My daughter, a “cradle convert” in that she entered the Church at the age of 10, is issuing informal “save-the date” invitations to the Easter vigil to her Protestant friends (she attends a large Evangelical Protestant university). We’re hoping to get a small group together on April 19th to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. It’s a fantastic way to introduce people to the Church – after all, the Easter Vigil is Catholicism at her finest! And watching those converts as they enter (or are reconciled to) the Church just might give her friends pause for thought….


Here’s hoping!


Converts have a way of doing that, you know – giving people pause for thought. The first thought that probably pops into your mind when you hear that someone is converting to Catholicism is “why?” – what drew you to the Catholic Church? If you’re a Protestant, and you get the news that someone is “poping,” I’m sure “why?” is the question on your mind, too – why in the world would you become Catholic?? Very often, converts to Catholicism aren’t really allowed to explain their decision to the church they are leaving behind – members of that church all too often do that for them, spreading the impression that their exodus was the result of a less than passionate relationship with Christ. So it tickled me when I came across the conversion of Swedish pastor Ulf Ekman. He was a very prominent charismatic clergyman instrumental in bringing the Word of Faith movement to his native land. Not only did Ekman get the chance to explain his conversion to Catholicism to his church, he got the chance to do it on camera. You can watch it here (interpreted in English) – all 45 glorious minutes of it! Pastor Ekman explained the reasoning behind his (and his wife Birgitta’s) decision to leave his work of 30 years behind and ask to be reconciled to the Church Jesus established (starting 29 minutes into the video):


In the Catholic Church we’ve found a continuity that goes right back to the apostles and Jesus Himself, with a strength and a stability which the gates of hell have not prevailed against. We believe this power and these roots are necessary for the future, and we’re talking about the survival of the Christian world in a cruel future world. We believe that God wants to unite us as one… God’s Spirit was actually drawing us and urging us to join in earnest with the Catholic Church.


The congregation took it well. I didn’t see anyone get up and leave. Perhaps it’s Swedish stoicism, but when the camera cut to the audience they looked pretty composed. In fact, they applauded warmly when he finished, and the pastor who spoke after Pastor Ekman’s sermon assured the congregation that he felt that Ulf and Birgitta were “following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” What I enjoyed the most was the fact that Pastor Ekman told the congregation what he has discovered about Catholics: “how alive their true faith is in Jesus,” “how biblically anchored the Catholic Church is in its classical doctrines,” and that “in their services they use the Scriptures more than we do!” It was quite a blessing that he was allowed to say that, and to explain why he feels that his decision is the right one – that doesn’t always happen.


So, when all else fails, write a book to get your point across! German pastor Andreas Theurer did just that, a book entitled Warum werden wir nicht katholisch? Denkanstöße eines evangelisch-lutherischen Pfarrers (Why Don’t We Become Catholic? Food for Thought from an Evangelical-Lutheran Pastor). Why did Pastor Theurer become Catholic?


The Bible arose from the Church, not the other way around. The deciding criterion is: what has the Church believed since the time of the Apostles?


This decision had no one certain cause, but rather was the result of many years of looking into the doctrines which divide the church; this finally led me to the insight that on all the contested points Catholic teaching agrees with the beliefs of the Apostles. At some point I came to the realization that I no longer had a reason not to become Catholic, and then I naturally had to face the consequences.


Sounds a bit like what Pastor Ekman was saying, doesn’t it? “In the Catholic Church we’ve found a continuity that goes right back to the apostles and Jesus Himself.” When Protestants begin looking into the first few centuries of Christianity, they often come away with a nagging suspicion that something may have gone awry in the doctrines of the Reformers.


My friend “J” – a layperson hoping to be reconciled to the Church later this year – expressed thoughts similar to those of Pastor Theurer’s. When asked what caused him to consider Catholicism, “J” responded:


I think a major factor in my conversion was simply working in the adult world for several years and realising how the real world worked. Issues of authority, hierarchy, organisation…all these became real and I realised Protestantism has no good solution – or rather, its (present) solution seems to look like modern democracy which, I realised, may simply be a reflection of modern prejudice instead of the government that Christ instituted.


Another factor was just growing older and realising that expertise and properly instituted authority matter. I mean, in companies there is no such thing as democracy and no one kicks up a big fuss about it – why should we then assume that the Church founded by Christ had no lines of authority? Why do we assume that the Church Fathers were free to hold whatever theological opinion they wanted to and that no one took action against them? Why do we assume that there was no authority who could judge such things? The more I examined the issue the more I realised that the Catholic picture of reality fit with the facts better than the Protestant one….


Authority, of course, is the central issue here. Protestantism can seem very appealing with its loose organization, if any at all. The YOUCAT succinctly explains why the Church is not, and cannot be, a democracy:


Democracy operates on the principle that all power comes from the people. In the Church, however, all power comes from Christ. That is why the Church has a hierarchical structure.


Kind of hard to argue with that.


The question of authority is definitely a subject that turns people’s mind towards Rome. Blogger Kala Nila had an interesting experience with a pastor who, when he learned of her intention to swim the Tiber, wrote to her: “I can’t believe you’re letting someone else tell you what the Bible says.” As she put it:


The reality is that I have always believed what somebody else taught me. Before I studied Bible in college, I merely trusted those who taught me and I wasn’t aware of all the assumptions that inform our reading of Scripture (and often compromise our correct understanding of it). Even during college, I trusted my Bible professors so I was shaped by their thinking and persuasions. It seems to me that the difference now as a Catholic is that I am listening to and being taught by the Church which Christ founded, the very one that He promised to protect against the powers of hell.


Pretty perceptive, I’d say. The Protestant idea that individual believers are relying on the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth is a mirage. Protestants are being taught by whoever their leaders are, by whatever materials they are given, even by the Bible translation they choose to use (as Pastor N.T. Wright has bemoaned).


So there you have it, out of the mouths of “11th-hour workers,” as Russ Rentler terms us converts and reverts. But remember, as the catechumens undergo the Second Scrutiny this Sunday (the subject is “Light!”), those of you called “early in the morning” (Mt 20:1) also need to prepare a reply. “Why are you Catholic?” is a question everyone needs to be able to answer articulately, not just us converts, as our first pope instructed us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15). For incisiveness, I think so far no one has beaten blogger George Sipe on this point. He was asked that very question recently – why are you Catholic? – and his response nails it:


For me, it always boils down to one thing, upon which everything else depends. I answered simply “it’s the truth.”


Bravo!  The Truth awaits you in the Catholic Church, and He will lead you to Himself. Just ask Him!



On the memorial of St. Cono di Naso


Deo omnis gloria!


As my recent series on “Common Ground?” has demonstrated, Protestants and Catholics disagree on a great deal. Even when we use the same terminology, we oftentimes use those terms differently. Yet there are scores of issues upon which Protestants and Catholics truly agree. We agree, for example, on the necessity of being born again. We agree that we are saved by grace through faith. We agree that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God and true Man. We agree on the subject of His Virgin Birth, His bodily resurrection and on the fact that He is coming again. We agree that the Bible is the infallible word of God. There are also those in-between subjects, the ones we can agree on in a certain sense, yet profoundly disagree upon at a deeper level. We agree that Jesus established His Church, yet we can’t agree on whether or not to capitalize the “c” in that word – is His “church” merely a body of believers called out from the world by God to live as His people under the authority of Jesus Christ, or is His “Church” also the “universal sacrament of salvation”? You’d certainly get some discussion going on that issue. We agree that Christians are Christ’s body, yet the Catholic understanding of that body as the Church Militant, Church Suffering, and Church Triumphant, with all that the “communion of saints” then entails, gives many Protestants the willies; they find it presumptuous of us to flesh out those doctrines to such an extent. “Presumption,” too, is an issue Protestants and Catholics agree on in one sense – we all believe that it is very wrong to be presumptuous (i.e., audacious, brazen, impertinent, cocky), especially when you are being presumptuous in matters of faith – yet when you get down to the details of that issue, our understanding could not be more different.

