“To these [the apostles] He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)



The Upper Room


The 40-day period between the Resurrection and the Ascension.



    SETTING: Jesus’ hand-picked apostles are clustered around the Risen Master in the Upper Room. Jesus is

teaching them everything they will need to know

when they go out into the world to make disciples

of all nations.


Jesus: Today we will be talking about the subject of baptism.


(James the Lesser nudges Philip, who winks at him)


Philip (whispering): We’re finally getting to the good stuff!


(Jesus clears His throat, and the whispering stops)


Jesus: Okay, men, about baptism – Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Any questions?


(Simon the Zealot, sitting in the back, raises his hand)


Jesus: Yes, Simon?


Simon the Zealot: Okay, Lord, I’m a little fuzzy on this. When You say “baptizing,” what You actually mean is full immersion in water, right?


Simon Peter (butts in): No way, Simon. Obviously, what the Lord means by “baptizing” is to immerse someone or to pour water over their head – isn’t that right, Jesus?


Jesus (smiling benevolently): What do You think I mean?


Simon Peter (with furrowed brow): Well, actually, Lord, I was asking You….


John (piping up): I think even sprinkling with water would be sufficient to say that someone had been “baptized,” right, Jesus? After all, was it not prophesied that God will sprinkle clean water on us, and we will be clean?


(Jesus spreads His hands out in front of Him in a gesture open to interpretation, and John sighs.)


Andrew: My problem, though, Lord, really isn’t with the “how” of baptism – it’s with the “why.” Does this baptism actually do something to the baptized, or is this baptism You’re proposing merely a sign of the change that has already taken place in their hearts? I mean, is this like in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few were brought safely through the water, and corresponding to that, baptism now saves us?


Simon Peter: Well put, bro!


(Jesus smiles benignly but noncommittally. Simon Peter and Andrew glance nervously at each other and then fall silent.)


Thomas (mumbling): Well, whatever.


Nathaniel (timidly): You see, Lord, it would be really, really helpful if You would explain to us exactly what it is we’re to go out and teach before we go out! I mean, seriously, how’s it going to look if John here is teaching one thing, and Thomas is teaching something different? You prayed that we might be “perfected in unity” so that the world may know that the Father sent You, right? Now, it seems to me that unity of doctrine would be the hallmark of any kind of authentic unity, right? I mean, either full immersion is necessary or it isn’t; either baptism now saves us or something else does. Our opinions are mutually contradictory, and we’re talking about salvation here! Before we go and make disciples of all nations, isn’t it kind of important that we all be on the same scroll, so to speak?


Jesus (embracing all those present with an expansive gesture): Well, let’s open that question up to discussion, then, Nathaniel. Tell Me, men, what does baptism mean to each of you?




Do you get the feeling that the above scene never actually took place? What excuse is there for Protestant indifference to unity of doctrine?


As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 180 A.D.



On the memorial of St. Paschal Baylon


Deo omnis gloria!

Tom, Dick and Teri are employed by a large corporation. Although each is a member of a different Protestant denomination, they meet in the lunchroom every day to encourage and pray for one another. Today is the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday, and as Tom approaches the table with his meal of sliced turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and the inevitable pumpkin pie, Teri looks up at him and shakes her head.

“I’m not getting through to him,” Teri announces to Tom.

Tom eyes Teri warily as he sets his tray down on the table. “What are you trying to get through to Dick?”

Teri takes a sip of her water. “The reason why our church doesn’t celebrate Christmas.”

“You don’t?” Tom asks as he lays his napkin in his lap. “Why in the world not?”

Teri throws Tom a “not you, too” look, and rolls her eyes. “It’s pretty obvious, Tom. Christians shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because there is no Biblical warrant for Christmas! Seriously, where do you see anybody in the Bible celebrating Christmas? Did Jesus command that we celebrate Christmas? Did the apostles tell their churches to celebrate Christmas? It’s completely unbiblical!”

Dick speaks up. “My church celebrates Christmas.”

“So does mine,” adds Tom as he slices his turkey into manageable bites.

“Well, you shouldn’t,” Teri emphasizes as she reaches for her water glass. “For religious commemorations or celebrations, we must have a Biblical command or precedent!”

Dick sniffs. Tom asks quietly, “Where does it say that in the Bible?”

Teri frowns. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“Not to me,” Dick chimes in.

“Teri,” Tom remonstrates over his cooling turkey, “Your church engages in many practices that aren’t mentioned in the Bible.”

“That is NOT true,” Teri retorts heatedly. “Everything we do at our church is rooted in Scripture – everything!” Teri glares at Tom. “Pass the salt, please.”

Tom hands her the salt shaker. “Well,” Tom asks quietly, “does your church have Sunday School?”

“Of course!” Teri answers. “Why wouldn’t we?”

“Because nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to separate our children out during Sunday services and have adults other than their parents teach them the truths of the faith,” Tom tells her. “Right?”

Teri’s fork stops in mid-air, a glob of stuffing dangling from the tines, as she ponders this. “You’re right. The Bible tells parents to raise up children in the way in which they should go – no middleman, no Sunday School teacher.”

“Exactly,” Tom says as he scoops up his cranberry sauce. “That makes the concept of ‘Sunday School’ every bit as unbiblical as the idea of celebrating Christmas. Neither practice is mentioned in Scripture.”

Teri chews on this, and on her stuffing. “I’ll have to discuss this with my pastor – we shouldn’t be offering Sunday School.”

Tom looks alarmed. “Teri, that’s not where I was going with this! Sunday School is a perfectly acceptable practice. What’s not acceptable is using the Bible like cheesecloth to strain out every modern-day practice that wasn’t observed in Bible times.”

“Good one!” Dick burbles through a mouthful of green beans. “Cheesecloth!”

“Look,” Tom continues. “There are many, many modern-day Christian practices that are simply not found in Scripture; if we did away with them all, we wouldn’t have much left!” Teri frowns skeptically and lays down her fork as Tom enumerates.

“Altar calls, Teri – not in Scripture. Asking people to pray ‘the sinner’s prayer’ – not in Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture urge us to ‘invite Jesus into our heart as our personal Lord and Savior.’ The practice of ‘letting Scripture interpret Scripture’ – the Bible nowhere advises that. Even the request that people ‘bow their heads and close their eyes’ – it doesn’t come from the Bible! Are you going to do away with all that at your church?”

Teri shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “But there’s no harm in any of those things.”

“Exactly!” Dick points out. “And there’s no harm in celebrating the birth of the Savior! It’s a great evangelistic opportunity.”

“But, we know that the practice of celebrating Christmas comes from Catholicism,” Teri whispers to him, lest someone at one of the surrounding tables should hear her.

