Holy Scripture

One of our favorite things to say about Catholics, back in my Evangelical Protestant days, was “if Catholics would only read the Bible!”  If we could just get a Polish translation of the KJV into the hands of John Paul II, for example, he would feel compelled to abdicate, assuming he’s an honest man, when he sees how thoroughly unbiblical his beliefs are! We were convinced that if Catholics would just read through the Bible once, they would see how ridiculous it is to subscribe to unscriptural, man-made doctrines like the belief in a hierarchical Church (Isa 22:20-22, Mt. 16:16-19, Mt. 18:17-18, Lk. 10:16, Acts 1:15-26, Acts 6:6, Acts 15, Acts 16:4, 2 Cor 10:6, 2 Thess 3:14, 1 Tim 3:15, 2 Tim 1:6, 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Tim 4:1-2, Titus 2:15, 1 Jn 4:6, Heb 13:17, etc.) You see, Protestants don’t realize how Biblical certain Catholic beliefs and practices are because they do not know the Scriptures. Oh, they THINK they know the Scriptures – most study them at least once a week, if not every day. But the truth is, they read the Bible through their denomination’s schema, which serves to filter out anything that sounds different from what their pastor happens to be teaching. That’s how they end up with bone-headed notions like “nowhere does the Bible teach some kind of distinction between ‘mortal’ and ‘venial’ sins,” (1 Jn 5:16-17) or “nowhere does the Bible say mere men can grant absolution” (Jn 20:21-22). Really, it’s right there. Former Protestant pastor Marcus Grodi of the Coming Home Network often speaks of “the verses I never saw,” verses like 1 Timothy 3:15 and Revelation 14:13, verses that contradict the Protestant narrative and therefore are glibly glossed over (“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” being a perennial favorite). The verse that knocked me personally for a loop was a verse in a passage I knew well. It was the passage read whenever we Evangelicals celebrated the Lord’s Supper:


For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is fore you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Cor 11: 23-30


I do believe that most Evangelicals would claim familiarity with those words. And yet, hidden in that passage was a phrase that would rock my theology: Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. Body? What Body? Since I had been taught to take figuratively the Lord’s discourse in John 6:22-69, that phrase blew in one ear and out the other, communion after communion after communion. Then one day it dawned on me that I as an Evangelical took Jesus’ words in John 6 figuratively because I lacked the faith to believe what He had actually said (and what everyone present had understood Him to say, and what every Christian for 1,000 years after that would believe He had said). Those words in 1 Corinthians exploded into my consciousness: we must discern Christ’s Body when we eat the bread and drink the cup, or we are drinking judgment on ourselves.


Holy moley….


So, if your Protestant next-door neighbors ever start complaining to you about the “unscriptural” Catholic Mass, why not suggest just for fun that they mail a couple of Spanish KJV’s to the Vatican? After all, our Holy Father is known for his sense of humor. I think he’d get a kick out of it, don’t you?



On the memorial of St. François de Laval


Deo omnis gloria!

Catholicism is soooo countercultural. On the day that the world unwraps the presents and then packs all the decorations away for another year, declaring Christmas to be OVER, Catholics unwrap the presents and then trot off to Mass to declare to the world that Christmas has finally BEGUN. I have to admit, the world’s fierce determination to institutionalize the insane commercialization of the holiday, and then toss the whole thing out with the empty boxes and used wrapping paper on the 26th is pretty discouraging; I long to live in a world where my neighbors understand why I answer the question, “Did you have a good Christmas?” with a hearty “I’m still having a good Christmas!”

I noticed my across-the-street neighbor, Ridley Munridley, out in his yard on Christmas morning assembling the bicycle he had purchased for his son and heir, Ridley Munridley, Jr. At least, I thought he was assembling the bicycle. When I saw him out there again on the 26th, and on the 27th, and then again today, I realized two things: that he gets a lot more time off around Christmas than I do, and that he had merely been attempting to assemble the bike – and still was attempting. I decided to mosey on across the street to see if I could help. Not that I know anything about the assembly of bicycles, or the assembly of anything, but my moral support skills are phenomenal.

So I moseyed. Ridley, good neighbor that he is, waved a welcome at me and motioned to me to come and sit with him on his front steps where he was puzzling over the instruction manual. I noticed a little figure in the bushes; it appeared to be the sad little owner of the bike, Ridley, Jr., spying on his dad’s progress, or lack thereof.

“A very good morning to you!” Ridley greeted me affably. “I hope you’ve brought your bicycle assembly skills with you!” he laughed heartily. I apologized for my deficiency in that area, but offered to perhaps read the instructions to him as he worked if he thought that might be of any help.

“Why, thank you!” Ridley enthused. “Ridley Junior is reading at a 3rd-grade level, and he was helping with that on Christmas morning, but he became distracted and wandered off.” I glanced at the boy in the bushes; he looked more like he had become dejected and wandered off.

“So,” my neighbor continued, “I’ve got all the parts out of the box and ready to go – let’s get going!”

And all the pieces were certainly there, all thirty-three of them, strewn across Ridley’s walkway, the crank arm, the rear sprocket, the seat-post binder bolt, the chainstay, and the front fork, to name but five. He had tentatively connected eight of them; the rest lay waiting for assembly.

Ridley stared intently at the instructions in the manual. “Okay,” he said, “It is recommended that the threads and all moving parts in the parts package be lubricated prior to installation”I did that. “Turn the fork of the bicycle to face forward. Note that “forward” means that the wheel mounting slots are in the furthest forward position. So the wheel axle will be in front of the fork when assembled.” “Hmm…” Ridley hesitated. “The fork of the bicycle – let me see that illustration again.” I held the instruction manual so that he could check the drawing. “‘Forward’ means that the wheel mounting slots are in the furthest forward position” he muttered to himself. “‘The wheel axle will be in front of the fork’ – that’s where I went wrong yesterday…. Okay, now “Check the stem clamp bolts to make sure they are properly tightened” – is that these, or those?” he wondered aloud.

I glanced at the illustration as Ridley held up the handlebars he had assembled. Something just didn’t look right, and he agreed with me on that.

“Where do you think I went wrong?” he asked.

Channeling my inner feminine genius, I made a suggestion. “Look, Ridley, there’s a toll-free number here on the back of the instruction manual. Have you called them? I’m sure they could walk you through this!”

Ridley stared at me as if I had suggested betraying atomic secrets to the Soviets. “There’s no need to panic, Renée. I’ve got this. The instructions are quite clear – we just need to work our way through them in a calm and orderly manner!”

“Just trying to help,” I mumbled.

“Well, you can help,” he retorted, “by reading me the next paragraph in the manual!”

“You must determine if your handlebar mounting is a quill stem or a threadless stem” I read in what I hoped was a calm and orderly manner. “A quill stem is a handlebar assembly that has a wedge-shaped part at the bottom of the stem that is inserted into the fork steer tube. Loosen the center bolt enough so that the wedge and stem can slide into the fork steer tube.”

“Loosen the center bolt?” Ridley mumbled. “What center bolt?”

“Maybe your handlebar mounting is a threadless stem,” I whispered.

“Maybe…” he agreed. “Maybe,” he declared as he lay the handlebars on the ground, “we should assemble some other parts first, and then come back to this.”

I heard a monumental sigh issue forth from the depths of the bushes, but I was not about to argue. “Which part did you want to work on?” I asked.