Protestants make no attempt to hide the fact that they find the Catholic Church to be somewhat lacking in humility. They find the Catholic Church presumptuous, for example, when she claims that the Holy Father, the pope, can teach infallibly. How can a sinful man claim to be so perfect that he can teach infallibly? How presumptuous to claim that your Church is led by some semi-divine bloke who never makes a mistake!! How awful to call a mere man “Holy Father!”

The Catholic answer to that is that it certainly would be offensively presumptuous to call a mere man “holy” if we meant by that what Protestants think we mean by that. It would be terrible to claim that a man could live without sinning, that he is “semi-divine” and never commits errors. That’s why we don’t do it.

Catholics call the pope “holy” because he is holy in one biblical sense of the word: Scripture speaks of “holy ground,” “the holy mountain,” “holy offerings,” “holy anointing oil,” “holy incense,” “the holy altar” – it even says that “Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the LORD of hosts!” This sense of the word “holy” simply means “set apart.” If St. Paul advised the Colossians that they were “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” then it’s not a far stretch to claim that the Pope, too, might legitimately be referred to as “Holy Father.” This in no way claims semi-divinity for him; it is simply a misunderstanding of terms on the part of Protestants. Catholics do not consider the pope to be incapable of making a mistake or incapable of sinning; that is simply not what the doctrine of papal infallibility teaches. Patrick Madrid, in his book Pope Fiction, explains it like this:

At this juncture, we should spell out exactly what papal infallibility is not. First, it doesn’t give the pope the answers to theological questions (as inspiration would), nor does infallibility guarantee that he will be proactive and teach what needs to be taught, when it should be taught, in the way it should be taught. Infallibility doesn’t mean that the pope is prompted by God to do or teach something. It doesn’t even guarantee that the pope, when he does teach, will be as effective or persuasive or clear as he should be in what he teaches. Papal infallibility guarantees none of these things. Rather, it is a guarantee that God the Holy Spirit will preserve the pope from formally teaching error.

Please note that this Catholic understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility, far from being presumptuous, is actually a model of humility. We don’t believe that the Holy Father receives direct inspiration from God as the authors of Holy Scripture did. We don’t believe that the Holy Father will necessarily be a great evangelist, or teacher, or apologist. We don’t believe that the Holy Father will necessarily be kind, or good, or even smarter than the average bear. All that the doctrine of papal infallibility is claiming is that if the Holy Father is toying with the idea of formally teaching error as truth, or even if he is bound and determined to teach error as truth, God in His mercy will stop him. This is how Catholics know that they can rest easy, never awakening to find that a 2,000-year-old Church doctrine (like the universal condemnation of contraception as a sin and a crime against nature) has been overturned, as Protestants did in the 20th century. The pope simply can’t overturn the constant teaching of the Church. The doctrine of papal infallibility, rather than granting the pope carte blanche, is severely limiting.

That really doesn’t say much about our Catholic confidence in the guy elected as the successor to Peter, and that’s the point. We are humbly recognizing the fact that human beings like the pope sin and err, yet Jesus PROMISED that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against His Church. Simply put, that means that He’s got to stop the Church from formally teaching error as truth, lest we fallible humans ruin the whole job. Praise God, He has remained faithful to His promise.

Well, it certainly is somewhat lacking in humility to claim to be able to make certain people into “saints” just because they advanced your cause! The Bible says that we are all saints, but the Catholic Church presumptuously claims to know who’s in Heaven and who isn’t!

Again, it would be presumptuous of the Church to claim that she can make or break saints! The process of canonization, though, is a process of discernment. In other words, the Church believes that God makes clear that miracles are being performed through the intercession of a given deceased person, indicating that that person is in the presence of God. The Church in no way “puts” the person in Heaven or “makes” that person a saint. She simply publicly declares what God has made evident: that that person is one of the saints in Heaven. The Church has never, on the other hand, publicly declared that any given person is not in Heaven, just as she has never taught that any given individual or group of individuals is in hell. She just doesn’t know those things.

Well, what’s more presumptuous than claiming that “the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible”? That claim makes the church equal, if not superior, to Holy Scripture! Can the Catholic Church claim to possess even an ounce of humility if she continues to press this presumptuous claim??

Which is more presumptuous, to say “I can understand the Bible all by myself,” or “I need help! Lord, send me Your Church as you sent St. Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, who in his humility insisted ‘How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?'” (Acts 8:31) You see, the Bible must be interpreted, and somebody’s got to do the interpreting. St. Philip didn’t lay hands on the eunuch and pray that God would explain the Scriptures to him – St. Philip, as a representative of the Church, did it himself. God could have made each individual believer an infallible interpreter of Scripture, in which case all Protestants would agree on the interpretation of each verse of the Bible. We all know that is not the case. God chose, in reality, to make His Church the Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible, because without an authorized interpreter, no one can be sure his own personal understanding of a given verse or doctrine is an orthodox one. In other words, God made His Church to be “the pillar and foundation of the Truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Far from being an audacious claim, there is nothing presumptuous about the Church’s claim at all.

Those charges of presumption commonly made against the Catholic Church simply won’t stick. God delegated special authority to certain people not because they or the Church as a whole are so great, but because we’re NOT. We need special help! He has provided it.

While we’re on the subject of presumption, though, Catholics have a few questions of their own:

  • The Catholic Church does not claim to know a great deal about the End Times. “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end” is about as much as she’s ever officially stated on the subject. Evangelicals, on the other hand, presume to know a great deal. The Evangelical doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture is made an Article of Faith in some churches; they are leaning on their own understanding, and yet making it binding upon believers. “Prophecy conferences” with self-proclaimed “prophecy experts” draw large crowds, as these men teach doctrines unknown to the early Christians. “We are in the last days!” they pontificate, and have been pontificating for generations now. Yet, no man knows the day nor the hour? How is this not presumptuous?
  • Catholics do not presume to declare that a given deceased person is not in Heaven. The Church does not claim to possess that knowledge. Yet Evangelicals claim to know that millions upon millions of people who never heard the Gospel are without a doubt in hell, in strange opposition to the teaching of St. Paul:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. …
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. …
for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. (Rom 1:20, 2:12-16, 4:15)

Because this teaching appears to contradict the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone, Evangelicals disregard St. Paul and presume to proclaim that every individual who dies without praying the Sinner’s Prayer will without a doubt go to hell. When one of the Apostles made it clear that “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,” how can insisting otherwise not be presumptuous?

  • Protestants will be the first to tell you that they are not infallible – that no one is. You will struggle to find a Protestant church where the pastor claims that his teaching on a given subject is the only correct understanding (he may hint at this, claiming that his understanding is “the clear teaching of Scripture,” but the majority of pastors will shy away from making claims of infallibility for themselves). That said, many, many Evangelical Bible teachers will claim to KNOW which verses of Scripture are meant to be taken literally, and to KNOW which are meant to be taken figuratively. Genesis 1 and 2, for example, MUST be taken literally (ask Ken Ham!); John 6:41-71, on the other hand, MUST be taken figuratively (ask any Evangelical pastor). How can they know this? Yet their understanding of which verses were meant literally and which verses were meant figuratively has become for them, just like the pre-tribulational Rapture, an Article of Faith. Tell a 6-Day creationist that you don’t believe that the first two chapters of the Bible have to be taken literally. He will tell you that you are not a Christian, because you reject his entirely arbitrary understanding of which verses need to be taken literally. Ask him how he knows that his understanding of this issue is the correct one. He will tell you that it is OBVIOUS to real Christians….

