Why Scripture and the Facts of History Compel Me, a Former
Roman Catholic, to Remain a Committed Evangelical Protestant
A Response to Frank Beckwith’s, Return to Rome
I’ve read with interest Francis (Frank) Beckwith’s book, Return to Rome, because like him, I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic, attending parochial schools through my primary grades and a preparatory school run by a Benedictine monastery throughout my high school years. And, like Dr. Beckwith, in my teens I turned away from the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity altogether but was converted in my early twenties and began attending a Protestant Evangelical church. And for the past thirty seven years I have been a committed Evangelical Protestant. I was also quite interested in reading Dr. Beckwith’s book because he had been President of the Evangelical Theological Society at the time of his decision to revert to the Church of Rome and I was intrigued to learn the reasons that had formed his decision.
After reading his book it became clear to me that Beckwith’s decision to return to Rome was based on his conviction that the Protestant Evangelical church is deficient on two important points. He is convinced that the Roman Catholic Church can claim historical validation for being the one true church established by Christ and that the Evangelical church is therefore a schismatic movement. He believes the Roman Church is the ultimate authority established by Jesus and that her teachings are therefore authoritative.
Unless I capriciously cherry-picked the Catholic tradition, I could not justifiably accept the Early Church’s recognition and fixation of the canon of scripture—and its correct determination and promulgation of the central doctrines of God and Christ (at Nicea and Chalcedon)—while rejecting the Church’s sacramental life as awell as its findings about its own apostolic nature and authority. I was boxed into a corner, with the only exit being a door to a confessional. At this point, I thought, if I reject the Catholic Church, there is good reason for me to believe I am rejecting the Church that Christ himself established. That’s not a risk I was willing to take…It occurred to me that the burden was on me, and not on the Catholic Church, to show why I should remain in the schism with the Church in which my parents baptized me, even as I could think of no incorrigible reason to remain in the schism.1
And secondly, and more importantly, he believes the Protestant Evangelical faith is deficient biblically with respect to its overall teaching on the gospel, justification and salvation. It is the subject of justification and salvation that Beckwith devotes most of his attention to in his book. He says:
…it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification…For me, all things considered, the Catholic view has more explanatory power than the Protestant view. This is why it made sense to me that the Early Church Fathers…were so Catholic in their teachings. They held to a view that, I believe, does the best job of accounting for all the New Testament’s passages on justification and sanctification.2
And so, being convinced that the distinctive Roman Catholic dogmas can be historically validated and that Rome’s salvation teachings are fully consistent with Scripture, Beckwith has issued a challenge to Evangelicals to give serious consideration to the claims of Rome and reconsider their commitment to their Protestant faith and the legitimacy of the Reformation and to follow him into the embrace of Roman Catholicism:
Thus, there is a heavy burden on the part of Reformed writers to show that the ascendancy in the sixteenth century of a Reformation thinking that had no ecclesiastical predecessors may be attributed to a return to the true understanding of Christianity.3
Dr. Beckwith quotes approvingly from Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, from his review of Noll and Nystrom’s book, Is the Reformation Over? Frank personally italicizes his comments for emphasis, as a clear challenge to Evangelicals:
When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church…(emphasis added).4
And then in these comments, by implication, he is challenging evangelicals to consider that they have no legitimate reasons to remain in what he calls “schism” with the Church of Rome:
Professor Trueman’s reasoning would serve as a catalyst for reorienting my sense of whether the Catholic Church or I had the burden in justifying the schism in which I had remained for over thirty years…I could think of no incorrigible reason to remain in the schism.5
Now, I take such a challenge seriously. I have asked myself the same questions that Beckwith himself asked and over the years through the challenge of Roman Catholic apologists such as Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid and others, I have been motivated to study and research the pertinent doctrinal and historical issues related to Roman Catholicism and the Reformation covering the general subject of authority and salvation. I have sincerely sought to answer the question, Can the teachings and claims of the Roman Catholic Church be validated biblically and historically? Is this Church truly the one true Church established by Jesus Christ? That study has been going on now for more than twenty five years and I remain a committed Evangelical Protestant precisely because of the truth of Scripture and the facts of history. This study has resulted in the writing of several books on the gospel and particular historical issues related to the history of the development of doctrine and the writings of the Church fathers on subjects such as the authority of scripture, the canon, the papacy and the Marian dogmas. In this research I have been able to bring to light much information that had previously been unavailable in the English language in the writings of the church fathers. So I have approached the reading of Return to Rome with great interest indeed.
After reading the book, I must say that my overall reaction was one of deep sadness and disappointment. Frank Beckwith is winsome, obviously very bright and seemingly very sincere. But his arguments historically and biblically in support of Rome and which form the basis of his decision to embrace that church are unconvincing. Historically, Beckwith demonstrates a superficial understanding of the church fathers. There are a great many historical facts that he is either ignorant of or has chosen to turn a blind eye to. Ignorance can forgiven to some degree because he himself admits that he had no training and very little exposure to the writings of the church fathers. He says he gave only about three months of study to their writings prior to his decision to revert to Rome. And from the references he gives in his book it would seem that this study was under the direction of Roman Catholic apologists who are well known for proof–texting the writings of the church fathers giving anachronistic meaning to their writings that was foreign to what they actually say. For example, Roman Catholic apologists see the term tradition in the writings of the fathers and immediately import a present day Roman Catholic understanding to the term that the church fathers did not embrace. Or they will read a church father extolling the person and position of the apostle of Peter and immediately jump to the conclusion that such appellations apply to the bishops of Rome in support of the dogma of the papacy when the fathers themselves never make such an association in their writings. This approach applies to numerous examples that Beckwith references in his book such as prayers to the dead, confession and the doctrine of the Real Presence. Beckwith titles the section on historical doctrine, I Hear the Ancient Footsteps, in which he seeks to defend distinctive Roman Catholic teachings historically. I can personally say, that after twenty five years of research, as opposed to three months, that I also hear ancient footsteps and they do not point in the direction of the present day Roman Catholic Church and its dogmatic teachings. The fact of the matter is, Rome has added dogmas to the ancient rule of faith that was supported by the unanimous consent of the fathers and which was grounded in the written Scriptures. Dogmas which can find no warrant either in Scripture or the tradition of the church, and which in some cases completely contradict the ancient tradition of the Church, and which the Roman Catholic Church declares are necessary for salvation.
But the most serious problem with Dr. Beckwith’s book and the one that caused me such disappointment is his caricature of the Reformed Evangelical faith in its teachings on salvation and secondly his assertions regarding the official teachings of Roman Catholicism on justification and salvation. He claims to have a thorough understanding of the teaching of the Reformed faith. He says:
To be sure, I was fully aware how Protestant theologians made their case, and I was capable of following their reasoning. But I no longer found their case convincing.6
Throughout his book Beckwith makes confident assertions about the salvation teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and he is convinced that these teachings are much more consistent, as was pointed out above, with Scripture than those of the Protestant Evangelical and Reformed faith.
As a Reformed Evangelical and former Roman Catholic I have thoroughly read and studied all the official Roman Catholic documents on salvation including the Council of Trent, Vatican One, Vatican Two, The Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as papal decrees and official catechisms and the writings of Ludwig Ott. Having read Beckwith’s book, I am appalled at the blatant misrepresentation of both the Reformed teaching as well the teaching of Roman Catholicism. His lack of knowledge on historical issues is forgivable, given his ignorance, but to misrepresent and caricature the Reformed faith and to misrepresent the salvation teachings of Rome is simply irresponsible and dishonest.
