DID I REALLY LEAVE
THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH?
The Journey into Evangelical Faith and Church Experience
This article was first published by Moody Press in the book titled, Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us in 1994. In light of the recent reversion of Francis Beckwith to Roman Catholicism I felt that perhaps the testimony of one who was Roman Catholic and is now a convinced evangelical Protestant might prove helpful to some. The arguments presented here as to why I could never become a Roman Catholic, based on the truth of Scripture and the facts of history, are as true today as they were 13 years ago when I wrote the article. These are arguments and facts which very few of those converting to Rome seem to take the time to consider. But they are supremely important because they deal with ultimate issues of truth. I challenge all who are considering conversion to Rome and those who have, in fact, converted, to read the documentation here of the official salvation teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This is what Rome teaches is necessary to be believed and practiced for salvation. Her teachings on the papacy (papal rule and infallibility), Mary (assumption and immaculate conception), the canon of Scripture, the priesthood and sacramental system, purgatory, justification and earning one’s salvation through the merit of works, the ongoing sacrifice of Christ in the Mass and the teaching of transubstantiation, indulgences, the need for the works of penance to atone for sin, the need for confession of sin to a Roman Catholic priest to receive forgiveness of sin are all taught as necessary for salvation. I would challenge you to read the documentation and simply ask yourself this question, Is this what the Bible teaches about salvation?
Since Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church has liberalized its attitude toward evangelicals. In spite of this, there has been a considerable exodus of Roman Catholics into evangelical churches. This is due in part to aggressive evangelism by evangelicals, exposure to Scripture through involvement in Bible studies and the witness of friends and family who were former Roman Catholics. Karl Keating himself admits that the figure approaches hundreds of thousands who have left Rome for evangelical or fundamental Protestantism.1
I have been a part of that movement. I was born and raised Roman Catholic, attending parochial schools and a Benedictine monastery in high school. I was thoroughly catechized in Roman Catholic theology. I was an altar boy in the days when the Latin Mass was still used. I used to pray earnestly for souls in purgatory and was thoroughly devoted to Mary. But as a teen I followed in the path of many young people in turning from the church to a life of sin and rebellion. By the time I was nineteen years old I was a disillusioned alcoholic. At twenty-four, through the witness of evangelical Protestants, I was converted to Jesus Christ. I joined a Protestant church, not because of an anti-Catholic attitude, but because it was through this church I had come to know Christ, and now I had a deep desire to know more of God’s Word. I was completely ignorant of major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Over a number of years, exposure to God’s Word deepened my understanding of salvation and fueled a desire to share it with others, particularly Roman Catholic friends. Eventually, I studied Roman Catholic teaching carefully, finally writing a book on the subject.
TRUTH: THE DEFINING ISSUE
Shortly after writing my book I read Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism. Here I encountered a very aggressive Roman Catholic lay apologist attempting to validate the authority of the church and its traditions from church history, an area that most Protestants, including myself at the time, knew little about. His book underscored an issue often overlooked or misunderstood by Protestants-because of this, most contemporary Protestants do not properly understand Roman Catholics. The issue Keating raises is truth: What is it? Who has it? and How do you know? The Protestant thinks of truth as one dimensional — sola scriptura — ultimate truth and authority is in Scripture alone. But for many Roman Catholics truth is not so one dimensional. For the Roman Catholic, the church is ultimate truth and authority, not Scripture. Whereas the Roman Catholic Church affirms the full inspiration of Scripture, it is not the only truth or ultimate and final authority. The ultimate and final authority is the church. It is this Roman Catholic position that Keating attempts to argue on historical grounds.
What we are dealing with here are basic presuppositions about authority that have direct bearing on how one approaches Scripture. From a Roman Catholic perspective, what the conflict over the interpretation of Scripture boils down to is this: the ‘infallible church’ versus fallible individuals who have rebelled against the ‘ultimate authority,’ which was established by Christ. This point of view was highlighted in a recent letter I received from a Roman Catholic. The writer stated, ‘I am a Catholic because of the promises our Lord made to the Church and the authority He gave to St. Peter as stated in the gospels. I believe they are just as valid today as then. I could not in good conscience belong to any other church.’ Those are, no doubt, honest heartfelt convictions. Whether or not the facts that form the foundation for those convictions are true is another matter altogether, but this writer’s sentiments clearly articulate the Roman Catholic presupposition regarding the authority of the church. Keating, Hahn, Matatics, and others attempt with earnest evangelistic zeal to defend this position through historical apologetics.
Keating’s book became for me a personal challenge to study church history carefully. What does history really say regarding Scripture, authority, and tradition? Was the Protestant Reformation truly justified, or did the Reformers forsake the faith of the early church and introduce novel doctrines? It is important to note that the Reformers advanced their arguments as diligently on historical grounds as on theological. They knew church history, the church Fathers, and the major theologians of the church throughout the Middle Ages. An example of what I mean can be seen in John Calvin. In his Institutes, he quotes from no less than thirty-seven major church Fathers, not to mention many scholastic theologians, popes, and church councils. So the historical issues Keating sets forth are by no means new.
In one of his debates Keating stated that each individual has a solemn responsibility to seek and follow truth no matter how opposed it might be to what one has been taught or what it might cost in personal terms. I cannot agree more, and that is precisely why I write this article. I have spent the last five years in intensive historical research. I have gone to primary source material and have read many major works of the most notable church Fathers. I have read Roman Catholic and Protestant historians and have listened to hours of taped messages by Scott Hahn and Gerry Matatics. All this is to say that I am a Protestant by conviction on the basis of the truth of both Scripture and history. I sought to honestly determine if I had left the holy catholic church when I left the fellowship of Rome.
In this article I state some pertinent historical facts I discovered that bear primarily upon the issue of authority and the Roman Catholic Church. I will begin by stating the Roman Catholic position in a general way and then seek to deal with specific issues in particular.
The Roman Catholic Church claims that it alone is the one true church established by Christ and boasts of a two-thousand-year consensus for its teachings. It places under anathema — that is, it condemns to hell, unless there is repentance — all who disagree with her teachings,2 anathemas that, it is important to add, have never been repudiated. These claims are summarized in a principle implicitly enunciated by the second-century Father, Irenaeus.3 It was explicitly taught in the fifth century by Vincent of Lerins and later affirmed and officially sanctioned by the councils of Trent and Vatican I. It is the principle known as the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers.’ Vincent expresses the principle in these terms: ‘Those teachings are truly catholic and apostolic that have been believed everywhere, always, and by all.’4 To claim catholicity and apostolic authority, therefore, is not simply a matter of succession but, rather, a matter of conformity to apostolic doctrine and the test of universality, antiquity, and consent. Not only does it embody doctrines, but also the interpretation of Scripture. Both Trent and Vatican I state that it is unlawful for anyone to interpret Scripture ‘contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers.’5 These councils tell us that there is a test by which the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church can be judged and validated — the test of history — as expressed in the principle of unanimous consent. What do the historical facts really reveal for the claims of the Roman Catholic Church relative to its teachings on Scripture, tradition, the canon, the papacy, and Mary?
SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION
Roman Catholic dogma teaches that the doctrine of sola scriptura (that Scripture alone is sufficient and the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and morals) is unscriptural. This dogma is unfounded because sola scriptura is the express teaching of Scripture and in particular of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word sufficient is not found in the Word of God in an explicit sense to describe the Scriptures. But neither is the word trinity found in Scripture, yet the doctrine is taught plainly throughout its pages. The same is true with regard to the teaching of sola scriptura. It is as apparent as the teaching of the Trinity.6 The doctrine is clearly demonstrated in the life and teaching of Christ.
Clearly Scripture was the ultimate authority for Jesus’ personal life and ministry. He always appealed to the written Word of God to settle disputes, never to oral tradition. When He refers to the ‘Word of God’, His reference is always to recorded Scripture. According to His teaching, Scripture was the final judge of all tradition. In fact, Jesus has virtually nothing positive to say about tradition (cf. Matthew 4:4; 5:17-19; 15:2-9; 22:29-32). Clearly, if the Son of God teaches that all tradition is to be judged by its conformity to the Scriptures, then tradition is subordinate to Scripture and Scripture is logically the ultimate authority.
Roman Catholic teaching claims that sola scriptura is unhistorical; that is, it contradicts the universal teaching of the early church. The more I have searched for the truth regarding these Roman Catholic beliefs, the more I have been compelled to conclude that the facts will not support this claim. Sola scriptura was the universal teaching of the church Fathers and for the church as a whole through the later Middle Ages. Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386) is reflective of the overall view of the Fathers:
Concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures; nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee of these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures….In these articles we comprehend the whole doctrine of faith….For the articles of the Faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men, but the most important points chosen from all Scriptures, make up the one teaching of the Faith….This Faith, in a few words, hath enfolded in its bosom the whole knowledge of godliness contained both in the Old and New Testaments. Behold, therefore, brethren and hold the traditions (2 Thes. 2:15) which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your hearts….Now heed not any ingenious views of mine; else thou mayest be misled; but unless thou receive the witness of the prophets concerning each matter, believe not what is spoken; unless thou learn from Holy Scripture….receive not the witness of man.7
Cyril of Jerusalem was a bishop of one of the most important sees of the church and responsible for instructing catechumens in the faith. No clearer concept of sola scriptura could be given than that seen in these statements of Cyril. He equates the teaching he is handing on to these catechumens with tradition, in which he specifically references 2 Thessalonians 2:15, that he says must be proven by Scripture. Tradition is simply the teaching of the church that he is passing on orally, but that tradition must be validated by the written Scriptures. He states further that the extent of authority vested in any teacher, be he bishop or layman, is limited to Scripture. No teaching is to be received that cannot be proven from Scripture. The church does have authority, as Cyril himself acknowledges, but it is an authority grounded in fidelity to Scripture and not principally in succession. According to Cyril, the church is subject to the final authority of Scripture, and even the church is to be disregarded if it moves outside that authority in its teaching.
Cyril is a vigorous proponent of the concept of sola scriptura. It is a teaching he handed down to the catechumens as an implicit article of the faith. As one reads the writings of the Fathers it becomes clear that Cyril’s statements are representative of the church as a whole. J.N.D. Kelly affirms this observation:
The clearest token of the prestige enjoyed by [Scripture] is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether their aims were polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible. Further, it was everywhere taken for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish its Scriptural basis.8
Therefore, the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura is not a heresy or a novel doctrine, but in reality it is a reaffirmation of the faith of the early church. It is both biblical and historical, yet the Roman Catholic Church continues to teach that oral tradition is a second source of divine revelation, equally as authoritative as Scripture and that this was the view held by the church Fathers. Such a claim, however, contradicts both Scripture and history. When the Fathers speak of a tradition handed down from the apostles independent of Scripture, they are referring to ecclesiastical customs and practices, never to doctrine. Tradition was always subordinate to Scripture as an authority, and the Word of God itself never teaches that tradition is inspired. The Scriptures give numerous warnings against tradition,9 and the Fathers rejected the teaching of an apostolic oral tradition independent of Scripture as a gnostic heresy. For the church Fathers apostolic tradition or teaching was embodied and preserved in Scripture. The teaching of the Fathers is this: What the apostles initially proclaimed and taught orally, they later committed to writing in the New Testament. Irenaeus succinctly states it in these words:
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.10
How is one to know what the apostles taught orally? It has been handed down to us in the Scriptures, and they in turn are the ground and pillar of our faith. The historical circumstances that prompted Irenaeus’s words are important to understand. He was writing against the Gnostics who claimed to have access to an oral tradition handed down from the apostles, which was independent of the written Word of God. Irenaeus, as well as Tertullian, explicitly repudiates such a concept. The bishops of the church were in the direct line of succession from the apostles, and they were faithful to the apostolic teaching they proclaimed orally, but that doctrine could at every point be validated by Scripture. Ellen Flesseman-Van Leer affirms this:
For Irenaeus, the church doctrine is never purely traditional; on the contrary, the thought that there could be some truth transmitted exclusively viva voce (orally) is a Gnostic line of thought.11
In fact, the apostle Paul himself states that the gospel he initially preached orally could be verified by the written Scriptures.12 The church as a whole, up to the thirteenth century, never viewed tradition to be a source of revelation. Brian Tierney affirms this:
Before the thirteenth century, there is little trace in the works of the medieval theologians of the view that Tradition constituted a source of divine revelation separate from Scripture and little inclination to set up a distinction-still less an opposition-between scriptural revelation and church doctrine….For twelfth century theologians (as for the Fathers themselves), church and Scripture ‘coinhered.’ This seems true in the sense that the teaching of the church and the teaching of Scripture were conceived of as essentially one. ‘The men of the middle ages lived in the Bible and by the Bible.’ When twelfth century theologians observed-as they sometimes did-that many things were held by the church that were not found in Scripture they seem to have had in mind only liturgical customs or pious practices. An extra-Scriptural source of faith like the Apostles’ Creed (which was commonly regarded as a work of the apostles themselves) was held to define various tenets of Christian doctrine with absolute fidelity; but it was not considered to be a body of revealed truth supplementary to sacred Scripture. Rather, the Creed could be called in the twelfth century a ‘summary’ of the contents of Scripture. In this view Scripture recorded divine truth once and for all, and the living voice of the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, interpreted that truth and proclaimed it anew to each succeeding generation.13
The Scriptures do refer to Paul delivering oral tradition to the believers of Thessalonica, which they were to obey (2 Thessalonians 2:15). But the word tradition used here does not refer to the same thing as the tradition of Roman Catholicism. The word as used in this text simply means ‘teaching’. Paul has given them oral instruction, and that does not necessarily concern the major doctrines of the faith. That is clear from the same epistle, where he exhorts these believers to stand firm in the tradition they had received from him: ‘to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching [tradition KJV] you received from us’ (3:6). Paul’s use of the term tradition here does not have the meaning assigned to it by the Roman Catholic Church in two important respects: in its concept and in its content. The very concept of Roman Catholic tradition as a separate source of revelation independent of Scripture contradicts both Scripture and the teaching of the historic catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church has departed from the teaching and practice of both the early church and the Word of God itself. The early church believed in sola scriptura, but the Roman Catholic Church has repudiated this principle in order to elevate its tradition to a position of authority equal to the Scriptures. The heresy of Gnosticism condemned by Irenaeus and Tertullian is embraced in this error.
