A Pamphlet Asks About Traditions…

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890This is part of a continuing series where I investigate the claims made by a pamphlet that was left for me asserting that Catholicism is not Christian.  You can read the pamphlet in it’s entirety here: (page 1 and page 2).  Today we’ll be discussing the short section on page 2 entitled “Traditions”.

What is Tradition based on?

This section opens with a statement that Catholic Tradition is founded on documented forged by their leaders.  As we previously discussed, the Catholic Church was founded by Christ and not Constantine which covers the ‘Donations of Constantine’ assertion.  The author also mentions the Isodorian Decretals, which were a set of 9th century documents attempting to justify the position of bishops by supporting them with false documents purportedly authored by early popes.  I have not studied these documents extensively myself, but I have found several sources that affirm that these documents are forgeries and that no serious theologian has asserted otherwise since the 19th century.

The important thing that I notice is that these documents were created in the 9th century, which essentially means that the Catholic Church had been practicing it’s faith for around 800 years.  Traditions in practice by this time were many generations old, and therefore could not have been founded on the back of this set of forged documents.

Sacred Tradition is the practice of the faith that has been transmitted by word or practice and not by writing.  This is alluded to in John 20:30-31:

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

And John 21:25:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

The Apostles traveled with Jesus, they lived with Jesus, and they witnessed these other signs.  It stands to reason that in being taught directly from Christ, the Apostles would themselves transmit these teachings and practices to others.  Christ Himself is the foundation upon which Sacred Tradition is built.  Further, there is plenty of valid evidence that illustrates that the early Church Fathers held to some of the same traditions and practices that we conform to today.  For more information on this, I highly suggest Jimmy Akin‘s book “The Fathers Know Best“.

Misunderstanding Mark

The pamphlet continues to quote Mark 7:7 as evidence that Tradition is bad:

But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

This is a simple matter of cherry-picking Scripture and why it is dangerous.  Christ was speaking with the Pharisees about their practice of hand-washing before meals, and his admonishment was directed at them for this practice.  The line to be drawn is clear: there is a marked difference between traditions that take man away from God’s Commandments (in fact, the rest of Christ’s discussion on this matter drives forward that point) and those that Sacred Tradition transmitted by Christ to his Apostles.

The author cites examples of things that the church has changed or removed: fish on Friday got removed (actually, it’s still there), Saint Christopher (he’s still there too), and the acceptance of mixed marriages (it is allowed, but still discouraged).  These are good examples of Church doctrines that can evolve.  It is the job of the Magesterium to instruct regarding such things, in order to ensure that these practices lead people further in their spiritual life.

I do think that the author of the pamphlet does make an accidental point, however.  The point of Sacred Tradition is that it further allows us to relate to Christ and worship him.  Tradition itself is there to support and underscore the teachings of Christ, not to change or override it.

Infallible Teachings

The author again makes an error in associating the infallible teachings of the Church with the practice of the doctrines listed above.  Any teaching declared infallible means that it has been revealed to us by God.  The examples given of transubstantiation, purgatory, Mary’s immaculate conception, and papal infallibility are not of the same pedigree as the dietary practices or veneration guidelines presented above.

Each of these examples can be traced back to what God has revealed to us, and in each case there is biblical and traditional evidence to support each of these teachings.  There is ample evidence to support that these practices have been present throughout the transmission of Catholicism, but simply were just not specifically defined until a later time.  I will cover each of these in some detail in coming weeks and months, in order to give each topic the appropriate focus that it deserves.


A Pamphlet Asks About The Inquisitions…

inquisitionThis is part of a continuing series where I investigate the claims made by a pamphlet that was left for me asserting that Catholicism is not Christian.  You can read the pamphlet in it’s entirety here: (page 1 and page 2).  Today we’ll be discussing the densely-packed and wide ranging section on page 2 entitled simply “Church”.

Stumbling out of the gate

This section begins with a few bruised assertions.  First, it claims that Constantine established the ‘Roman’ church in 325 AD.  This is a popular (and somewhat recent) attempt to tie the ‘creation’ of Catholicism to Constantine, but it’s just not true.  Constantine did convert and made it legal to practice Christianity with the Edict of Milan.  We’ll give the author of the pamphlet a free pass on the statements about Martin Luther, because there’s plenty more here to cover.