In this presentation I want to deal with a number of historical issues related to doctrine and dogmas that Beckwith alludes to that impinge upon the subject of the authority and the nature of the church and then address in a summary fashion the issues related to the gospel and salvation for that subject will be taken up in much greater detail by others.
The subject of authority is foundational to an understanding of Roman Catholicism and directly impinges on the issues of the gospel and salvation in two ways. Firstly, in that the authority claims of Rome, which involve the teachings on the papacy, scripture and tradition and the canon, have been elevated to the level of dogma by Rome. What this means is that these teachings embody essential doctrines which define the meaning of saving faith. That is, unless a person fully submits to and embraces them he does not possess saving faith and he cannot be justified. Vatican I, for example, states that it is necessary for salvation that men and women not only believe all that is revealed in scripture but also everything which is defined and proposed by the Church as having been divinely revealed. To reject anything taught by the Roman Church is to reject saving faith and to forfeit justification and eternal life:
Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment, or by her ordinary and universal magisterium, proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed. And since, without faith, it is impossible to please God, and to attain to the fellowship of his children, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will any one obtain eternal life unless he shall have persevered in faith unto the end.7
Roman Catholic theologian, Ludwig Ott, explains the relationship of Dogmas defined by the Church and faith in these words:
By dogma in the strict sense is understood a truth immediately (formally) revealed by God which has been proposed by the Teaching Authority of the Church to be believed as such…All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God written or handed down and which are proposed for our belief by the Church either in a solemn definition or in its ordinary and universal authoritative teaching. (Vatican I).
Two factors or elements may be distinguished in the concept of dogma:
A) An immediate Divine Revelation of the particular Dogma…i.e., the Dogma must be immediately revealed by God either explicitly (explicite) or inclusively (implicite), and therefore be contained in the sources of Revelation (Holy Writ or Tradition)
B) The Promulgation of the Dogma by the Teaching Authority of the Church (propositio Ecclesiae). This implies, not merely the promulgation of the Truth, but also the obligation on the part of the Faithful of believing the Truth. This promulgation by the Church may be either in an extraordinary manner through a solemn decision of faith made by the Pope or a General Council (Iudicium solemns) or through the ordinary and general teaching power of the Church (Magisterium ordinarium et universale). The latter may be found easily in the catechisms issued by the Bishops.
Dogma in its strict signification is the object of both Divine Faith (Fides Divina) and Catholic Faith (Fides Catholica); it is the object of the Divine Faith…by reason of its Divine Revelation; it is the object of Catholic Faith…on account of its infallible doctrinal definition by the Church. If a baptised person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy (Codex Iuris Canonici 1325, Par. 2), and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication (Codex Iuris Canonici 2314, Par. I).
As far as the content of justifying faith is concerned, the so-called fiducial faith does not suffice. What is demanded is theological or dogmatic faith (confessional faith) which consists in the firm acceptance of the Divine truths of Revelation, on the authority of God Revealing…According to the testimony of Holy Writ, faith and indeed dogmatic faith, is the indispensable prerequisite for the achieving of eternal salvation (emphasis added).8
This kind of teaching should give great pause to anyone considering conversion to Roman Catholicism. This Church is claiming the authority to bind men’s souls eternally by the promulgation of doctrines such as he Assumption of Mary that have neither scriptural nor traditional support based solely on her own supposed authority. Certainly there are many, many Roman Catholics who though they have never been formally excommunicated are nonetheless informally in that state since they do doubt and even deny certain dogmas and are thereby guilty of heresy.
Secondly, the authority claims of Rome impinge on the issues of the gospel and salvation because she claims to be an infallible interpreter of Scripture as the one true church established by Christ and therefore whatever she authoritatively decrees is infallible. Thus, whatever Rome teaches regarding the gospel and salvation is infallible, divine truth.
Ultimate Authority and Historical Claims to Be the One True Church
Beckwith states that he is convinced that the Church of Rome is the one true church established by Jesus Christ. This, of course, is the claim of the Roman Church herself. And that claim is set forth by both allusions to and expositions of Scripture and by appeals to historical practice and the writings of the church fathers. The question is, Do the Scriptures, the facts of history and the writings of the church fathers support the Roman Catholic claims for authority in her teachings of papal rule and infallibility and her claims to the one true church?
The papal teachings which are foundational for Roman Catholic authority were given dogmatic definition by the First Vatican Council in 1870 where that Council asserted its claims for papal primacy and papal infallibility. This was the first instance of the teaching of papal infallibility being dogmatically defined but the teaching of papal primacy was dogmatized many centuries previous to Vatican I in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII in his Bull, Unam Sanctam. So with regard to papal primacy and rule Vatican I is simply reaffirming a dogma that had been decreed by the bishop of Rome some five hundred and eighty years previous. Unam Sanctam states:
And this body he called one body, that is, the Church, because of the single bridegroom, the unity of the faith, the sacraments, and the love of the Church. She is that seamless shirt of the Lord which was not rent but was allotted by the casting of lots. Therefore, this one and single Church has one head and not two heads—for had she two heads, she would be a monster—that is, Christ and Christ’s vicar, Peter and Peter’s successor. For the Lord said unto Peter, ‘Feed my sheep.’ ‘My,’ he said, speaking generally and not particularly, ‘these and those,’ by which it is to be understood that all the sheep are committed unto him. So, when the Greeks and others say that they were not committed to the care of Peter and his successors, they must confess that they are not of Christ’s sheep, even as the Lord says in John, ‘There is one fold and one shepherd’…Furthermore, that every human creature is subject to the Roman pontiff,—this we declare, say, define, and pronounce to be altogether necessary to salvation.9
Vatican I set forth its teachings on the basis of the exposition of three major passages of Scripture related to the apostle Peter, Matthew 16:18-19, John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32. It also reconfirmed the teachings of the Council of Trent in the 16th century and the principle defined by Trent of authoritative interpretation and the ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’. This principle states that the Roman Church alone has the authority to interepret Scripture and that it is illegitimate to interpret Scripture that contradicts what it calls the ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’. Trent states:
Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, it decrees that 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.10
Of the three passages of Scripture used to support Roman Catholic ecclesiology, the most important is Matthew 16:16-19:
And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’
The basic Roman interpretation of this passage is that the rock refers to Peter leading to the conclusion that the Church of Christ is built upon him personally. The keys represent his authority to rule the church and to define truth. And since it says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church that she will be infallible in what she teaches and proclaims. Additionally, it is stated that in this passage Christ is establishing successors to Peter in the bishops of Rome who were given authority to rule the Church universal until He returns. Vatican One states that very the very beginning of the establishment of the Church this doctrine was understood and believed including Vatican One’s exegesis of the Petrine passages.
But neither biblically nor historically in the practice of the church or in the patristic interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18 does one find an affirmation of these teachings. Vatican I is in fact guilty of contradicting the very principle it reconfirmed from the Council of Trent of never interpreting Scripture in any way contrary to the ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’. We will examine the biblical arguments and then the historical.
The Biblical Argument
From the standpoint of biblical exegesis the Roman Catholic interpretation cannot find support. 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’.11
In other words, Jesus is not establishing an ecclesiological structure in this passage. When He states, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church’, He does not mean that the Church will be built on him personally and then through the bishops of Rome exclusively as his successors. He means that he will build His Church on the faith that Peter confessed that pointed to Jesus in His person and work of salvation as the Christ. Peter can be considered a rock in this sense in a subsidiary sense as a foundation stone of the Church in that the Church is built upon his word or preaching. But ultimately the Church is built upon the person of Jesus Christ as the cornerstone:
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:11).