In addition to the concept itself, there is also the issue of the actual doctrinal content of Roman Catholic tradition, for its specific teachings not only contradict the teaching of Scripture but that of the church of the first centuries. Over several centuries the Roman Catholic Church has added doctrines to the apostolic tradition that it says are dogmas of the faith, necessary to be believed for salvation. These dogmas were either never taught in the early church or were plainly repudiated by it. This is clearly seen from the following examples.
From my early training I learned that Catholicism claims that the church established the canon of Scripture in the fourth century and that therefore the church is the ultimate authority, not Scripture. Roman Catholic apologists often ask, ‘If you accept the limits of the Canon that were authoritatively established by the Roman Catholic Church, why do you reject the ultimate authority of that Church?’ The simple reason is that the premise upon which that logic rests is fallacious because the specific claims the Church of Rome makes for itself regarding the canon are contradicted by the facts of history. The Roman Catholic Church did not authoritatively establish the limits of the canon for the church. The New Testament books were already recognized in the church prior to the Western councils of Hippo and Carthage in North Africa in the fourth century. These were provincial councils that had no authority for the church universally, and their decrees on the Apocrypha were never accepted in the church as a whole. The church adopted the views of many of the Eastern Fathers such as Origen and Athanasius and Western Fathers such as Jerome. It expressed the view that these writings were useful for reading in the churches for the purpose of edification, but they were not to be counted as part of the canon of inspired Scripture since they were not part of the Hebrew canon. Consequently, they were not to be used for the establishment of doctrine. So the inclusion of additional books in the canon of Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church troubled me. Which visible community had this right? In commenting on the apocryphal books, Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus, Jerome states:
As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it also read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church…. I say this to show how hard it is to master the book of Daniel, which in Hebrew contains neither the history of Susanna, nor the hymn of the three youths, nor the fables of Bel and the Dragon.14
That the Jewish canon did not include the Apocrypha and that the Protestant Reformers followed the practice of the Jews is affirmed by the New Catholic Encyclopedia: ‘For the Old Testament, however, Protestants follow the Jewish canon; they have only the Old Testament books that are in the Hebrew Bible.’15 That the church as a whole never accepted the apocryphal books as part of the canon of Scripture after the councils of Carthage and Hippo is seen from these comments by Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-604) on the book of 1 Maccabees:
With reference to which particular we are not acting irregularly, if from the books, though not Canonical, yet brought out for the edification of the Church, we bring forward testimony. Thus Eleazar in the battle smote and brought down an elephant, but fell under the very beast that he killed (1 Macc. 6.46).’16
This was the view that was held throughout the ensuing centuries of the history of the church. John Cosin, in his book A Scholastical History of the Canon, documents some fifty-two major ecclesiastical writers and theologians from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries who held to the view of Jerome. That this was the general view of the church up to as late as the sixteenth century is evidenced by these comments from Cardinal Cajetan, the great opponent of Luther in the Reformation, taken from his commentary on the Old Testament:
Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St. Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed among the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned canonical. For the words as well as of councils and of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorized in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clear through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.17
The New Catholic Encyclopedia affirms that Jerome rejected the Apocrypha as being canonical and that the councils of Carthage and Hippo did not establish the Old Testament canon. It states explicitly that this was not authoritatively done until the Council of Trent:
St. Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books (the apocrypha). The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture….The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries….According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent….The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent.18
The first general council of the Western church to dogmatically decree the Apocrypha to be part of the canon and therefore to be accorded the status of Scripture was the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century. This was done contrary to the universal practice of the Jews and the church up to that time. And Trent places under anathema all who reject this teaching.19 I discovered to my surprise that it was the Roman Catholic Church, not the Protestant, which was responsible for the introduction of novel teachings very late in the history of the church. When one examines the related issues of Scripture, tradition, and the canon, the facts reveal that it is the Protestant teaching that is closest to both Scripture and the teaching of the truly historic catholic church.
ON THE PAPACY
Catholicism since the late Middle Ages has taught that submission to the bishop of Rome is necessary for one’s salvation. This teaching was given dogmatic expression by Pope Boniface VIII in an ex cathedra statement in his bull Unam Sanctam (A.D. 1302) and was later reaffirmed by subsequent popes and councils such as Vatican I. His decree states:
Furthermore we declare, state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.20
Like all baptized Catholics I knew that the Church of Rome claimed that papal primacy was validated by the teaching of Scripture in Matthew 16:18-19 in its interpretation of the rock and keys. I had also been taught that this interpretation is validated by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers. These claims cannot be substantiated by the facts. Matthew 16 does not imply papal primacy, for the passage says absolutely nothing about successors to Peter or his office. As Oscar Cullmann has stated:
He who proceeds without prejudice, on the basis of exegesis and only on this basis, cannot seriously conclude that Jesus here had in mind successors of Peter….On exegetical grounds we must say that the passage does not contain a single word concerning successors of Peter….The intent of Jesus leaves us no possibility of understanding Matthew 16:17ff. in the sense of a succession determined by an episcopal see.21
In addition to this, the unanimous consent of the Fathers opposes the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16. The Fathers generally interpret the rock in Matthew 16 as Christ or as Peter’s confession of faith in Christ. Some of the Fathers do refer to Peter as the rock but only in the sense that he is the first to confess Christ to be the Son of God and is therefore representative of the entire church. The church is built, therefore, not on Peter personally (and subsequently on the bishops of Rome as his successors) but on Peter’s confession of faith and ultimately, therefore, on Christ Himself. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) is typical of the Fathers in this interpretation of Matthew 16:18:
Because thou hast said unto Me, ‘Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God;’ I also say unto thee, ‘Thou art Peter.’ For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and in a figure, that he should signify the church. For seeing that Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. ‘Therefore,’ he saith, ‘Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock’ which thou hast confessed, upon this rock which thou past acknowledged, saying, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church’; that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, ‘will I build My Church.’ I will build thee upon Me, not Myself upon thee….For men who wished to be built upon men, said, ‘I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas,’ who is Peter. But others who did not wish to be built upon Peter, but upon the Rock, said, ‘But I am of Christ.’ And when the Apostle Paul ascertained that he was chosen, and Christ despised, he said, ‘Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?’ And, as not in the name of Paul, so neither in the name of Peter; but in the name of Christ; that Peter might be built upon the Rock, not the Rock upon Peter.22
Here, all agree, is the most renowned theologian of the Catholic Church. He writes after nearly five centuries of church history and gives an interpretation of Matthew 16 (the most important verse of Scripture in Rome’s argument for the church’s authority) that is a direct contradiction of the Roman Catholic interpretation. How are we to explain this, if, as Vatican I states, there exists a unanimous consensus of interpretation of the meaning of this passage? Why does Augustine deliberately go against such a consensus?