“What looks easy?” Ridley asked me.

I flipped through the manual, but all the parts in need of assembly seemed to involve different options – the handlebar mounting could be either a threadless or a quill stem, the saddle assembly involved either a bolted seat clamp or a quick-release seat clamp, and the manual likewise informed me that there were two types of front wheel hubs, nutted or quick release. We’d have to figure all that out first. All those options were accompanied by stern warnings that improper assembly could result in irreparable damage and/or loss of bicycle control resulting in injury, or death, or both. Merry Christmas, Ridley Jr.

“Maybe we could work on the pedals,” I suggested hesitantly, reasoning that the two of us together should be able to distinguish the right pedal from the left. And we were, even managing to attach the right-hand pedal to the chainwheel side crank arm with a right-hand thread, only to discover that Ridley was going to need a 15mm narrow open-ended wrench to tighten the pedal into place, a wrench he didn’t have and would have to borrow from someone – certainly not from me. I hammer nails into the wall with the heel of my shoe, because I don’t own a wrench….

Our near success emboldened my neighbor. “You see,” Ridley began pontificating, “the people who wrote this manual did so in the most straightforward and easiest-to-understand manner possible. They WANT us to succeed in the assembly. It should NOT be necessary to call them and force them to walk us through this. If we just go about this in a logical and well-reasoned manner, we will be able to assemble this bike on our own. That’s why the bike comes with an instruction manual!”

I couldn’t resist. “Then why does the instruction manual come with a toll-free number to the ‘Quick Assembly Hotline’?”

“That’s for losers,” Ridley growled. “Let’s find something else easy that we can work on. Hand me that manual.”

Ridley flipped from page to page, apparently disheartened by the intricacies of the braking system and the derailleur gears. Ridley has a Ph.D. in International Comparative Economic Systematology, but the bike assembly seemed to be more than he could handle. “Are you sure this bike even has derailleur gears?” I asked, but Ridley was deep in contemplation. “My left or their left??” I heard him mumbling.

I caught a glimpse of little Ridley’s face; he looked about ready to fall out of the bushes in despair. I lost it.

Call the number, Ridley!” I sputtered. “Look! Read the back of the manual – ‘Our friendly and knowledgeable operators are standing by to help you assemble your new bicycle in no-time-flat!’ Call the number!!

A little face protruded from the bushes. “Call the number, Dad! Call the number!”

Ridley stared at me as if he were Winston Churchill and I had snatched his cigar right out of his mouth. He sat fuming as I plowed ahead.

“It seems to me that we’ve had this discussion before,” I reminded him. He responded with a blank look. “Remember, we talked about the perspicuity of Scripture?” Ridley and his wife are Evangelicals, and they’ve been trying to convince me that anybody can read the Bible and understand what God wants them to know about salvation and the Christian life. “You told me that everything we need to know is laid out there in Scripture; all we have to do is read the Word and ask God to illuminate our minds.”

Ridley sat up very straight. “I stand by that!” he assured me.

“Yet,” I continued, “you have to admit that you, and your neighbor next door, and the folks across the street, and the people around the block are all following the same Instruction Manual, and yet you’ve all assembled your theological “bicycles” quite differently.”

“You’re talking about the non-essentials,” Ridley assured me dismissively.

“Non-essentials??” I asked him, “like – what must I do to be saved?? Because you, and our Methodist neighbor, and our Pentecostal neighbor, and our Lutheran neighbor all give different answers to that Question of all Questions: you have to believe and be baptized; you don’t have to be baptized – all you have to do is believe; you were baptized as an infant, so you’re okay; your infant baptism doesn’t count for anything – you’ve got to be rebaptized; you must speak in tongues or you don’t have the “Spirit of Christ” and can’t be saved; you must persevere to the end or you won’t be saved; you WILL persevere to the end – otherwise you were never saved to begin with…. Sure, the Manufacturer meant what He said when He wrote the Instruction Manual, but many of the directions are open to interpretation. He compensated for that by training His managers Himself – those men knew what He meant to say and they “entrusted those things to faithful men” who can now interpret the Manual according to His intention! The only way to know for sure what was meant is to consult with the staff trained by the management of the company!”

Ridley stared at me as if I’d had one too many butter-rum jelly beans in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, but I was undaunted.

“I realize that many people manage to get their bicycles assembled all by themselves, but which is more complicated, Ridley – the assembly of a kid’s bike, or the ins and outs of justification, predestination and eschatology?? You can’t with a straight face tell me that anybody can just pick up the Manual and figure it out without assistance! That’s why there’s a toll-free number, Ridley – that’s why Jesus established the teaching authority of the Church!”

Ridley shook his head and shrugged. “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that,” he grumbled. “Looks like it’s going to rain,” he noted, and he was right – in central Virginia the closest we get to a white Christmas is freezing rain. He thanked me for my efforts and assured me that he and Ridley, Jr. would take it from there. I knew I had overstayed my welcome, and took that as my cue to leave. As I walked back across the street, I turned and saw little Ridley helping his dad collect the thirty-three pieces from the walkway and carry them up onto the porch. Still no working bike. So close, and yet so far….

Maybe tomorrow, little Ridley. Maybe tomorrow.


On the memorial of the Holy Innocents

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Shimano Deore XT Schaltwerk hinten (am Mountainbike) by C. Corleis/Wikimedia Commons

Winston Churchill 1941 photo by Yousuf Karsh/Wikimedia Commons

en: Jelly Belly en: jelly beans by Brandon Dilbeck/Wikimedia Commons

Having rejected every authority on earth except that of their own personal interpretation of Holy Scripture, Protestants must take pains to prove that their personal interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. They are certainly at a disadvantage, seeing as how (1) they can’t claim that their understanding of any given set of verses was passed down from bishop to bishop from the apostles themselves, (2) they can’t document that their perspective on any distinctively Protestant doctrine lines up with the teaching of the Church Fathers, and (3) they can’t say that the indefectibility that Christ promised His Church somehow applies to their tiny splinter of a fraction of a denomination and not to the other equally splintered fractions which disagree with them. It is at this point where you will see most Protestant groups beginning to trot out their Bible Scholars. These are the experts who can explain to you that, “properly translated,” various passages mean something quite different from what you’d always thought they meant.

I grant that some people really are Bible Scholars. I’ve just gotten mighty tired of 2nd-year Greek students who think they can exegete a text better than the Catholic Church because they’ve “studied the original Greek!” Let me put this in context: I majored in languages (not New Testament Greek – modern languages), and after graduation I moved to Germany where I lived and taught for five years. If you asked me to translate Martin Luther’s “Von der babylonischen Gefangenschaft der Kirche” into English, I would have to decline. I am not competent to translate that work into English, even though English is my native language and I was immersed in the study of German for many years. In order to competently translate such a work, I would have to be a scholar of 16th-century German (it’s been 500 years, and languages change, you know), a student of Luther’s thought, and a theologian. To just pull someone in off the street because they happen to speak both German and English and say, “Hey, can you translate Luther’s ‘Babylonian Captivity’ for me?” would be foolish. You’d get a half-baked, error-ridden translation. Yet folks with a couple of semesters of New Testament Greek under their belt think they can translate a verse like John 3:5 better than anyone in the 2,000-year history of the Church. Catholic apologist Steve Ray dealt with someone who presented this argument:

Jesus told (Nicodemus) that one must be born ‘of the Spirit’ in order to enter the kingdom of God. A better translation of John 3.5 would read: “… except a man be born of water—even of the Spirit—he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The little Greek word kai is often translated “even”—which I believe better conveys the Lord’s meaning here. He is contrasting the water of the womb and fleshly birth, with the water of the Spirit and heavenly birth.