When the Catholic Church claims infallibility for her Pope, she is admitting a fault – Catholics are so prone to fail their Lord that He had to build safeguards into the system to prevent His people from sinking His ship. To claim that the Church is protected from error is an act of humility. Protestants who would never claim infallibility for their own private interpretations of Scripture, yet nevertheless assert their own opinions as non-negotiable, are making some pretty cheeky claims. Presumptuous is as Presumptuous does.


On the memorial of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto

Deo omnis gloria!

Back when my children were very little, I spent about a year discussing Jehovah’s Witness theology with two ladies who came to visit me once a week. They presented their Jehovah’s Witness theology to me with the aim of converting me. I presented my Evangelical Protestant theology to them with the aim of converting them. They did succeed in helping me to convert, although not to Jehovah’s Witness theology. As I have discussed elsewhere, in presenting and attempting to defend Evangelical theology I became seriously skeptical of the foundation of my belief system, the doctrine of sola Scriptura. You see, the doctrine of the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which Jehovah’s Witnesses reject, simply cannot be proven from Scripture alone. This is not to say that it is a false doctrine – I believe it with all my heart and soul, and the Bible does give evidence in its favor, but does not indisputably prove it – not by a long shot. For me as an Evangelical, the problem was that if a doctrine could not be proven from Scripture, it was not to be trusted! In short, in learning to defend my Christian beliefs against the claims of Jehovah’s Witness theology, I became convinced that the Catholic Church’s explanation of the divinity of Christ (Jesus is known to be God not only by the witness of Holy Scripture, but by the witness of Holy Tradition as well) was the only approach that held theological water. In other words, the Jehovah’s Witnesses helped to convert me to Catholicism.

Jehovah’s Witness theology is a work in progress, since with every failed prophecy the leadership is forced to come up with new explanations of why believers should still buy what they’re selling. Back when I was having these chats in my living room, the ladies were introducing me to Jehovah’s Witness theology via Daniel 4. If you haven’t read the book of Daniel recently, here’s a quick refresher: In Daniel chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a large tree, and hears an angel command that the tree be chopped down, and the stump and roots bound with iron and bronze, and the mind of the stump be changed into the mind of an animal “till seven times pass by for him.” Understandably upset by all this, the king asks Daniel to interpret his dream. Daniel tells the king that the dream is a prophecy of the loss of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom due to imminent madness. The king is to remain insane until “seven times pass,” at which point he will humble himself before God, and regain his sanity and his kingdom. This, Daniel tells him, is the interpretation of the dream.

The Jehovah’s Witness ladies assured me, however, that there was far more to the dream than meets the Protestant eye. It is also a prophecy, they told me, of the beginning of the invisible rule of Jesus Christ in 1914, because, they assured me, the cutting down of the tree prophesies the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C., and the ambiguous “seven times” refers to 7 years of 360 days each, and converting those 2,520 days into 2,520 years we can clearly see, they insisted, that the “Gentile times” ended in 1914 – exactly when Jesus set up His invisible rule!!

Whadda coinky-dink!

My problem with that, first and foremost, was that Daniel himself told the king, “THIS is the interpretation, O king – you’re going to live in the fields and eat grass till you recognize that you are not God.” And just as Daniel had said, a year later Nebuchadnezzar was congratulating himself on his divine attributes when he was stricken with madness. He regained his sanity and his kingdom after the “seven times” had passed – we are not told how long a period that was. Nowhere does anyone hint that there might be a second fulfillment of that dream. But, setting that quibble aside, the wishful math involved in the Jehovah’s Witness understanding of the dream still left too much to be desired. Jerusalem didn’t fall in 607 B.C.; that event is dated between 587 and 586 B.C. I could understand the “day-year” equivalency; Evangelicals use similar tactics when discussing their favorite subject, the End Times, but how anyone could claim to know that the “seven times” refers to 7 years of 360 days each was totally beyond me. I have since heard that the Witnesses have dropped Daniel 4 as the gateway into their belief system, but the reason I’ve brought it up is because, while it was incredibly implausible, if you could just close your eyes and take that flying leap, you entered into a belief system that is almost frighteningly well thought out. Jehovah’s Witnesses have God in a box. They have an answer for EVERYTHING, and every single answer comes straight from Scripture. I had to admit that the security offered by such a belief system was deeply compelling. All I had to do was swallow the elephant of Daniel 4, and theological comfort would be mine. Compared to the open-ended questions of the Christian belief system, Jehovah’s Witness theology looked very well organized indeed.

I have often thought how similar the elephant of atheism is, in that respect, to the elephant Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving up. Atheism asks the potential convert to swallow the idea that the universe with all its complexity just somehow came to be, with no Creator, no Uncaused Cause. Given enough time, nothing can indeed turn itself into something. Open your brain really, really wide and swallow that, and all the tempting sweetness of life without a deity is yours to enjoy.

It came as a shock to me, however, when I realized that Protestantism suffers from its own elephant at the gate. The gateway into Protestantism is the belief that the Bible is the pillar and foundation of truth. Now, that sounds really, really plausible. Many people can believe that the God Who created the heavens and the earth desires to communicate with His creation, and that He did so by means of inspired writings; thus, many of the world’s religions have writings which claim to be of divine origin. All Protestantism asks is that the believer accept the fact that God caused a Book to be written which is the Supreme Earthly Authority on the subject of Christian faith and practice, and that that Book consists of 66 books.

And there’s the hulking elephant: How can anyone know for sure which books make up the Supreme Earthly Authority? The Bible did not fall from Heaven; it was compiled. How do Protestants KNOW that their 66-book Bible consists of the right books? How can they BE SURE beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the books in their Bible are God-breathed, and how can they say FOR CERTAIN that no inspired books were inadvertently thrown out by the Reformers when they went on their 16th-century Bible-reconstruction spree?

After all, the Catholic canon, the one everyone in the world used for 1,110 years, contains 73 books.

The Protestant sees no elephant here. Most will have some kind of answer ready for this question, generally something along the lines of “the people who compiled the Old Testament and the New Testament subjected each book to certain criteria which ruled out uninspired books, and God in His providence would never have allowed an inspired book to be left out of the Bible.”  Therefore, no infallible Church was required in the discernment of the canon! Sounds reasonable, and most people buy into this, but these arguments will not bear scrutiny for several reasons. First, there is no historical evidence that the men who compiled the Scriptures used any of the “criteria” put forward by Protestants. The proposed “criteria,” if applied fairly, would actually rule out many books whose canonicity has never been questioned by anyone. A respected conservative Protestant scholar has written that “It is rather clear that we here have to do with more or less successful attempts to cover with arguments what had already been fixed for a long time and for the fixation of which such reasoning or such a criterion had never been employed” – in English: these criteria have been invented to explain a discernment process that the Protestant belief system can’t explain. The “providence” argument fairs no better, since it is common knowledge that 66-book Bibles were never used by anyone anywhere before the Reformation, which means that either the Catholic 73-book canon, the one used for 1,100 years, was right and the Protestant canon of the past 500 years is wrong, or the canon that included the “Apocrypha” for 1500 years was wrong, and the Protestant canon of the past 500 years is right. God either abandoned His people to the errors of the “Apocrypha” for a millennium and a half, or Protestants have been limping along with amputated Bibles since the Reformation. Pick one – because you can’t have it both ways.

And the “criteria plus providence” formula misses the real point of the “sola Scriptura” assertion: If you believe that all your beliefs must come straight from Scripture, then as far as the canon is concerned you’ve got a royal case of elephant-induced indigestion ahead of you, because the belief that there are 66 and only 66 books in the Bible is nowhere to be found in the Bible – the canon is based upon a decision made by fallible men! Nowhere does Holy Scripture tell us which books are to be included in the canon, or how many there should be. If you adhere to sola Scriptura and to the idea that your theological beliefs can only be based upon what the Bible tells you, you have no objective way of knowing what the “Bible” actually is….

