Defending the Faith from Dokimos.org
by Matthew A. C. Newsome
The saga continues. Many of you have read my first letter to the people at www.dokimos.org,
an anti-Catholic web site (and a rather unconvincing one).
Since that time, I have exchanged many emails with the people there.
They do not give their names, and are apparently a group of people, so
I may be corresponding with one or more of them at any different time.
I have no way of knowing. I have asked for the courtesy of a name
to put with their emails, but they have refused to identify themselves,
and I have not pressed the issue further. Most of their arguments
against the Catholic faith are not very specific, and therefore hard to
refute. However, recently I received a long email from them that
actually addressed some specific points of Church doctrine and history.
Finally, something I can address in detail! I spent about 4 hours
that day composing a reply, and only responded to about half of their claims.
So the next day, I again spent about 4 or more hours in finishing my letter.
I sent a copy of the letter to a good Catholic friend of mine, as well
as a local priest, for support and to make sure that my defense of the
faith was in keeping with true Catholic teaching. I did not want
to get any of my facts wrong. The next day, I get a brief reply from
"Dokimos" accusing me of being horribly rude and inconsiderate for 1) showing
someone else my letter and 2) addressing them as "Anonymous." In
my defense, I feel no shame in showing someone else a copy of my own composition
(which is why I have no qualms about showing it here), especially since
"dokimos" is itself a group of several people, and since I have asked for
a name from them on several occasions, and they have each time defended
their anonymity, I thought it only appropriate to address them as such.
In their defense, I probably could have been more polite, but I admit that
it is difficult for me to show respect for such a blatantly anti-Catholic
organization. I have no problem with their being non-Catholic.
But they are admittedly anti-Catholic and in their attacks they repeat
lies and misconceptions about the Catholic church. Since they have
seen fit to completely ignore my letter, and I spent quite a good bit of
time and effort in writing it, I am posting it here, hoping that other
Catholic Apologists will find it of interest. Dokimos.org claims
to have been "evangelizing" to Catholics for over 5 years, and to have
converted many Catholics. If more Catholics were educated as to the
truths of their own faith, fewer would fall victims to the lies and accusations
of groups like Dokimos.org.
Thank you for your most recent letter. In it you have acknowledged my arguments and professed to be willing to look at the evidence I present to you, both Scriptural and historical, with an open mind. I hope you meant that sincerely. You also accused me of not having an open mind, and objected to my suggesting that you have taken quotes from Scripture out of context, and accused me of doing the same.
If I may, I would like to respond to a few of the points you mentioned in your letter. I asked how you could think that membership in the Catholic Church could actually prevent me from having faith in Christ, as you suggested, any more than membership in a particular Protestant denomination. You replied that, "Membership is an association. If you are a true believer in Jesus the result of salvation would be to find fellowship among true believers. The Holy Spirit would not have you remain in fellowship with those who do not have trusting faith solely in God's Son Jesus for salvation."
This is interesting, and at odds with what I understand many Protestant churches to teach. While I do know of a few Protestant denominations that do teach that only their particular denomination (sometimes a particular congregation) are "saved" and going to heaven, the majority of Protestants I have met believe in an "invisible church" that is made up of all believers in Christ, no matter what denomination or church home they claim.
From what you have previously written to me, I thought this was where you stood. But other Protestants I know, neutral to the Catholic church, and some even anti-Catholic, still accept that there may be some "true Christians" in the Catholic church who really believe in Jesus and will be saved. But do you suggest that no true Christian will be a part of the Catholic church?
This is at odds with what I believe, of course. I used to be a Protestant, until my study of church history led me to the realization that I could not be a Christian and not be Catholic. (This is for me, personally, of course, not a universal statement. I do believe that one can be a devout Protestant and be a Christian. It is just that, for me, knowing what I know about the history of the Church, I could not remain outside of the communion of the Catholic church and still feel comfortable calling myself a Christian).
I take pains to make it clear that this was my personal state of mind, and a decision that I had to make for the sake of my own soul. It is not a doctrine of the Catholic church that all members of non-Catholic churches are doomed to eternal damnation. The Catholic church does believe in such a thing as "invincible ignorance," which means that some people, blind to the truth that the Catholic church teaches, are content to remain in their own Protestant church homes, and that these people are good, believing Christians that are truly doing what they believe to be best, and God will not condemn them for that. It is a pity that you do not believe the same thing about the Catholic church.
You wrote, "We don't hate Catholics but we hate the Roman Catholic church because its lies are what is [sic] sending many to eternal torment in Hell." By this you imply that all Catholics, even those that truly believe that they are following the way of Jesus, that He founded the Catholic church, and that they are worshiping Him, are going to burn in hell despite their best intentions because they were fooled by the evil Catholic church? Even if what you say about the Catholic church is true, do you really believe that a merciful God will condemn us for being fooled or tricked when we were simply trying to follow His way?
You then back yourself up with Scriptures by quoting from 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and Revelation 18:4. 2 Corinthians says not to be yoked to unbelievers and Revelation says "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins." Yet in neither of these cases does the Scripture talk about the Catholic church. This is just my point when I accuse you of taking brief snippets of Scripture out of context. That these Scripture passages warn against association with unbelievers is true, yes. But that it equates these unbelievers with the Catholic church is untrue. You equate unbelievers with the Catholic church, not the Bible. And then you cite this little bit of Scripture so that people unfamiliar with the Bible, or impressed by people that can quote from it, will believe you, because "if it's in the Bible it must be true." But their mistake is that your main point -- that Catholics are unbelievers -- is not in the Scripture at all.