Additionally, in Ephesians 2:20 we read:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whome the whole building being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
That term built upon is precisely the same Greek term Jesus used with respect to Peter in Matthew 16:18, ‘upon this rock I will build My Church’. This demonstrates that the Church is not built upon Peter exclusively but upon all the prophets and apostles, that is, upon their teaching and preaching which became inscripturated in the New Testament. Irenaeus, the second century church father, says:
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.12
How did Irenaeus know what the apostles taught and preached orally? He has a record of it in the written scriptures. What the Scriptures and Irenaeus are telling us is that the Church is built upon the gospel as it is defined in the written word of God:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom 1:16).
In Him you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph 1:13).
This is how we are to understand the application of the keys in Matthew 16:19. They represent the authority to exercise discipline in the Church and to open or shut the kingdom of God of God to men by proclaiming the gospel and the conditions for receiving forgiveness of sins.
Apostolic succession in the early Church was interpreted to mean that all true bishops of the Church were successors to Peter and that succession is defined primarily as fidelity to the truth of scripture and the gospel as defined by what the early Church referred to as the rule of faith or canon of truth. Cyril of Jerusalem, the fourth century bishop of Jerusalem, informed the catechumens he was teaching that they were to reject his authority if he promoted teachings which could not be supported from the written scriptures:
Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.13
The ground and pillar of the faith of the Church is the written scriptures and the criterion for determining apostolic succession is fidelity to those scriptures, especially the gospel. Paul makes it clear that to distort or pervert the gospel as it was delivered to the church by him and which is clearly revealed in the New Testament is to desert Christ:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).
This tells us that the criterion for determining a true church is its conformity and fidelity to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Historical Argument – Hearing the Ancient Footsteps
Again, the essential truth of Matthew 16:18-19 is that the Church is built upon the truth of the gospel—of the faith confessed by Peter—pointing to the person and work of Jesus. And that is precisely how the church fathers understood this passage. The ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’ actually opposes the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 and its attendant ecclesiology. Augustine is typical of the fathers as a whole in this interpretation of Mt. 16:18:
Remember, in this man Peter, the rock. He’s the one, you see, who on being questioned by the Lord about who the disciples said he was, replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On hearing this, Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you…‘You are Peter, Rocky, and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:15-19). In Peter, Rocky, we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, ‘They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called Rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ…Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer.14
These comments by Augustine are highly significant. He does state that Peter is the rock. But he goes on to explain what he means by that statement. It does not mean that the Church is built on Peter’s person but on his confession of faith in Jesus Christ. So Peter is a rock in a subsidiary sense by his confession of faith which points to the person and work of Christ. Augustine is the most renowned western theologian of the patristic age and yet he gives an interpretation of the most important passage in all the Bible for the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and her ecclesiology and authority, which is diametrically opposed to the Roman interpretation. How does one explain this? If there truly was, as Vatican I states, a unanimous consensus of patristic interpretation of the Roman meaning of this passage, why do we find Augustine deliberately going against such a consensus? The answer, quite simply, is that there never was such a consensus. It was quite the opposite.
John Chrysostom (344-407 A.D.), one of the greatest theologians and exegetes of the Eastern Church has a similar perspective to Augustine in his interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18: ‘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.’15
Cyril of Alexandria (died 444 A.D.) states: ‘Now by the word ‘rock’, Jesus indicated I think the immovable faith of the disciple.’16 The same views are likewise expressed by such major fathers as Ambrose, Cyprian, Origen, Tertullian, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrosiaster, Jerome, Eusebius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Ephraim Syrus, James of Nisbis, Victor of Antioch, Epiphanius, Aphraates, Theodoret, Cassiodorus, Asterius, Basil of Seleucia, Palladius of Helenopolois, Paulinus of Nola, Isidore of Seville, Bede and many others.
Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger taught Church history as a Roman Catholic for 47 years and was one of the greatest and most influential historians in the Roman Church of the 19th century. He sums up the Eastern and Western understanding of Matthew 16 in the patristic period in these comments:
In the first three centuries, St. Irenaeus is the only writer who connects the superiority of the Roman Church with doctrine; but he places this superiority, rightly understood, only in its antiquity, its double apostolical origin, and in the circumstance of the pure tradition being guarded and maintained there through the constant concourse of the faithful from all countries. Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, know nothing of special Papal prerogative, or of any higher or supreme right of deciding in matter of doctrine. In the writings of the Greek doctors, Eusebius, St. Athanasius, St. Basil the Great, the two Gregories, and St. Epiphanius, there is not one word of any prerogatives of the Roman bishop. The most copious of the Greek Fathers, St. Chrysostom, is wholly silent on the subject, and so are the two Cyrils; equally silent are the Latins, Hilary, Pacian, Zeno, Lucifer, Sulpicius, and St. Ambrose.
St. Augustine has written more on the Church, its unity and authority, than all the other Fathers put together. Yet, from all his numerous works, filling ten folios, only one sentence, in one letter, can be quoted, where he says that the principality of the Apostolic Chair has always been in Rome—which could, of course, be said then with equal truth of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Any reader of his Pastoral Letter to the separated Donatists on the Unity of the Church, must find it inexplicable…that in these seventy–five chapters there is not a single word on the necessity of communion with Rome as the centre of unity. He urges all sorts of arguments to show that the Donatists are bound to return to the Church, but of the Papal Chair, as one of them, he says not a word.
We have a copious literature on the Christian sects and heresies of the first six centuries—Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, Philastrius, St. Augustine, and, later, Leontius and Timotheus—have left us accounts of them to the number of eighty, but not a single one is reproached with rejecting the Pope’s authority in matters of faith.
All this is intelligible enough, if we look at the patristic interpretation of the words of Christ to St. Peter. Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the Gospels (Matt. xvi.18, John xxi.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 catenas—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 a power first given to Peter, and afterwards conferred in precisely the same words on all the Apostles, as anything 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.17
Roman Catholic historian, Yves Congar, readily acknowledges that the early Church fathers are not supportive of the teaching of Vatican I and that a consensus of the fathers is nonexistent regarding its dogmas. Not only that, but as far as the Eastern Church is concerned, there was a positive opposition to the teaching:
The East never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome, nor did it submit to the judgment of Western bishops. Its appeals to Rome for help were not connected with a recognition of the principle of Roman jurisdiction but were based on the view that Rome had the same truth, the same good. The East jealously protected its autonomous way of life. Rome intervened to safeguard the observation of legal rules, to maintain the orthodoxy of faith and to ensure communion between the two parts of the church, the Roman see representing and personifying the West…In according Rome a ‘primacy of honour’, the East avoided basing this primacy on the succession and the still living presence of the apostle Peter. A modus vivendi was achieved which lasted, albeit with crises, down to the middle of the eleventh century.18
Congar makes clear that the historical facts reveal that the ecclesiology of the Eastern Church, in its practice, was antithetical to that of Rome. He says:
The East never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome, nor did it submit to the judgment of Western bishops.