“And that’s what’s really bothering you, isn’t it?” Tom asks.

Dick jumps in. “Teri, practices don’t have to be mentioned explicitly in Scripture; doctrine DOES. Everything we believe must come straight from Scripture.”

Tom clears his throat. Both Dick and Teri peer at him suspiciously.

“Actually…” Tom begins, “I can think of several doctrines that all three of us adhere to which have no Scriptural backing.”

Teri looks aghast, and even Dick eyes Tom skeptically.

“Name one!” Dick challenges.

“I’ll give you two,” Tom retorts. “Number One: Nowhere does the Bible teach that Christians have to be monogamous.”

What?” Teri exclaims, losing all interest in her pumpkin pie. “How ridiculous! Polygamy is wrong!”

“How do you know that, Teri?” Tom asks.

“Are you kidding?” Dick answers. “We all know that the New Testament forbids polygamy! Sure, some of the Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, but in the New Testament that all changed!”

“Chapter and verse, please,” Tom requests.

“Well, how about Paul’s instructions to Timothy that ‘an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife’?” Dick asks.

“What about it?” Tom answers. “That verse doesn’t say that polygamy is wrong; it just says that overseers must have one wife only. Every other man could have two, or three, or four….”

“That’s silly,” replies Teri sternly. “The Bible condemns the practice of polygamy!”

“Really?” Tom asks. “Then why does God say that He Himself gave King David his many wives? Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Elkanah the father of Samuel – many men in the Old Testament had multiple wives – men used by God. As far as I can tell they were never condemned for taking more than one wife.”

“Solomon’s many wives led him away from God!” Teri tells Tom.

“They led him away from God because they themselves worshiped other gods. If he had married only one heathen wife, that still might have happened. You can’t make a solid case against polygamy from the Old Testament, and Jesus never said anything one way or the other about it. You can believe what you like, but the Bible does not condemn polygamy! Even Martin Luther, who was personally opposed to polygamy, admitted that he couldn’t forbid a man to marry several wives, because he felt that this practice simply did not contradict Scripture.”

“It’s a moot point!” Dick points out. “Nobody’s advocating polygamy nowadays.”

Teri mutters something, and Dick asks her to speak up. “I said, there’s a church over in Martinsville that says polygamy should be made legal. I saw it on TV. I always thought it was just some kooky, unbiblical teaching….”

“Look, Teri, I’m not advocating polygamy!” Tom assures her. “I think it’s wrong just like you do. I’m simply pointing out that there’s no condemnation of polygamy in the New Testament, and the Old Testament seems to condone it. Yet most Christians would call polygamy ‘unbiblical.'”

“Well, I’ll remember that, Tom, when I get ready to start my harem,” Dick quips sarcastically.

Teri looks uncomfortable. “You said there was another doctrine that we all believe in that has no basis in Scripture.”

“That’s right,” Tom answers, “the belief that there will be no new revelation – you know, no new books of the Bible written like the Book of Mormon.”

Dick jumps on this with a chortle. “I’ve got you there! Revelation 22:18-19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and the things which are written in this book.”

Tom raises an eyebrow as he wipes his mouth on his napkin. “Really? You know that when the Revelation was given to John, it wasn’t a part of the Bible.  Christians had the Old Testament as their Bible – the New Testament was still a work in progress. The book of Revelation wasn’t officially acknowledged as Holy Scripture until the 4th century. When the angel said, ‘If any man shall add unto these things,’ what he meant was adding anything to the book of Revelation. That’s clearly forbidden. Adding new books to the Bible is not.”

Dick frowns. “But you know that Revelation was the last book of the Bible, so it means no more books can be added to the Bible!”

“That argument will backfire on you,” Tom assures his friend. “Because there’s a very similar verse, one that says, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it.”

“But that’s my point!” Dick answers. “Again, the Bible says, don’t add to Scripture!”

“Not so fast!” Tom shoots back. “That verse is in the book of Deuteronomy. Remember, groups like the Sadducees believed that there were only 5 books in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with Deuteronomy being the last book. So they could make the same argument that you just made about the verse in Revelation: Deuteronomy is the last book in the Bible, so obviously this verse means don’t add any more books to the 5-book Bible!”

Dick sits quietly. Tom continues, “No, there actually is nothing in the Bible that tells us that the Bible consists of 66 books, that the 66 books that we’ve got in our Bible are the correct books, that none have been left out, or that there won’t be any new ones in the future. The Bible simply doesn’t address that issue.”

“Then how do we know there won’t be any more revelation, or that polygamy is wrong?” Dick wonders.

“The same way we know that it’s okay to celebrate Christmas,” Tom says quietly, looking at Teri. “The Catholic Church decided all those issues.”

Teri stands. “Do either of you have any Alka-Seltzer?” Both Tom and Dick shake their heads. “Remind me never to invite you over for dinner,” Teri says to Tom. “Talking to you always gives me indigestion.”


On the memorial of St. James Intercisus

Deo omnis gloria!

On the Reformers’ side of the Catholic-Protestant divide there are some impressive, cogent arguments for or against doctrines on which Catholics and Protestants disagree, logical, finely-nuanced arguments about which whole books have been written, indeed, arguments upon which entire Protestant denominations have been founded.

This post isn’t about those arguments.

No, this post is about some of the ridiculous things that some folks hold up as “proof” that their denomination is Christianity The Way Jesus Meant It To Be, or “proof” that the Catholic Church is the scuzzy spawn of Satan. I don’t know about you, but I can handle thoughtful objections far more easily than I can handle dumb ones. The following are indubitably dumb, yet that doesn’t keep dumb bunnies from trying them out on Catholics. You probably have your own list; these have been tried out on me.

Take the clueless comment made by a Baptist lady while attempting to engage in some spiritual one-upmanship: “Our church is growing by leaps and bounds. People are packing our services. You can see the Lord’s mighty hand upon us as we grow, and grow, and grow!”

Hmmm…. Well, I could have just answered like this:

Mass in Manila at World Youth Day, 1995

But instead, I had a dandy comparison handy:

Actually, one of the fastest growing faith groups in the U.S. is the Mormon church. As you know, Mormons deny the Trinity and teach that you can become a god. Do you feel that their growth is evidence of “God’s mighty hand” upon them?

Undaunted, this lady came back with another interesting statistic concerning her church: “We have so many doctors and lawyers in our congregation, and city council members!”


I’ve never been to Utah, but I’m willing to bet that the Mormon congregations are also full of doctors, and lawyers, and government officials. Remember Mitt? I bet you don’t have any presidential candidates in your congregation. Does that mean that your beliefs are all wet?

How about this supposedly unanswerable doozy?