You make a point of saying that you do not believe in the Bible as the source of salvation, but nor do you believe in the Church as the source of salvation, as you imply the Catholic church teaches. Here again, you are either misinformed, or are purposefully misrepresenting Catholic teaching. Catholics do not believe the church is the source of salvation. God alone is the source of our salvation. We are saved (redeemed, justified) through Christ's passion on the cross. The Church exists to carry on Christ's ministry and teachings, but is not the source of salvation. We must look only to God for that special grace. If you examine the recent Catholic document, Dominus Iesus, you will see that it reiterates the constant Catholic position, that Jesus Christ is the sole source of all salvation, and that the Catholic Church is the Church that He founded.
Regarding salvation, you asked me to look at your page on dokimos.org/ajff/security.html
This page has a number of doctrinal errors, chief of which is the statement that to be saved, one has to have abiding faith in Jesus and be among those predestined for salvation by God. Predestination is a doctrine that even the Calvinist churches who first formed it have largely left by the wayside. It is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures and indeed was invented by John Calvin in the sixteenth century. It means that nothing we can do will either gain or lose our salvation, that our destinies are pre-chosen by God and set in stone. It means that we have no free will, that we are robots acting on a set program, or are puppets, with God pulling the strings. This is not a Catholic doctrine, it is not a good Christian doctrine. There is a reason why even most churches that have Calvin as their founder reject this notion today. You surprise me by clinging to it. I am surprised that any "Bible-based" Christian can accept this non-Biblical teaching. It is my turn now to warn you against the "traditions of men."
You do admit, however, in your letter, that "The Bible does not say that we can or cannot lose our salvation." I disagree with you. I think that the epistles of St. Paul, in particular, do indicate that salvation is something that one can lose through one's own actions. However, on the assumption that it is not something that can be taught from the Bible, I ask you this -- if we are to accept the truth of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is to be our sole rule of faith, and that anything not found in the Bible is not an authentic Christian teaching, then how do we deal with questions such as this that are (in your own words) not to be answered from the Bible? Surely these are questions that deserve an answer. These are questions that thinking Christians must ask. To what higher authority are we to look for guidance?
The answer is found in the Holy Catholic Church, the authority established by Christ for such matters. The Bible was never meant to be a "how-to" book of Christianity, nor was it meant to be a catechism of the Christian faith. The Sacred Scriptures are infallible writings, yes, and inspired by God, but they do not contain the whole and entirety of revealed truth. There must be some higher authority to help us interpret what the Scriptures mean. God would not have just left us a document to do with and interpret as we will. The result would be spiritual anarchy (which is exactly the result seen among today's approximately 20,000 Protestant denominations, branches and sects). In fact, St. Peter warned against just this happening when he wrote in his epistle (2 Pet 3:15-16) that the letters of Paul are very difficult to understand, and if you interpret them on your own, without the guidance of the church, like he said many of that time were doing with parts of Scripture, it is at your own peril.
Think for a moment of the Constitution of the United States. We can agree that this is the authoritative document for the governing of our nation, correct? Yet if the founding fathers of our country had simply written the constitution, sent a copy out to each American, and said, "Here you go, please live according to this. Interpret it as you will," our country would be in ruin. Everyone would do as they pleased, and interpret the constitution to back them up on it. No, our founding fathers had enough good sense to leave in place a Supreme Court, whose job it is to interpret the Constitution and preserve its original intent.
Do you think God had less sense that the founding fathers of our nation? Certainly not. The Scriptures were written by man, inspired by God, so that we can truly say that God is the author of all Sacred Scripture. But God also established a Church, the Catholic church, to be the teaching authority of the faith here on earth, to preserve the Scriptures, keep them clean from corruption, and make sure that they are taught accurately and interpreted truly. You say that Catholics are taught to interpret Scripture based on "external sources" while you use only "internal sources." Excuse me if I say this is hogwash. Everyone who interprets Scripture does so because they were taught that by someone else. You believe what you do about the Scripture because your church teaches that to you, or you read it in a Bible commentary, or were taught by your family. Everyone depends on someone else to teach them.
You read the Bible today in an English translation, because the original Greek and Hebrew would be meaningless to you (I apologize if you can actually read Greek and Hebrew, but most people cannot). So you are completely at the mercy of the translator, and trust that he translated it correctly. Even in English, you have to admit that many parts of the Bible are hard to understand. So what do you do? You look at the footnotes and commentaries that are published with it. And you end up interpreting the Bible according to whomever did the translation and wrote the footnotes. And what authority does that person (or persons) have?
As a Catholic, I depend on the Church to teach me -- the very Church whose saints composed the New Testament, whose bishops collected the writings into one book, whose councils and popes authenticated the canon, and who has protected, preserved, and taught the Scriptures in every age from their inception up until our own.