The answer, quite simply, is that there never was a patristic consensus on the interpretation of Matthew 16 to support that propounded by the Roman Catholic Church. John Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 344-407), one of the greatest theologians and exegetes of the Eastern church, echoes Augustine in his interpretation with these words: ‘And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; that is, on the faith of his confession.’23 The fact is, the overwhelming majority of the Fathers of the early centuries did not support the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19 as proposed by Vatican I. Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger, one of the most renowned Roman Catholic historians of the last century, a teacher of church history for forty-seven years, affirmed, to my amazement, what I discovered in the church Fathers:
Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the Gospels (Matt 16:18, John 21:17), not a single one applies them to the Roman bishops as Peter’s successors. How many Fathers have busied themselves with these texts, yet not one of them whose commentaries we possess-Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret, and those whose interpretations are collected in ca tenas-has dropped the faintest hint that the primacy of Rome is the consequence of the commission and promise to Peter! Not one of them has explained the rock or foundation on which Christ would build His Church of the office given to Peter to be transmitted to his successors, but they understood by it either Christ Himself, or Peter’s confession of faith in Christ; often both together. Or else they thought Peter was the foundation equally with all the other Apostles, the twelve being together the foundation-stones of the church (Apoc. xxi. 14). The Fathers could the less recognize in the power of the keys, and the power of binding and loosing, any special prerogative or lordship of the Roman bishop, inasmuch as what is obvious to any one at first sight-they did not regard the power first given to Peter, and afterwards conferred on all the Apostles, as any thing peculiar to him, or hereditary in the line of Roman bishops, and they held the symbol of the keys as meaning just the same as the figurative expression of binding and loosing.24
Roman Catholic apologists have consistently charged that the Protestant exegesis of Matthew 16 grew out of the Reformers’ need to legitimize their opposition to the papacy. Consequently, they invented a novel interpretation that contradicted the traditional view of the church. But the facts actually reveal the opposite, as Oscar Culhnann confirms:
‘We thus see that the exegesis that the Reformers gave….was not first invented for their struggle against the papacy; it rests upon an older patristic tradition.’25
It is the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox interpretation that is endorsed by the Fathers of the early church and not the Roman Catholic, which contradicts that consensus. The Roman Catholic interpretation is, in fact, a direct contradiction of the decrees of Trent and Vatican I, which state that it is unlawful to interpret Scripture in any way contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.
This is not to say that there was never a pro-papal interpretation given to Matthew 16:18-19. Beginning in the fourth century we find a papal interpretation promoted by the bishops of Rome. Leo I, in the fifth century, is the first to combine Matthew 16 with Luke 22 and John 21 to promote the theory of papal rule, but not the teaching of infallibility. From this time on the bishops of Rome began to adopt his interpretation to promote the papal office. But this papal interpretation was never the accepted exegesis of the Fathers and theologians of the church for centuries. Karlfried Froehlich affirms this in his analysis of the history of the exegesis of these passages up through the Middle Ages:
The earlier exegetical history of Matt. 16:18-19, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17 was largely out of step with the primatial interpretation of these passages….The mainstream of exegesis followed an agenda set by patristic precedent, especially Augustine, but also other Western Fathers….The understanding of these Petrine texts by biblical exegetes in the mainstream of the tradition was universally non-primatial before Innocent III….It was the innovative exegetical argumentation of this imposing pope which began to change the picture.26
The Church of Rome claims that papal primacy can be validated by the facts of history in that it was the universal practice of the church from the very beginning. These claims are false; the facts of history contradict them. The attitudes and practices of the Fathers and councils27 reveal that the church never viewed the bishops of Rome as being endowed with supreme authority to rule the church universal. And there never has been a supreme human ruler in the church. This whole concept was repudiated by Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-604) when he rebuked the bishop of Constantinople for attempting to arrogate to himself the title of ‘universal bishop.’ He insisted that such a position and title are unlawful in the church of Jesus Christ:
Now I confidently say that whoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others. Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as God above all men, so whoever this one is who covets.being called sole priest, he extols himself above all other priests….Certainly Peter, the first of the apostles, himself a member of the holy and universal Church, Paul, Andrew, John-what were they but heads of particular communities? And yet all were members under one Head. And (to bind all together in a short girth of speech) the saints before the law, the saints under the law, the saints under grace, all these making up the Lord’s Body, were constituted as members of the Church, and not one of them has wished. himself to be called universal. Now let your holiness acknowledge to what extent you swell within yourself in desiring to be called by that name by which no one presumed to be called who was truly holy.28
In the Roman Catholic Church I was taught that papal infallibility can be validated from Scripture in Matthew 16:18, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17.1 was further taught that its interpretation of these passages was given by the unanimous consent of the Fathers and that anyone who contradicts this teaching was to be anathematized.29 These dogmas are simply untrue. No Father, doctor, theologian, or canonist of the church for the first twelve centuries interpreted those passages in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church. They never interpreted these verses to even imply the teaching of papal infallibility. The patristic exegesis of Luke 22:32 saw Christ’s prayer for Peter as a guarantee that Peter’s faith will not ultimately fail, not that he would be infallible. The patristic writers viewed Peter as representative of the church, the bride whom Christ will not allow to fall away. In the patristic interpretation, this verse has nothing to do with personal infallibility but with the grace of indefectibility or final perseverance. The situation is similar when we turn to the patristic interpretation of John 21:15-17 in which Peter is representative of all who would hold positions as pastors within the church. For the Fathers of the Patristic Age, this passage had nothing to do with papal primacy or the exclusive teaching authority over the entire church that implied a gift of infallibility. The universal teaching and belief of the church was that the bishops of Rome were fallible-that they could and did err. Brian Tierney affirms this in these statements regarding the views of the twelfth and thirteenth-century canonists who were the authoritative commentators of their day:
What can be proved beyond doubt is that no public teaching affirming the infallibility of the pope was transmitted to the canoeists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in whose works, for the first time, abundant texts for the investigation of this whole question becomes available. The commentators on Gratian’s Decretum knew all the most important texts forged and genuine-relating to the authority of the pope and the indefectibility of the Roman Church. They did not associate those texts with any doctrine of papal infallibility. They showed no awareness that any of their predecessors had ever associated them with such a doctrine….The theologians of the thirteenth century could not possibly have taken the doctrine of papal infallibility from the canonical tradition of the church because the doctrine simply did not exist in the writings of the canonists.30
I knew the Roman Catholic teaching on papal infallibility. Now I knew that it could not be validated by the facts of history and the universal practice of the church. Historical reality does not support what I had been taught as a communicant Catholic. The facts reveal that popes have erred, have contradicted themselves and each other as well. They have embraced heresy, and have been condemned for heresy by ‘infallible’ ecumenical councils, as well as by the popes themselves, thereby demonstrating that the church in its practice, and even the bishops of Rome, did not believe that popes were infallible.