Ironic, to say the least. If the Bible is the “pillar and foundation of the truth,” then there is simply no way to know which books should be in that Bible. Yet, choke down the canon elephant, and the system works pretty well! Certainly, many verses of Scripture have to be ignored or reinterpreted, but not to the point where the average believer would become unduly suspicious. Converts are simply handed a 66-book Bible and told that it is the inspired word of God, and it is simply assumed without question that it includes and excludes exactly the right material.

So what’s the gateway into Catholicism? Surely it must involve a large pachyderm or two! Actually, the gateway into the Catholic belief system involves several elements that Protestants would feel comfortable with; Catholics begin with the Scriptures, and history, and the famous trilemma of C.S. Lewis. Karl Keating explained it like this:

1.    The Bible is approached as any other ancient work. We assure ourselves that we have an accurate text (thousands of manuscripts in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and other languages).

2.    Consider the Bible as a historical document, paying special attention to the Gospel account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, together with what is written in extrabiblical writings from those times, and what we know of human nature. The Gospel accounts are eminently reliable, leading us to believe that Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar or God Himself.

3.    We conclude that Jesus was God Himself, and therefore reason that everything He said was true, and that everything He promised must come to pass.

4.    We examine His promise that He would found a Church (noting at the same time that He nowhere promised to leave behind inspired writings by which individual believers are to guide themselves). We note from extrabiblical writings from those times as well as from the Bible itself that Jesus did establish a Church. We also notice from the Bible as well as from the extrabiblical witness of first-, second-, third- and fourth-century Christian writers that that Church bears a startling resemblance to what we know as the Catholic Church, with a belief in the Real Presence, baptism for regeneration, apostolic succession, the authority of the bishop of Rome, etc.

5.    Therefore, because this Church is the Church which Jesus founded, and because He promised that He would be with this Church to the end of the age and the gates of hell would not prevail against it, it follows that this Church must be endowed with the gift of infallibility; otherwise, the promises of Christ could not be fulfilled. And this infallible Church discerned and canonized the books of the Holy Bible.

It boils down to this: if you believe that the Bible is the “pillar and foundation of truth,” you have no objective way to prove that Protestants even have the right Bible. If you believe that the Church that Jesus established is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), then you can say for certain which books are Holy Scripture, and you need not “lean unto thine own understanding” when interpreting them. The 66-book canon is a very big elephant; for Protestantism to work it must be assumed with a humongous gulp, and never questioned. All the Catholic Church is asking you to swallow is the witness of Scripture and of history, and of God’s faithful presence in both of them.

Welcome to the EFZ – the Elephant-Free Zone of the Holy Catholic Church.


On the memorial of Bl. Tommaso Reggio

Deo omnis gloria!

Few people have a biography as interesting as Rosalind Moss’ life story. Born into a Jewish family, Moss grew up considering herself an agnostic – perhaps there was a God, she thought, but He made no difference in her daily existence. Then one day her older brother, David, told her about the Man he had accepted as his Savior. Rosalind initially thought her brother had gone off the deep end, but she soon joined David in Evangelical Protestantism. To her horror, within two years her brother entered the Catholic Church, which Rosalind considered to be a false belief system. It took over a decade and a half before she, too, became Catholic. Her journey, however, was only beginning – Rosalind Moss is now
Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, O.S.B., and has become the prioress of a new religious community, the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope.

One paragraph in Rosalind’s amazing conversion story really got my attention. Back when she was still agnostic, her brother told her about Jesus Christ:

David brought me an article that said there were Jewish people who believed that Christ was the Messiah. I asked my brother, ‘You mean to tell me that the Messiah was already here? That He was the only hope the world ever had, and yet the Jewish people didn’t know this? That He came and left and there has been no impact, no change, no peace? That’s just insanity.’

When I first read Rosalind’s reaction to what is, after all, the Good News, I laughed. It struck me as exceedingly strange that she or anyone should feel the way she did about the advent of the Messiah. Nobody knew? For Heaven’s sake, woman, the First Coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah changed the world! How can you say with a straight face that He came and left and there has been no impact?? Take the blinders off and perceive the 2,000 years of Christian history you are committed to ignoring!

Talk about missing the memo!

Of course, from Rosalind’s Jewish perspective, her attitude made a great deal of sense. It was taken for granted that Jesus was not the Messiah; therefore, 2,000 years of Christian history could be ignored without qualms. I realized that I of all people should not find this approach strange, given that as a Protestant I would have had exactly the same incredulous reaction had a Catholic walked up to me and claimed that Jesus Christ Himself established the Holy Catholic Church as the pillar and foundation of truth.

Really??? I would have laughed. What a novel approach to theology and Christian history! Where, pray tell, does Jesus say one word about the Catholic Church? Where is the word “Catholic” in the Bible, or the word “pope”? You have no biblical basis whatsoever for your laughable belief that Jesus established an earthly institution with a hierarchy, a Magisterium – a Church that teaches with authority!

Of course, I was right about the words “Catholic” and “pope” not being in the Bible. But the word “church” certainly is in there, and that was the concept that I was devoted to ignoring. Not that I was unfamiliar with verses discussing the importance of the body of Christ:

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:22-23

Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2:20-22

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. Col 1:16-17

But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Heb 3:6

I liked those verses – they required nothing of me. Yet for all my familiarity with Scripture, there was one verse about the church that I was unacquainted with:

…so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1 Tim 3:15

Those words that St. Paul penned to Timothy, the bishop of Ephesus, were never really discussed at the Evangelical churches I attended. Taken literally, they subvert the very premise upon which Protestantism was founded. We Evangelicals would have told you that it was the Bible which was the pillar and foundation of truth! Yet the Bible says that the pillar and foundation of the truth is the Church….

That changes everything….

Interestingly, both Rosalind the agnostic and Rosalind the Evangelical Christian were committed to ignoring the same pivotal passage in Matthew. When she was Jewish, Rosalind would have rejected St. Peter’s confession of faith, for he told Jesus, “You are the Christ – the Messiah! – the Son of the living God!” This concept, that Jesus was the One foretold by the prophets, was rejected by many Jews in Jesus’ day and on down through the centuries. Rosalind’s ancestors discounted the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah, thus leaving Rosalind and her brother clueless when it came to the Good News of the advent of Israel’s Hope – she could in good faith cry out, “Who knew?” By the grace of God, Rosalind accepted Jesus as her Savior and was able to affirm with St. Peter: You are the Christ, the Messiah! But all was not yet well – her newfound spiritual ancestors, Evangelical Christians, discounted the possibility that Jesus had established an authoritative Church, and so she thought it only right to reject the words that the Messiah then answered to Simon Peter:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”… “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Mt 16:16, 18-19

Yet 2,000 years worth’ of Christians have taken those words at face value:

Our Lord, whose commands we ought to fear and observe, says in the Gospel, by way of assigning the episcopal dignity and settling the plan of His Church: ‘I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they will be loosed in heaven.’ From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of times and successions; for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by the same rulers. Since this has indeed been established by Divine Law, I marvel at the rash boldness of certain persons who have desired to write me as if they were writing letters in the name of the Church, “since the Church is established upon the bishop and upon the clergy and upon all who stand firm in the faith.” St. Cyprian of Carthage, c. 250 A.D.

Two thousand years’ worth of Christians have believed in the very biblical concept of an authoritative Church, of bishops who had the right to absolve sins, to teach authoritatively, and to command, and of the bishop of Rome who was charged with feeding Christ’s sheep and strengthening his brothers in the Faith. Yet had you asked Rosalind or me, we would have asked you – where is this in the Bible??