Here we have the consensus of practice. In addition he states that from an exegetical standpoint, the East did not interpret the Petrine passages in conformity with the teaching of Vatican I on papal primacy. He states:
Many of the Eastern Fathers who are rightly acknowledged to be the greatest and most representative and are, moreover, so considered by the universal Church, do not offer us any more evidence of the primacy. Their writings show that they recognized the primacy of the Apostle Peter, that they regarded the See of Rome as the prima sedes playing a major part in the Catholic communion—we are recalling, for example, the writings of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil who addressed himself to Rome in the midst of the difficulties of the schism of Antioch—but they provide us with no theological statement on the universal primacy of Rome by divine right. The same can be said of St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascene.19
It does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16–19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out an exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than juridical.20
According to Congar the Eastern Church did not teach papal primacy in their interpretation of Matthew 16. In other words, in both their practice and their exegesis of Scripture, the Eastern Church is not in agreement with Roman Catholic ecclesiology of papal primacy or infallibility. We have a patristic consensus of both practice and interpretation. It is clear from their statements that they do not give an interpretation that is supportive of Vatican I. There is a unanimous consent, but it is a consent that is antithetical to a Roman interpretation and ecclesiology.
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.21
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. Medieval scholar, 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.22
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 church fathers and councils reveal that the church never viewed the bishops of Rome as being endowed with supreme authority to rule the church universal.23
Luke 22:32 and Papal Infallibility
Vatican I based its teaching of papal infallibility on the interpretation of Luke 22:32, a teaching or tradition it claimed was received from the very beginning of the Christian faith and supported by the unanimous consent of the fathers. The Council asserted that the doctrine of papal infallibility was a divinely revealed dogma and all who refuse to embrace it are placed under anathema.24 Again, this is a doctrine which must be fully embraced if one if to possess saving faith. The doctrine does not state that the Pope is infallible as a private theologian but only when he propounds his teaching ex cathedra, that is, in his official capacity as the bishop of Rome for the church as a whole.
An examination of the church fathers’ interpretation of Luke 22:32 yields the following conclusion: there is not one Church father who interpreted that passage in affirmation of papal infallibility. In fact, no father, doctor, theologian or canonist of the Church for the first fourteen centuries interpreted this passage in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church. They never even implied the teaching of papal 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, the world renowned Roman Catholic medieval scholar, gives the following analysis of the medieval interpretation of Luke 22, explaining that the doctrine of papal infallibility was unknown in the patristic and medieval ages:
The scriptural text most commonly cited in favor of papal infallibility is Luke 22.32. There is no lack of patristic commentary on the text. None of the Fathers interpreted it as meaning that Peter’s successors were infallible. No convincing argument has ever been put forward explaining why they should not have stated that the text implied a doctrine of papal infallibility if that is what they understood it to mean. Again, it is difficult for us to know exactly what men of the sixth and seventh centuries understood by formulas like those of Hormisdas and Agatho. But we do know that the general council which accepted Agatho’s formula also anathematized Agatho’s predecessor, Pope Honorius, on the ground that he ‘followed the views of the heretic Sergius and confirmed his impious dogmas.’ Agatho’s successor, Pope Leo II, in confirming the decrees of the council, added that Honorius ‘did not illuminate the apostolic see by teaching the apostolic tradition but, by an act of treachery strove to subvert its immaculate faith.’ Whatever the council fathers may have meant by the formula they accepted concerning the unfailing faith of the apostolic see, their meaning can have had little connection with the modern doctrine of papal infallibility.25
Luis Bermejo is a Spanish Jesuit who has taught theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum at Puna, India for the last thirty years. In a recently published book (1992), he makes a compelling argument confirming Brian Tierney’s historical research:
To my knowledge, nobody seems to have challenged Tierney’s contention that the entire first millenium is entirely silent on papal infallibility and that, therefore, Vatican I’s contention concerning the early roots of the doctrine is difficult to maintain. Practically the only objection of some substance raised against Tierney seems to be his interpretation of the twelfth century decretists: is the future dogma of Vatican I implicitly contained in them? Even after granting for the sake of argument that it is—something that Tierney does not concede in any way—the formidable obstacle of the first millenium remains untouched. In my opinion his critics have fired their guns on a secondary target (the medieval decretists and theologians) leaving the disturbing silence of the first millenium out of consideration. Nobody seems to have been able to adduce any documentary proof to show that this long silence was illusory, that the doctrine was—at least implicitly—already known and held in the early centuries. It is not easy to see how a given doctrine can be maintained to be of apostolic origin when a thousand years of tradition do not echo it in any way.26
Historical Invalidation of the Roman Dogma of Papal Infallibility
There is one major historical incident that demonstrates that historically the early Church never held to the view that the bishops of Rome were infallible and that is the condemnation of Pope Honorius by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (III Constantinople) for heresy.27
Pope Honorius reigned as bishop of Rome from 625 to 638 A.D. In a number of letters written to Sergius I, patriarch of Constantinople, and several other individuals, Honorius officially promoted the heresy of monotheletism, which teaches that Christ had only one will, the divine. The orthodox position was that Christ, though one person, possesses two wills because he is divine and human. There is absolutely no doubt that he held to the teaching of one will in Christ. As Jaroslav Pelikan has observed:
In the controversy between East and West…the case of Honorius served as proof to Photius that the popes not only lacked authority over church councils, but were fallible in matters of dogma; for Honorius had embraced the heresy of the Monotheletes. The proponents of that heresy likewise cited the case of Honorius, not in opposition to the authority of the pope but in support of their own doctrine, urging that all teachers of the true faith had confessed it, including Sergius, the bishop of New Rome, and Honorius, the bishop of Old Rome.28
Honorius was personally condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This was ratified by two succeeding Ecumenical Councils. He was also condemned by name by Pope Leo II, and by every pope up through the eleventh century who took the oath of papal office. In his classic and authoritative series on the history of the Councils, The Roman Catholic historian, Charkles Joseph Hefele, relates this irrefutable fact regarding Honorius and the Sixth Ecumenical Council:
It is in the highest degree startling, even scarcely credible, that an Ecumenical Council should punish with anathema a Pope as a heretic!…That, however, the sixth Ecumenical Synod actually condemned Honorius on account of heresy, is clear beyond all doubt when we consider the…collection of the sentences of the Synod against him.29
The significance of these facts cannot be overstated. An Ecumenical Council, considered infallible by the Roman Catholic Church, and Pope Leo II, who is also considered infallible, condemned and anathematized an ‘infallible’ pope for heresy. Leo condemned Honorius as 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.’30 This pope officially condemned 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. These facts are confirmed by Hefele:
It is clear that Pope Leo II also anathematized Honorius…in a letter to the Emperor, confirming the decrees of the sixth Ecumenical Council…in his letter to the Spanish bishops…and in his letter to the Spanish King Ervig. Of the fact that Pope Honorius had been anathematized by the sixth Ecumenical Synod, mention is made by…the Trullan Synod, which was held only twelve years after…Like testimony is also given repeatedly by the seventh Ecumenical Synod; especially does it declare, in its principal document, the decree of the faith: ‘We declare at once two wills and energies according to the natures in Christ, just as the sixth Synod in Constantinople taught, condemning…Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, etc.’ The like is asserted by the Synod or its members in several other places…To the same effect the eighth Ecumenical Synod expresses itself.
In the Liber Diurnus, i.e. the Formulary of the Roman Chancery (from the fifth to the eleventh century), there is found the old formula for the papal oath…according to which every new Pope, on entering upon his office, had to swear that ‘he recognised the sixth Ecumenical Council, which smote with eternal anathema the originators of the heresy (Monotheletism), Sergius, Pyrrhus, etc., together with Honorius.’31
In light of the historical evidence, the theory of papal infallibility as propounded by Vatican I is bankrupt. It is simply not true. Döllinger comments:
This one fact—that a Great Council, universally received afterwards without hesitation throughout the Church, and presided over by Papal legates, pronounced the dogmatic decision of a Pope heretical, and anathematized him by name as a heretic—is a proof, clear as the sun at noonday, that the notion of any peculiar enlightenment or inerrancy of the Popes was then utterly unknown to the whole Church.32
The above proves that the condemnation of Honorius met the basic criterion for ex cathedra statements. The Council condemned him in his official capacity as the bishop of Rome, not as a private theologian, for advancing heretical teachings which it said were Satanically inspired and would affect the entire Church. It specifically stated that Honorius advanced these teachings, approved them, and in a positive sense was responsible for disseminating them. It condemned him by name as a heretic, and anathematized him as such. We need to remember that an Ecumenical Council, according to official Roman teaching, is infallible. So an infallible Ecumenical Council has condemned as a heretic a bishop of Rome for teaching heresy. Clearly, these Eastern fathers did not view the bishops of Rome to be infallible.