How should the Bible have survived if not for the Catholic church? I have already demonstrated in my article at turrisfortis.com/bible.html that it was the Catholic church who first gave us the Bible. But do you think that it lay dormant from the 4th century until the 16th when the Protestant Reformers "rediscovered" it? Of course not! In the days before the printing press, each Bible, each copy of Scriptures, had to be hand written. The only people with education enough to do this were the Catholic monks and nuns who spent their lives copying Scriptures and writing commentaries on them. A complete copy of the Bible may cost upwards of $80,000 (in today's currency). An expensive item, and not one that everyone could afford. So what did the church do? It put a copy of the Bible into each and every church, each and every monastery, and it chained the book down, not to keep it from the people, but to ensure that it would always be there, readily available for anyone in the parish to read at will. It translated the Bible into Latin (which every learned man and women could read) from the Greek and Hebrew (which most people could not read). And in those countries where it would be of benefit, it provided vernacular translations. Since many people could not read, it illustrated many stories and scenes from the Bible in picture form in the stained glass and frescoes in churches and cathedrals. It performed plays of Bible stories. And most importantly, it incorporated Scripture readings into the liturgy of the mass and rotated it on a cycle so that over the course of that time the attendants at mass would hear almost the entire body of Sacred Scripture read aloud to them. A far cry from many Protestant churches where you hear the pastor preach about the same favorite few verses of Scripture Sunday after Sunday, ignoring the rest of the Bible.
People who think that the Catholic church is not a Biblical one, and that Protestant churches are Bible based, not only do not know their Bible, they also do not know history. Even Protestant Bible scholars admit that if it were not for the Catholic church, we would know nothing of the Bible. In the book, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, the author, Henry G. Graham, quotes almost exclusively from educated and respected Protestant Bible Scholars (mostly Presbyterian and Anglican), who assert that it is the Catholic church who gave us the Bible and the Catholic church who preserved the Bible before the time of printing. Even Martin Luther himself said that we owe a great debt to the Catholic church, for without her we would know nothing at all of the Scriptures.
On to another topic now. You say that the Catholic Church teaches that Faith plus Works equals Salvation, whereas you teach (and say the Bible teaches) that Faith plus Love equals Works (and Salvation). You claim that the Catholic teaching is a false one, yet you do not truly understand the Catholic teaching on the matter.
Look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where one is to find the official Catholic teaching. In paragraph 682 it tells us, "When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance of refusal of grace."
The Catechism says in paragraph 1021 that, "The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith."
Notice here that the Catechism teaches us that we will be judged both on our works and our faith. It reaffirms that faith must be at the heart of all good works in paragraph 1430. "Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works . . but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance."
And in paragraph 1697 it says, "for it is by grace that we are saved and again it is by grace that our works can bear fruit for eternal life." The Catechism clearly teaches that it is by grace that we are saved but that we will be judged according to both our faith and our works.
Furthermore, in the preface of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states, "the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love" (CCC Preface 10; cf. 1 Cor 13:8)
If you want to truly learn about what the Catholic church teaches, you must read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Do not rely on what Protestant evangelicals and anti-Catholics teach you about the Catholic church. Look at her accurate teachings and judge for yourself.
If you look at actual Catholic teaching about justification, you will see that we hold that true faith must express itself in good works, and that we will be judged both by our heart and our actions. I have read what you have written, asserting just this same doctrine, in so many words, yet you say that the Catholic doctrine is false, and express belief in "salvation by faith alone." You say, "Whether you like the phrase "faith alone" is not important." But it is! For that phrase, "faith alone," represents Martin Luther's addition of the word "alone" to the very Sacred Scriptures themselves in order to bolster his heretical doctrine of salvation by faith alone, a doctrine the Catholic church has always condemned, a doctrine that was new in the sixteenth century and invented by Luther himself. This doctrine implies that we can be saved by a simple act of faith, which can then be forgotten about, and we need not take any action based on our faith. So, yes, that phrase is very important to the Catholic church that has been so wounded by Luther and his movement.
I have read your article at dokimos.org/jamestwo.html. In it, you would assert that faith without works is dead and that works without faith profits nothing. This is true! This is why the Catholic church teaches that both faith and works are necessary. Yet you continue to say we are wrong. You seem to think that the Catholic believes he is saved by going to mass, by devotion to Mary, by being a member of the church. But all of this is false. This is not what we teach. This is not what we believe. You condemn us without even knowing us.
On to another point. You say that, "Roman Catholic doctrines developed over centuries. If you will see a list of adopted doctrines you will find this out for yourself. Example: The assumption of Mary is a new doctrine."
This is a very common misconception, and you cannot be blamed for repeating it. Many people think that the Catholic church has added to the divine deposit of faith, but such is not the case. I sincerely hope that you will read what I have to say on this matter with an open mind so that you may stop repeating misinformation on your web site. This is a very important point.
People who assert this usually are confused on one or both of two key issues. One is a confusion of doctrine with practices, observances, and devotions. A doctrine is something that all of the faithful must believe, such as that Christ was fully God and fully man, or that we are created beings. A practice or observance would be abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting during Lent, or having a celibate priesthood. These are things that the Church can change, has changed, and that do not affect our salvation. True doctrine cannot be changed by the Church. It was given to her by Christ and the Apostles and the Church has no power to add, change, or take away from it.
But people are also confused on a second point. They confuse the defining of a doctrine with the inventing of a doctrine. The divine deposit of truth that was given to the Catholic church at her inception has not been changed one bit. But, as might be expected, the Church's understanding of that doctrine has changed over the past 2000 years. As well it should. Our world has changed greatly in 2000 years (largely, I might add, as a result of the Catholic church), and one would not expect that the Church would not have had to come up with new ways of applying the same doctrine to different and new situations. Also, it is to be expected that 2000 years of theologians writing and praying about the truth of Christ would lead to deeper and deeper understandings of these revelations.
