Jehovah’s Witness’); or even that the translation is wrong and John 1:1 really says “…the Word was with God and the Word was a god” (Mormons).

I sympathize with you, when you say you’d be lost without Sola Scriptura.  I wasn’t sure what to do when I started realizing this at ________ church. either.  I tried to bring up some of what I was finding in Scripture, but I was told I was not right.  But wait, Scripture and the Holy Spirit were guiding me.  How can anyone else say that is wrong?  Under what authority do they say that? (Boy is that a dangerous question!)

Do you remember the first question Tricia and I asked at the Membership Class?  We asked: “Where did the Bible come from and why should we believe it?”  No one answered.  If we cannot answer those questions with certainty, then we can never hope to rely on Scripture Alone with certainty.  Sproul answers those questions by saying: we can’t know the content of Scripture with certainty.  That’s a similar answer I’ve received from numerous other non-Catholic Christians.

But God did not leave us orphans.  God did not intend for these questions to remain unanswered, or answered with a ‘shrug’.  Christ is Truth (Jn 14:6) He wants us to know Him with certainty (1 Tim 2:4).  So what system did God set up to help us solve these issues?  Where are we supposed to appeal when we get into the above types of discussions?  To what did Paul and Barnabas appeal when they couldn’t solve the problem of circumcision? 

Well that’s a topic for another day.  (Doh!  I HATE cliff hangers!! J )

God Bless you on your Journey of Faith and thank you for being a part of re-introducing my wife and I to the Life Transforming Jesus.

Fidei Defensor Green Bay

P.S.  Here is that resource I told you about: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/scripture-and-tradition