The following assertion that ‘True Christians trace their roots directly to Christ through the Waldenses and Ana-Baptists’ is a very confusing one.  I am no expert on either group, however some research on Wikipedia yields the fact that the Waldenses was a movement that began around 1170 in France and the Ana-Baptists were later into the 16th century.  I tried to find out more by following the quoted website, but it took me to a public library website from Illinois that did not seem to hold any relevance.

All founding aside, I simply assert that the most sure way to follow Christ is to belong to the Church that He founded.  The Catholic Church holds an unbroken line of papal succession directly back to Saint Peter, who was given his authority directly from Jesus Christ.  That places Jesus Christ as the founder of the Catholic Church, not Constantine for those of you keeping score.

This argument often spins off in one of two directions: people advocating for the authority of their own sect, and those that begin to attack the authenticity of papal succession.  Countless gallons of ink (both real and digital) have been spilled about each of these topics and I can’t do them justice here.   I often direct those that attack the line of papal succession to a very well-presented Wikipedia entry on the popes.  It is not a tome, you don’t need to spend hours understanding it, just scroll and follow the dates.

Unfortunately, further discussion is often required for those that want to advocate for their own special brand of authority.  To have an enriching discussion about this, I must first understand their argument and there’s not much I can do in this venue regarding that topic.

The Inquisitions

Next, the author attributes the murder of millions of these ‘true Christians’ to the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisitions.  The Church has a long history of addressing heresy in all of it’s forms, and in many cases this would be practiced in the form of a local inquisitional court.  There is a very well-written article at Catholic.com that provides a primer regarding the Inquisition, and a much deeper historical dive over at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Here are a few relevant segments from the Catholic.com article:

What “crimes” were tried in courts of inquisition? 
Sixteenth-century Protestant reformers propagandized that inquisition courts were historically aimed at simple, Bible-believing Christians. For the most part, however, those prosecuted in the courts of the inquisition were not people with any organized theology of religious dissent. For the most part, they were the ignorant, the troublemakers, the braggarts and, all-too-often, the drunkards belching out foolishness when under the influence.

Much like any court today, the inquisition courts often functioned as a form of social control, aimed at those who publicly lived in a way contrary to accepted norms. In most countries, those on trial rarely were advocates of a contradictory or heretical theological system of beliefs. Fornication, adultery, refusal to attend the Sacraments, and disregard of common devotional practices were the common practices investigated by the inquisition courts. In fact, in many inquisition courts a major focus was on clergy living dissolute lifestyles, rather than laity.

Did medieval inquisition courts employ torture? 
Common to judicial practice going back to Roman times, torture was used at times to obtain proof of accusations. But, again, the goal was not conviction of heretics but the salvation of their souls. Very often, the general laity simply wanted the heretic destroyed, while secular authorities wanted to punish. The courts of the inquisition hoped to bring the heretic back into the fold, and guidelines were strict against using torture as punishment. Numerous works of popular art notwithstanding, no priest or religious was allowed to take an active role in torture.

Although no such action can be justified today, it is important to note that the courts of the medieval inquisition were actually modifying and limiting a practice common to secular judicial proceedings of the time. The use of torture in inquisition courts was much less extensive, and far less violent, than the norms of secular courts.

One additional interesting fact: the oft-cited papal bull by Pope Innocent III that called for a ‘crusade’ also stressed confession, education, and many other methods aimed at bringing heretical people back to the fold.  To be clear: the actions taken (deterioration to violence, harsh punishment handed down by secular courts based on the inquisition trials) are lamentable, but they are an undeniable part of history.  I believe it is very important to get beyond the caricature and actually examine what happened, and the aforementioned tracts and articles provide a solid place to start that helps to illuminate those dark times.

Topped off with vitriol

As if this densely packed two paragraphs can’t get any better, the author tops off this section with a healthy dose of venom.  The pamphlet states “The RCC says all their homosexual priests are ‘representatives of Christ'” and then continues to make further claims that priests are diseased perverts that molest children and spread AIDS.

This particular argument offends me greatly, because it misses one of the most important things about the Catholic Church: it is comprised of human sinners.  Pointing out the public failings of priests as some sort of special example that invalidates the cause of the Church is a flawed premise.  Painting stereotypes using broad brushes would not be acceptable for any other race, sexual orientation, religion, or affinity group… so why is it acceptable to do this to the Catholic priesthood?  This practice slanders the vast majority of priests who are dedicated, chaste, holy men.