For most of her history, the Catholic church has been content to let things be. The Apostles did not sit down the day after Pentecost and write down a complete Catechism of everything that was ever to be believed and let that be that! No, instead, the Apostolic teaching was handed down from the Apostles, to their successors, the bishops, and from them to their successors and so on down to the bishops in the present day church. As long as everything was going fine, there was no need to define any specific doctrine. People just accepted what they were taught from their bishops. It was only when controversy arose, usually due to a heresy that was being taught, a question that was being debated, or the general state of society at the time, that the church's bishops came together in a council to officially declare a doctrine or teaching, so that there would be no question about it. The councils have always upheld what the Catholic church had taught all along -- only they now were defining it in a definite and infallible manner so that there may be no more question.
So, in most every case, the date that a doctrine was defined does not represent when that doctrine was invented, but rather represents the time that the doctrine was first questioned.
An example would be the Council of Trent, that officially declared the canon of the Bible. Of course the Bible was not invented at this 16th century council! That would be ridiculous. We know that the canon of the Bible was established in the fourth century at the councils of Hippo and Carthage, and was officially declared in 405 AD by Pope Innocent I. But the Council of Trent represents the first time that canon was questioned, and the official re-declaration of the canon was in reaction to the Protestants who wanted to remove seven books from the Old Testament. This the Church would not allow, and so she defended her old and ancient position. You will find this to be the case for all of the so called "invented doctrines."
You bring up the case specifically of the Assumption of Mary, and call it a new doctrine. In 1950, Pope Pius XII, in an exercise of papal infallibility, defined that Mary, "after the completion of her earthly life was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven."
However, the notion that this doctrine was invented in 1950 goes right out the window when one opens up a 1910 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, and finds the doctrine discussed therein! And this Encyclopedia asserts that the earliest mention of this doctrine actually goes back to the Greek work De Obitu S. Dominae which dates from the fourth or fifth century (but is attributed to St. John). St. Juvenal, bishop of Jerusalem, at the council of Chalcedon in 451, made it known to Emperor Marcian, who wanted to possess the body of the Mother of God, that it was not possible. "Mary died in the presence of the Apostles," he said, "but her tomb, when opened at the request of St. Thomas, was found empty, wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven." These are his words, not mine.
So if we are to agree with this 5th century bishop of Jerusalem, who certainly would know better than you or I, the Assumption of Mary was taught by the Apostles themselves. Even if you do not agree with this doctrine, you can at least see by the fact that people in the fourth and fifth centuries were writing and talking about the Assumption that is was not made up in 1950. So to assert that it was "invented" in 1950, just because you do not agree with it, is a lie and unworthy of a good Christian. Of course, I trust that you only repeated this misinformation because it is what you thought was true. Now that you know it is false, I hope you will correct your website and not misinform anyone else.
If you are interested in finding out more about what Catholics really mean by "the Assumption of Mary," I have an article on this also, at turrisfortis.com/assumption.html
You also say in your letter that Holy Communion was first done only as a remembrance, and that if one looks at "ancient writings" one can see the doctrine develop into the present Catholic teaching, that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. For one that claims to have read these "ancient writings" you surely have missed a great deal. No other Catholic doctrine is as easily supported by the very earliest writings of the Church Fathers as is the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Since you believe (falsely) that the Catholic church was founded in the fourth century, let's only look at the writings of those Christian fathers that date from before that time. Let's start with Cyril of Jerusalem, who wrote in the middle of the fourth century: "Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm."
To late for you? How about Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who in 373 said, "So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Or we can look even earlier at the example of Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote his text Against Heresies at the end of the second century. He said that Christ "has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, . . . and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies."
Need an earlier example? How about Justin Martyr, who in 150 AD wrote, "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing that is the remission of sins [baptism] and for regeneration and therefore living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these, but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the charge of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of the incarnated Jesus."
Now if he tells us, in 150 AD, that he was taught this, who do you think taught it to him? The first generation of Christians themselves.
Some of the absolute earliest writings that we have from the early church, and consequently most of what we know about the early church, come from St. Ignatius of Antioch, who died in 115 AD. In one of his letters against those who "hold heterodox opinions," he wrote in 110 AD that, "they abstain from Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins . . ." Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, and was taught by the Apostle John himself.
Now, of course, if you still want earlier evidence of the belief of the Real Presence on the Eucharist, we can look at the writings of the Apostle John when he quotes Jesus as saying, "I myself am the bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever. And now, what is this bread that I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world" (Jn 6:51-52). And in the same gospel account, "You can have no life in yourselves unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood. . . My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives continually in me and I in him" (Jn 6:54-57). In fact, in St. John's gospel, Jesus goes to great pains to make sure that the people assembled do not misunderstand him, that he really is talking about his actual flesh and blood.
Again, you may not share in the Catholic belief that the Eucharist becomes the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. But you cannot seriously claim that the historic evidence indicates that the early church did not believe this. They most certainly did.
Even Martin Luther himself still held to this belief. He only defined it differently. The Catholic understanding is called "transubstantiation" (a word that was, yes, applied only in medieval times, but it was the word, not the doctrine, that was new). Transubstantiation means that the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood, though they retain the properties (appearance) of bread and wine. Luther believed in "consubstantiation" which means that the bread and wine join with the Body and Blood, but that they still also remain true bread and wine. But even he still believed in the Real Presence. It was only other reformers, such as Zwingli, who cast this off altogether and began to see it as only a "remembrance" (showing how the Protestant churches began to split apart even in Luther's own life time).