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Mt 18:17-18

The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me. Lk 10:16

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Lk 22:31-32

And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” Jn 20:22-23

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” Jn 21:15-17

At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry…. For it is written in the book of Psalms: “Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it” and “Let another man take his office.” Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1: 15-18, 20-25

And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 2 Cor 10:6

We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 2 Thessalonians 3:14

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2 Timothy 1:6

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Tim 2:2

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 2 Timothy 4:1-2

These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:15

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Heb 13:17

We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. 1 Jn 4:6

Talk about missing the memo.

Taking for granted the Protestant claim that each man or woman’s private interpretation of Holy Scripture is the pillar and foundation of truth leaves Christians wandering in the dark, since of course the Bible nowhere teaches such foolishness, and no one believed such foolishness for the first 1500 years of Christianity.

So, you’re Catholic, and all of this is dead obvious to you, and you’re laughing. Well, it wasn’t dead obvious to me as an Evangelical – I had no clue. I believed what I’d been told, exactly as did everyone who attended our Evangelical church. We all missed the memo. When you see an Evangelical, never assume that “there goes a person who has rejected the truths of the Faith.” In nine out of ten cases, that person hasn’t ever had Catholic teaching clearly presented to him or her. Never think that that person will simply reject the truth if you present it to them. I certainly didn’t reject Catholic teaching when it was finally explained to me, and neither did Rosalind Moss. A lot of folks truly are just waiting for their Catholic friends to care enough to share the truths of the Faith with them. Really.

Please resend the memo.


On the memorial of St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli

Deo omnis gloria!

You’ve got to feel for the Judaizers. If you’ve read the New Testament, you’ve bumped into them; they stirred up the controversy that led to the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem. St. Paul inveighed against them in the book of Galatians. They were the original sola Scriptura Christians, insisting that the Bible alone (which at that time consisted of the books of the Old Testament) should be our guide, along the lines of the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them…. (Westminster Confession).

In case the events of Acts 15 are a little hazy in your memory, they went like this:

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with the Judaizers, who were insisting that wannabe Christians enter into the Mosaic Covenant through circumcision. Before coming down too hard on the Judaizers, we should note that they did this with the best of intentions. Read through the Old Testament and see what it has to say about circumcision. In Genesis 17 God established His covenant with Abraham with these instructions:

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’

In accordance with this, the book of Leviticus instructs that “On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.” Jesus Himself was circumcised, and He affirmed that “Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers)” (Jn 7:22). There is no Biblical mention of Jesus ever instructing his disciples to forgo circumcising their sons. The Judaizers quite rightly insisted that the Old Testament portrays circumcision as an absolute necessity. When they argued with Sts. Paul and Barnabas, the Judaizers had Scripture on their side!

Yet the Council of Jerusalem, with no Scriptural attestation to the correctness of its judgment, ruled against them. Instead of marshaling Bible verses to prove his case, St. Peter merely gives a personal testimony of what God has been doing in His Church. Peter then formulates his doctrinal judgment concerning how all, Jews and Gentiles alike, are saved under the New Covenant:

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Nary a Bible quote in the whole defense! Paul and Barnabas then second Peter’s testimony, recounting the “signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” With the entire weight of the Old Testament witness on their side, the Judaizers must have been appalled. But… but… THE BIBLE SAYS!!!

So St. James pipes up, commenting on St. Peter’s doctrinal pronouncement, and thanks be to God, he wants to quote from Scripture:

With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My Name,’ says the Lord, Who makes these things known from long ago.


What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?? No discussion of Genesis 17? No mention of Leviticus 3? Judges 14:3 or 15:18? 1 Samuel 14:6? Isaiah 52:1? Ezekiel 28:10? St. James quotes from a mish-mash of the prophets Jeremiah, Amos and Isaiah – totally off-topic, by the way – before laying out his pastoral initiative as the head of the church in Jerusalem:

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.

To put it plainly, if Jesus had instructed His followers to rely on the Bible alone, the memo somehow missed the Council of Jerusalem. The Council came to its decision that circumcision was not necessary under the New Covenant without relying on Scripture. As if to reinforce this point, the apostles and elders at the meeting composed a letter to Gentile believers explaining to them, not what the Bible teaches on this topic, but what they, by the authority vested in them as the leadership of the Church established by Jesus Christ, had decided on this issue:

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

And so that settled things, right? Well, no, it didn’t. The Judaizers kept right on judaizing. We find St. Paul penning his epistle to the Galatians in an effort to keep their influence at bay, and he brings up the issue of circumcision in his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Philippians and the Colossians. The Judaizers just wouldn’t let it die….

“Scripture PLAINLY states…” the Judaizers thundered. Who did these apostles think they were, to discontinue the requirement for circumcision with no Scriptural back-up and no direct command from Jesus?

The apostles didn’t just “think,” they KNEW who they were. They were the leadership of the Church that Jesus had established. They had the authority to make these decisions. As they phrased it, not “The Bible says,” but “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us!

And most modern-day Bible-alone Christians would have no trouble with that. You see, they explain, the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life had not yet been given to us when the Judaizers were butting heads with the apostles! That’s why God inspired the apostles and their disciples to write the books of the New Testament. Once those were written, however, God discontinued the role of the authoritative Church because it was no longer necessary! Sola Scriptura proponents will tell you that the apostles had the authority to make decisions with seemingly no reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. But they also kept busy writing down everything the Spirit was telling them, because they knew that when they went to be with the Lord, their authority would die with them! When the apostles died, in other words, they were succeeded not by men, but by their own writings! It is now the writings of the apostles and the prophets, i.e., the Scriptures, which have the authority to command Christians.

There are, of course, a few problems with that theory, foremost among them being the words of Jesus Himself. Blogger George Sipe at Convert Journal is writing a fun series called “Not in Scripture.” He hasn’t gotten to Matthew 18:15-17 yet, so I’m taking the liberty:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, take it to the Bible; and if he refuses to listen even to the Bible, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Ahem. Of course the passage in question actually reads, “take it to the Church, and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” And significantly, the very next verse echoes Jesus’ promise to Simon, whom he renames Peter, in Matthew 16:

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

This is the apostolic authority to bind and loose (Jesus references the rabbinical authority to bind in Mt 23:4 – obviously not merely the authority to excommunicate). So unless Bible-alone Christians want to claim that these instructions to “take it to the Church” in verses 15-17 were only meant to remain in effect while the apostles were alive and able to render authoritative judgments, they’re going to have to deal with verse 18 as well, and that entails admitting that apostolic authority has been handed down even to our day – Catholics would say specifically to the successors to those apostles who form the leadership of the Catholic Church. The Catholic claim of the validity of apostolic succession traces back to the first century, as seen in the epistle St. Clement wrote to the church in Corinth:

The apostles preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe…. Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.

And so there is a Church which acts with authority, a Church which can bind and loose. Sadly, though, there are those others even today who go out from that Church without her authorization and disturb believers, troubling their minds by what they say – Christians who will not defer to the teaching authority of the Church Jesus established, and who instead go out proclaiming their own understanding of Scripture, leading people astray. These are our modern-day Judaizers. Circumcision doesn’t interest them; the New Testament passages proclaiming baptism as the new circumcision have cleared that issue up to their satisfaction. Yet there are other verses and other issues; it is upon them that they take their stand.

There are Oneness Pentecostals, descended from the charismatic Azuza Street revival, who reject the doctrine of the Trinity formally promulgated by the Holy Catholic Church in 325 A.D., because they can’t find it taught in so many words in their Bible. As the United Pentecostal Church International phrases it:

The UPCI is a Bible-based church. We’re Bible-based in that we seek to base all of our beliefs and our lifestyle on explicit passages of the Bible or on biblical principles. Based on Scripture, we believe the following . . . the Bible does not teach that there are three distinct centers of consciousness in the Godhead or that Jesus is one of three divine persons.