Pope Honorius, as an example of this, was condemned as a heretic by the sixth ecumenical council (III Constantinople, A.D. 680-681) in his official capacity as pope,31 on the basis of the criteria that define an ex cathedra teaching. This council was confirmed by Pope Leo II who likewise anathematized the heretics mentioned by the council, including Pope Honorius. His words of condemnation are interesting, for he states that Honorius was one ‘who did not illuminate the apostolic see by teaching the apostolic tradition but, by an act of treachery strove to subvert its immaculate faith.’32 This pope officially condemns his predecessor for actively subverting the faith by what he taught, and this judgment was confirmed by two succeeding ecumenical councils and by individual popes, who took the oath of papal office, for centuries afterward. Clearly, neither the popes nor the church at large have historically believed the doctrine of papal infallibility.
ON SCRIPTURE INTERPRETATION
Another dogma taught me as a Roman Catholic was that the church alone had authority to interpret Scripture and that it has been granted infallibility in so doing. This claim is disproved by the facts of history. How can it be an infallible interpreter of Scripture when its interpretation of Matthew 16:18, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17 contradicts the interpretation given by the Fathers who make up the magisterium (which, from a Roman Catholic position, is itself an infallible interpreter of Scripture).
The Roman Catholic Church, at the councils of Trent and Vatican I, has bound itself never to interpret Scripture contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. It claims, amazingly, that all of its teachings can be verified by such consent. Such claims and assertions are simply false. None of the church’s teachings in its tradition can claim a unanimous consent and much of its interpretation of Scripture, such as the papal passages, contradicts the unanimous interpretation given by the Fathers of the church.
One of the most significant aspects of Catholic faith and practice that many who consider leaving the Roman Catholic Church struggle with is personal devotion to Mary. The Roman Catholic Church claims that Mary was immaculately conceived (that is, she was born free of original sin) and that the Fathers likewise held to this teaching. She claims that this is a dogma of the faith revealed by God that is necessary to be believed for salvation. The Church states that any who would dispute the teaching are judged to be completely fallen from the faith and are condemned.33 Once again, as I made a careful study of Scripture and history, I soon discovered that these assertions were not true. This teaching should not be a dogma of the faith. It originated in the fifth century with the heretics Pelagius and Celestius34 and was universally rejected by both Fathers and popes of the early church, as evidenced by its rejection by Augustine and Gregory the Great, and in later centuries by Anselm, Bernard of Clairveaux, and Thomas Aquinas. The Roman Catholic patristic scholar, Walter Burghardt, confirms the patristic and papal rejection of this doctrine historically:
Post-Augustinian patristic thought on the perfection of Mary reveals two conflicting currents. There is a negative, unfavorable trend rooted in Augustine’s anti-Pelagianism; it accentuates the universality of original sin and articulates the connection between inherited sin and any conception consequent upon sinful concupiscence. The root idea is summed up by Leo the Great: ‘Alone therefore among the sons of men the Lord Jesus was born innocent, because alone conceived without pollution of carnal concupiscence.’ The same concept is discoverable in St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe in Africa (d. 533), the most significant theologian of his time; in Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) at the end of the sixth century; and a century later in Venerable Bede, a scholar renowned throughout England.35
Personal study revealed to me that in later centuries the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was a matter of violent dispute within the church between Franciscans and Dominicans for centuries. It also contradicts the scriptural teaching of the universality of original, as well as actual, sin.36
Roman Catholicism teaches the faithful that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. It states that this too is a dogma of the faith, a truth divinely revealed by God and necessary to be believed for salvation. It goes so far as to assert that any who would dispute this doctrine have completely fallen from the faith and are condemned.37 Once again I had to conclude that Rome did not possess the truth of the historic church. What I found was complete silence in the writings of the Fathers regarding the end of Mary’s life. For the first six centuries nothing is said on this matter. The first Father to promote the teaching of her assumption was Gregory of Tours in A.D. 590, and he based his teaching on an apocryphal gospel found in the Transitus literature. The assumption doctrine actually originated with this literature38 sometime in the fourth or fifth centuries and this specific teaching — the Transitus assumption of Mary was officially rejected as heretical. It was placed in the same category with such heretics as Arius, Pelagius, and Marcion and was condemned by two popes in the late fifth and early sixth centuries — Gelasius and Hormisdas. These popes place this doctrine, its authors and the contents of their writings, as well as all who follow their teachings, under an eternal anathema.39 Thus, the early church viewed this doctrine not as the pious expression of the faith of the faithful but as a heretical doctrine that probably originated from gnostic sources. Discoveries such as these only underlined my growing awareness that Rome did not accurately represent the historic doctrine of the early church, much less what I saw in the New Testament.
Rome teaches that Mary is a mediatrix and even a co-redemptrix with Christ and that grace cannot be applied to man except through her.40 This teaching is also false. It not only contradicts the scriptural teaching of the unique and exclusive mediatorial role of Christ41 but there is not one word found in Scripture of Mary functioning in the role of mediatrix or co-redemptrix. Nor is there one word of this kind of teaching in the writings of the Fathers.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary has been given the title Queen of Heaven and that she rules over the church along with her son Jesus Christ. This is also false. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture of such a title or role being assigned to Mary. There is no Queen of heaven and earth. There is only one sovereign Lord and ruler over the church, and He is the God-man Christ Jesus. There is not a word of this Marian doctrine in the patristic writings. What is really surprising is that it actually originated, as with the assumption teaching, with the heretical Transitus literature.42
In light of these facts what can we conclude? Many Roman Catholics, like me for a number of years, are genuinely sincere in their belief that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church, the ‘infallible’ authority established by Jesus Christ, which has preserved inviolate the apostolic tradition handed down from Christ to the apostles. But, sadly, the foundation upon which my presuppositions rested during those years was historically and biblically erroneous. The teachings of Keating, Hahn, Matatics, and others of like mind are not faithful to the facts of history. Scores of Catholics implicitly and uncritically accept what these men teach without serious study on their own simply because their arguments sound plausible. These apologists play on widespread ignorance within both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and many are being misled.