This person was advocating that John 3:5 be understood to mean that being “born again of water and of the Spirit” excluded baptism (“water”). He had convinced himself that Jesus wasn’t talking about water baptism in John 3:5 because “the little Greek word ‘kai’ is often translated ‘even’ – which I believe better conveys the Lord’s meaning here.” Well, golly – isn’t it swell that somebody with a rudimentary knowledge of the Greek language has come along to dispel the myths propagated by two millennia of Catholic teaching!

As Steve goes on to explain to the inquirer, no reputable translation of the Bible (Catholic or Protestant) has ever translated this passage in the way that supposedly “better conveys the Lord’s meaning” – kind of surprising if that translation is the slam-dunk that the inquirer makes it out to be (an argument you might remember to bring up the next time your coworker tries to explain to you that his peculiar understanding of a particular verse is actually “a better way” of translating it.) But this is small potatoes; John 3:5 isn’t the only verse open to creative interpretation, and much has been translated by Protestants-who-should-know-better over the years with the specific aim of helping the Almighty say what the translators are sure that He must have meant to say, so much so that Anglican Bible Scholar N.T. Wright groused:

In this context, I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was then serving. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said. I do not know what version of Scripture they use at Dr. Piper’s church. But I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.

This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV. And, yes, the NIV has now been replaced with newer adaptations in which some at least of the worst features have, I think, been at least modified. But there are many who, having made the switch to the NIV, are now stuck with reading Romans 3:21-26 like this:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…. [God] did this to demonstrate his justice… he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21 is only allowed to mean “the righteous status which comes to people from God,” whereas the equivalent term in Romans 3:25 and Romans 3:26 clearly refers to God’s own righteousness – which is presumably why the NIV has translated it as “justice,” to avoid having the reader realize the deception. In the following paragraph, a similar telltale translation flaw occurs, to which again we shall return. In Romans 3:29, Paul introduces the question, “Is God the God of Jews only?” with the single-letter word e normally translated “or”; “Or is God the God of Jews only?” –in other words, if the statement of Romans 3:28 were to be challenged, it would look as though God were the God of Jews only. But the NIV, standing firmly in the tradition that sees no organic connection between justification by faith on the one hand and the inclusion of Gentiles within God’s people on the other, resists this clear implication by omitting the word altogether. Two straws in a clear and strong wind. And those blown along by this wind may well come to forget that they are reading a visibly and demonstrably flawed translation, and imagine that this is what Paul really said.”

To summarize, Wright is claiming that there are some serious problems with the Bible version used by most English-speaking Evangelical Protestants. So, who’s right – Anglican “Bible Scholar” N.T. Wright, or the “Bible Scholars” who produced the New International Version of the Bible?

With no Magisterium to rely on, the Protestant faithful are the civilian casualties in these Bible Scholar Wars. They simply have to choose the team they think looks best in their uniforms and hope that it all turns out well. If I have 20 Bible Scholars who say that this is the correct understanding of James 2:24, and you have only 19 who say that that is the correct understanding, my understanding must be the correct one – right?

My team wins!

The Catholic Church looks at it this way: The New Testament was written in the first century A.D. in “common” Koiné Greek, as was the Septuagint, the Old Testament of the early Christians. Koiné Greek is now a dead language, so there are no native speakers with whom to consult. Anyone studying the language of the New Testament must familiarize himself with that language without the assistance of anyone who actually speaks that language in this day and age. That in and of itself is a substantial handicap.

Then there is the cultural aspect of translation, which should not be minimalized. Modern-day American English, for example, relies heavily on exaggeration and sarcasm. Ya think?? Other societies simply do not exaggerate and sneer the way we do. (I should know – I once told a Turkish friend of mine that I had to wait in line behind “a hundred other people.” To this day I don’t think she understands that I didn’t mean that literally.) Someone living 2,000 years from now who tries to translate a 21st-century American novel into Bengali, for example, will have to bear this tendency in mind; taking everything the characters say literally will result in a gross misinterpretation of what is actually meant. Culture plays a huge part in translation, and modern-day Bible Scholars can only unearth so much. Certain aspects of ancient cultures will always remain somewhat mysterious to us.

All this is the basis of the Catholic argument that the people closest to Jesus in time, place, language and culture are undoubtedly the best equipped to break the stalemate and explain to us what the words of Jesus and his disciples actually mean. Twenty-first-century English-speaking Bible Scholars are simply laboring under too many insurmountable handicaps to claim that they can translate reliably without availing themselves of the invaluable assistance of the Church Fathers. Protestants, especially Evangelicals, tend to downplay this assessment, basically since the Church Fathers contradict the prevailing Protestant wisdom at every turn. Yet, when it is sometimes difficult even for me, a 21st-century native speaker of English, to understand what you, a 21st-century native speaker of English, are trying to say, why should we feel that the chances that modern-day Protestant Bible Scholars might be mistranslating and misinterpreting Scripture are slim to none?

This brings back a memory of an uncomfortable teaching mishap in Germany – my attempt to explain to my class the meaning of the English phrase “you can’t be too careful,” which the students understood to mean “Don’t be too careful.” I struggled fruitlessly to explain that the phrase actually means that you must be very, very careful – my students, having believed that they grasped the obvious meaning of the words, didn’t want to be corrected, even though they were non-native speakers of English and I was the one with the State of New York birth certificate. Their attitude was one of: The meaning of the phrase is self-evident – now teach us something we don’t know!

This can be the attitude of Evangelical Bible Scholars, who just “know” that Jesus taught justification by faith ALONE. This pseudo-knowledge is bound to color their translation efforts – how could it be otherwise? “When the Bible says ‘justified by faith,’ it means ‘justified by faith ALONE’!

The meaning of the phrase is self-evident!”

Patrick Madrid in his Where Is That in the Bible? proposes a simple exercise in understanding: Any native speaker of English would claim to be able to comprehend the simple phrase, “I never said you stole the money.” Even non-native speakers with a few years of training in English would feel confident of their comprehension. It’s not Shakespeare! But think of the possible nuances involved here. The speaker could actually be saying:

I never said you stole the money (but Martha said you did).

I never said you stole the money (those words never crossed my lips, but I sent a telegram to that effect).

I never said you stole the money (but the money was stolen, and I said John stole it).

I never said you stole the money (but I did say that you might have borrowed it and forgotten to return it).

I never said you stole the money (I’m sure you didn’t steal the money; I’m equally sure you did steal everything else).

You speak English; I speak English – yet we cannot guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have correctly understood the nuances of that simple, 7-word sentence. Can any modern-day Bible Scholar claim with a straight face that he can correctly understand the Bible to say that a man is justified by faith alone, and not by works (contradicting James 2:24 which reads “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”), and that the first- and second-century Church Fathers (the majority of whom were speakers of Koiné Greek, and some of whom knew the apostles or the disciples of the apostles), simply misunderstood this critical teaching ?