Orthodox historian, John Meyendorff, writes that Honorius did in fact teach the doctrine of monotheletism in a positive sense and helped confirm Sergius in the heresy. Meyendorff gives this summary:
This step into Monotheletism, which he was first to make, is the famous ‘fall of Honorius,’ for which the Sixth ecumenical council condemned him (681)—a condemnation which, until the early Middle Ages, would be repeated by all popes at their installation, since on such occasions they had to confess the faith of the ecumenical councils. It is understandable, therefore, that all the critics of the doctrine of papal infallibility in later centuries—Protestants, Orthodox and ‘anti–infallibilists’ at Vatican I in 1870—would refer to this case. Some Roman Catholic apologists try to show that the expressions used by Honorius could be understood in an orthodox way, and that there is no evidence that he deliberately wished to proclaim anything else than the traditional faith of the Church. They also point out—quite anachronistically—that the letter to Sergius was not a formal statement, issued by the pope ex cathedra, using his ‘charisma of infallibility,’ as if such a concept existed in the seventh century. Without denying the pope’s good intentions—which can be claimed in favor of any heresiarch of history—it is quite obvious that his confession of one will, at a crucial moment and as Sergius himself was somewhat backing out before the objections of Sophronius, not only condoned the mistakes of others, but actually coined a heretical formula—the beginning of a tragedy, from which the Church (including the orthodox successors of Honorius on the papal throne) would suffer greatly.33
The condemnation by Pope Leo II is significant. By affirming the condemnation of Honorius as a heretic, he confirmed that Honorius had actively undermined the orthodox faith. W.J. Sparrow Simpson writes of Leo’s viewpoint:
Leo accepted the decisions of Constantinople. He has carefully examined the Acts of the Council and found them in harmony with the declarations of faith of his predecessor, Agatho, and of the Synod of the Lateran. He anathematized all the heretics, including his predecessor, Honorius, ‘who so far from aiding the Apostolic See with the doctrine of the Apostolic Tradition, attempted to subvert the faith by a profane betrayal.’34
It is significant that the letter of Honorius to Sergius was used in the East by the proponents of the Monothelite heresy to justifiy their position. As Sparrow Simpson notes: ‘This letter of Honorius was utilised in the East to justify the Monothelite heresy—the existence of one will in Christ.’35
Clearly, neither the popes nor the Church at large during the patristic age believed the doctrine of papal infallibility. No redefining of terms can erase the facts of history or the implications of those facts for the dogma of papal infallibility.
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.
Scripture and Tradition
Roman Catholic teaching claims that sola scriptura is unhistorical; that is, it contradicts the universal teaching of the early church. But 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. Let me cite Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386) again because he 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.36
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.37
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,38 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. As we have seen 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.39
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.40
In fact, the apostle Paul himself states that the gospel he initially preached orally could be verified by the written Scriptures.41 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.42
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.
Roman Catholicism claims that the church established the canon of Scripture in the late fourth century with the North African councils of Hippo and Carthage and that the church is therefore 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?’ This is part of the rationale Beckwith says was part of his decision to revert to Rome. The simple answer 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.
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.43
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.44
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).45
This was the view that was held throughout the ensuing centuries of the history of the church.
The Glossa Ordinaria
The Ordinary Gloss, known as the Glossa ordinaria, is an important witness to the position of the Western Church on the status of the Apocrypha because it was the standard authoritative biblical commentary for the whole Western Church. It carried immense authority and was used in all the schools for the training of theologians. The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes its importance:
A designation given during the Middle Ages to certain compilations of ‘glosses’ on the text of a given MS. The earliest Glossa ordinaria is that made of the Bible, probably made in the 12th century…Although glosses originally consisted of a few words only, they grew in length as glossators enlarged them with their own comments and quotations from the Fathers. Thus the tiny gloss evolved into a running commentary of an entire book. The best-known commentary of this type is the vast Glossa ordinaria of the 12th and 13th centuries…So great was the influence of the Glossa ordinaria on Biblical and philosophical studies in the Middle Ages that it was called ‘the tongue of Scripture’ and ‘the bible of scholasticism’.46
Karlfried Froehlich summarizes the importance, authority and influence of the Glossa ordinaria on the Middle Ages:
For medieval Christians this tool was supremely necessary, indispensable for the reading of the sacred book which could not be understood without it. In their preface of 1617, taking up Peter Lombard’s remark about the Gloss as the ‘tongue’ of Scripture, the Douai theologians gave voice to this sentiment. Many generations, they suggested, ‘thought of this collection of scriptural interpretation so highly that they called it the “normal tongue” (glossa ordinaria), the very language (lingua) of Scripture, as it were. When Scripture speaks with it, we understand. But when we read the sacred words without it, we think we hear a language which we do not know.47
Alister McGrath adds these comments:
…the Glossa Ordinaria may be regarded as a composite running commentary upon the text of the bible, characterized by its brevity, clarity and authoritativeness, drawing upon the chief sources of the patristic period…So influential did this commentary become that, by the end of the twelfth century, much biblical commentary and exegesis was reduced to restating the comments of the gloss.48
The original Glossa ordinaria began as a marginal gloss on the Bible and was attributed to Walafrid Strabo in the tenth century. Over time the interlinear gloss was added which most likely originated in the twelfth century with Anselm of Laon. Margaret Gibson confirms this:
To this extent the old heresy is not without foundation: that Walafrid Strabo (a Carolingian) wrote the marginal gloss, whereas Anselm of Laon (the early scholastic) wrote the interlinear. The dating is sound enough.49
The work consisted of standard commentaries on the books of the Bible by major Church fathers and theologians from the Carolingian period. The principal Church fathers and theologians who provided authoritative commentary in the Gloss are described by Margaret Gibson:
Ultimately the principal contributor to the Gloss-the giant who bears it on his shoulders-is Jerome. He was responsible for the text of the Bible, for many of the explanatory prefaces to individual books, and for the learned and comprehensive exegesis of most of the Old Testament and part of the New. Behind Jerome stands Origen, whose work was known directly to Jerome but to later scholars indirectly (and partially) in Rufinus’ translation. Augustine contributed to Genesis and Ambrose to Luke; Cassiodorus to the Psalms, and Gregory the Great at least to Job and perhaps to Ezekiel and the Gospels. The next great figure is Bede. He is the leading player in Ezra-Nehemiah, Mark, the Acts of the Apostles and the Canonical Epistles. The basic material from Jerome to Bede, was edited in the ninth century by Rabanus Maurus, who commented the entire Old Testament (except Baruch) and much of the New. Paschasius Radbertus supplied a commentary on Lamentations and revised Jerome’s commentary on Matthew.50
The importance of the Glossa ordinaria relative to the issue of the Apocrypha is seen from the statements in the Preface to the overall work. It repeats the judgment of Jerome that the Church permits the reading of the Apocryphal books only for devotion and instruction in manners, but that they have no authority for concluding controversies in matters of faith. It states that there are twenty-two books of the Old Testament, citing the testimonies of Origen, Jerome and Rufinus as support. When commenting on the Apocryphal books, it prefixes an introduction to them saying: ‘Here begins the book of Tobit which is not in the canon; here begins the book of Judith which is not in the canon’ and so forth for Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc. These prologues to the Old Testament and Apocryphal books repeated the words of Jerome. For example, the following is an excerpt from the Prologue to the Glossa ordinaria written in AD 1498, also found in a work attributed to Walafrid Strabo in the tenth century, under the title of canonical and non-canonical books. It begins by explaining the distinctions that should be maintained between the canonical and non-canonical or Apocryphal books:
Many people, who do not give much attention to the holy scriptures, think that all the books contained in the Bible should be honored and adored with equal veneration, not knowing how to distinguish among the canonical and non-canonical books, the latter of which the Jews number among the apocrypha. Therefore they often appear ridiculous before the learned; and they are disturbed and scandalized when they hear that someone does not honor something read in the Bible with equal veneration as all the rest. Here, then, we distinguish and number distinctly first the canonical books and then the non-canonical, among which we further distinguish between the certain and the doubtful.