An example of my point came home to me recently when I heard Scott Hahn make the unbelievable statement (on tape) before a predominantly Roman Catholic audience that no bishop of Rome has ever been accused of heresy. Most Catholics will hear that without recognizing it as an outright falsehood, thus settling into convictions that are rooted in error. This is just one of many examples that could be used from the teaching of these apologists. I am compelled to conclude that they are guilty of seriously misrepresenting the facts of history and of true Protestantism.
The claims for Roman Catholic authority cannot be supported by the facts of history or the truth of Scripture. In reality the Roman Catholic Church has departed from the teaching of the historic catholic church and can no longer be rightly described as catholic, but as Roman. The supposed two-thousand-year consensus for the teaching of its tradition is nonexistent. Even knowledgeable Roman Catholic authorities admit this to be the case. Patrologist Boniface Ramsey states:
Sometimes, then, the Fathers speak and write in a way that would eventually be seen as unorthodox. But this is not the only difficulty with respect to the criterion of orthodoxy. The other great one is that we look in vain in many of the Fathers for references to things that many Christians might believe in today. We do not find, for instance, some teachings on Mary or the papacy that were developed in medieval and modern times.43
It is not that the Church of Rome does not affirm any truths that are truly catholic and apostolic. There is a body of doctrine that Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches all share in common. The problem is with the teachings that are added to this common consensus, those that were introduced many centuries after the apostolic age and which the Church of Rome teaches are necessary to be believed for salvation. These added doctrines are a departure from the faith of the early church and the truth of Scripture. It is not the Reformation that introduced novel doctrines but the evolving Roman Catholic Church. The facts reveal that the Reformers’ teachings can be validated both by Scripture and by the teaching of the Fathers. Therefore, historic Protestantism stands in the genuine tradition of historic Christianity, and those Roman Catholics who, like me, have left their church can be assured that, on the basis of the truth of history and Scripture, they have followed the biblical course, aligning themselves with the historic Christian truth and, thus, a biblical church.
History testifies that the Roman church is not an infallible interpreter of Scripture, that its popes are not infallible, that it did not establish the canon for the church, and that much of the teaching of its tradition was either completely unknown or explicitly repudiated by the Fathers of the early church.
Roman Catholic apologists justify the church’s tradition on the basis of a theory of development-that is, that church tradition is a development of doctrine that was implicitly accepted in the early church and became more explicit over time. This is not supported by the facts. The teachings of Roman Catholic tradition were, in reality, repudiated by the early church. They are not supported, furthermore, by the principle of unanimous consent, and they plainly contradict Scripture. What we discover is not a development of truth but a departure from it. Roman Catholic teaching in its exaltation of tradition, the papacy, and the church is a depreciation of the authority of Scripture and the supreme authority of Jesus Christ. In the end, the Roman church has displaced divine authority with human authority. The Reformers’ accusations still stand, supported by both Scripture and history.
What is so tragic in this controversy is not simply that men and women have embraced error regarding church history but that, in so doing, many have implicitly accepted Roman Catholic teaching on salvation, which is a perversion of the true gospel. Rome teaches that one merits eternal life through one’s own good works. This perversion is the same ‘gospel’ in principle that the apostle Paul denounces in his epistle to the Galatians. The sad result is that multitudes of Roman Catholics have a zealous love for and confidence in their church, without understanding biblical salvation. I was one such Catholic, struggling on in my darkness until God in His sovereign grace opened my eyes to the righteousness that is in Christ alone. I fear that many Roman Catholics have been inoculated against the truth of the gospel because they have been misinformed about the facts of history. Consequently they do not take seriously the salvation teachings of the Reformation, dismissing them as heresies that have emanated from men who have rebelled against the ‘infallible’ church. But what they do not realize is that just as the Reformers were right on the issues of history they were also right on the doctrine of salvation. The gospel they proclaimed of faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone is the biblical gospel, the message of saving truth.
I conclude this article by making an appeal to Roman Catholics to ‘come out from them and be separate’ (2 Corinthians 6:17). Why do I say that? Am I being impolitic in this counsel, especially when many evangelicals are saying we should not call upon Catholics to leave their communion? Let me begin with an illustration. Dollinger was one of the most celebrated Roman Catholic historians of the late 18th century. Just before Vatican I, which convened to discuss the issues of papal rule and infallibility, he co-authored a book under the pseudonym, Janus, titled The Pope and the Council. In it he appealed to this council, in light of the facts of history, not to pass decrees that would contradict the truth. His plea fell on deaf ears. He refused to recant his position and was later excommunicated from the church he loved. His commitment to truth exacted an enormous price. When asked why he would not repudiate his intellect and reason for the sake of communion with Rome he stated:
Because…if I did so in a question which is for the historical eye perfectly clear and unambiguous, there would then be no longer for me any such thing as historical truth and certainty; I should then have to suppose that my whole life long I had been in a world of dizzy illusion, and that in historical matters I am altogether incapable of distinguishing truth from fable and falsehood.44
I stand, a former Roman Catholic, with thousands whose conscience has compelled them to leave the church they once loved. So I reiterate the counsel of Catholic apologist Karl Keating: ‘we have a solemn responsibility to seek and respond to truth.’ That will be costly. I believe that a Roman Catholic who is sincerely committed to following truth will eventually leave the Roman Catholic Church, realizing as the Reformers taught that it is not the historic, biblical, holy, catholic church. Keating and Hahn feel no qualms about urging men and women to forsake evangelical Christianity for Roman Catholicism. I appeal to you, then, on the basis of the truth of history and Scripture, to leave your Catholic heritage. I give you the following reasons.
First, the ultimate commitment the Scriptures call us to is the person of Christ, not a church. We are called to trust, love, worship, and follow Christ exclusively. Inherent in that commitment is full acceptance of all that Scripture teaches regarding salvation and, in particular, the truth of the gospel. Paul states in Galatians 1:6-8 that any who embrace a perverted gospel actually deserts Christ. If a Roman Catholic obeys the salvation teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, it must logically result in disobedience to God and a desertion of Christ because these selfsame teachings invalidate God’s Word. The Scriptures point us to the person of Christ, not a church, as the source of our eternal salvation.