“Well, what about near-death experiences? I’ve read books by Evangelicals who have died and come back and reported that Heaven is just as we believe it is – no purgatory, no ‘Blessed Virgin,’ faith alone and everything!”

And there have been Hindus who have “died” and “come back,” and have reported that they saw Hindu gods – leading one to question whether near-death experiences are really something one ought to be basing one’s theology upon….

Ah, anecdotal evidence – that staple of those loath to think too deeply. If it corresponds with that which has managed to pass through my subjective filter and the subjective filters of those who think just like I do, then it’s just “common knowledge” that things are the way I believe them to be. How dare you Catholics come around here trying to confuse good people with your facts?!

Okay – so far, no insightful objections that would keep a Catholic awake at night – unless maybe you couldn’t sleep because you couldn’t stop laughing. But there are common objections that, while no less ignorant, are no laughing matter at all:

“Well, I’ve read those little booklets you can buy at the Christian bookstore, so I know all about the horrors of your false religious system.”

She means those little goodies known as Chick Tracts. A Baptist friend of mine “chicked” me when I told her I was becoming Catholic. If you’ve ever been chicked, you know it’s an experience you wouldn’t care to repeat. The “information” in those booklets is so far-out, so off-the-mark, so skewed, that you don’t know where to begin to set the chicker straight.

Begin here.

Catholics have been refuting the gobbledygook in Chick Tracts ever since there have been Chick Tracts – with little success. Why should someone who’s foolish enough to get their info on Catholicism from a little cartoon booklet listen to a Catholic source? But when Christianity Today and Cornerstone magazine, both Protestant publications, produced exposés on Jack Chick and his buddy Alberto Rivera, some Protestants sat up and took notice.

Some. The local Christian bookstore still sells Chick Tracts, the logic being that if dumb bunnies will buy it, smart store owners need to sell it….

If you do succeed in making a dent in your acquaintances’ supply of dumb arguments, beware. There are people who will at that point subject you to what they consider to be the argument of all arguments, the ultimate conversation-stopper:

“Catholic priests abuse children. How can you affiliate yourself with a church where things like that happen? How can you claim that your church is the Church Jesus established when your priests engage in such sickening perversions?”

That’s no laughing matter.

Thinking back, I can remember 3 instances of sexual misconduct by Evangelical pastors, incidences with which I was personally acquainted while a Protestant – none of those incidents caused me to believe that Protestantism was rotten to the core. Those pastors sinned; I didn’t feel that that disproved the Gospel that they preached. Claiming that sin in the Church disproves Catholic theology is a dumb argument, just as it would be silly for me to try to argue that the existence of lecherous Protestant pastors somehow disproves the doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide.

However, those pastors I was talking about committed adultery with consenting females. Crimes against children are heinous, and there is just something inside the average person which insists that people who commit them can’t be one of us. Not only their acts must be repudiated, but everything they stand for as well. And it is simply “common knowledge” that the Church is a hotbed of pedophile activity. My children, both of whom attend a Baptist university, have been regaled with numerous pedophile priest “jokes” over the years. One Protestant told me that she “knew” that John Paul II had known about the sexual abuse of minors and had turned a blind eye; it was obvious that he had known. She felt nothing but disdain for the Church.

Catholics can respond, and have responded, that insurance statistics show that charges of abuse are aimed fairly equally at Protestant churches and Catholic parishes, but this is almost invariably seen as a dodge. The same response is forthcoming when Evangelicals are directed to a Newsweek article explaining that Catholic priests simply aren’t any more likely to molest your children than your own Protestant pastor – you believe the mainstream media??? Anecdotal evidence is considered to be every bit as good as the real thing; everyone simply “knows” that sexual abuse of children is a Catholic problem, and if you Catholics won’t accept that, you are in denial.

Recently joining us Catholics in denial, apparently, is a Liberty University professor by the name of Boz Tchividjian. His mother was a Graham, as in Billy Graham, meaning that as an Evangelical, Tchividjian has beaucoup de street cred. He is probably best known for his work with the Protestant organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), and he spoke this past September on the subject of the sexual abuse of children:

AUSTIN, Texas (RNS) The Christian mission field is a “magnet” for sexual abusers, Boz Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse said Thursday (Sept. 26) to a room of journalists.

While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, “I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference, saying too many evangelicals had “sacrificed the souls” of young victims.

“Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,” said Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations.

Earlier this summer, GRACE spearheaded an online petition decrying the “silence” and “inattention” of evangelical leaders to sexual abuse in their churches.

Mission agencies, “where abuse is most prevalent,” often don’t report abuse because they fear being barred from working in foreign countries, he said. Abusers will get sent home and might join another agency. Of known data from abuse cases, 25 percent are repeat cases, he said.

Still, he says, he sees some positive movements among some Protestants. Bob Jones University has hired GRACE to investigate abuse allegations, a move that encourages Tchividjian, a former Florida prosecutor. “That’s like the mothership of fundamentalism,” he said. His grandfather split with Bob Jones in a fundamentalist and evangelical division.

“The Protestant culture is defined by independence,” Tchividjian said. Evangelicals often frown upon transparency and accountability, he said, as many Protestants rely on Scripture more than religious leaders, compared to Catholics.

Abusers discourage whistle-blowing by condemning gossip to try to keep people from reporting abuse, he said. Victims are also told to protect the reputation of Jesus.

Too many Protestant institutions have sacrificed souls in order to protect their institutions, he said. “We’ve got the Gospels backwards,” he said.

Tchividjian said he is speaking with Pepperdine University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in California, about creating a national GRACE center.

Please remember: Dr. Tchividjian used the word “arrogant,” not me.

Not that that word never crossed my mind.

There really is only one way to fight “dumb” – fight smart. There’s plenty of material out there by honest, thinking Protestants which corroborates the Catholic position on these issues. Find it, and have it ready when some dumb bunny comes hopping down the lane. You may not change the bunny’s mind, it’s true – but you’ll at least be able to shut his mouth.


On the memorial of St. Lorcán Ua Tuathail

Deo omnis gloria!

“Muffler? – Exhaust? – what’s the difference? The point is, someone has modified the tailpipe of that car so that it’s ridiculously loud!”

Can you tell I’m not into cars? I made a comment like the one above to my son one day, my son who lives and breathes cars. He replied with a comment about me being a genuine embarrassment. He’s 19; he’ll get over it. I just don’t know anything about cars – don’t know, don’t want to know. Will the car get me from here to there? Great! I know all I need to know! Why would I need to know the oil pump from the radiator? That’s not on the driving test, so why should I care?