The canonical books have been brought about through the dictation of the Holy Spirit. It is not known, however, at which time or by which authors the non-canonical or apocryphal books were produced. Since, nevertheless, they are very good and useful, and nothing is found in them which contradicts the canonical books, the church reads them and permits them to be read by the faithful for devotion and edification. Their authority, however, is not considered adequate for proving those things which come into doubt or contention, or for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogma, as blessed Jerome states in his prologue to Judith and to the books of Solomon. But the canonical books are of such authority that whatever is contained therein is held to be true firmly and indisputably, and likewise that which is clearly demonstrated from them.51
The Prologue then catalogues the precise books which make up the Old Testament canon, and those of the non-canonical Apocrypha, all in accordance with the teaching of Jerome. Again, the significance of this is that the Glossa ordinaria was the official Biblical commentary used during the Middle Ages in all the theological centers for the training of theologians. Therefore, it represents the overall view of the Church as a whole, demonstrating the emptiness of the claims of Roman apologists that the decrees of Hippo and Carthage officially settled the canon for the universal Church. We come back again to the New Catholic Encyclopedia which states that the canon was not officially settled for the Roman Catholic Church until the sixteenth century with the Council of Trent.
The vast majority of the major ecclesiastical writers and theologians from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries held to the view of Jerome and in line with the teaching of the Glossa ordinaria. 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.52
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.53
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.54 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.
The Marian Dogmas
One of the most significant aspects of Catholic faith and practice is the Marian dogmas and the Roman Catholic’s personal devotion to Mary. There are two in particular that are of major concern to most Protestants because they are so blatantly opposed to the truth of the Scriptures. Those dogmas are the immaculate conception and the assumption. Beckwith states that he has no problem with accepting these teachings because if you start with the implicit acceptance of the Roman Church’s claims to authority and infallibility then you uncritically accept whatever teachings are proposed her.
The Immaculate Conception
The Roman Catholic Church claims that Mary was immaculately conceived (that is, she was born free of original sin) and that the church 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.55 A careful study of Scripture and history reveals that this dogma is contradictory to both.
Biblically this dogma cannot stand because Scripture clearly reveals that with the exception of Jesus Christ, all who are born of woman are sinners. As Paul states in Romans 3:23: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’
And from the standpoint of history this teaching should not be a dogma of the faith. It originated in the fifth century with the heretics Pelagius and Celestius56and 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.57
In later centuries the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was a matter of violent dispute within the church between Franciscans and Dominicans for centuries.
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.58 This is a dogma, however, that was rejected as heretical in the early Church by two popes because it originated with Gnostic heretics and there is absolutely no scriptural support for it. And yet, it has been infallibly decreed to be a dogma of the faith.
There is complete silence in the writings of the church 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 gnostic Transitus literature. The assumption doctrine actually originated with this literature sometime in the fourth or fifth centuries. This fact is affirmed by the Roman Catholic historian and Mariologist Juniper Carol:
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.59
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.60 Thus, the early church viewed this doctrine not as the pious expression of the faith of the faithful but as a heretical doctrine that originated from Gnostic sources. Facts such as these underscore the fact that Rome does not accurately represent the historic doctrine of the early church, much less that of the New Testament.
Confession and Purgatory
Beckwith states that the reality of the early Church’s teachings of confession and purgatory was another confirmation to him of the historical pedigree of the Roman Catholic Church and that in that Church he ‘hears the ancient footsteps’. But when one examines the historical reality for these doctrines (which are now dogmas) one discovers that as with the other significant Roman Catholic teachings a complete lack of historical support. Dr. Beckwith has been completely misled by Roman Catholic apologists.
Confession and Penance
Historically the early Church did not practice auricular confession (private confession of sin to a priest). The whole process of confession, known as exomologesis, began late in the second century, but was public in nature. It was done for very grave sin only, and could be done only once in a person’s lifetime. Augustine gives the following summation of how sins were forgiven in the Church in the early fifth century and the fact that penance was done publicly and only for very grave sin:
When ye have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that ye may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that ye will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What hath the Prayer? ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.’ Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which ye must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom ye have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice. In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance’61
There was no judicial priestly absolution but simply a declarative authority by the priest stating that the person had fulfilled his penitential duties and could be restored to the Church and partake of the sacrament. J.N.D. Kelly gives the following historical summary of the penitential practice of the early Church:
With the dawn of the third century the rough outlines of a recognized penitential discipline were beginning to take shape. In spite of the ingenious arguments of certain scholars, there are still no signs of a sacrament of private penance (i.e. confession to a priest, followed by absolution and the imposition of a penance) such as Catholic Christendom knows to‑day. The system which seems to have existed in the Church at this time, and for centuries afterwards, was wholly public, involving confession, a period of penance and exclusion from communion, and formal absolution and restoration—the whole process being called exomologesis.…Indeed, for the lesser sins which even good Christians daily commit and can scarcely avoid, no ecclesiastical censure seems to have been thought necessary; individuals were expected to deal with them themselves by prayer, almsgiving and mutual forgiveness. Public penance was for graver sins; it was, as far as we know, universal, and was an extremely solemn affair, capable of being undergone only once in a lifetime.62
Private (auricular) confession to a priest did not become a practice in the Church until the seventh or eighth centuries,63 and as late as the thirteenth century there was debate in the Church over whether or not confession of sin to a priest was necessary for forgiveness of sins.64
The Roman Catholic Church claims that purgatory is an intermediate state between earth and heaven. Departed souls who die in a state of grace but who need to be purged from sin, are consigned to purgatory in order to expiate the temporal punishment still due to their sin.65 It claims that this teaching was universally held in the early Church as evidenced by the funery inscriptions from that time and the fact that the early Church prayed for the dead. And this is given explicit authority from 2 Maccabees and implicit authority from a number of New Testament passages.
These assertions do not stand scrutiny. For at least the first two centuries there was no mention of purgatory in the Church. In all the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr there is not the slightest reference to purgatory. Rome claims that the early Church nevertheless believed in purgatory because believers pray for the dead. This was becoming a common practice by the beginning of the third century but it does not, in itself, prove that the early Church believed in the existence of a purgatory. In fact, the nature of the prayers prove the exact opposite. The written prayers which have survived, and the evidence from the catacombs and burial inscriptions indicate that the early Church believed deceased Christians to be residing in peace and happiness and the nature of the prayers offered for them were that they might have a greater experience of these. As early as Tertullian, in the late second and beginning of the third century, these prayers often used the Latin term refrigerium as a request of God on behalf of departed Christians, a term which means ‘refreshment’ or ‘to refresh’ and came to embody the concept of heavenly happiness. So even though the early Church prayed for the dead, it does not support the concept of a purgatory for the nature of the prayers themselves indicate the Church did not believe the dead to be residing in a place of suffering.