No doctrine is easier to illustrate from the writings of the early Church fathers than the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Enough of this for now. You then turn in your letter back to the question of Scripture. You write to me that, "The books of Scriptures, now in the Holy Bible, were already widely in acceptance among believers prior to the Nicene council. A read of Ante-Nicene writings will show you this." Well, yes. But I fail to see what you are attempting to prove here. I have written as much myself, that bishops as early as the late second century had begun to collect what they thought were inspired writings and considered Scriptures. But what was used in Scriptures differed greatly from church to church. For instance, many were using letters written by Pope Clement as Scriptures. But it was not until the councils of Hippo and then Carthage where the question was first raised as to what was and was not Scripture (and it was raised precisely because different churches were using different books). And it was not until 405 when Pope Innocent I officially decided the matter that we have authoritative teaching on the issue. The fact that people prior to that were using books as Scripture means nothing and has no bearing on the matter at hand. You or I could say that this and that book is infallible and inspired by God, but without authority, what does it mean? The Mormon Church claims that the Book of Mormon is an inspired text. Are we to believe them as well? We must rely on an authority.
You then go on to say that the Catholic Church "for many years did not include the Apocrypha as Holy Writ. It was hotly debated even in the RCC for centuries before it was later finally adopted by them. The RCC in the Council of Trent in 1546 declared the Apocrypha as canonical then." Excuse me, but where are you getting this from?
Yes, the Catholic church did reaffirm the entire body of canonical Scripture in 1546 at the council of Trent. But that is the only fact in your statement that you have correct. The canon that was declared at Trent consisted of 73 books. These were the exact same 73 books that were listed in a decree written by Pope Damasus in 382, the same 73 books that were declared canonical at the council of Hippo in 393, the same 73 books that were confirmed by the council of Carthage in 397 and the same 73 books that were approved by Pope St. Innocent I in 405 AD. And it goes without saying that these are the same 73 books that you will find in the Catholic Bible today.
The Catholic church has never questioned or rejected the inclusion of the so-called "Apocrypha" in the Old Testament. I repeat -- never. I do not know what source you are getting this information from, but it simply is not true. The first time anyone suggested that these books were not canonical was Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, and for the record, he also wanted to throw out the epistle of James and some other parts of the New Testament, but he was persuaded by his followers to leave them in.
If you want to base your faith solely on the Bible, don't you want the whole Bible, complete and unabridged? Why use a Bible that has had entire books thrown out?
You then quote from my own article at turrisfortis.com/bible.html. At first, this made my glad, to see that you have actually read some of what I have written. However, you disappoint me when you then quote from my article as saying that the Jewish Rabbis at Jamnia "could find no extant versions of these books in Hebrew, which the Greek was translated from." And then you write, "We present to you, Matt, that the reason that Hebrew texts of the Apocrypha could not be found is because the Apocrypha was originally written in Greek. There is no proof that these books were originally written in Hebrew."
This only shows me that you either did not read my entire article, or that you chose to ignore entire parts of it. First of all, the Greek Septuagint was translated into Greek from Hebrew, so that presupposes that there must have been an original Hebrew to be had. Second of all, the real objection that the Jewish scholars had was this new Christian faith, which at that time was still viewed by many as a Jewish sect. These troublesome Christians were using much of these seven books as proof texts for Jesus Christ being the prophesied Messiah. So out the window they went. You say that there is no proof that these texts were even written in Hebrew. Well, I present to you proof, in the scrolls of Qumran, also called the "Dead Sea Scrolls." These scrolls, found earlier this century, date from the time of Ezra and contain, in whole or in part, Hebrew versions of these seven books in question. There is your proof. You can go and see them today if you wish -- I'm sure they are on display somewhere. You can get a book about them from any book store or library. See for yourself.
If the only objection to these so-called "Apocryphal" books was that they were not written in Hebrew, then when the Dead Sea scrolls were found, they ought to have gone back into the Protestant Bible. So why didn't they? Are you rejecting them because a Jewish council of 100 AD decided to reject them? A Jewish council that rejected Christ and was trying to deal with the problem of Christianity? No, it would make no sense to do that. So why do you object to them? Luther rejected them because they upheld many doctrines that he opposed to, such as Purgatory. He changed the Sacred Scriptures to fit his idea of doctrine. Aren't we supposed to form our doctrines to fit Sacred Scripture, not the other way around? You say yourself that you practice Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone as your rule of faith. So why do you reject these books from the Bible?
You then suggest that it was Christ who declared Zechariah as the last Old Testament prophet by saying in Luke 11:50-51, "That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation."
Excuse me, but nowhere in this statement do I find Christ saying "Zacharias should be the last book of the Old Testament!" Indeed, that idea would be absurd. There was no Old and New Testament. There were only the Jewish Scriptures. And if we were to end Scriptures with Zacharias, then that means that there should never be a New Testament, including the Gospel of Luke that you quote this from.
Nor does it even say that Zacharias would be the last prophet, for if that were the case, what would you call John the Baptist, who surely prophesied the coming of Christ?
Furthermore, if we look at all of the times that Jesus and the Apostles quote from the Scriptures, we can see that the version of Scriptures that they quote from is the Septuagint, which included those seven books that you would throw out. You are discarding part of the Scriptures that Jesus used himself!