I’ve been thinking a lot about tests and testing lately. In my line of work, we spend a considerable amount of time inputting data into electronic data capture (EDC) systems. Unfortunately, there’s no standard, government-issue EDC – there are many of them out there, and they are all constantly updating, meaning that at least once a month I am being asked to train on some new system or new version of an old system. Training is a real timesucker; you are asked to sit through a “dynamic” presentation on how to devise a password, how to change your password, how to set up your preferences, things people really should have known before being legally allowed to even sit down in front of the keyboard. The system encourages you with peppy announcements like “Congratulations! You now know how to perform an Advanced Search!!” while you ask yourself why in the world you would ever want to perform an advanced search under normal circumstances….

It dawned on me today that in this endless training we can find hidden a pretty darn good explanation for why your apologetics efforts seem to be getting you nowhere.

No, really. Bear with me.

Keep in mind that I, the victim, already know the basics of the computer training I must take before I ever get started. I don’t want to take the blooming training; all I want to do is to be able to use the system. It’s not rocket science; it’s not even computer science. I feel fairly confident that I already know whatever the training is going to try to teach me, or that I can easily figure it out on my own when I need to input my data. Just give me my certificate so I can get to work!

Doesn’t that sound like your next-door neighbor? She’s a lifelong Evangelical. She knows the Bible backwards and forwards. She has heard all her life about those unbiblical Catholic practices like worshipping Mary and obeying the sinless pope. There really isn’t anything you, you silly Catholic, can teach her. She couldn’t possibly care any less that you think that you have discovered in Catholicism the fullness of the truth. She’s just waiting for you to pause for breath so she can interrupt your explanation of plenary indulgences with her presentation of the Four Spiritual Laws. Just shut up, would ya, so she can get to work!

What actually happens when I finish the training and begin inputting data is generally something rather different than what I had envisioned. Even when I’m using version 4.0 (meaning I’ve trained on the previous versions as well as on this one), I always seem to run into a roadblock when I want to do something I’ve never had to do before. Gee, there are a lot of options on this page… which tab do I click on?… is this option the one I need?… Leaping lizards! I erased the whole page!!!… hmm… I wonder if any of my coworkers were paying attention during training….

And it’s the same with your neighbor. She’s confident that she knows everything she needs to know about theology. Her Evangelical Protestant beliefs are working great for her – till they aren’t. Till her church is in the throes of a nasty split, and she realizes that the scriptural injunction to “take it to the church” has no real meaning in a Protestant context. Till her brother becomes a Jehovah’s Witness because they get all their doctrine “straight from Scripture,” and he’s never really believed that mumbo-jumbo about “three Persons, one God,” anyway – where does the Bible teach that? Till the medical bills force her to contemplate bankruptcy, and she’s confronted with the shallowness of her “health-and-wealth” approach to life. It could be one of a number of things, but people tend not to take much interest in your explanation of Catholic beliefs till they realize that they can’t figure things out by themselves. Whatever they’ve tried isn’t working, and now a timely explanation from a Catholic perspective begins to look a tad more appealing….

I first took an interest in Catholic theology when a six-grader asked me, a lifelong Evangelical, what Catholics believe. I realized that I really had no clue. It irked me that I couldn’t really answer the question. I bought a copy of Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism just to familiarize myself with the topic. It was as I was reading through John 6:35-69 to refute the Catholic arguments for the Real Presence that I was converted nearly instantaneously – I was overcome by the realization that my Evangelical interpretation of the sixth chapter of John was a pathetic attempt to explain away what Jesus was actually saying, that the Catholic understanding of His words (“if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh”) made far, far better sense of the discourse, as well as of the reaction of His disciples (many left Him out of disgust), of the corresponding verses in Matthew, Mark and Luke (“this IS My body”), of St. Paul’s comments on Holy Communion in 1 Corinthians, and of the unanimous understanding of all Christians for the first millennium of Christianity that Jesus’ words were to be taken literally. You might say that that sixth-grader “quizzed” me, and when I failed the quiz I felt forced to take an interest in a subject that I had managed to ignore my whole life long, with life-changing results….

Let’s face it: your average neighbor isn’t theologically inclined. Try and explain to her the nuances of the Catholic understanding of justification vs. the Reformed understanding, and most likely all you’ll get is an incredulous stare. I just want to go to Heaven, your neighbor is thinking to herself, not found a seminary! It’s sooooo much easier for her to just stick with the familiar prevailing wisdom which has served her so well for so long now. It isn’t like there’s going to be a test….

Ah, but that’s where she’s wrong. Life is the test, and some of the questions can be very, very hard to answer. That’s when people’s eyes start straying to the answers their neighbors have jotted down on their test papers, just to see, you know, what they thought the right answer was. Your well-intentioned offers to lend her Scott Hahn’s Rome, Sweet Home may be rebuffed repeatedly while life’s going great, but when her denomination decides to condone abortion or homosexual activity, your beliefs may finally receive a hearing. Neighbors who believe they already have the answers just don’t want to hear about it – it’s people with questions who want answers.

So when I’m standing beside my broken-down car on the side of the road on a frosty December morning, cell phone in hand, trying to reach my son, you can bet I’m all ears when he explains to me which one is the oil pump and which one is the radiator. I need to know! And when your neighbor breaks down by the side of Life’s road, make sure she has your number – and make sure you’re ready to take the call.


On the memorial of St. Ernest of Mecca

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: An Automobile Engine by Eiko/Wikimedia Commons

I once explained to a Protestant the Catholic teaching that a valid marriage cannot be dissolved. I explained our understanding of Genesis 2:24, Malachi 2:16, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19: 9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16: 18, and 1 Corinthians 7, and discussed the fact that no one up until the time of the Reformation felt that remarriage was ever an option after divorce. She listened carefully, asked many questions, and evinced understanding. But in the end, she shook her head and admitted that she would accept the Catholic teaching on the permanence of marriage, except for the fact that she couldn’t find another church which agreed with the Church that remarriage is an impossibility in cases where a valid marriage has previously taken place.

Not unusual for a Protestant to feel that way. Many things in a Protestant context are decided by the quasi-biblical principles of “free and fair elections” and “majority rules.” My friend simply felt that, in this case, Catholics were outvoted. What is not given due consideration, at least not in the more “modern” Protestant denominations of an Evangelical or charismatic bent, is that when Protestants are doing their polling, the vast majority of Christians are allowed no say whatsoever. You see, under their system, when you die you forfeit your right to cast a vote. The beliefs of those who have gone before are null and void.

Of course, no one thinks about it in exactly this way; no one really thinks about it at all. It simply never occurs to these Protestants to put in the time to research the historic teachings of the Christians in prior centuries on any given subject. It never occurs to them to do this because, despite their firm belief in eternal life in Christ, to them the dead are DEAD and they are GONE.