First, not all priests are homosexual.  Secondly, the Church teaches that all priests (including those with same-sex attraction) act in the person of Christ when administering the Church’s sacramental rites.  Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church section 1584 teaches:

Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting.  St. Augustine states this forcefully:

As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ’s gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.

It is Christ that is acting to administer the sacraments.  Despite the graces received by the sacrament of Holy Orders, priests must also suffer temptation and sometimes fall to sin.  They are not perfect like Christ, they are the vessels through which Christ operates.  Do we expect them to keep a higher standard than the rest of the world?  Absolutely, but I don’t expect them to be perfect and in some cases they may fall into grave sin like any of the rest of us.  Pope Francis even went so far as to call himself a sinner in a recent interview, much to the shocked gasps of the secular world.

This pamphlet repeats the ‘homosexual priests’ trope often, but why focus there?  If we’re going scandal hunting, why don’t we mention any of the numerous other scandals in the Church’s history?  How about the Church’s relationship with the Borgia family, who was associated with several popes and suspected of a long list of  crimes such as murder, simony, bribery, and theft?  Surely there is equally verdant ground for this argument beyond the pelvic issues that go on to reinforce my point: no one is free from sin, no matter their ecclesiastical role or station.  To focus on an individual type of sin in an effort to discredit the Church or her priesthood is a crass and invalid argument.

We’ll be revisiting this pamphlet more often in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more.


A pamphlet asks: “Is The Bible Final Authority?”

This is part of a continuing series where I investigate the claims made by a pamphlet that was left for me asserting that Catholicism is not Christian.  You can read the pamphlet in it’s entirety here: (page 1 and page 2).  Today we’ll be discussing the section on page 2 entitled “Is The Bible Final Authority”.

Stumbling right out of the blocks

This section begins with a flawed assertion: “Catholics say no; men in their Church are.”  This is simply not true.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly explains the appropriate orientation of the members of Christ’s faithful in Chapter 3, Article 9.  A few relevant sections have been excerpted here:

871 “The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through Baptism, have been constituted as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office in their own manner, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one.”

872 “In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.”

873 The very differences which the Lord has willed to put between the members of his body serve its unity and mission. For “in the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God.”  Finally, “from both groups [hierarchy and laity] there exist Christian faithful who are consecrated to God in their own special manner and serve the salvific mission of the Church through the profession of the evangelical counsels.” …

874 Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal[.]

The wording and phrasing here paints the full picture, culminating in section 874’s statement: “Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church.”  We are incorporated in Christ through Baptism and become sharers in his office and ministry.  These are not words of an organization that puts itself before Christ, clearly we are sharer’s in Christ’s office and ministry because he made it so.  It is in his name and by his power that the Church performs its important work.

Augustine, Sola Scriptura, and a Bible verse

The pamphlet continues with a quotation from Saint Augustine, intended to illustrate that Augustine deferred to the authority of the Catholic Church regarding the validity of the Gospel account.  Why shouldn’t he?  The Catholic Church is the organization responsible for discerning the work of the Holy Spirit and compiling the canon of Scripture in the first place.  Said simply, the Church (under the power of the Holy Spirit) is where the Bible came from!

The paragraph continues to explain a bit about sola scriptura, which holds that the Bible is the final authority and quotes a verse from Acts regarding eagerly searching the Scriptures.  Study of the Scriptures is a laudable practice (something that average Catholics fall short at, frankly).  I’m certainly not going to spend any ink arguing with the sentiment in Acts.

What I will argue with is the notion that the Bible is the final authority.  The Lord commands in the Great Commission:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  — Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

Notice that the Lord didn’t say “go forth and write a book” or “go forth and transmit only the written aspects of my teachings”.  Instead, He commanded “everything I have commanded you.”  This begs the question how this activity was transmitted before the early 3rd century?  The answer: it was transmitted verbally by the apostles and the members of the early Church. They transmitted the Old Testament in the same way as it was before, incorporating written accounts of the epistles and Gospel accounts if they were available (accounts of the epistles already existing in written form can be found in the works of Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century).

Beyond this, the Gospel account has juicy little moments of intentional omission.  One of my favorite examples of this is John 20:30:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Were these details unimportant?  Doubtful.  Instead, I like to believe that these details were omitted from the written account because they were witnessed in person and could be transmitted directly.  Don’t misunderstand: the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God and is worthy of our ardent and prayerful study – like I said before, your average Catholic needs to do a better job at this!  In asserting that it is the final authority you ignore the full value of the directly transmitted Truth of Christ’s ministry.