Tell me, what is it about these seven books that you object to so much? Have you read them? How can you possibly justify removing them from Sacred Scripture? What authority do you have to do that? If you read an accurate history of the Bible, surely you would cringe at the abuse it has suffered at the hands of Protestant Reformers.
Again, even if you do not wish to view these seven books as divinely inspired, please understand that the Catholic church has *always* held them to be and has never called them into question. To suggest otherwise is poor history and a lie.
And then in your letter you move on to the subject of baptism. You presented me with an article at dokimos.org/immersed.html, which I read. I told you at that time that I simply did not agree with your interpretation of the Scripture that you quoted, and that I would rather follow the interpretation of the 2000 year tradition of the Catholic Church.
Now you tell me that this is a "cop out." You tell me that you have presented to me "strong Biblical evidence" that water baptism is not needed at all. And you accuse me of cowardice for "hiding behind" the infallibility of the Catholic Church. Surely you wish to insult me by this.
I maintain that you have not shown me "strong Biblical evidence." Your evidence is very weak indeed. It consists of nothing but some brief snippets of Scripture, followed by even briefer explanations of what you believe they mean. Nowhere do you show why you think the Scriptures mean that. Nowhere do you show us why we should agree with you. I look at those same parts of Scripture and I think they mean something completely different. If you truly want to change my mind, you need to try a little bit harder.
On the one hand, I have the infallible teachings of the Catholic Church, based on Apostolic tradition, founded by Christ, protected and guided by the Holy Spirit, that has taught constantly and inerrantly about the sacrament of baptism for 2000 years. On the other hand, I have this web page at dokimos.org. I don't know you. I don't know your name. I don't know your history, your background, if you have studied. I don't know what church you represent. I don't know a thing about you. And all you do is present some rather unconvincing pieces of Scripture and tell me that they mean that the Catholic Church is wrong, when I read them to mean anything but that.
Should anyone be surprised that I do not believe you? I am sorry, but if you want to discuss the practice of water baptism, you really must give me something to go on. Try a little harder. As it is now, I do not see anything worthy of comment. I am sorry if you take offense to this, but I have to be honest.
Then you write, "So, no matter how convincing the teachings of the prophets, Christ and the Apostles are, you will hold to the RC church above all for matters of doctrine, huh. Circular reasoning. Do you believe the RC church is right because of the Scriptures while the Scriptures only mean what the RC church says about them? This is not proof. If you will be honest about this, Matt, then you will admit to the utter balderdash of Roman Catholicism."
The only "utter balderdash" I see here is in this statement of yours. It is not a matter of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles v. the teachings of the Catholic church, as you make it out to be, where we Catholics believe the Church over Christ. Instead, it is a matter of the teachings of the Catholic Church continuing and upholding the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. Only the Protestant churches have rebelled against those teachings.
We do not believe what the Catholic Church teaches just because she teaches us to. We believe what the Catholic Church teaches because she teaches the truth, as given to her by the Apostles and guided by the Holy Spirit. If you really examine the 2000 year history of the Church you will see that her teaching has remained constant. No other church can claim that. So why should I believe any other church?
You say you do not put your faith in a Church, that you put your faith solely in Christ. This is all well and good, but in reality you are putting your faith in what a particular church or sect has taught you about Christ. You have to learn of him from somewhere or someone. So why do you put your faith in these teachings? Are your reasons any more valid than my reasons for trusting the teachings of the Catholic Church?
You then say, "Matt, if we found for fact that the Roman Catholic Church was indeed the one true and only Christian church and there was no salvation outside of her as she has claimed we would abandon our present faith and follow the gospel according to Rome. Certainly, with conclusive evidence to such we would have something to say. However, the evidence shows otherwise as we will continue to show you."
Well, I am very pleased to hear you admit that you would be willing to become Catholic if you saw that it was the true church. There is hope yet! However, you have yet to show me any evidence whatsoever that it is not. You claim you've shown me convincing evidence, but claiming it does not make it so. Not one bit of evidence you have suggested to me stands up to scrutiny. I only hope you have an open enough mind that you can see that for yourself.
You then say, "We are objective in our consideration of facts. What we have found prior to Reformation in the Roman Catholic church is the dark ages, the Inquisition (do you know the RCC's bloody history?) and suppression of the Scriptures, burning people at the stake."
I am grateful that you claim to be objective in your consideration of facts. So let's look at some of these "facts" and see how objective you are. You mention specifically the dark ages, Inquisition, suppression of Scriptures, and burning people at the stake. So let's look at those four.
1. The "Dark Ages." Anyone who persists in calling them that has no understanding or appreciation for medieval history. Most scholars today would more rightly call them the "Age of Faith." Why do you call them "dark?" Is it because people were less educated then? They had less technology? They were more violent? I maintain that in many important ways, medieval man was more enlightened than we are today. We spend our days concerned with who is going to win the World Series, what is coming on television tonight, what movies will be released this weekend. We seek to entertain ourselves in all things -- even in our "worship" services, we expect good music and a fancy production. Medieval man worried more about the fate of his soul, pleasing God, and living according to Christ. I had a history professor in college who told me that you can always judge the values of a society by its tallest buildings. In the Middle Ages, the tallest building in any town was the cathedral or church. Today, the tallest building in any town is more likely to be a bank or office building. Tell me, who has their values in the right place? Not we moderns, I am afraid.