“The whole past time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger. … Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called, we fall asleep in our sins. For then, the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, will thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. … And you should pay attention to this all the more, my brothers, when you reflect on and see that after such great signs and wonders had been performed in Israel, they were still abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found to be, as it is written, the ‘many who are called,’ but not the ‘few that are chosen.'” Barnabas (c. 70-130 A.D.)

“We are justified by our works, not by our words.” Clement Of Rome (c. 96 A.D.)

“He who raised him (Jesus) up from the dead will raise us up also – if we do his will, and walk in his commandments, and love what he loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness.” Polycarp of Smyrna (c. A.D. 110)

“Let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood not to be Christians, even though they profess with the lips the teachings of Christ. For it is not those who make profession, but those who do the works, who will be saved.” Justin Martyr (c. 160 A.D.)

“Rather, we should fear ourselves, lest perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but are shut out from his kingdom. And for that reason, Paul said, ‘For if [God] spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest he also spare not you.'” Irenaeus (A.D. 180)

“So, by obeying the will of God, he who wants to can procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments. And everyone who keeps them can be saved. And, obtaining the resurrection, he can inherit incorruption.” Theophilus (A.D. 180):

“For by grace are ye saved” – but not, indeed, without good works. Rather, we must be saved by being molded for what is good.” Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195)

You can’t be too careful when it comes to interpreting the sacred texts. The claim that we Enlightened Geniuses of the modern-day world are in a far better position to understand the teachings of the New Testament than those benighted contemporaries of the apostles doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. In the writings of the Early Church Fathers, one finds the doctrines taught by the Holy Catholic Church on the subjects of abortion, apostolic succession, baptism, the canon of Scripture, Holy Tradition, the virtue of remaining celibate, divorce and remarriage, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the necessity of good works and final perseverance, penance, the communion of saints, the primacy of Peter, Christian unity – all areas in which Evangelical Bible Scholars feel that they simply “know better” than the Fathers and the Catholic Church with whom the Fathers agree.

The new-and-improved Christianity produced by Protestant Bible Scholars is a very shiny product, appealing to many, but I wouldn’t buy into it if I were you. It pays to bear in mind the old saying, “Let the buyer beware,” also commonly expressed as:

You can’t be too careful!


On the memorial of St. Francis Xavier

Deo omnis gloria!

Russ Rentler over at Crossed the Tiber asks a really good question in a recent blog post: If Martin Luther, the man granted the first patent on Bible-alone theology, invoked the saints, why do modern-day Protestants feel that invoking the saints is “unbiblical”? Russ quotes Luther as saying:

When in his frailty, a man invokes the saints, he invokes Christ, and without fail he will reach Christ whenever he calls upon their names, for wherever they are, they are in Christ and Christ is in them, and their name in Christ’s name and Christ’s name in their name.

Luther, as historians will tell you, was personally devoted to the greatest saint of them all – the Blessed Virgin Mary. He taught that she was the spiritual Mother of all Christians:

Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.

On that basis, Luther had no qualms concerning the recitation of the Rosary, as long as those praying it understood Mary’s place in the economy of salvation.

We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.

Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger.

Them’s fightin’ words as far as modern-day Evangelicals are concerned, because, hey – nobody in the Bible prayed the Rosary! Paul never said that Christians ought to invoke the saints! This is all unbiblical in the extreme!

Luther’s beliefs morphed throughout his lifetime – the same man who could teach his Protestant congregation in all sincerity that they will “reach Christ” when they call upon the saints later abandoned that teaching – PROOF, Protestants say, that Luther really was sent by God to straighten Christianity out. As the years passed, so the story goes, Luther distanced himself further and further from Catholic error, and his doctrine became correspondingly more and more biblical! That supposedly accounts for the above quotes – they were uttered during Luther’s “transitional phase.” Well, Luther’s beliefs certainly did morph and fluctuate throughout his lifetime – they’ve got that right. In his earlier days he preached tolerance towards the Jews; at the end of his life Mr. Sola Scriptura, whose doctrine was allegedly becoming “more and more biblical” felt that he had Biblical backing for his desire to give the Nazis a headstart if the Jews would not convert:

What shall we Christians do with this condemned people, the Jews? We cannot tolerate their conduct, now that we know about their lying, scorn, and blasphemy. If we do, we support these things. We cannot extinguish divine wrath nor can we convert. With prayer and godly fear, we must practice sharp mercy so we can possibly save at least a few from hellfire. However, we dare not punish them ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse already has them. This is my sincere advice:

First, burn synagogues and Jewish schools, covering with dirt whatever remains. Do this so no man will ever again see these things. This will honor our Lord and Christendom. God will know we do not knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blasphemy. Whatever we unknowingly tolerated (I also was ignorant), God will pardon us. Now informed, if we protect a place, it would be the same as if we were doing these things ourselves.

Second, you should destroy their houses because within them they pursue the same aims as in synagogues. They can live under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. Then they will know they are not our masters, as they boast, but are living in captivity, as they constantly moan before God.

Third, you should seize all their prayer books and Talmudic writings because they put forth idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy.

Fourth, you should forbid their rabbis from teaching–under penalty of death. For they have forfeited this right. They hold Jews captive with Mosaic Law. Moses clearly adds, “What they teach you in agreement with the Lord’s law.” Those villains ignore this teaching. They want only obedience, contrary to the Lord. They infuse the poor people with this poison. (In the same way, the pope also held us captive, making us believe all the lies coming from his devilish mind. He did not teach God’s word, and therefore he forfeited this right.)

There’s more, but I’ll spare you – it’s not anything present-day Evangelicals would endorse, by any means. The moral of the story? You can’t have it both ways, honey. Either Luther’s beliefs were changing to become more and more “biblical,” or they were just changing as Luther’s whims changed, blowing in the wind like a plastic grocery bag. Far from being proof that the doctrine of sola Scriptura holds water, Luther’s mutating beliefs should actually cause one to suspect that maybe the Scriptures aren’t as perspicuous as Martin in his wisdom would have liked us to believe….

Another example of this is the sad case of the Long Evangelical Snooze – the lack of Protestant outrage over the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 – occasioned by the fact that there is simply no Bible verse that states that “thou shalt not kill the unborn child in the womb.” In its wisdom, the Southern Baptist Convention in 1971 passed the following amendment:

WHEREAS, Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion; and

WHEREAS, Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor; and

WHEREAS, Others advocate no legal abortion, or would permit abortion only if the life of the mother is threatened;

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.

The Convention continued pro-choicing its way through the 1970s, only beginning to take a firm stand against the murder of unborn children in the early ’80s under the influence of theologians like Francis Schaeffer. Which leads to a question:

If the theology behind the doctrine of sola Scriptura is correct, why could those who employ it not see clearly that they were facilitating the continued MURDER of unborn children for some 10 years? How many children died while Evangelicals waited for the perspicuity of Scripture to kick in?

Seriously, if sola Scriptura is all that, why didn’t it “work” when clarity on the issue of abortion was so desperately needed? And why was the Catholic Church, which supposedly wanders in error, the undisputed leader in the fight against abortion from the beginning? Not to mention the fact that to this day many Protestant denominations which claim to rely on the principle of sola Scriptura are pro-choice because, in their wisdom, they feel that because the Bible never mentions abortion, the practice must be okay in the eyes of God (see: The Biblical Basis for Being Pro-Choice).