As a conservative Protestant blogger admits concerning Oneness Pentecostalism, “It is a disturbing fact that the most vigorous form of anti-trinitarianism currently on the market is to be found within the sphere of conservative evangelicalism.” A disturbing fact, indeed, but small wonder – Oneness Pentecostals simply take the doctrine of sola Scriptura to its legitimate conclusion, while the writers of that conservative Protestant blog unconsciously rely upon the authority of the successors to the apostles (who decided definitively in council that God is a Trinity of Persons), all the while believing that they get their doctrine “from the Bible alone.”

There are well-known Bible teachers like the late Dr. Walter Martin, who wandered off into a heresy condemned by Church councils long ago, incarnational Sonship – denying the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ. According to Dr. Martin:

The Scripture nowhere calls Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and He is never called Son at all prior to the incarnation, except in prophetic passages in the Old Testament. The term “Son” itself is a functional term, as is the term “Father” and has no meaning apart from time. . . . Many heresies have seized upon the confusion created by the illogical “eternal Sonship” or “eternal generation” theory of Roman Catholic theology, unfortunately carried over to some aspects of Protestant theology.

Ignoring the teaching of the Church on this issue (the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. declared in no uncertain terms that Jesus was “born of the Father before all ages”), Martin swam out alone into the deep waters of Bible-only confusion, and lost sight of the coastline. As the Evangelical theologian John Walvoord wrote, “The consensus of the great theologians of the church and the great church councils is to the effect that Christ has been a Son from eternity; and the theory that He became a Son by incarnation is inadequate to account for the usage of the term….” He is right about that, and it is upon these “great church councils” and their decisions which conservative Protestants like Walvoord rely when arguing against heresies like Incarnational Sonship. Although Walvoord goes on to say, “The scriptural view of the Sonship of Christ, as recognized in many of the great creeds of the church, is that Christ was always the Son of God,” Walvoord is actually reading back into Scripture what the great Church Councils taught him to believe, for indeed Scripture does not teach unambiguously on the issue of Jesus’ Eternal vs. Incarnational Sonship. The successors to the apostles, when faced with Scriptural ambiguity on this issue, were guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 1:14) in their discernment, and then wielded the authority vested in them to declare the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship to be the correct understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. They were following in the footsteps of the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem. Yet a sola Scriptura Protestant simply cannot admit that it is the judgment of Church Councils upon which he relies, nor can he admit that Dr. Martin made a compelling case from Scripture that Incarnational Sonship might be doctrinally correct. The belief that those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them must be defended come what may, yet it collapses when well-respected conservative Protestant Bible teachers like Walvoord hold doctrinal positions diametrically opposed to the positions taken by well-respected conservative Protestant Bible teachers like Martin. Trapped by his errant theology, Dr. Walvoord is forced to maintain that Scripture is perspicuous (though it obviously is not) and that all of his beliefs come straight from those perspicuous Scriptures.

Catholics are NOT asked to choose between the Church and the Bible. But when there are “difficulties,” verses which appear to contradict each other, various perspectives on important theological concepts, we are asked to choose the Church’s understanding of those verses. The idea that the individual believer can pick up a Bible and discern subtle but vital theological distinctions all by his lonesome has been proved false over and over again throughout the past 500 years of the sola Scriptura experiment. The Church asks us to interpret the Bible through the “apostolic lens” that she uses, understanding verses not according to our own lights but according to the understanding bestowed upon the apostles by Jesus, the understanding passed down and faithfully guarded by the Church “with the help of the Holy Spirit.”

“Scripture PLAINLY states…” the Judaizers thunder.

“Take it to the Church,” Jesus replies.


On the memorial of the Martyrs of September

Deo omnis gloria!

A Protestant friend of mine considered entering the Catholic Church a couple of years ago. She had a very good grasp of Catholic teaching, and tried to connect this with praxis by attending Mass at several parishes in her part of the country. Sadly, after making the rounds of the local parishes, she became truly confused concerning what the Church teaches in the area of morals, specifically concerning reproduction. A priest told her that she and her husband should continue using contraception. A member of a marriage tribunal told her the same thing, advising her that she needed to make her own decision on the issue of contraception; as long as she did not trespass against the dictates of her own conscience, she was okay. In desperation, she looked online for guidance, and found a supremely unhelpful article by Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire, a man with a profound misunderstanding of Catholic teaching as it pertains to reproductive issues, who presented the Catholic understanding of “conscience” in a very misleading way, elevating dissenting Catholics to the position of role models:

The birth rates in so-called “Catholic” nations in Europe and in Latin America are close to or below replacement levels and, as Gudorf wryly puts it, “it is difficult to believe that fertility was cut in half through voluntary abstinence from sex.” Such dissent from hierarchical teaching by Catholic laity is actually well provided for in Church teaching. The sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful, is one of the sources of truth in Catholic theology. This means that the consciences and experiences of good people are a guidepost to truth that even the hierarchy must consult.

The sensus fidelium is “the sense of the faithful” (also referred to as sensus fidei or “the sense of faith”); Dr. Maguire is right about that at least. Pope Benedict XVI described the sensus fidei as “that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the ‘teacher that goes first’ and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology.” Maguire’s claims, however, that “dissent from hierarchical teaching by Catholic laity is actually well provided for in Church teaching, ” and “the consciences and experiences of good people are a guidepost to truth” are based on a seriously flawed assumption. Sadly, it is his definition to which multitudes of Catholics cling in their search for a Catholicism that will wholeheartedly endorse the lifestyle they have chosen.

The doctrinal reality of the sensus fidelium was addressed by the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Note how the Council’s definition differs from Dr. Maguire’s:

The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.

To put it succinctly, Catholics believe that the Church – that is, “the entire body of the faithful…from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” – cannot err in matters of belief. This is the concept of infallibility upon which Catholics insist: God will not allow His Church to authoritatively teach error; if His Church were to teach error as truth, the gates of hell would have prevailed. But we must pay careful attention to the qualifying statement: the ENTIRE BODY of the faithful. This is what keeps the concept of sensus fidelium from becoming a Barna poll with results which uproot Tradition and rewrite Catholic dogma, something which theologians like Dr. Maguire are betting is going to happen. The Church’s understanding of the sensus fidelium serves to affirm the calling of the laity to full participation in the life of the Church, but does not somehow make the claim that it is disaffected laity (or dissenting clergy, for that matter) who from here on out will be steering the Barque.

Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of the sensus fidelium in 2012 in an address to the International Theological Commission:

The Second Vatican Council, while confirming the specific and irreplaceable role of Magisterium, stressed, however, that the whole People of God participates in Christ’s prophetic office, thus fulfilling the inspired desire expressed by Moses, “If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them!” (Num 11:29).

This gift, the sensus fidei, constitutes in the believer a kind of supernatural instinct that has a connatural life with the same object of faith. It is a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition. It also has a propositional value because the Holy Spirit does not cease to speak to the Churches and lead them to the whole truth.

To give a concrete example of sensus fidei in action, this “criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition” came into play in a big way in Venerable Pope Pius XII’s decision to “pronounce, declare and define” the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heavenly glory – the basis for the solemnity which we celebrate today. The pope knew that the belief in Mary’s Assumption was ancient; in the 5th century the Feast of the Assumption of Mary was already being celebrated in Syria. According to the writings of St. John Damascene, “St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.” The pope knew that many Church Fathers had professed a belief in the Assumption, including St. John Damascene, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, St. Modestus of Jerusalem and St. Gregory of Tours. Great Catholic theologians and saints had championed the doctrine, among them St. Anthony of Padua, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Peter Canisius. Venerable Pius was aware of the absence of any definitive statement in Scripture concerning the completion of Mary’s life here on earth (although no passage in Scripture serves to rule out the dogma of the Assumption); he also was familiar with an important correlated doctrine, the traditional Christian understanding of Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant:

At that time, the Savior coming from the Virgin, the Ark, brought forth His own Body into the world from that Ark, which was gilded with pure gold within by the Word, and without by the Holy Ghost; so that the truth was shown forth, and the Ark was manifested. St. Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236 A.D.)