The roots of the teaching on purgatory can be traced to pagan Greek religion and philosophy in such writings as the Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid and especially through the influence of Plato, whose views were introduced into the Church primarily through Origen, who is considered a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church. He was an influential promoter of the concept of purgation through suffering after death. These views had a major influence on such Fathers as Ambrose, Jerome and most importantly Augustine, who more fully developed the Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory. He, in turn, greatly influenced Gregory the Great and is the major authority appealed to by all subsequent Roman Catholic theologians. In fact, after Augustine, there is very little that is added by others to his basic teaching on the concept and nature of purgatory.
Apart from Greek philosophical influences, the idea of purgatory was promoted and embellished by two other major influences: apocryphal literature and the accounts of visions. For example, in his book, The Birth of Purgatory, Jacques Le Goff refers to The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, written in the third century, which tells of a vision of a Christian martyr, Dinocratus, who had died and who was in a state of suffering in some intermediary place between heaven and hell. He is finally relieved due to the prayers of his sister, Perpetua.66This tale greatly influenced Augustine and all who subsequently promoted the teaching of purgatory.
There were also a number of Jewish and Christian apocryphal writings from the end of the first to the middle of the third centuries, such as the Book of Enoch, the Fourth Book of Ezra, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Ezra and the Apocalypse of Paul, which greatly influenced some of the early church fathers. The Fourth Book of Ezra is quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Ambrose, and the Apocalypse of Ezra and Paul were extensively quoted during the Middle Ages.67 Once the authority of Augustine established the theology of purgatory and it was given dogmatic expression by Gregory the Great, the teaching was promoted and embellished through the accounts of numerous visions which were accepted at face value. Much of the authority which Gregory the Great appeals to for the existence of purgatory are visions which he says were from personal experience or claims recounted to him. He gives a number of these examples in his Dialogues. As the centuries passed, the accounts of visions became commonplace and continued to lend supernatural credence to the reality of purgatory. Interestingly, even though the idea of purgatory was first introduced by Greek theologians, the Greek Church never accepted the teaching and along with the papacy, the immaculate conception of Mary and the Filioque it has been a major point of contention between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic Churches throughout the centuries.
The Scriptural authority appealed to by Rome for the doctrine is taken primarily from an Apocryphal book—2 Maccabees—which is not Scripture and therefore not inspired and which for centuries, was rejected as being part of the canon of Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church itself. Historically, as we have seen, neither this book, nor any of the Apocrypha, was regarded by the Church as authoritative for defining issues of doctrine. In addition, 2 Maccabees itself does not teach the concept of purgatory.
Paul warns believers in Colossians 2:8 to beware of being taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends upon human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Purgatory is a pagan Greek and philosophical concept which finds its source in the teachings of men rather than the Word of God. It perverts the biblical teaching of the sacrifice of Christ and the way forgiveness of sins is appropriated. Scripture teaches that a believer is complete in Christ and that the work of Christ is sufficient to deal with the entire penalty for sin. It is a contradiction of Scripture to add the works of man and the idea of expiating sin through suffering as a basis of salvation.
Beckwith says that he hears the ancient footsteps. Well, so do I, but they do not lead to Rome.
Justification and Salvation
Clearly, the historical facts completely undermine the Roman Church’s claims of authority and ecclesiology. She is not the one true Church established by Christ. And that is not only a conclusion drawn from the historical facts, but more importantly from the salvation teachings of the Roman Catholic Church related to the gospel, grace and justification. As I mentioned above it is with respect to this issue that Frank Beckwith has misrepresented both the teaching of Rome and the teaching of the Reformed faith.
First of all, Beckwith makes the assertion that the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on justification and salvation is more consistent with the biblical teaching than that of the Reformed faith. He denigrates the concept of forensic justification saying that it does not do justice to the full biblical revelation that salvation involves works. He uncritically accepts the salvation categories of the Roman Church which equates justification with sanctification so that justification is grounded in the works of sanctification. Beckwith himself makes this point in these comments which reveals the error of confusing biblical categories:
Thus, one does not find in Paul the sharp distinction between justification and sanctification that one finds among Reformed writers. In fact, the passages we have covered seem to indicate that justification includes sanctification.68
Nowhere in Paul’s writings do you find him teaching that justification includes sanctification. What you find in Paul’s writings is that salvation includes both justification and sanctification. But justification is not sanctification. In scripture, justification is a separate and complete work in its own right. It is not to be equated with sanctification though in the experience of salvation through union with Christ justification and sanctification are inseparably joined together. In scripture, salvation is comprised of regeneration, justification, sanctification, conversion, adoption and glorification experienced through union with Jesus Christ by a repentant faith alone. Scripture teaches us explicitly that salvation and justification are not by works but by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone based on his all sufficient work of atonement (which is a forensic work because he is dying to fulfil the penalty of a transgressed law) and perfect life of righteousness. And once a person is united to Christ and regenerated and justified the inevitable result will be the works of sanctification as a fruit of the relationship. Those works do not merit justification and salvation but are the result of justification and salvation. The works are done out of love for God. Saving faith is a living faith that works through love but all the merit belongs to Jesus Christ. So in salvation an individual is regenerated by the sovereign grace of God, completely justified through the imputed righteousness of Christ and infused with righteousness in sanctification through regeneration and the indwelling Spirit. This person is also adopted into the family of God and glorified with Christ.
But the Church of Rome confuses biblical categories where she subsumes sanctification into justification and in so doing completely destroys the biblical integrity of justification. Thus Rome teaches that a person earns or merits justification and eternal life through his own personal works. Dr. Beckwith , however, seeks to convince his readers that Rome does not teach salvation by works:
…a Christian’s good works are performed in order that the grace that God has given us may be lived out so that we may become more like Christ. As I have said, the purpose of “good works” for the Catholic is not to get you into heaven, but to get heaven into you. The Catholic already believes that he or she is an adopted child of God wholly by God’s grace. For the practicing Catholic, good works, including participating in the sacraments, works of charity and prayer, are not for the purpose of earning heaven. For good works are not meant to pay off a debt in the Catholic scheme of things. Rather, good works prepare us for heaven by shaping our character and keeping us in communion with God so that we may be “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col 1:22).69
These statements are a complete contradiction to what Rome officially teaches. In fact, what Beckwith has written here is in perfect harmony with Protestant teaching and has been anathematized by the Council of Trent:
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema.