I would like to propose that if sola Scriptura is truly the system put in place by God upon which Christians must rely for guidance, then it MUST “work” in one particular area – soteriology. All Bible-only Christians MUST be able to open up a copy of the Scriptures and come away with a clear, unequivocal answer to the Question of all Questions: What must I do to be saved?

No problem there! I would have told you when I was an Evangelical. Christians differ in their understanding of many doctrines; that’s why there are different denominations. But when it comes to The Essentials, we are all on exactly the same page – and there is nothing more essential than knowing what you have to do to gain eternal life! All Protestant denominations teach that you must have faith alone in Jesus Christ alone!

And be baptized.

Huh? Oh, yeah, well… certain Protestant denominations do in their “wisdom” teach the necessity of baptism based on verses such as Jn 3:5, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, and 1 Pet 3:18, but that doesn’t mean

And speak in tongues.

What?? Okay, there are goofy charismatics who read Romans 8:9 (“And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ”) and deduce therefrom that being filled with the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation, and since by their estimation speaking in tongues is the visible sign that you’ve been filled, you must speak in tongues or you are not saved. I really wouldn’t put much faith in

And persevere to the end.

Now, look! I know that some Protestant denominations reject the “once-saved/always saved” understanding of Scripture, based on verses like Mt 10:22, Mt 24:13, Mk 13:13, Rom 11:19-22, 1 Cor 15:1-2, Gal 5:2-4, Col 1:21-23, 2 Pet 2:20-22, Heb 3:12, Heb 6:4-6 and Heb 10:23-29, but seriously, you have to take that kind of teaching with a grain of

In what sense is this a common Protestant soteriology? What is the one unanimous Protestant answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” No one can claim that Lutherans who insist on baptism based on “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” are somehow ignoring the plain truth of the Scriptures to follow their own depraved desires! No one can claim that Methodists who insist that one can lose his salvation have no Scriptural backing for this belief: “Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” If the theology behind the doctrine of sola Scriptura is correct, Protestants should be able to answer this Question of Questions WITH ONE VOICE, because if Protestants can’t tell someone how to be saved, nothing else they can tell them really matters….

Bible-only Christians need to confront the fact that while the Bible itself does not err when it teaches us what we must do to be saved, the human beings who must interpret the Bible certainly can and do err! There MUST be an infallible interpreter who can say to us, “This is the understanding of the Scriptures handed down to us by the apostles.” Otherwise, who can tell you for certain what you must do to be saved? Not Protestants – they reject the infallible interpreter, opting to rely on their own wisdom and understanding when proclaiming the word of God, resulting in many different voices teaching many different “truths,” all operating under the same sola-Scriptura premise. They fail to notice the irony of their position – the doctrine of sola Scriptura, which demands that each Christian interpret the Bible for himself or herself according to his or her understanding, runs counter to the clear command of Scripture itself: Lean not unto thine own understanding. Rather, we are enjoined to “trust the Lord with all our hearts.” The Lord established the Church. It does take a lot of trust to rely on the Church that Jesus established to interpret the Scriptures for us, the Church to which He made the promises “He who hears you, hears Me” and “The gates of hell shall not prevail against My Church” – more trust than Martin Luther could muster when he felt he had a “better idea.” But to trust in its place the Reformers’ ever-changing, work-in-progress miscarriage of the truth, or any other human being’s, for that matter, is just a case of relying on one’s own wisdom.

That splat you heard was the baby of authoritative teaching being thrown out with the Reformation bathwater. Protestant Christians surely should miss the little guy….


On the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo

Deo omnis gloria!

(Cue the bongo drums….)

Imagine, if you will, a world beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of sola Scriptura theology. You’ve just crossed over into… The Bible-Only Zone.

As an Evangelical Protestant, my beliefs all came “straight from Scripture.” If there was no “chapter-and-verse” for a particular doctrine, I felt myself to be under no obligation to buy into it. I looked down on groups which “added” to the Bible by attempting to integrate their own “man-made” theologies into the teachings of the inerrant Word of God to produce something other than what (I thought) the Bible actually said. Of course, I wished that God had been a tad more explicit on several occasions; some verses could be taken more than one way, and some – I had to admit – did not clearly state the case that I as an Evangelical was making. What really bothered me, though, wasn’t what the Bible didn’t state clearly enough; what bothered me were some of the things that the Bible stated all too clearly, things that should have been impossible, theologically speaking, if my Evangelical theology was actually correct. Sometimes the Bible said weird things, things that just gave me the willies….

It started way back in the Old Testament, in a book that is as old or older than those of the Pentateuch: the book of Job. Job’s tale is pretty familiar to most people. He was a man who loved and served God. God had blessed him immensely, and Satan claimed that Job loved God only because of those blessings. When God stripped Job of everything that made his life worth living, Job remained faithful to God. As an Evangelical I had no problem with that lesson! A great story of faith in God – “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

No, the problem lay in what that man of God was doing as the story opens:

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

Job offered sacrifices; in other words, he made reparation for his children’s sins. This activity is presented as being part of what made him a righteous man. Now clearly this was before the establishment of the New Covenant, so we shouldn’t be shocked at the image of God’s faithful servant offering up burnt sacrifices for the sins of his offspring. The problem is, why did God allow that kind of loving parental intercession in the Old Testament, but not in the New? (For a poignant discussion of this, go here. A Protestant dad is wishing there were some way he could make reparation for the sins of his children as Job did – he is told that he can’t.) Isn’t the New Covenant superior in every way to the Old? And didn’t this pious act of Job’s fit in suspiciously well with John’s advice in the book of 1 John, advice that – I had to admit – did not really mesh with anything in my Evangelical belief system?

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Why would John tell us that we can intercede for others and God will “give life” to them, just as Job was doing thousands of years earlier on behalf of his children, if that system of reparation had been “abolished,” as my theology told me?? And what was Paul muttering about in his letter to the Colossians?

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….

Didn’t Jesus come to fulfill, and not to abolish the old system?


(The bongos reverberate a little more insistently at this point…)

And speaking of fulfilling, not abolishing, what was the deal with the priesthood? In the Old Testament, God set up a hierarchical system of priests with a High Priest in charge. In the New Testament, Jesus is our High Priest – and the part of the ministerial clergy is played by the laity, as explained in 1 Peter 2:9.

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.

The Old Testament ministerial priesthood was replaced by something even better: the universal priesthood, something unheard of in the Old Testament!

But wait… What’s that verse in Exodus?

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.

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! The royal priesthood of believers existed in the Old Testament alongside the ministerial priesthood? Then how could the New Testament fulfillment of that system be the abolition of the ministerial priesthood?

(Hey, somebody needs to tell the bongo guy to take five….)

And there were equally spooky New Testament passages. John 20: 19-23 was pretty disconcerting to me as an Evangelical. Jesus appears to His apostles for the first time after His resurrection, He shows them His hands and His side, and He tells them to have faith alone – (wait, no.) He tells them that no matter how they live, they can’t lose their salvation – (no, that isn’t it, either.) He appears to His apostles and grants them the ability to forgive sins. Not only that, He gives them the prerogative of refusing to forgive sins!

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 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.”

Dearie me –
that can’t be right!

We had all kinds of ways of explaining that passage (away), each one as dumb as the next. But how could that verse be in the Bible when every Evangelical KNOWS that no man has the power to grant absolution???

(Sounds like the bongo guy must have downed a couple of Red Bulls before coming to work….)