Strange citations and conclusions

Immediately following this, the author of the pamphlet makes an assertion that the Roman Catholic Church murdered many Christians for having a Bible.  This seems strange, since they compiled the canon in the first place.  Can you imagine how that conversation went?  “Here, have this book that we compiled under the power of the Holy Spirit.  Got it?  Great.  Now DIE.”  With no citation or historical reference here, I have to chalk this up to nonsense and leave this one undefended.

The argument is then made that the “The two religions are diametrically opposed.  Either God’s Word is the final authority, or man is; you can’t have two masters.”  We don’t have two religions at war here, we’re all Christians (no matter how much the author of the pamphlet disagrees.)  I can agree with the latter sentiment… God’s Word is the final authority, and you don’t have any men trying to deny that in the Catholic Church as far as I can see.

The difference: Catholics accept the full transmission of God’s Word, not only the written part.  The Holy Spirit will indeed teach us everything.

I am currently reading a book that takes an in-depth look at 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura by Dave Armstrong.  It explores what sola scriptura is (as defined by premiere Protestant apologists) and explores 100 arguments against the practice from Scripture itself.  It has been a compelling read so far, check it out!


A pamphlet asks questions regarding ecumenism

Last week, I began discussion about a pamphlet that was left in my car containing false assertions about Catholicism (read it here: page 1 and page 2).  Today I’d like to discuss the portion of the pamphlet on page 2 regarding ecumenism.

First, a definition

For those unfamiliar with the term: ecumenism (rooted in the word ecumenical) is a movement aimed at achieving unity among Christian Churches (and other non-Christian religions) by establishing interdenominational discussions to cooperate on matters of mutual concern.

What is Catholicism, anyway?

The actual term Catholicism has its roots in the Greek word katholikos, which means literally “universal”.  Without digging into extreme detail, it stands to basic reason that the Universal Church would have a mission to explore how it is, in fact, universal with other word religions and movements.  However, it is my understanding that this is not the main intent of ecumenism.  The main intent would be to explore ways for reconciliation and re-unification with the various Christian sects that have broken away from the Catholic Church over the ages.

And the false premises begin…

Turning back to the pamphlet, I must admit a certain difficulty parsing out the actual arguments from amid the poisonous attacks presented in this first section on Ecumenism.  The first paragraph begins by stating that the Catholic “net” includes Charismatic, homosexual, Voodoo, and Buddhist sects.  This is an easy place to begin: charismatic refers to a certain type of worship.  I have never been (or know of) a charismatic Catholic Church.  Homosexuality is a type of sin, not a religious sect.  Voodoo and Buddhist refer to other religions, neither of them Catholic.

The false argument continues atop two quotations, one by Cardinal Cooke and one by Pope John Paul II.  I strongly suspected that the quotation by Cardinal Cooke was taken out of context, but my attempts to find a transcription of the entire speech or homily that it was taken from came up empty (although I did find this quotation referenced in the same way several other places).  The quotation from Pope John Paul II was in reference to dignitaries from Islam, in the context of a broad faith dialogue.  In fact, Jews, Catholics, and Muslims do all pray to the God of Abraham.  The Catholic Church contains the fullness of Revelation accomplished through Christ.  The Catholic Church in no way denies Christ, invalidates Christ’s claims, or makes Him a liar as the author of this pamphlet alleges.

The one true claim made here is that the Catholic Church accepts anything holy and true in other religions.  What this means is not that we part-and-parcel accept all other world religions and their premises, but instead acknowledges the fact that there is objective Truth (note the capital T), and because God is the sole author and creator of Truth we must accept it even when it is found in other world religions.  Why is this important?  Because it is what Christ told us to do:

In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.  Extinguish not the spirit. Despise not prophecies. But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-22

Shun counterfeit Christians?  Really?

This section of the pamphlet closes with a positively strange argument that asserts that “counterfeit Christians” should not be associated with and aren’t worth even eating with.  They absolutely mangle the context of 1 Corinthians 5 in order to accomplish this feat of logic.  Saint Paul was admonishing the people of Corinth for tacitly accepting sexually immoral practices among members of the Church there, it really takes some leaps to associate this to a sectarian dispute and that those falling into that category should be treated in the same way.  One additional note: verse 12 contains a statement relevant to our previous discussion regarding dialogue with non-Christian religions:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

So leave it to God to work out the ultimate fate of those that adhere only partially to His Truth.