This attitude has consequences. The Assemblies of God USA has produced a statement of faith, over 2,700 words’ worth, chockfull of Scripture but absent of any references to how their understanding of the Bible matches up with what Christians have believed down through the centuries. Phooey on those dead folks – what do their beliefs matter? What we believe and teach NOW is REAL Christianity! It’s silliness like that which led Spurgeon to quip, “It seems odd that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to them should think so little of what He has revealed to others.”

Sometimes you really have to wonder….

In contrast, on the website of a Reformed Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, you are advised that the church considers itself to be “a part of the historic Judeo-Christian Church, and our foundational vision and beliefs seek to be rooted in scripture and the history of the Church. Therefore we hold to the most basic beliefs of the church found in The Apostles’ Creed.”

One can certainly make the case that one’s beliefs are “rooted in Scripture and in the history of the Church” by referencing the Apostles’ Creed:

We believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic Church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting. Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed is a good place to begin. In using one of the ancient creeds as their statement of faith, this church is demonstrating an interest in continuity, admitting that what the early Christians believed actually mattered. This is not unusual for the spiritual descendants of Calvin, a Reformer who often referred to the Church Fathers and their teachings (although Catholics would take issue with how he understood them).

So what does one of the more modern Protestant denominations (nondenominational, charismatic, independent) do should it be brought to their attention that the beliefs of 2,000 years’ worth of Christianity ought to count for something? They can do what the churches that I formerly attended did – they can simply claim that what they are teaching is exactly what the early Christians believed. That is what the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has done. Their statement of faith reads in part:

“The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada stands firmly in the mainstream of historical Christianity.”

Of course, I can claim that I’m a direct descendant of St. Augustine of Hippo – but that doesn’t make it so. Let’s look at some of the PAOC’s beliefs:

1. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol, memorial and proclamation of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This ordinance of communion is to be participated in by believers until Christ’s return.

2. Water baptism signifies the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection and is practised by immersion.

3. Assurance of salvation is the privilege of all who are born again by the Spirit through faith in Christ, resulting in love, gratitude and obedience toward God.

The denomination is serving up a purely symbolic Lord’s Supper, a baptism which “signifies” something rather than actually effecting something (and which MUST be by immersion), and eternal security – three beliefs/practices which the group claims are rooted “firmly in the mainstream of historical Christianity.”

The mainstream of historical Christianity in an alternate universe, perhaps?

Let’s let the early Christians explain their beliefs concerning the “Lord’s Supper” (Holy Communion). Jesus said “This IS My body.” Did the early Christians have the faith to believe what He said?

They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. – St. Ignatius of Antioch, 107 A.D.

Moreover, as I said before, concerning the sacrifices which you at that time offered, God speaks through Malachi [1:10-12]…It is of the sacrifices offered to Him in every place by us, the Gentiles, that is, of the bread of the Eucharist and likewise of the cup of the Eucharist, that He speaks at that time; and He says that we glorify His name, while you profane it. – St. Justin Martyr, 2nd century

He taught the new sacrifice of the New Covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve prophets, had signified beforehand: [quotes Mal 1:10-11]. By these words He makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one; for His name is glorified among the Gentiles. – St. Irenaeus of Lyons, 2nd century

“Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutriments. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! – St. Clement of Alexandria, 3rd century

He Himself warns us, saying, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body. – St. Cyprian of Carthage, 3rd century

Our Lord Jesus took in His hands what in the beginning was only bread; and He blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy in the name of the Father and in the name of the Spirit; and He broke it and in His gracious kindness He distributed it to all His disciples one by one. He called the bread His living Body, and did Himself fill it with Himself and the Spirit. And extending His hand, He gave them the Bread which His right hand had made holy: “Take, all of you eat of this, which My word has made holy. Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you; but take, eat this Bread [of life], and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called My Body, that it is indeed. – St. Ephraim. 4th century

Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine — and thus is His Body confected. – St. Athanasius, 4th century

The bread again is at first common bread; but when the mystery sanctifies it, it is called and actually becomes the Body of Christ. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, 4th century

You may perhaps say: “My bread is ordinary.” But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the flesh of Christ. And let us add this: How can what is bread be the Body of Christ? By the consecration. The consecration takes place by certain words; but whose words? Those of the Lord Jesus. – St. Ambrose, 4th century

After the type had been fulfilled by the Passover celebration and He had eaten the flesh of the lamb with His Apostles, He takes bread which strengthens the heart of man, and goes on to the true Sacrament of the Passover, so that just as Melchisedech, the priest of the Most High God, in prefiguring Him, made bread and wine an offering, He too makes Himself manifest in the reality of His own Body and Blood. – St. Jerome, 5th century

“But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific Sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the Sacrifice itself; and the Sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. – St. Augustine, 5th century

The historical record goes on and on in this vein; every Christian up until the Reformation was taught that the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Those Christians took the words “This is My body” quite literally. So in what sense is the PAOC belief in the bread and wine as mere symbols “mainstream”? Perhaps by “historical Christianity” they mean Protestant Christianity? Sorry, Charlie…

Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that it is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous. – Martin Luther, 16th century

Okay, so the claim about being in the “mainstream of historical Christianity” is bogus as far as Holy Communion goes – the PAOC teaching on that subject wasn’t invented until very late in the game; even Martin Luther thought it was tommyrot. How about their belief that baptism merely signifies the change that takes place in the believer when he is baptized into Christ, and that baptism must be by immersion?

Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [i.e., running water]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. -The Didache, 1st century

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” – St. Justin Martyr, 2nd century

Where there is no scarcity of water the stream shall flow through the baptismal font or pour into it from above; but if water is scarce, whether on a constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever water is available. – St. Hippolytus of Rome, 3rd century

There is absolutely nothing which makes men’s minds more obdurate than the simplicity of the divine works which are visible in the act, when compared with the grandeur which is promised thereto in the effect; so that from the very fact, that with so great simplicity, without pomp, without any considerable novelty of preparation, finally, without expense, a man is dipped in water, and amid the utterance of some few words, is sprinkled, and then rises again, not much (or not at all) the cleaner, the consequent attainment of eternity is esteemed the more incredible. – Tertullian, 3rd century

As [Novatian] seemed about to die, he received baptism in the bed where he lay, by pouring… – Pope Cornelius I, 3rd century

Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal… This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing. Washing, by which we cleanse away our sins; grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted; and illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly. – St. Clement of Alexandria, 3rd century

For prisoners, baptism is ransom, forgiveness of debts, the death of sin, regeneration of the soul, a resplendent garment, an unbreakable seal, a chariot to heaven, a royal protector, a gift of adoption. – St Basil the Great, 4th century

… for no one ascends into the kingdom of heaven except through the sacrament of baptism…. “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – St. Ambrose, 4th century

Good luck finding anyone among the early Christians who believed that baptism is just a symbol. They believed that “baptism… now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21). And don’t look to the Great Reformer for any help on this, either:

This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever. Martin Luther, 16th century

Strike two! Now, what are the chances that the idea of “assurance of salvation” is “in the mainstream of historical Christianity”? Romans 11:19-22 warned the early Christians that “You may say ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” How did the early Christians interpret passages such as these?