As Christ our priest was not chosen by hand of man, so neither was His tabernacle framed by men, but was established by the Holy Ghost; and by the power of God is that tabernacle protected, to be had in everlasting remembrance, Mary, God’s Virgin Mother. St. Dionysius of Alexandria († 264 A.D.)

The ark is verily the holy Virgin, gilded within and without, who received the treasure of universal sanctification. Arise, O Lord, from the Father’s bosom, to raise up again the ruined race of our first parent. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-c. 270)

O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O (Ark of the) Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296- 373 A.D.)

The Ark would be the type and image of Christ : for if we look back to the way of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten, we shall see that it is in the temple of the Virgin, as in an ark that the Word of God took up His abode. For in Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as the Scripture saith. But the testimonies in the ark were the word of God, and the wood of it was imperishable, and with pure and choicest gold was it beautified within and without. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386 A.D.)

The prophet David danced before the Ark. Now what else should we say the Ark was but holy Mary? The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament, but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself. The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel. The one had the voice of God, the other His Word. The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity. The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly. St. Ambrose (c. 339-397 A.D.)

Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant wasn’t just the theological rhapsody of a few early Church Fathers – the early Christians arrived at the concept by comparing the narrative of the Visitation in Luke 1: 39-45 with the story of the journey of the Ark to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6:11-19. The events were separated by centuries, but the geographic locations were quite close; both took place in the “hill country of Judah.” Among the parallels:

  • Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah.
  • And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God.
  • And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?
  • How can the ark of the LORD come to me?
  • When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.
  • Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD.
  • And Mary stayed with her about three months.
  • Thus the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months.

The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The early Christians couldn’t help but see the twin “overshadowings” as evidence for Mary as the New Ark. This concept has a direct bearing on the dogma of the Assumption, for the book of Revelation tells us:

And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.

The early Christians understood this Ark and this Woman to be one and the same. Since Mary was the New Ark, and the Ark had appeared in the temple of God in Heaven, then it seemed clear that Mary had been assumed into Heaven.

And there was strong earthly corroboration of this miracle which should not be overlooked. The early Christians were very, very keen on relics; the “Martyrdom of Polycarp” from the mid 2nd century makes this clear. Christians risked their lives to secure relics of holy men and women. By the time Christianity was legalized, churches in far-flung areas of Christendom were advertising the relics they possessed, relics of the apostles and other martyrs, relics of the Cross and the manger. Of course, no one ever ventured to claim that they were in possession of a first-class relic (a piece of bone, for example) from the body of Jesus, since it was a non-negotiable tenet of the Faith that Christ was risen and had ascended into Heaven. The apostles, the martyrs, St. Joseph, St. Mary Magdalene – they were all fair game. Yet in all of relic-collecting Christendom, no one EVER claimed to possess a first-class relic (except of her hair) of the Blessed Virgin. There is only one explanation for that – everyone KNEW that she had been assumed bodily into Heaven. Even those tempted to fakery knew that claiming possession of the bones of the Blessed Virgin would never fly.

Add to that the fact that Mary was seen as a “type” of the Church. Did Jesus not promise that each member of His body would be resurrected and caught up to meet Him in the clouds at His return? And was this Assumption not a “down-payment” on that promise? When confronted with the absence of earthly remains, and with the knowledge that this woman had been hailed as “full of grace” and “blessed among women,” remembering that the Old Testament figures Enoch and Elijah had themselves been taken up to be with God, why would the notion that Mary had been assumed into Heaven strike you as implausible?

The belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into Heaven had been held all over Christendom from antiquity to the 20th century. According to Venerable Pius, “for a long time past, numerous petitions (those received from 1849 to 1940 have been gathered in two volumes which, accompanied with suitable comments, have been recently printed), from cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, religious of both sexes, associations, universities and innumerable private persons have reached the Holy See, all begging that the bodily Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin should be defined and proclaimed as a dogma of faith. And certainly no one is unaware of the fact that this was fervently requested by almost two hundred fathers in the Vatican Council.” This is truly a case in which “the whole People of God,” not just the laity, nor solely the members of the hierarchy, not just contemporary Catholics, nor merely a handful of Church Fathers hundreds of years ago, but all the faithful concurred in their belief. This was the sensus fidelium upon which Pius XII relied when defining the dogma of the Assumption.

Great! So now that we know that the Vatican takes the sensus fidelium seriously, so seriously that it was a major factor in the 20th-century promulgation of a dogma, all that Catholics have to do is agitate, dissent, protest, whine, flaunt and rebel, and the next thing you know Pope Francis will do a 180 on contraception! It’s inevitable! So goes modern-day dissenters’ logic.

What’s seldom mentioned about the process that Venerable Pius XII went through before defining the doctrine of the Assumption is that he wrote to his bishops, asking them for input. In his request he wrote the following:

…we earnestly beg you to inform us about the devotion of your clergy and people (taking into account their faith and piety) toward the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin Mary.

The phrase in red is the key to understanding the slippery concept of sensus fidelium. In other words, Venerable Pius was a just a little bit picky about who had a say in this. According to Servant of God John Hardon, S.J.:

…whether they realize it or not, all who agree on the revealed truth, under the guidance of the sacred magisterium, belong to the faithful.

What are the requirements for a genuine sensus fidelium? To begin with, you have to be one of the faithful. Father Hardon continues:

Their agreement on the truth and allegiance to the magisterium gives them universality, i.e., spiritual unity. The truth interiorly possessed gives them consensus, and not the other way around, as though their consensus on some doctrine made it true.

So, Professor Maguire’s concept of “the consciences and experiences of good people” being a “guidepost to truth” runs into a major roadblock – define “good people!” As he would define them, good people are Catholics who realize that the Church forbids the use of artificial contraception, yet don’t give a fig. In other words, the truth doesn’t really interest them. And that’s the crux of the whole issue. It’s not “truth by majority vote” – it’s Truth, eternal, unchanging Truth that we submit to. It forms us – not the other way around! That’s the secret that people like Professor Maguire don’t get….

Pope Benedict warned:

It is particularly important to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this because the sensus fidei can not grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.

So, no, the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin isn’t just some goofy “assumption” by biblically ignorant Catholics. Yes, the sensus fidelium did play a part in the definition of the dogma. But, no – the sensus fidelium isn’t going to somehow be instrumental in overturning Church teaching on women priests, homosexuality, abortion or contraception, no matter how many liberal Catholic theologians tell you that it is. Because the sensus fidelium – the REAL sensus fidelium – owes its allegiance to the Magisterium of the Church. So don’t fret – Truth will prevail.

He promised that He would.


On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Deo omnis gloria!

I recently posted about the Trail of Blood, a booklet based upon the sermon series by a Baptist pastor named J. M. Carroll. Carroll was preaching on the “history” of putative faithful “Baptists” from the 1st century down to the 20th. Since, according to Brother Carroll, “Baptists” did not always go by that name, he listed some “marks” by which those reading historical accounts might recognize faithful “Baptists” and their churches by any other name. He mentions, for example, that those churches would celebrate only two “ordinances,” the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and that baptism was, of course, by immersion only. He tells us that those churches would have “two kinds of officers and two only – pastors and deacons. The pastor was called ‘Bishop.’ Both pastor and deacons to be selected by the church and to be servants of the church.” And he explains that:

The churches in their government and discipline to be entirely separate and independent of each other, Jerusalem to have no authority over Antioch–nor Antioch over Ephesus; nor Ephesus over Corinth, and so forth. And their government to be congregational, democratic. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


Sounds like Pastor Carroll was under the impression that Abe Lincoln was one of the Twelve, or at least one of the 72. While his historical grasp may have been a little shaky, Carroll was not alone in his belief that true Christian churches must be governed democratically. This is a common theme in independent churches, the idea that the early Christians were kind of the forerunners of the French Revolution, Christians who embraced their own peculiar version of the three theological virtues: Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité! Freedom fighters by their very God-given nature, these believers abhorred the specter of monarchy in any form. “The truth will set you FREE!” was tattooed on the left bicep of each proto-Baptist, and anyone who tried to tell them what to do could go take a hike, right up the steps of the guillotine platform.