The ‘gospel’ promulgated by the Church of Rome is a perversion of the gospel of grace. Therefore, to stay within Roman Catholicism is to be identified with a system that fundamentally denies the sufficiency of the work of Christ alone. Christ lays the issue squarely before us in uncompromising terms when He says, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (Mark 8:34-35). There is no mention of the church as a means of salvation here or anywhere else in Scripture. To follow Christ means a life of denying self to live for His sake and the gospel’s. This means we must be openly identified with Him and His truth and be willing to suffer the rejection, the ostracism, the criticism, and even loss of life that such identification can bring. Centuries of faithful evangelical Christians have learned these truths by sailing through such troubled waters. Can we do less, if necessary? There is a cross at the very center of our identification with Christ and His gospel. Jesus makes clear that we cannot seek peace and unity at any cost. Truth divides. Much of the ecumenical movement of the last fifty years or so would have us downplay the importance of truth for the sake of unity. But the ultimate issue is not unity; it is commitment to Christ. And that means a commitment to truth. The whole basis for church unity and for following and worshiping Christ is the truth of the gospel (cf. John 4:23-24; Galatians 1:6-8; Ephesians 1:13; Philippians 1:27-28; 3:2-11; Colossians 2:6-15.). If we forsake truth for a man-made unity, we actually forsake Christ!
Finally, I appeal to Roman Catholics to come out because the Church of Rome is moving farther and farther away from truth. The church has historically demonstrated a terrible resistance to correction and reform. By the anathemas of Trent and Vatican I and the papal decrees on Mary we have seen a continued and progressive departure from truth and a hardening of the Roman Church theologically against the gospel. On the other hand, there is a disturbing trend developing, a growing tolerance of pagan religions in the name of unity and peace. In 1986, when the pope stood with the representatives of the major religions of the world on a public platform to pray for peace, he did something that would have been unthinkable for a bishop of the catholic church in the early centuries of Christianity. Can you imagine a bishop of the second century standing on a public platform with the representatives of Gnosticism, Roman deities, and other pagan religions to pray for peace? Such a person would have been condemned for apostasy. Christ’s gospel proclaims the fact that He alone is the answer to the sin of the world and that He alone can bring peace to men’s hearts. I ask you, can one be true to Christ and remain in a system that so fundamentally denies Him in teaching and practice? Ponder your answer carefully.
The issues that separate Protestants and Roman Catholics are not minor. They are major. They have to do with the eternal destinies of men and women. They hit right at the heart of truth, both biblical and historical. The defining issue is truth. The Reformation was not unnecessary, unjustified, or a tragedy. The tragedy lies in the fact that it was necessary. It was, in fact, one of the greatest revivals ever witnessed in the history of the church, and it restored the church to the truth of the true gospel that had become obscured and perverted through the traditions of men.
- Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism(San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), 10.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1912) gives the following background and definition for the term anathema: ‘To understand the word anathema…we should first go back to the real meaning of herem of which it is the equivalent. Herem comes from the word haram, to cut off, to separate, to curse, and indicates that which is cursed and condemned to be cut off and exterminated…. In the New Testament anathema no longer entails death, but the loss of goods or exclusion from the society of the faithful….But he who is separated from God is united to the devil, which explains why St. Paul, instead of anathematizing, sometimes delivers a person over to Satan (1 Tim. i,20; 1 Cor., v,5)….Anathema remains a major excommunication which is to be promulgated with great solemnity….In passing this sentence the pontiff takes his seat in front of the altar or in some other suitable place, and pronounces the formula of anathema which ends with these words: “Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the Saints, in virtue of the power which has been given to us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N- himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.’” (1:455-56)
- Irenaeus expresses the principle of universality, antiquity, and consent: (1) Universality: ‘The universal church, moreover, through the whole world, has received this tradition from the apostles’ (Against Heresies II.9.1); (2) Antiquity: ‘True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles and the ancient constitution of the church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops by which they have handed down that church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition, nor suffering curtailment in the truths which she believes’ (Against Heresies IV.33.8); (3) Consent: ‘The preaching of the church is everywhere consistent and continues in an even course and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles, and all the disciples’ (Against Heresies24.1).
- Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Vincent of Lerins, A Commonitory II.4-III.7, Series Two, vol. XI, of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955).
- The Council of Trent states: ‘No one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published.’ (See The Council of Trent [Rockford: Tan, 1978], 18-19)
- Scripture is described as being pure, perfect, eternal, sure, truth, forever settled in heaven; it sanctifies, causes spiritual growth, is God-breathed, authoritative, it gives wisdom unto salvation, makes wise the simple, is living and active, is a guide, a fire, a hammer, a seed, the sword of the Spirit; it gives knowledge of God, is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path, produces reverence for God, heals, makes free, illuminates, produces faith, regenerates, converts the soul, brings conviction of sin, restrains from sin, is spiritual food, is infallible, inerrant, irrevocable, searches the heart and mind, produces life, defeats Satan, proves truth, refutes error, is holy, equips for every good work, is the final judge of all tradition, is the Word of God (Heb. 4:12, Pss. 119: 9-11, 38, 105, 130, 133, 160; 19:7-11; 111:7-8; Is. 40:8; Eph. 5:26; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Jer. 5:14; 23:29; Matt. 13:18-23; Eph. 6:17; Ps. 107:20; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 1:23; 2:2; Acts 20:32; John 8:32, 10:35, 17:17; Matt. 15:2-9). Where are we told these things about tradition?
- The Catechetical Lectures17, V.12, XII.5, in A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1845).
- N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), 46.
- ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ’ (Col. 2:8); ‘Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition….They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ (Matt. 15:6, 9; cf. Mark 7:3-13; Gal. 1:14; Col. 2:22; 1 Peter 1:18).
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies1.1, in Alexander Roberts and W. H. Rambaugh, trans., in The Writings of Irenaeus (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874).
- Ellen Flesseman-Van Leer, Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1953), 133.
- ‘Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
- Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350 (Leiden: Brill, 1972), 16-17.
- St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, Daniel, Series Two, vol. VI, of Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 492-93.
- New Catholic Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ., 1967), III:29.
- Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job, vol. II parts III and IV, Book XIX.34, in A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, 424. The New Catholic Encyclopedia confirms that Pope Gregory did not accept a canonical status for the Apocrypha (II:390).
- Taken from his comments on the final chapter of Esther, in Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament; cited in William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: University Press, 1849), 48. Cf. John Cosin, A Scholastical History of the Canon (Oxford: Parker, 1849),111:257-58, and B.F. Westcott, A General Survey of the Canon of the New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1889), 475.
- New Catholic Encyclopedia, II:390, III:29.