Almost as spooky as Jesus’ announcement to his apostles were the priorities of those apostles in the first chapter of Acts. Jesus ascends into Heaven, and we find these men busily hashing out bureaucratic minutiae! Peter is insisting that Judas’ place MUST be filled. Why, pray tell? Aren’t there more important things to be doing? What is the thinking behind the absolute necessity of filling Judas’ position, as if it were an “office”? Oh, wait, the Bible actually says it was an “office!”

For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.'”

An “office,” meaning that when the man who held the office died, another man would fill the office, kind of like apostolic succession….

And then there was the infamous “Handkerchief Incident.” Handkerchiefs touched to Paul’s apron healed the sick. An Evangelical has got to draw the line very clearly, and that was where I drew it.  That sounds like the Catholic teaching on relics – the idea that an object in contact with the body of a saint can be used by God to perform a miracle!

So what was that verse doing there in Acts 19:12?

(Those bongos are plucking my last nerve!)

And don’t even get me started on the book of Revelation. We Evangelicals, with our “end-times” obsession, LOVED the book of Revelation – well, certain parts of it, anyway. There were parts that were distinctly un-Protestant in their theology, like Revelation 19:7-8

…the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Now, seriously, every good Christian knows that we are “clothed in the righteousness of Christ,” (but where is THAT verse in the Bible?) not in our good works!! How Catholic can you get??? We tried to explain that away by pretending that the “righteous acts” were each believer’s decision to follow Christ. No, really – we actually stooped to that level of tortured exegesis, because the dang verse didn’t say what it was supposed to say….

Which sheds light on the decision by the committee of our New International Version of the Bible to translate the word “works,” which Jesus uses over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, as “deeds.” Otherwise, those comments that Jesus made to the churches would read:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance (Rev 2:2)

I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) (Rev 2:9)

I know your works and where you dwell (Rev 2:13)

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first (Rev 2:19)

‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev 3:1)

I know your works. (Rev 3:8)

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. (Rev 3:15)

Talk about an obsession with “works!” But Jesus would never have said a thing like that!  Jesus wasn’t about “works!”  He was about “faith alone”!  Why, it is upon our faith alone that we will be judged!  All the New Testament judgment scenarios emphasize that fact!

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Mt 7:21-23

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward everyone according to their works. Mt 16:27

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Mt 25:31-46

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Cor 5:10

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Pet 1:17

Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. Rev 22:12

So where’s the faith alone?? Nowhere to be found in any judgment scenario in the New Testament! How is it possible that Jesus never, ever made any mention of the most important theological principle of all – faith ALONE?


That noise you just heard was me shooting the bongo player….

All of those “bizarre” verses and passages fell into the category of, well, not exactly paranormal activity, but still from an Evangelical Protestant standpoint, pretty darn weird. It was sufficiently strange to make me uncomfortable whenever I came across those verses. And if that wasn’t enough – the deuterocanonical books (which I would have called the Apocrypha) contained a particularly eerie passage. The Angel Raphael is explaining to Tobit:

“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” Tobit 12:15

Yawn! That’s not Holy Scripture – that’s just a fairy tale somebody made up.

Just a fairy tale? The supposedly uninspired author who made up this “fairy tale” about St. Raphael just happened to be right about this hitherto unknown factthere are seven angels who stand before God’s throne. Hundreds of years later it is confirmed in the book of Revelation:

Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne (Rev 1:4)

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God…. (Rev 8:2)

If the hair isn’t standing up on your Bible-only neck yet, it should be….

There are passages in the Bible that defy Evangelical explanation; by rights, those verses and the theology that underlies them simply should not be there. Those passages are danced around, kept under wraps, and explained away by a belief system that fails to account for significant Biblical themes such as redemptive suffering, auricular confession, apostolic succession, the concept of relics, and the insistence on faith (as opposed to faith alone) – in short, things that shouldn’t exist, but do, in The Bible-Only Zone….


On the memorial of Blessed Maria Restituta

Deo omnis gloria!

Halloween nears, and I can’t explain to you what a vast relief it is to me to be Catholic. I embrace wholeheartedly the sentiment expressed by the late Servant of God Fr. John Hardon:

[The Catholic Faith] ‘fits together’ in such a way that each truth we believe sheds light on other truths; the result is a marvelously coherent unity.

The absence of any kind of marvelous “coherent unity” in Evangelical thought was something that had really started to bother me back before I became Catholic. A lot of it stems from Protestantism’s break with historic Christianity. There is simply no continuity with the beliefs of the body of Christ down through the ages. When you bypass the Church’s understanding of Scripture and seek truth solely in Bible verses lifted out of their Scriptural context and separated from historical Christian understanding, you end up with a choppy theology composed of compartmentalized “truths,” a patchwork belief quilt sewn together with Bible-only thread. Catholic convert Steve Ray commented on this disjointed, piecemeal approach to theology:

Without continuity with the early Church and the intervening centuries, Protestantism was like a branch without a tree, a wing without a bird.

In other words, Protestant theology has much of the truth, but it has been disconnected from other truths, so encountering it is like finding a perfectly good bird’s wing – but where’s the rest of the creature? I thought of it, rather gruesomely, as shaking a hand outstretched in welcome, only to find that that hand was connected to… nothing. Considering that we were talking about my belief system, it all seemed just short of macabre.

Contemplate for a moment the Evangelical acceptance of artificial contraception. Evangelicals break with 2,000 years of Christian condemnation of contraception because this practice is nowhere forbidden in so many words in the Bible. The thinking goes like this:

  1. Abortion is clearly evil because you are ending a life. Remember, thou shalt not kill (the 6th Commandment for Protestants – Catholics follow St. Augustine’s system and consider this the 5th commandment).
  2. Euthanasia is clearly evil because you are ending a life. See #1.
  3. The death penalty is clearly SUPER because the Bible teaches that God gave the state the power to end the lives of certain people. THOU shalt not kill, but your elected officials certainly may.

In this scheme of things, contraception is fine because you are not killing; you are merely preventing life from coming into existence. There is no “thou shalt not prevent the conception of a new human life” in Scripture. Of course, we’re talking about contraception within marriage. Contraception outside of marriage isn’t a sin per se, but:

  1. SEX outside of marriage IS a sin. Thou shalt not commit adultery! Flee fornication!
  2. Christian kids are taught abstinence in sex education classes and given chastity rings because God has commanded chastity until marriage.
  3. Masturbation is not prohibited in the Bible and therefore is not a sin – unless you experience lustful thoughts when committing the act. Lustful thoughts ARE mentioned in the Bible and are condemned. That’s why pornography is wrong.
  4. Homosexual acts are a sin. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God didn’t rain fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah because He disapproved of their system of municipal lien certificates!!
  5. Polygamy is seriously wrong. Serial monogamy, however, is fine, as long as your divorces have been “biblical.”
  6. Celibacy is just kind of weird.

See how it goes? It’s a set of rules based upon verses or compilations of verses in the Bible. No verse – no rule.
No real connection between them – God has for our own good simply prohibited certain things; He makes the rules, and we must inform ourselves of the rules and be careful to keep them.

Compare that approach with the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of “human life” and the 5th commandment:

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.

In the account of Abel’s murder by his brother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”

The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God’s gift of human life and man’s murderous violence:

For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning. . . . Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.

The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. This teaching remains necessary for all time.

Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.” The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill,” and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.
The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger.

The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.

Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.
The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

You see? The Church knows the Bible verses – no question about that. But she has spent 2,000 years thinking about the 5th Commandment, “pondering these things in her heart,” and presents us with a seamlessly woven teaching on human life, encompassing the connections between abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty along with “usurious and avaricious dealings” leading to “hunger and death,” and the sin of self murder (and much more – I was forced to condense this), explaining to us that it is wrong to take a human life, yet showing us why under certain circumstances self defense, the death penalty, and the refusal of “overzealous treatment” can be legitimate options, whereas abortion and euthanasia can never be. These seemingly unconnected issues are all intertwined, because Human life is sacred – it is a gift from God.

Okay, so all this ties together beautifully, but where’s the connection to the Church’s prohibition on contraception? Isn’t that just arbitrary?

The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment [thou shalt not commit adultery] as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.”

Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.”

The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.

Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.” Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.

Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.

Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self.  Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.

All the baptized are called to chastity.  The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

“People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence.

Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure.  Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”

Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children.  Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other.  It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.

Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”

“The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:

The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.

The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

So why is contraception wrong? Because we’re not just talking about “life.” Plants have “life.” Animals have “life.” We are talking about “human life.” “Human life is sacred” – remember? Why?

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end.

There is a fundamental difference between our lives and the lives of animals – God is our end. He has created us in His image for Himself. It is His will that human beings become what He has created them to be; in order to do that, we must live truly human lives (see above).

We humans were not created to live for ourselves; we were created to live as God lives, in a constant pouring out of ourselves for Him and for others. To give ourselves to God and to others is the purpose for which we were created, because God is the Eternal Giver and Eternal Gift. Human life exists that it may pour itself out as a gift, in imitation of the Holy Trinity, the Persons of which give Themselves completely and unceasingly to each other. The Trinity is, in other words, Three Persons, One Life.

Married persons make a gift of their body and their life to their spouse, to the extent that they become one body. Celibate persons make a gift of their body to God, while making a gift of their life to their fellow man. No one is to keep his or her body or life for himself or herself; all are meant to give themselves, because we were created to give ourselves away. Animals procreate. Our sexuality becomes truly human when and only “when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman,” that is, when it is both “procreative and unitive.” We must lay down our claim to our own life, giving all that we are, withholding nothing – including the capacity for creating new life that God gave us. Truly human sexual acts must be open to the gift of life. What would make withholding your fertility from God and your spouse acceptable when everything that you have and are must be given in love? Your “total gift” would be a sham….

Contraception is wrong because “Human life is sacred.”

The reason the Evangelical system of dependence on explicit Bible verses breaks down is that the Bible is not explicit in many instances. Take 1 Corinthians 6:18 – most Bible versions translate this as “Flee immorality.” Fine. Define “immorality”! It is being actively redefined in our day, to the point where many Christians can remain firmly ensconced in their sins and yet feel no twinge of conscience when reading that verse – as the Protestant acceptance of artificial contraception demonstrates! And under the “Bible-only” system, a great deal has to be fudged – for example, the Bible nowhere actually condemns polygamy. The Old Testament speaks positively of it, and the New Testament is basically silent on the subject. Without a coherent system of thought such as the Catholic Church possesses, Christians really are adrift, fending for themselves, clinging to isolated pieces of theological driftwood floating in our modern-day sea of moral relativism….

The Catholic Church has a Theology of the Body, a Theology of Life, and a Theology of Work, just as the human body has a nervous system, a circulatory system and a respiratory system – all systems serving the same body and all interdependent. Bible-only Christians have Bible verses that teach them what they can and cannot do, like parts on a factory assembly line. Put them all together and you’ve got a theology – but it’s got no soul.

Which is why every year around Halloween, my thoughts drift back to this subject. Evangelical teaching is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, a hand sutured onto an arm sewn onto a shoulder. Catholic teaching is organic; it is a living body of doctrine.

It is theology as God meant it to be.


On the memorial of St. Frumentius of Ethiopia

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Patchwork Girl by André Koehne/Wikimedia Commons

Over the past 20 years or so, Protestant leaders have grown awfully uncomfortable with a growing trend: Protestant traffic heading in the direction of Rome. And not just any Protestants – while Joe and Jane Pewwarmer may be comfortably ensconced at the corner Baptist or Presbyterian church, Joe and Jane’s pastor and the theologians who taught him may very well be suiting up to swim the Tiber. Over the past few decades such Protestant theologians, philosophers and educators as Francis Beckwith, Thomas Howard, J. Budziszewski, Reinhard Hütter, Bruce Marshall, Trent Dougherty, Robert Koons, Jay Richards, R.R. Reno, Joshua Hochschild, Leroy Huizenga, Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Wilken, Paul Quist, Richard Ballard, Paul Abbe, Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg, Jason Stellman and many more have left Protestantism for the Catholic Church – and I know this from Protestant articles and websites expressing shock at their conversion. At a loss to explain the defection of these once solidly Protestant luminaries, and unwilling to admit that these people might be reconciling with the Church because they have found the fullness of the Truth therein, Protestant apologists have latched onto a common thread in many conversion stories. Converts to Catholicism often complain that as Protestants they were kept in the dark regarding Church history. Take as an example the tales of those who studied theology at Protestant seminaries:

Over the next year I read several books on Church history. I read the works of men I had never heard of before: Anthony of the Desert, Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch. It felt like finding new friends, Christians who knew my Lord so intimately. But their words also profoundly shook my Evangelical theology. The fact that these men were Catholic made me embarrassed and indignant. In all my years as a Christian I had never heard of these people, let alone studied their writings. I didn’t know much about the early Christian Church. In seminary (we attended Biola, in Southern California) we had been taught to believe that after the death of the Apostles, the Church slid immediately into error and stayed that way until Luther nailed his Theses to the door, and then the “real” Christians came out of hiding. (Kristine Franklin)

Occasional references to St. Augustine did not obscure the fact that the majority of church history was ignored. (“Anthony“)

I had studied some early Church history, but too much of it was from perspectives limited by Protestant history textbooks. I was shocked to discover in the writings of the first-, second- and third-century Christians a very high view of the Church and liturgy, very much unlike the views of the typical Evangelical Protestant. (Steve Wood)

We had never been taught any church history between the time of the apostles and Luther. I first heard of the “Church Fathers” in a Greek class in college. As I translated Irenaeus’ writings from the Greek, the truth of what he had written amazed me. I wondered why I had never been told of him before. None of my theology courses in college ever mentioned the Church Fathers. We were never given any devotional readings beyond what Luther wrote. (Kathy McDonald)

Hmmm… so Church history is the virus behind Catholic fever? They’re demanding access to Church history? Can we manufacture some sort of vaccine against that?

And thus today’s Protestant apologists have to know not only their Augustine, but their Athanasius, their Cyril (of Alexandria and of Jerusalem), their Irenaeus and their Vincent of Lerins (okay, maybe not Vincent of Lerins – “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” and all that). These brave souls familiarize themselves with the Fathers not so that they can explain the actual theology of the early Church to fellow Protestants (that would never do), but so that they can extract certain quotes from their writings and distill them into a “proof vaccine,” purporting to demonstrate that core Protestant doctrines were theological staples of the early Church, thereby inoculating potential upstarts (who then believe that they know what the Fathers taught) against Catholicism.