He who raised Him up from the dead will raise us up also – if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness. – St. Polycarp, 2nd century

I hold further, that those of you who have confessed and known this man to be Christ, yet who have gone back for some reason to the legal dispensation, and have denied that this man is Christ, and have not repented before death – you will by no means be saved. – St. Justin Martyr, 2nd century

Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons. – St. Irenaeus of Lyons, 2nd century

We ought indeed to walk so holily, and with so entire substantially of faith, as to be confident and secure in regard of our own conscience, desiring that it may abide in us to the end. Yet, we should not presume. For he who presumes feels less apprehension; he who feels less apprehension takes less precaution; he who takes less precaution runs more risk. Fear is the foundation of salvation; presumption is an impediment to fear. More useful, then, is it to apprehend that we may possibly fail, than to presume that we cannot; for apprehending will lead us to fear, fearing to caution, and caution to salvation. On the other hand, if we presume, there will be neither fear nor caution to save us. – Tertullian, 3rd century

Certain ones of those who hold different opinions misuse these passages. They essentially destroy free will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation and by introducing others as being saved in such a way that they cannot be lost. – Origen, 3rd century

Let us press onward and labor, watching with our whole heart. Let us be steadfast with all endurance; let us keep the Lord’s commandments. Thereby, when that day of anger and vengeance comes, we may not be punished with the ungodly and the sinners. Rather, we may be honored with the righteous and with those who fear God. – St. Cyprian of Carthage, 3rd century

You kind of know what’s coming, don’t you?

In my judgment, we must believe in the mercy of God, but remain uncertain about our and others’ future perseverance, or predestination. As he said: ‘if you think that you are standing, watch out that you do not fall,’ (1 Cor 10:12). Martin Luther, 16th century

Only by radically redefining the meaning of the words “historical Christianity” can one claim with a straight face that these modern-day teachings are what Christians down through the ages have believed. And not to pick on the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada – every “Bible-believing church” I was ever a part of taught me that I was being faithful to the teachings of historical Christianity. How so? Simple – I believed what the Bible says (I believed my own private interpretation of Scripture) and the early Christians believed what the Bible says, and therefore my modern-day beliefs, whatever they happened to be, were exactly the same as those of the early Christians. There was simply no doubt in my mind that this was true. That sincere belief was simply taken on faith; I never tried to demonstrate its historical accuracy. I just knew it was so.

Sometimes you really have to wonder….


On the memorial of Bl. Maria Angela Truszkowska

Deo omnis gloria!

Quite some time back, my director stunned me with an announcement. “The head of Department “X” is requesting that you be transferred to her department.” “She wants me?” I squeaked. “Sure looks like it,” he told me. “Wow…” was my eloquent reply.

To say that I wanted to get into Department “X” was an understatement. It had been my goal for a long time, and now it looked like it was becoming a reality. So I went back to work, and I waited.

And waited. And waited. Disturbingly, it began to look to me as if Department “X” had forgotten me. I plugged away at my longtime job, waiting and hoping, and hearing nothing.

I began to fret. Having practiced all my life, I am a consummate fretter. If Department “X” wanted me, why was I still here in my old position? It had been weeks since I was told the news; surely they would have contacted me by now if it were true. Had I misunderstood? How long was I going to have to wait? What if I waited, and waited, and nothing ever happened? Had I misunderstood??

Reason kept trying to contact me – on the fourth or fifth call, she finally got through. “What did the director say?” she whispered. “Didn’t he say that ‘Department “X” is requesting that you be transferred? How many ways are there to understand that?”

I couldn’t fight against that logic. The director’s words had been unambiguous. Seriously, if he had been trying to tell me that a change of departments was in my future, how could he have put it any more clearly?

I relaxed. And sure enough, I was soon transferred to Department “X”.

I remember that story when I read Protestant explanations of John 6: 48-69:

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Ask yourself, if Jesus was trying to tell us that we must really eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Holy Eucharist (which He elucidated in the Upper Room with the words, “This
is My body,” and “This is My blood”), how could He have expressed Himself any more clearly? He repeats over and over again, “Eat My flesh! Eat My flesh! This bread which comes down out of Heaven is My flesh – eat this bread and live!”

Sounds pretty serious – at least, his 1st-century audience thinks so. When they question Him (how can this man give us his flesh to eat?), He insists more emphatically that unless they eat His flesh, they have no life in them. He uses the same construction to phrase John 6:53 as He used in John 3:3 –

Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”

His listeners actually take His words so seriously that they are disgusted. When they naturally understand Him to be making a cannibalistic proposal, He admonishes them that “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” – eating My flesh as I stand here before you will profit nothing, but the Spirit will make possible the miraculous transformation of the bread and wine upon the altar into My very body and blood.

So at this point, with His disciples scattering because, as He puts it: “There are some of you who do not believe,” we would expect Jesus to do what He did whenever He spoke to the crowd in parables: He would dismiss those crowds, and then sit down with His disciples and explain the meaning of those parables, for “to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” After all, letting those folks walk off in unbelief was tantamount to allowing them to die spiritually in their rejection of Him – over a “misunderstanding”? Yet in this instance He neglected to clear up the “misunderstanding” engendered by His strong words. Instead, He asks a poignant question of His disciples: “Are you leaving Me, too?” As Jesus said, there were some who did not believe, but thanks be to God, St. Peter answered for the other apostles with his credimus: “We believe.”

Make no mistake: Jesus did not say “there are some of you who do not understand” – no, He warned them that “there are some of you who do not believe.” And that remains true to this day; there are many who do not believe His words, choosing to take them metaphorically and declare that “Eat My flesh! Drink My blood!” means “Believe in Me!” – and then serving up a sorry hash of Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:23-30 (Jesus gives thanks, holds up the bread and says “This is My body – so believe in Me, you guys!” Does anyone smell a thoroughly rotten “metaphor” here??)

I can imagine Jesus asking Himself “how can I phrase this so they will understand that I plan to give them My very flesh and blood as their spiritual food and drink?”

I am the bread of life!

I am the living bread!

The bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh!

He who eats Me, he also will live because of Me!

This. Is. My. Body.

Maybe that’s why everyone in Christendom for 1,000 years believed that it literally was His body and blood that they received in Holy Communion.