- ‘If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema’ (Fourth Session, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, of The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent [Rockford: Tan, 1978], 18).
- Cited in Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church (London: Oxford Univ., 1963), 116. Vatican I, after affirming that the bishops of Rome are the rightful rulers over the church to whom all Christians must submit in matters of faith and morals and discipline states, ‘This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and salvation’; cited by Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877),11:263.
- Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), 207, 236.
- Augustine, Sermon XXVI.1 2, Series Two, vol. VI, of Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 340.
- Homilies of S. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 54.3, in A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church.
- Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dtlinger, The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1869), 74.
- Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, 162
- Karlfried Froehlich, St. Peter, Papal Primacy and the Exegetical Tradition 1151-1350. Found in Christopher Ryan, ed., The Religious Roles of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities 1150-1300 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute, 1989), 42, 4.
- The Council of Constance (A.D. 1414-1418) passed the following decree regarding the supreme authority of General Councils over popes: ‘This holy Council of Constance…declares, first that it is lawfully assembled in the Holy Spirit, that it constitutes a General Council, representing the Catholic Church, and that therefore it has its authority immediately from Christ; and that all men, of every rank and condition, including the Pope himself, is bound to obey it in matters concerning the Faith, the abolition of the schism, and the reformation of the Church of God in its head and its members. Secondly, it declares that any one, of any rank or condition, who shall contumaciously refuse to obey the orders, decrees, statutes or instructions, made or to be made by this holy Council, or by any other lawfully assembled council….shall, unless he comes to a right frame of mind, be subjected to a fitting penance and punished appropriately: and, if need be, recourse shall be had to the other sanctions of the law’ (Decree: Sacrosancta [A.D. 1415]; taken from Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church [London: Oxford Univ., 1963], 135). The decrees of this council were officially approved by Pope Martin V (A.D. 1417-1431) and by Pope Eugenius IV (A.D. 1431-1447).
- Epistles of St. Gregory the Great, Book VII, Epistle 33, and Book V, Epistle 18, Series Two, vol. XII, of Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 226, 167
- Vatican I states: ‘We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church. But if any one-which may God avert-presume to contradict this our definition: let him be anathema’ (Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, Concerning the Infallible Teaching of the Roman Pontiff, Chapter IV; cited by Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877], 2:270-71).
- Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility, 12-13
- The exact words of condemnation by the sixth ecumenical council are as follows: ‘After we had reconsidered….the doctrinal letters of Sergius….to Honorius some time Pope of Old Rome, as well as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that they follow the false teachings of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul. But the names of those men whose doctrines we execrate must also be thrust forth from the holy Church of God….We define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what was written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines….But as the author of evil… having found suitable instruments for working out his will (we mean Theodorus….Sergius….Honorius who was Pope of elder Rune)….has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling blocks of one will and one operation in Christ our true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms, amongst the orthodox people, an heresy similar to the mad and wicked doctrine of the impious Apollinaris….To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!’ (The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Second Series, vol. XIV, of Schaff and Wace, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 342-44)
- Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility, 11. See also Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), V:180.
- These are the words of Pope Pius IX relative to the teaching of the Immaculate Conception: ‘Therefore, if some should presume to think in their hearts otherwise than we have defined (which God forbid), they shall know and thoroughly understand that they are by their own judgment condemned, have made shipwreck concerning the faith, and fallen away from the unity of the Church; and, moreover, that they, by this very act, subject themselves to the penalties ordained by law if, by word or writing, or any other external means, they dare to signify what they think in their heart’ (The Decree of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, From the Bull Ineffabilis Deus [A.D. 1854]. Taken from Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 2:212).
- Pelagius and Celestius used Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an example of one born free of original sin. Vincent of Lerins points out the origin of the teaching of the Immaculate Conception with these words: ‘Who ever originated a heresy that did not first dissever himself from the consentient agreement of the universality and antiquity of the Catholic Church? That this is so is demonstrated in the clearest way by examples. For who ever before the profane Pelagius attributed so much antecedent strength to Free-will, as to deny the necessity of God’s grace to aid it towards every good in every single act? Who ever before his monstrous disciple Celestius denied that the whole human race is involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin?’ (Vincent of Lerins, A Commonitory 24.62, Series Two, vol. XI, of Schaff and Wace, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 149-50).
- Juniper Carol, ed., Mariology (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), 1:146.
- ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). ‘There is none righteous, not even one’ (Rom. 3:10)
- Pope Pius XII affirms this in these words: ‘We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Hence, if anyone, which God forbid, should dare wilfully to deny or call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has completely fallen from the divine and Catholic faith….It is forbidden to any man to change this, Our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul’ (Munificentissimus Deus [A.D. 1950], 44-45, 47; taken from Selected Documents of Pope Pius XII [Washington: National Catholic Welfare Conference])
- This fact is affirmed by the Roman Catholic historian and Mariologist Juniper Carol (Mariology, 1:149) in these comments: ‘The first express witness in the West to a genuine assumption comes to us in an apocryphal Gospel, the Transitus beatae Mariae of Pseudo-Melito.’
- In his decree, Decretum de Libris Canonicis Ecclesiasticis et Apocrypha, which was later affirmed by Pope Hormisdas, Gelasius lists the Transitus teaching by the following title: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sanctae Mariae under the following condemnation: ‘These and writings similar to these, which….all the heresiarchs and their disciples, or the schismatics have taught or written….we confess have not only been rejected but also banished from the whole Roman and Apostolic Church and with their authors and followers of their authors have been condemned forever under the indissoluble bond of anathema’ (St. Gelasius I, Epistle 42; taken from Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [London: Herder, 1954], 69-70). Cf. Migne P.L., vol. 59, col. 162, 164.
- Popes Leo XIII and Benedict XV make these statements: ‘When Mary offered herself completely to God together with her Son in the temple, she was already sharing with him the painful atonement on behalf of the human race….(at the foot of the cross) she was a co-worker with Christ in His expiation for mankind and she offered up her Son to the divine justice dying with him in her heart (Jucunda semper)….Thus she (Mary) suffered and all but died along with her Son suffering and dying-thus for the salvation of men she abdicated the rights of a mother toward her son, and insofar as it was hers to do, she immolated the Son to placate God’s justice, so that she herself may justly be said to have redeemed together with Christ the human race. (De Corredemptione; cited by Carol, ed., Mariology, 1:383, 37)
- ’For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5).
- ’Since explicit testimonies to Mary as Queen date from the fifth century and are linked closely with her divine Maternity, the richest source of this doctrine is the Transitus Mariae literature. In proclaiming the glories of the Mother of God and in describing her triumphant entrance into paradise, they hail her as a glorious queen’ (Carol, ed., Mariology, 1:177).
- Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1986), 6.
- Cited by W. J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London: John Murray, 1909), 324.