Epidemic contained.

It’s kind of funny, and it’s kind of sad. Because Protestants have their own version of what they think the Catholic Church teaches (you know, works-righteousness, Mary worship, a sinless pope, the Bible is wrong when it contradicts Holy Mother Church, etc.), they believe that by finding remarks in the Church Fathers which indicate that we are indeed “saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (which the Church has been insisting for, oh, about 2,000 years or so now), or that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (there’s never been any argument from the Church on that, either), they have proved Catholicism wrong. It is this fundamental refusal to hear what Catholics are saying when we profess that we can’t work our way to Heaven or that “the Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired they are truly the Word of God” that causes Protestants wielding the Church Fathers to make themselves look so silly. The Fathers were Catholic, you know. There’s just no getting around that point.

Consider the writings of the Church Fathers on the subject of the Holy Scriptures. Modern-day Protestant authors, believing that it is Catholic Church policy to hide the Bible under a bushel whenever it “contradicts” Catholic doctrine, will gladly dish up quotes which are supposed to “prove” that the Fathers were every bit as “sola Scriptura” as Luther or Calvin, quotes like these:

Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,—those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, 2nd century Church Father

Scripture can indeed be understood by Luther’s proverbial ploughboy – so says Irenaeus!

Hmm… then why did Irenaeus even bother writing his monumental “Against Heresies” if everyone could just pick up a copy of the Scriptures and understand them? Sure, there were bad guys who twisted the perspicuous Scriptures to their own ends:

Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skillful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skillful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. St. Irenaeus of Lyons

So, when heretics twisted the Scriptures, Irenaeus advised 2nd-century Christians to just pull a copy of the KJV out of their hip pocket and set the losers straight, right?

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. St. Irenaeus of Lyons

That quote from Irenaeus demonstrates Sacred Tradition in action. Note the unity of the Faith that Irenaeus is touting; exactly the opposite of the divisions that plague sola Scriptura adherents running around with KJV’s in their hip pockets. That’s because the Church that Irenaeus defended did NOT believe in sola Scriptura – all believed the same thing because all were taught the same thing by the authoritative Church which “clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood” the Scriptures according to the Tradition handed down by the apostles!

The Catholic Church’s point exactly: Scripture? YES! Tradition? YES! Quotes 1 and 2 and 3? YES! YES! YES!

Undaunted, many Protestant authors trot out St. Athanasius in defense of the indefensible doctrine of sola Scriptura, using this quote:

The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, 4th-century Church Father

Sounds pretty “sola!” Yet this was the same Athanasius who thundered:

But beyond these sayings [of the Bible], let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it should not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called. St. Athanasius

So, the Scriptures, rightly understood through Sacred Tradition, are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth – hardly a Protestant sentiment. When you harmonize ALL that a particular Church Father wrote, rather than pulling statements out of context, there’s simply no way you end up with a proto-Protestant 2nd-, 3rd, or 4th-century Church. Athanasius himself grumbled about the cherry-picking of the Fathers who had gone before him:

Yes, [Church Father Dionysius] wrote it, and we too admit that his letter runs thus. But just as he wrote this, he wrote also very many other letters, and they ought to consult those also, in order that the faith of the man may be made clear from them all, and not from this alone. St. Athanasius

Selective quoting got mighty tiresome even back in those days….

Protestant apologists will earnestly endeavor to persuade you that the Church Fathers held Scripture in high regard, proclaimed the authority of the Bible and believed Scripture to be sufficient in itself, citing passages such as “How can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” and “The sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth” and “There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures and no other source.” If you look into this, you will find that it is certainly true – the Fathers held Scripture in high regard, proclaimed the authority of the Bible, and believed Scripture to be sufficient in itself. Those same Protestant authors will, however, decline to inform you that those same Fathers held Holy Tradition in equally high regard, proclaimed the authority of the Church, and declared that when heretics came up with novel approaches to the interpretation of Scripture, Tradition was essential to protect the orthodox interpretation of those Scriptures. Holy Tradition, the Fathers claimed, makes it possible for the Church to say, “THIS is the interpretation of Scripture that the apostles taught and which has been handed down to us – that’s why your interpretation of Scripture is wrong” when heretics twist the Scriptures and devise new doctrines.

Which doesn’t stop Protestant apologists from propping the Fathers up like ventriloquists’ dummies to mouth the Reformers’ doctrine of sola fide (faith alone). As Frank Beckwith pointed out in his Return to Rome, St. Augustine is often pressed into the service of Martin Luther’s pet doctrine:

St. Augustine of Hippo: [Grace] is bestowed on us, not because we have done good works, but that we may be able to do them – in other words, not because we have fulfilled the Law, but in order that we may be able to fulfill the Law.

See? St. Augustine was Protestant in his understanding of justification!

Or, as Beckwith puts it:

Now, if that’s all one read from the Fathers, one may be led to think that the Reformation attempted to restore what the Church had once embraced, or at least implicitly held, from its earliest days.

And that is, obviously, the fervent hope – that that’s all a questioning Protestant will bother to read of the Fathers – the “proof-texts.” As Dr. Beckwith points out, the understanding of “grace” which St. Augustine propounded is consistent with Protestant theology as well as with Catholic theology. No Catholic would find that quote on the subject of grace at all disturbing, because justification by faith is what Catholics believe. Protestants, however, have a tough time reconciling other quotes from that same Church Father with the Protestant belief system:

St. Augustine of Hippo: We run, therefore, whenever we make advance; and our wholeness runs with us in our advance (just as a sore is said to run when the wound is in process of a sound and careful treatment), in order that we may be in every respect perfect, without any infirmity of sin whatever result which God not only wishes, but even causes and helps us to accomplish. And this God’s grace does, in co-operation with ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as well by commandments, sacraments, and examples, as by His Holy Spirit also; through whom there is hiddenly shed abroad in our hearts . . . that love, “which makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” . . . until wholeness and salvation be perfected in us, and God be manifested to us as He will be seen in His eternal truth.

As Dr. Beckwith points out, the sentiments in this quote from Augustine are reflected, not in Protestant theology (Calvin forbid!), but in a very Catholic statement on justification:

Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written; He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him; and, Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee; and, The fear of the Lord driveth out sin; and, Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; and, Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; finally, Prepare your hearts unto the Lord.

This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. The Council of Trent on justification


The point is that St. Augustine can get an “Amen!” from Catholics on both quotes 1 and 2. Protestants, on the other hand, would much prefer that St. Gus had quit while he was ahead, so to speak. From a Protestant standpoint, the “proof-text” was nifty; the other stuff, not so much….

This kind of proof-texting is inflicted upon the writings of numerous Fathers. The moral of the story: Catholic fever is going around. If you have a vested interest in remaining Protestant, for Luther’s sake don’t sit down and actually read the Church Fathers to learn what they really thought! Get your vaccination against Rome disease: read a few quotes meticulously compiled by Protestant apologists and leave it at that. It’s safer, like a vaccine made of dead cells is a whole lot safer than the real living deal. Catholicism can be highly contagious; get your inoculation today, lest you come down with a bad case of the fullness of the Truth.


On the memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and Companions

Deo omnis gloria!


Photo credits: Woman receiving rubella vaccination, School of Public Health of the State of Minas Gerais (ESP-MG), Brazil, by Sandra Rugio/Wikimedia Commons