In the Middle Ages, there was one church. If you were Christian, you were Catholic. Yes, the eastern Orthodox church split away from Rome, but in all basic doctrines, they were the same (and remain so today). Christianity was united. There was no question about it at all. Today, Christianity is divided into countless sects, all claiming to be the right one. People today are agnostic, or atheistic. They have stopped believing in God, they don't wonder about heaven or hell. They just don't care. We live in a time of hedonism, where anything goes as long as it feels good. This did not happen in Catholic Europe. This happened in Protestant America.
Do you think the Middle Ages were more bloody than our present time? Turn on the tv and watch the news tonight. The 20th century saw more bloodshed than any before it. In the Middle Ages, people went to war to defend the Christian world against the infidel. Today we go to war over oil and money. We don't even pretend to fight for religion or truth any more. Are we so much more enlightened in our modern times?
The Middle Ages saw artists and craftsmen producing paintings, sculptures, architecture, literature, and music that modern work cannot rival. If you would only study it, you would see that. The very first universities in Europe were founded by the Catholic church during the Middle Ages. So how can you call these ages "dark?" It is a poor student of history who believes that.
But even if we assume that the Middle Ages was a dark, damp, uneducated place -- which is wrong, but let's assume it is right -- where in medieval Europe do we find education continuing? Where are books read? Where are pupils taught? Where are the gospels copied and transcribed? Where is scholarship being done? All in the Catholic Church, in her monasteries, in her universities, in her churches. Even if you consider the Middle Ages dark, the Catholic Church shines as a beacon if you would only look at her.
Some of the best theological minds in history came out of the Middle Ages. Thomas Aquinas. St. Augustine. No student of the Middle Ages could rightly call them "dark."
2. "The Inquisition." This is truly a favorite topic of people who would attack the Catholic Church. They always say, "I don't like the Catholic Church because of the Inquisition." Yet they have no idea what the Inquisition even really was. The popular notion is that the Catholic Church, as a whole body, set up the Inquisition as a tool for murdering all who did not agree with her doctrine. This is far from the truth of what really happened.
The truth is that the Inquisition is a hard part of history to understand, covering a broad area and a broad time span, and very few people, Catholics as well as Protestants, have a good understanding of it. What people speak of as the Medieval Inquisition took its form in the 12th and 13th centuries, and was at first ran in France by individual bishops, who didn't do such a good job. So later, the pope set it up under the authority of the Cistercians, then later the Dominicans.
This is separate from what is called the Roman Inquisition, which was set up under Paul III in 1542. This was in Inquisition that Galileo was tried under. It was perhaps the most benign and least active Inquisition.
Then there is the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478. This was a state institution, not a Church one, used to detect Jews and Moors who had converted to Christianity for social or economic reasons but who were not true believers. This Spanish Inquisition has the worst record of them all.
So, which Inquisition are you meaning here? And what, specifically, do you see about it that condemns the Catholic Church? If you have some specific issues to discuss, we can do so. But it is hard to argue with someone who just says they disagree with the Church "because of the Inquisition." What do you really know about the Inquisition?
Yes, people died under it. But I will remind you also that Protestants in England executed about 800 "Papists" a year, and the Inquisition never operated there. Not that this makes the deaths suffered at the Inquisition right, but it just shows that Protestants are not blameless either.
You would do well to remember that the Inquisition, by and large, was local, and was operated under local authorities. It was not something that affected the entire Catholic world. And though it may be a historical embarrassment, it does nothing to contradict Catholic teaching. Who said that the people in the Catholic church were sinless and could make no mistakes? If you are going to disagree with a church's teachings because of the way certain members of that church have acted in the past, then I am afraid that you would be seeking forever for a church whose members never sinned, and if you found such a church, I do not hesitate to say that they would not accept you or I as a member!
If you want to read a good history of the Inquisition, let me direct you to this web page: http://catholiceducation.org/articles/history/world/wh0027.html
Take a look at the history and see if you still think it has the implications that you suggest.
3. "Suppression of Scriptures." I have dealt with this largely in an earlier part of this letter, so I will not repeat myself here. I will merely reiterate that it was the Catholic church that first compiled the Scriptures, the Catholic church who made sure that copies of the Scriptures were made, prior to printing, and the Catholic church that made sure those copies were distributed to every church and monastery. It was the Catholic church that translated Scriptures into Latin and into the various vernacular languages so that people might understand it. It was the Catholic church that taught Scripture lessons in stained glass and frescoes, and morality plays, and in the weekly and daily homilies and mass readings, so that even the illiterate could benefit from them. The Catholic Church upheld that all 73 books of the Bible were inspired when Reformers wanted to throw 7 of them out. The Catholic Church is the only reason why any of us know anything of Scriptures today. Suppress them? No, we need to thank her for preserving them.
If the Catholic church had wanted to do so, it would have been the easiest thing for them to completely suppress Scriptures and even destroy them, so that we might never have known them. But she did not. She ensured that we know them well. Anyone who says the Catholic church suppressed Scriptures simply does not know, or is ignoring history altogether.