This congregational system of government is described thus by Dr. Andreas Köstenberger (Wake Forest):

In churches practicing congregational polity authority is vested in the church as a whole, although it is a matter of debate to what extent the church is able to delegate this authority to church leaders and whether or not church leaders’ authority is derived from the congregation or directly from Christ. Typically, in a congregational system the church does the following: (1) select, appoint, and, if necessary, remove church leaders; (2) (help) guard pure doctrine; (3) exercise church discipline and decide on church membership; (4) participate in major decisions affecting the entire congregation (Dever, Display of God’s Glory, 31–43). Usually, the congregation operates in democratic fashion by way of regular church business meetings at which each member has an equal voice and vote. It is often noted, however, that some of these procedures may owe more to the political democratic system than New Testament teaching.

No kidding?

“Autonomy” is the watchword of these folks, just as it was that of the first Christians. Independent churches (that is, many Baptist churches, some nondenominational assemblies, charismatic fellowships, and Church of Christ congregations) may not have much to do with each other, but they do have a lot in common; they are all independently governed and egalitarian, following the system of checks and balances set up by Jesus Himself.

So, if an independent church answers to no man, who exactly does the governing? Well, probably the pastor, you’re thinking. Think again. Think: One man, one vote. Under a system where pastors are literally voted in and out of office, there is no question that the congregation retains final authority. Ponder that for a moment. The congregation – that’s Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Smith, Aunt Lou, Cousin Billy Bob and his fiancée, Nora Mae, as well as Billy Bob’s 18-year-old high school senior daughter from his first marriage – are in charge of distinguishing between orthodox and heterodox doctrine…. Should the pastor start to get “out of line,” theologically speaking, he will soon be getting into line – the unemployment line. And what makes Nora Mae believe that she has the doctrinal understanding to distinguish between all the fine theological nuances that can bring a pastor under suspicion of heresy? She’s been well educated in Biblical doctrine, dontcha know – by Pastor Jones, whom she helped elect last year as pastor of her church….

Don’t bother trying to fathom that – it won’t become any clearer upon reflection.

But it’s BIBLICAL – independent church-goers will tell you. There is no such thing in the Christian church as a hierarchy, because the Bible says:

…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 2:5

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Pet 2:9

He has proved his love for us, by washing us clean from our sins in his own blood, and made us a royal race of priests, to serve God, his Father. Rev 1:5-6

There it is, all laid out for everyone with eyes to see: THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER! There’s even historical documentation of how well government of the people, by the people, and for the people worked in the history of the church – the Council of Nicaea! Those godly pastors studied their Bibles, and then held a big meeting to decide the question of the deity of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity won by a majority vote! See how the Holy Spirit works through the Christian democratic system?

Silly you – you always thought it was something about the Catholic bishops meeting in council to guard the good deposit which was entrusted to them through the help of the Holy Spirit living in them….

So Jesus envisioned the independent church system, and instructed his apostles in democratic decision-making techniques. We know how important this was to Him from the many Bible verses in which this is discussed, verses like:

The Democratic People’s Republic of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel! (Mk 1:15)

And Jesus went from town to town preaching the gospel of the Democratic People’s Republic of Heaven. (Mt 9:35)

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Democratic People’s Republic of Heaven. (Mt 13:10-11)

…there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the Democratic People’s Republic of God come with power! (Mk 9:1)

And let us not forget that beautiful verse that so many independent church-goers have embroidered on couch pillows:

The Democratic People’sRepublic of God is within you.

(Lk 17:20-21)

Of course, from an independent church point of view, a church hierarchy, one with deacons, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and (shudder!) a pope, is just of the devil, as Martin Luther went to great lengths to point out in his Babylonian Captivity of the Church:

How if they were compelled to admit that we all, so many as have been baptized, are equally priests? We are so in fact, and it is only a ministry which has been entrusted to them, and that with our consent. They would then know that they have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it. Thus it is said: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. ii. 9.) Thus all we who are Christians are priests; those whom we call priests are ministers chosen from among us to do all things in our name; and the priesthood is nothing else than a ministry. Thus Paul says: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. iv. 1.)

Luther was of the egalitarian opinion that God had never intended for certain people to exercise real, meaningful spiritual authority over others. And there’s Biblical precedent for that, too – Numbers 16:1-3.

Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”

And where did Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi get this idea that Moses and Aaron couldn’t tell him what to do? From the Bible – Exodus 19:5-6!

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi and his buddies deduced from God’s statement recorded in Exodus 19:5-6 that
since the nation of Israel was “a kingdom of priests,” God had not established a ministerial priesthood to lead his people, and therefore Moses and Aaron “have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it,” as Luther, son of Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi and his buddies liked to phrase it. Things didn’t end too well for old Korah, come to think of it….

When Moses heard this, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself.

Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?” Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'” Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.” So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones. Moses said, “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. “But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.” As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. Numbers 16:4-5, 18-33

The thing independent church-goers often get confused about is the fact that the Bible doesn’t actually teach the doctrine of the “priesthood of the believer.” Check out those verses again – it’s the ROYAL priesthood. This makes sense, since Christ is our King and we His co-heirs. The Kingdom isn’t a democracy – it’s a monarchy, and the royal household is administered by the royal steward, the master of His palace (Is 22:20-23; Mt 16:18-19) who acts as the King’s representative. As Jesus never declared unto Simon Peter in Matthew 16: “I will give you the keys to the town hall of the Democratic People’s Republic of Heaven, where you shall hold interminable meetings at which each believer will have an equal voice and vote!”

Just as the Israelites were “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” so too Christians are “a royal race of priests.” Just as every Israelite under the Old Covenant was a “priest” and yet still subject to the ministerial priesthood God established under the leadership of Aaron and his successors, so too Christians under the New Covenant are all “priests” and yet still subject to the ministerial priesthood God established under the leadership of Peter and his successors. And thus, as Christians we need never pray “For Thine is the Democratic People’s Republic!” It’s God’s Kingdom we’re citizens of, where rightful authority is a given, and obedience is a virtue, a Kingdom in which the admonition “Obey your leaders and submit to them” has real meaning, rather than the vertigo-inducing “obey your leaders and submit to them until you happen to disagree with their interpretation of the Bible, and then vote them out of office, or split the church, or find a church whose leaders are preaching something more in line with the way you read your Bible, at least until you happen to disagree with them and then start the whole sorry cycle all over again….”

It’s the Catholic Church, with a pope, with bishops, with priests and deacons, a hierarchy which unites every parish with every other parish into one Church, one Body. It’s not a hard concept. Remember, all that liberté! égalité! fraternité! stuff doesn’t always end real well, and (Brother Carroll’s beliefs notwithstanding) Christian it ain’t. Unity is the theme of God’s Kingdom, a unity rooted in the same Faith and the same blessed Hope that Catholics of whatever parish share, a unity that stems from Love. And yes, that necessitates a hierarchy, to serve and to shepherd us, to direct and to discipline us, to love and to lead us royal priests safely into the Kingdom of God.


On the memorial of St. Ulrich of Zell

Deo omnis gloria!