This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?

It is difficult. Maybe that’s why, to this day, “there are some of you who do not believe.”


On the memorial of St. John Gabriel Perboyre

Deo omnis gloria!

Eisegesis is a fifty-cent word to describe the way the Scriptures are abused when we take our own ideas and read them into the Bible. Eisegesis was the foundation of my Evangelical understanding of John chapter 6. As a lifelong Protestant, I had been taught that when Jesus said over and over and over that we must eat His body and drink His blood, or we will have no life in us, He didn’t mean what He actually said. We Evangelicals read one or the other of our two core beliefs into that passage. We believed that everything Jesus ever said or did revolved around the doctrine of sola fide (faith ALONE) or sola Scriptura (the Bible ALONE), so we interpreted “Eat My body” and “Drink My blood” to mean either “‘Eating’ and ‘drinking’ = BELIEVING!” or “Jesus is telling us to ‘feast’ on the Holy Word of God!” depending on who was preaching the sermon. The one thing that was OBVIOUS to us was that Jesus couldn’t have meant for us to take His words literally (as they were taken by everyone, everywhere for ten centuries). By the time the preacher was done, the import of the passage had been explained away quite professionally. An electric shock ran through my body when I finally sat down one day with a Bible and read John 6 with no commentary, no footnotes, and no preacher telling me what the text actually really meant. I was confronted with Jesus’ straightforward insistence that “Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” I searched in vain for the part where Jesus explained privately to His disciples that what He actually meant was that the flesh which He would give for the life of the world – which He insisted over and over again that we MUST eat – was the Bible or our faith or some such nonsense. But to Protestants, Jesus simply could not be saying what He appears to be saying here, thus necessitating a kind of magic act on the part of the interpreter, with a lightning-fast substitution of one concept for another. In my mind this conjures up a picture of a corny old-time magician waving his wand over his black top hat and calling out his magical incantation of “EISEGESIS!” – thereby changing the handkerchief which just went into the hat into a big white bunny, and the verses about the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist into yet another passage supporting sola fide or sola Scriptura. Have stranger things ever happened?

This explains why so many verses which appear at first glance to support Catholic doctrine undergo such a strange change in the hands of Protestant eisegetes. Almost all of these passages are transmogrified into references to “faith” or commentaries on the authority of Scripture. Please don’t misunderstand –according to the Holy Catholic Church, the Bible is without question the inerrant, inspired Word of God. However, the Evangelical doctrine of sola Scriptura does damage to the purpose for which God has given us His Holy Word. According to Evangelicals who promulgate the notion of “the Bible ALONE,” Holy Scripture is the only authority here on Earth to which a Christian ultimately need answer. But since the Bible itself never actually tells us this, nor can the doctrine of sola Scriptura actually be found in Scripture, the only way Protestants can maintain this insistence with a straight face is by constantly waving the eisegesis wand, reading “the Bible ALONE” and “the authority of Scripture” back into the text despite whatever the subject actually happens to be.

Magicians generally employ an assistant, and the assistant when Protestants read “the authority of the Bible” into the Bible is named “Assumption.” In order for the trick to be performed successfully, Assumption must first of all demonstrate to the onlookers that whenever the Bible discusses “the word of God,” what is meant are the Holy Scriptures. This obviously confuses the issue, making the role of Scripture seem beefier and more comprehensive than it actually is. Protestants, for example, list Eph 1:13, Phil 2:16, Ps 130:5, Lk 11:28, Deut 8:3, Is 40:8, Ps 107:20, Jn 5:24, 1 Sam 15:23, Rev 19:15, Ps 89:34, Rom 10:17, Ps 138:2, 2 Tim 3:16, and other verses as examples of the Bible’s preeminent importance in the life of the believer. Verses such as Ephesians 1:13 and Philippians 2:16 discuss “the word of truth” and “the word of life,” apt descriptions for the written word of God, but also a good way to describe God’s spoken word – as Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” That “word of God” Jesus was talking about could be the Scripture that was read to you this morning at Mass, or it could be His words preached live and impromptu and never written down for posterity. In other words, when the Bible talks about the “word,” it is not always the written Word (i.e., the Holy Bible) which is necessarily meant. The spoken Word is equally “the word of the Lord.” (For this reason, the Catholic Church rejects the doctrine of “the Bible alone,” embracing instead the doctrine of “the Word of God alone.”) Yet Evangelicals are in the habit of collecting such verses and pressing them into the service of their argument that the written Word, the Bible, occupies a position other than the one Catholics believe it holds. On a Protestant website, for example, you can find verses like Psalm 107:20, “He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction,” under the heading of “The Bible is a Source of Healing and Protection” – evoking visions of a flying leatherbound KJV healing and delivering the Israelites in their distress! In an Evangelical context, the efficacy and significance of the spoken Word of God are virtually ignored, despite the fact that Jesus told His apostles quite clearly that when they preached the Gospel, their words would be His very Word: “He who hears you, hears Me.”

Check out Hebrews 3:12-19 and Hebrews 4:1-3, 11- 13. The author of Hebrews tells us how to those who came out of Egypt, the spoken Word of God was preached. The Israelites disregarded not the Holy Scriptures (which did not as yet exist), but rather the preaching of Moses, the one to whom God gave the authority to lead the children of Israel. They were disobedient to God’s commands given to them through His chosen leader:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”

For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said….

Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

According to verse 2, the Israelites had “the good news preached” to them by Moses, just as the Christians to whom the author of Hebrews is writing had the “good news preached” to them by the apostles. The “word of God” which is being extolled in this passage is the oral preaching of God’s servants Moses and the apostles – not to say that the written Word is not equally “living and active,” but to say that Evangelicals very often disregard this detail concerning apostolic preaching or deal with it in a very perfunctory manner. That the Word of God is living and active and powerful is made abundantly clear by the Scriptures which tell us that by the word of the Lord the very heavens were made. Where sola-Scriptura Christians go wrong on this is when they blur the lines between the spoken Word of God, which created the heavens and the earth, and the written Word of God, the Bible, which did not. Verses which clearly refer to the spoken Word which either proceeds from the mouth of God Himself or from the mouth of one of His servants are drafted into the service of the “Bible alone” argument. The apostles preached the very Word of God, and thus the early Christians are admonished in Hebrews 13:7 to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” As a Protestant I envisioned those leaders reading the Bible to their congregation and expounding upon it. The author of Hebrews knew that many in his audience could remember the apostles speaking the Word of God to them. There’s a difference.