4. "Burning People at the Stake." Again, to use this as an attack on the Catholic Church is to be ignorant of history. Most witch burnings took place after the Reformation, and though some Catholics did participate in this, it seems to have been a largely Protestant phenomenon. The truth of the matter is that the witch trials seemed to have more to do with local laws and customs than with religious affiliation. You will find Catholics as well as Protestant that were for them, and Catholics as well as Protestants that were against them. You will find both Catholic and Protestant areas where witch fever ran rampant. And you will find both Catholic and Protestant areas where not a single witch trial took place. People also fail to mention that more people were acquitted than convicted, and that local judges were more likely to convict than Church appointed judges who were sent to the area for impartiality. These Church judges were more likely to acquit the accused.
Just as people do not understand the Inquisition, they equally do not understand the witch trials. This was in no way a Catholic phenomenon.
You mention also that the Church burned people at the stake and asked if I have ever read Foxe's Book of Martyrs. No, I have not. I am not going to say that no Catholic, during the reformation, ever put a Protestant to death. I am sure many Protestants died, though you must ask yourself if it was at the hands of the Catholic church or a local authority. But again, this is not the point.
In my professional life I am a Scottish historian. And I can show you countless examples of Catholic priests, during and after the Reformation in Scotland, being publicly stoned in the streets. Any non-biased account of the Reformation will surely include the murdered priests, the statues and artwork that was destroyed, the books burned, the buildings torn down.
If you want to talk about the tragic events of the Reformation, you cannot paint the Protestants in a blameless light any more than I can paint the Catholics in a blameless light. You must be honest and fair.
But I still say that this misses the point. If individual groups, or even large numbers, of Catholics or Protestants have gone astray or commit evil deeds, this does not mean that either the Catholic Church or any of the Protestant sects are evil themselves. We must look at the Church as a whole body, and at its teachings and doctrines.
I still maintain that the Catholic church teaches the truth, even if individual Catholics may have (as they surely have) done wrong in the past.
Then you say, in your letter, that the Catholic Church was not the only Christian Church before Martin Luther. But surely it was! Leaving behind the messy issue of the Eastern Schism, in all ages prior to the Reformation people did not even conceive of starting another church. Yes, there were individual churches, as in the Church at Jerusalem, the Church at Antioch, the Church at Rome. But all understood them to be part of the one Catholic Church that was a universal body. It was St. Ignatius in the second century who first used the term Catholic to describe the church. The other "Christian" groups that you mention, such as the Anabaptists, were heretical sects. These were groups within the Catholic church that preached a false gospel. The taught differently than the Catholic church did, but they never attempted to form their own church and separate from the Catholic church. They could not conceive of such a thing.
And the Catholic church did not "behead" all of the heretics, as you would have us believe. No, the Catholic church countered heresy with orthodox preaching and teaching and sought to correct false doctrine, not kill those who taught it. If that were the case, Martin Luther would not have died of old age.
Then, in your letter, you jump back to the topic of Scripture and say that there is no textual evidence for the Catholic doctrine of Sacred Tradition being kept to alongside Sacred Scripture. Not that Sacred Tradition is something that I feel I must prove from Scripture. After all, it is the same teaching authority of the Catholic Church that tells me that I should believe Sacred Scripture that tells me I should believe Sacred Tradition. But if you look, you will find numerous references in the Bible to the Apostles telling us to hold fast to what we have learned from them, orally, to what they have preached, and to the teaching of the Church.
If we look only to the Bible as our rule of faith, then we have to see that the Bible tells us that not everything Jesus said or did is in the New Testament (John 21:25), that Christians must hold fast to oral tradition and the preached word of God (1 Cor 11:2, 1 Pet 1:25), that Scriptures are difficult to interpret on our own (2 Pet 3:15-16), and that the true pillar and foundation of truth is the Church (1 Tim 3:15).
You wanted proof texts. There are your proof texts, from the very book that you recognize as the sole rule of Christian faith.
If you truly want to argue about Sola Scriptura, I can do so. I feel that this letter has gone on too long already, though. If you wish to discuss this further, I would prefer to devote a separate letter to it entirely.
One other point I would like to make before I close my letter. Throughout your correspondence with me you make reference to the "Roman Catholic Church," or sometimes just the "Roman Church." Are you aware that when you do this you are really naming only one Rite in the overall Catholic church? I assume, by your context, that by Roman Catholic Church you really mean the entire Catholic Church. But that term actually only applies, specifically, to the Western Rite, or Latin Rite, of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has many rites, such as the Byzantine Rite in the east, the Syrian Rite, Coptic Rite, and many others more obscure. All of these various Catholic Rites are in union with the Pope, the bishop of Rome, and all believe the same Catholic doctrines, but express themselves differently through different practices, customs, and liturgies. For instance, Byzantine Catholic priests can marry, while Roman Catholic priests cannot. I only bring this to your attention so that you will know that the Catholic Church is not one large uniform block of stone that demands conformity. Catholic worship finds many ways of expression and the Church is a beautiful mosaic made up of many different parts.
I also point this out to you so that, in your future discussions, you might not use the term "Roman Catholic Church" when you really mean to say the entire Catholic Church.
I sincerely hope that you will read and take to heart some of what I presented here. It has taken me two days and many hours just to compose this, as you brought up so many points that I felt needed to be addressed. If there is any one point that you wish to discuss further, I would gladly expound more on an issue or recommend further reading to you. If you feel that I am wrong in anything I say, then I would also like to hear why it is you think I am in error.
I only ask you, please, if you do wish to contradict what I have presented here, give me the courtesy of telling me why, and what evidence, and where you get your information from. Do not do me the disservice of simply telling me I am in error and asking me to take your word for it. I have already shown that that tactic will get you nowhere.