If we carry the line of argument presented in the first section of this pamphlet to it’s logical conclusion, we would just allow our misguided “counterfeit” brethren to languish in their ignorance without correction.  Instead of speaking with them, treating them with respect, and bringing them closer to the Lord we would just shun them immediately.  Imagine if all of the Old Testament prophets or the Apostles had taken this approach!  It’s not exactly following the command of Our Lord to go forth and make disciples of all nations… nowhere in there does it say “all nations, so long as they agree with you immediately.”

For an excellent representation of the Catholic stance on ecumenism, I refer you to this talk from the Cardinal’s Symposium in 2003 regarding the ecumenical efforts during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.  Further, you can read an entire address on this topic from Pope Benedict XVI, where he outlines the intent of these interfaith dialogues and also he outlines the dangers that one can encounter.  I understand that these references might not satisfy anyone that does not accept papal authority regarding such matters, but I feel that between Christ’s teaching and the words of his Vicars on Earth it is directionally correct advice.


A pamphlet asks: “Is Catholic Christian?”

Before I begin, let me recount for you a story.  Last summer, I went to Mass.  It was a hot day, so I decided to leave my car window cracked.  Like most other Sundays, I was on the way to take the Eucharist to the homebound of my community.  My car often collects debris throughout the course of the work week, so it wasn’t too unusual to see a piece of paper sitting in the seat of my car… but it was on the driver’s side.  “Strange,” I thought, “was I sitting on some paper the whole way to Church?  Wait… is that Pope John Paul II?”

Sure enough, there he was humbly revering a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with a nice picture of Christ bowing his head in prayer.  But then I noticed the title: “Is Catholic Christian?” and at the bottom “Be born again and have a loving relation with Jesus.”  Weird, and not just because of the strange grammar at the bottom… what does it mean to have a loving relation with Jesus?

I looked around the parking lot and noticed these pamphlets were all over, mostly under windshield wipers.  A few short minutes later I had read the entire dense, verbose, and vitriolic pamphlet and I was pretty mad.  First, the contents of the pamphlet (produced by a place called SALT Ministries) present what appears to be a hastily slapped together set of wide-ranging but fairly standard objections.  The mode of writing is very condescending, angry, and demeaning.  I can’t imagine a scenario where leaving this in the hands of a Catholic would lead to some sort of conversion… knowing that they left this for Catholics, wouldn’t they attempt an approach that wasn’t basically calling us boastful, prideful, unrepentant and wrong?  Lastly, the sheer cowardice of leaving such a offensive piece of literature on cars in the parking lot of a Catholic Church while Mass is going on is beyond offensive.  SALT Ministries, you should be ashamed of yourselves to basely attack our religion and not even have the decency to do it to our faces.

But here’s the good news: I’m going to take the high road and answer these objections.  While I don’t speak for the Catholic Church in any capacity, I have heard the objections (aside from the “facts” presented that are pure nonsense or take swipes at other Christian denominations that I know nothing about) and can answer them.  I will do this thing with charity and good will and will not be drawn into a debate, flame-war or any other form of internet warfare.  I will even include a copy of the pamphlet in it’s entirety (page 1 and page 2) along with my arguments, just as they request.  I wouldn’t want to be accused of perverting their claims in any way, after all.

I am doing this for one reason: I am afraid that others might see this pamphlet and think that these claims are true.  They are not.

In answer to the first question raised by this pamphlet: “Is Catholic Christian?”  The answer is simple.  Yes, of course Catholics are Christians… our Church was founded by Christ Himself and we have an apostolic line of succession directly back to Saint Peter and the rest of Christ’s Apostles.  To claim that Catholics are not Christians is ridiculous to the point that it is nearly impossible to argue all the avenues that this question presents, so I will leave the articles to come in the following weeks and months to flesh out this answer more.

Please note: the pamphlet does not include any sort of website or URL, simply a PO Box to send donations for more pamphlets.  Since I’m clearly not going to donate to them, I have not contacted this PO Box.  I have found a website that matches the mailing address, but I will not link it here because I am not certain it is them and I don’t want to give them any traffic or business.