Beware the shell game. Protestants have invented a theological concept known as
“the authority of the Scriptures.” It is necessary to play this shell game in order to keep the doctrine of “the Bible ALONE” intact. If it can be shown from the New Testament that authority is vested in some person by God, and that that person must then be obeyed because God gave him authority, then the assertion that the Bible is the ONLY authority for Christians can be shown to be incorrect, the Reformation pillar of sola Scriptura teeters, and Catholicism begins to look a whole lot more plausible. Protestants dwell on the importance of the written Word to the neglect of the spoken Word, because the spoken Word is uttered by an authoritative speaker. This may sound like a minor detail, but he who neglects this detail becomes a mark for thimbleriggers.

The Reformers, in their desire to answer to an authority other than the one God established, that is to say, other than the Holy Catholic Church, conned their followers by substituting the supposed “authority of Scripture” for the authority of the leaders of the Church. Thus John Calvin read Ephesians 2:19-22:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

And saw fit to compose the following commentary:

But such wranglers are neatly refuted by just one word of the apostle. He testifies that the church is “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” [Eph. 2:20]. If the teaching of the prophets and apostles is the foundation, this must have had authority before the church began to exist. Groundless, too, is their subtle objection that, although the church took its beginning here, the writings to be attributed to the prophets and apostles nevertheless remain in doubt until decided by the church. For if the Christian church was from the beginning founded upon the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, wherever this doctrine is found, the acceptance of it-without which the church itself would never have existed-must certainly have preceded the church. It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. But because the church recognizes Scripture to be the truth of its own God, as a pious duty it unhesitatingly venerates Scripture.

Now you see it – now you don’t, as the Reformer takes the text of Ephesians 2:20, carefully places it under his exegetical shell, and then “Presto! Change-o!” delivers to the reader not a Church “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” as the verse reads, but rather, as Calvin put it, a church built upon “the teaching of the prophets and apostles.” Flimflam!
The teachING (i.e., the Scriptures) is now, according to the Protestant interpretation, “the foundation,” not the teachERS, the apostles themselves.

And Protestants are dazzled by the smoke and mirrors. As a Protestant blogger writes concerning this very bait-and-switch passage perpetrated by Calvin: “Thank God the Scriptures undergird the church’s practice, and govern all. Thank God for Paul, who wrote clearly, instructing us to search the Scriptures and study them in order to seek authenticity in a man’s teaching – even his. Thanks be to God for the inestimable gift to us of His Holy Word.” Amen to that last part, but where exactly does the Bible teach that it “undergirds the church’s practice and governs all”? Where? When the Judaizers disturbed the peace of the Church with their insistence that new Christians must be circumcised, the leaders of the Council of Jerusalem did not turn to the authority of the Bible. They turned to the authority vested in them by Jesus Christ, and they made the decision that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to enter the Church. Baptism is the new circumcision! as St. Paul later wrote. Had the Council relied on “the authority of the Bible,” all Christians males would to this day have to be circumcised, since the Bible at that time consisted of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament mandates this! The announcement of the Council’s decision began not with “The Bible says” but rather with “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28). The first Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42) because the apostles taught with authority. St. John insisted in his first letter that “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” (1 Jn 4:6) – St. John, as an apostle, could say that! All this boils down to that pivotal declaration in St. Paul’s first letter to the Bishop of Ephesus, Timothy, that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The majority of Protestants have no idea that that phrase is even in the Bible, for they have been taught to read diligently around that passage. I read around it for 45 years.

Protestants are, however, by virtue of their adherence to the concept of “the authority of the Scriptures” incapable of reading their Bible any other way. Take this entry on a Protestant website as an example. The writer is commenting on Jude 27. Note what, according to the writer, Jude is supposedly warning against:

Some 1,500 years later, Jude records a strong warning about such men who come into the church as false teachers, arrogating to themselves the authority of God and His Word: “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion”. The characteristics of false teachers within the church include pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, lust for power, and disregard for the will of God. Just like Korah, today’s false teachers disregard God’s plan and are insubordinate to God’s appointed authorities. Their end will be the same as Korah’s. Thus the warning: “Woe to them!”

Now read the passage in question, Jude 3-23

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Remember the Protestant writer’s contention: “Jude records a strong warning about such men who come into the church as false teachers, arrogating to themselves the authority of God and His Word.” See the part about God’s word in verses 3-23? Me either. True, the text says that these men “reject authority” but every one of the examples of the authorities they reject are human or spiritual beings, nothing about the supposed “authority of the word of God.” While noting that modern-day false teachers “are insubordinate to God’s appointed authorities,” (which, in his Protestant context, would mean the pastor of whatever Protestant church the false teacher attends) the writer still somehow sees the Bible in a passage where no mention of it is made; he has been conditioned to understand it thus.

The Bible never teaches the concept of an authoritative Bible. People have authority. Angels have authority. To the Lord Jesus Christ all authority has been given in Heaven and on earth, and He has vested His authority, not in a Book, but in His apostles and by extension in their successors.

A book, even an inspired, inerrant Book which is the very word of God, cannot possess authority, nor can it “teach” us. The fiction of “the authority of the word of God” was an invention of the Reformers who, like all good magicians, urged their onlookers with the misdirection “Pay close attention!” whenever they needed to distract them lest they note the sleight of hand. Attention needed to be shifted away from what the Reformers were actually doing – refusing to obey the legitimate authority of Jesus’ Church – to the manmade doctrine of “the authority of the word of God.” In the Bible all authority lies with God Himself. And in the Bible, we see God delegating His authority to people in order that they might be His representatives. Their authority was very real; St. Paul, for example, exhorts his disciple St. Titus, bishop of Crete: Rebuke with all authority! Leaders like Titus and Timothy and their successors on down to the present day derive their authority, not from the word of God, as Protestants would have it, but from God Himself. Thus, when the leaders of the 16th-century Church told Luther that he must cease and desist from teaching error, it wasn’t simply a matter of their opinion versus Luther’s – it was a matter of their authority as successors to the apostles versus his (nonexistent) authority. Period.

Assumption is an invaluable assistant in the Protestant magic act. Ask her to stand aside, and the audience becomes restless, sensing that the magician does indeed have something up his sleeve. The theme of apostolic authority, as well as the continuing authority of the successors to the apostles, runs clearly through the New Testament, there for all the world to see (Mt 18:17, Lk 10:16, Mt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, Acts 2:42, Acts 15, Acts 16:4, Titus 2:1, Titus 2: 15, 1 Tim 1:3, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2, 4:2, 1 Jn 4:6) – until you enter the sideshow of the Reformation. At that point, certain truths are made to vanish, replaced by novel doctrines unheard of before the 16th century, to the acclaim of an audience that has no idea it is being bamboozled. Beware when you see the authority of the Church that Jesus established being used as a prop in this sad act, because…

Now you see it – now you don’t!


On the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: A magician at Taunton Carnival by Boliston