If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified…does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life— if so be, however, that he depart in grace,—and also an increase of glory: let him be anathema.70
This teaching is further endorsed in harmony with Trent by the following Roman Catholic authorities:
The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism:
1074. What is habitual or sanctifying grace?
Habitual or sanctifying grace is a supernatural quality that dwells in the human soul, by which a person shares in the divine nature, becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, a friend of God, his adopted child, an heir to the glory of heaven, and able to perform actions meriting eternal life (emphasis added).71
As God’s grace is the presupposition and foundation of (supernatural) good works, by which man merits eternal life, so salutary works are, at the same time gifts of God and meritorious acts of man…By his good works the justified man really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God…A just man merits for himself through each good work an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life (if he dies in a state of grace) and an increase of heavenly glory (emphasis added).72
It is clear from the above documentation that Beckwith’s statement, ‘good works, including participating in the sacraments, works of charity and prayer, are not for the purpose of earning heaven’, is simply untrue. Either Beckwith is woefully ignorant of official Roman Catholic teaching or he is misrepresenting what he knows to be true. Works salvation is precisely what Rome teaches. Jesus died to merit, not a full and finished salvation, but grace that is then channeled to the individual through the Church, her priesthood and sacraments and then by that grace an individual works to merit an increase of justification and eternal life. Rome has explicitly condemned the teaching of forensic justification and the imputed righteousness of Christ himself for justification and salvation:
The Council of Trent: If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby he merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just: let him be anathema. (emphasis added)73
This is an explicit rejection of the teaching of Scripture itself which states that men are justified through the gift of righteousness imputed to believers in Christ through faith alone (Rom. 4:1-8, 5:15-19; Phil 3:7-9). And as noted above, Rome then explicitly states that men merit eternal life through personal works empowered by grace. This is a fundamental perversion of the biblical teaching of grace. Scripture teaches that salvation is by grace apart from works but will produce works as fruit. The works don’t merit salvation but are the fruit of it. To teach that salvation is by works, even as a result of grace, is to destroy the biblical meaning of grace:
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace (Rom. 11:6).
One can use the word grace and assert that one believes in salvation by grace. But it is not the mere use of the word that clears one of false teaching. After all, Pelagius used the word grace and claimed he was teaching salvation by grace. But he misused the term. If one affirms grace and in the next breath teaches the merit of works by grace, then as Paul puts it, ‘grace is no longer grace.’
In addition, the Church of Rome undermines the sufficiency of the atonement of Jesus by teaching that the mass is the ongoing sacrifice of Christ and is propitiatory for sin and necessary for salvation. The Roman Catholic Church has perverted the gospel of grace. All of this Beckwith goes to great lengths to avoid. He does not honestly represent what the Church of Rome teaches. The comments of John Gerstner are very pertinent here:
Some Romanists will say that they too teach justification by grace—by Christ’s righteousness, in fact. But the righteousness of Christ which they claim justifies is not Christ’s own personal righteousness reckoned or credited or given or imputed to believers. Romanists refer to the righteousness which Christ works into the life of the believer or infuses into him in his own living and behavior. It is not Christ’s personal righteousness but the believer’s personal righteousness, which he performs by the grace of God. It is Christ’s righteousness versus the believer’s own righteousness. It is Christ’s achievement versus the Christian’s achievement. It is an imputed righteousness not an infused righteousness. It is a gift of God versus an accomplishment of man. These two righteousnesses are as different as righteousnesses could conceivable be. It does come down to the way it has been popularly stated for the last four and a half centuries: Protestantism’s salvation by faith versus Rome’s salvation by works…The Protestant trusts Christ to save him and the Catholic trusts Christ to help him save himself. It is faith versus works. Or, as the Spirit of God puts it in Romans 4:16 (NIV), ‘Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace, and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring.’ It is ‘by faith so that it may be by grace…’ If a Romanist wants to be saved by grace alone, it will have to be by faith alone. ‘The promise comes by faith so that it may be by grace.’ You can’t be saved ‘sola gratia’ except ‘sola fide.’…We agree with Roman friends—salvation is by grace. That is the reason it must be by faith. If it is a salvation based on works that come from grace, it is not based on grace but on the Christian’s works that come from grace. The works that come from grace must prove grace but they cannot be grace. They may come from, be derivative of, a consequence of, but they cannot be identified with it. Faith is merely union with Christ who is our righteousness, our grace, our salvation. 1 Corinthians 1:30, ‘It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God,’ that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Christ is our righteousness. Our righteousness does not result from His righteousness, it is His righteousness.74
Beckwith then completely misrepresents the teaching of the Reformed faith. He states that the Reformers and those Protestants who have followed in their steps teach that justification is merely forensic. What he means by this is that they teach that salvation is merely forensic and that there is no emphasis on regeneration or sanctification. He states that the grace of God in the Reformed teaching is legal affecting one’s legal status but makes no ontological change in a person’s nature resulting in a life of works and obedience:
What is the reformed doctrine of justification? It is the view that one is made right, or justified by God, as a consequence of God’s gratuitously imputing to one Jesus’s righteousness. By dying on the cross in our stead and thus for our sins, Jesus paid the price to God for the punishment we deserve, eternal separation from him. One is justified at the moment one accepts Christ at conversion. But this acceptance, as an act of faith on the part of the believer, is itself the work of God. Thus, justification is entirely a consequence of God’s grace. Accordingly, at conversion one is assured of salvation, for there is nothing that one can do or not do to lose or gain one’s redemption. But the grace one receives is legal or forensic. This means that grace is not real stuff that changes nature, but merely the name given to God’s graciousness by legally accounting to us Christ’s righteousness.75
…it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.76
Mere imputed righteousness seems like the furthest idea from what one finds in these and other sayings of Jesus. What one finds is an active faith by which God’s grace gives us new life (not just a new status), and therefore there is a responsibility of obedience on our part to remain faithful, bear fruit, practice charity and persevere.77
Because my friend begins with the Reformed belief that justification is forensic—that it is merely a matter of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us—he thinks that a Christian’s cooperation with God’s grace in the process of justification, as the Catholic understands it, is forensic as well. So, his error, it seems to me, rests on his understanding of grace, that it has no ontological status, that it is not a divine quality that can change nature over time in the soul of the believer who cooperates with God’s free gift of grace. For my friend as well as many others, the ‘grace’ the Christian acquires at his initial conversion (and/or baptism) is just the name the Bible attributes to the legal declaration that we are no longer considered guilty in the eyes of God for our sins because Christ took our punishment on the cross…But, again, for Catholics the gift of grace is far more than a legal declaration. ‘It,’ in the words of the Catechism, ‘conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy.’78
This is an appalling caricature of the teaching of the Reformers and the Reformed theologians. But this is all too typical of Roman Catholic apologists and Roman Catholicism in general. I personally have never had a Roman Catholic who could accurately state the Protestant position on salvation and I have interacted with most of the leading apologists at one time or another. They consistently resort to the misrepresentation expressed by Dr. Beckwith. The following are a few representative comments from Calvin, Luther and other Reformed theologians which demonstrate Beckwith’s obvious misrepresentation of their teaching:
John Calvin: Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we grasp Christ’s righteousness, by which alone we are reconciled to God. Yet you could not grasp this without at the same time grasping sanctification also. For he ‘is given unto us for righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor 1:30). Therefore Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify. These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom, he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies. But, since the question concerns only righteousness and sanctification, let us dwell upon these. Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker of his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness.79
Martin Luther: From all this it is easy to perceive on what principle good works are to be cast aside or embraced, and by what rule all teachings put forth concerning works are to be understood. For if works are brought forward as grounds of justification, and are done under the false persuasion that we can pretend to be justified by them, they lay on us the yoke of necessity, and extinguish liberty along with faith, and by this very addition to their use they become no longer good, but really worthy of condemnation. For such works are not free, but blaspheme the grace of God, to which alone it belongs to justify and save through faith. Works cannot accomplish this, and yet, with impious presumption, through our folly, they take on themselves to do so; and thus break in with violence upon the office and glory of grace.
We do not then reject good works; nay, we embrace them and teach them in the highest degree. It is not on their own account that we condemn them, but on account of this impious addition to them and the preverse notion of seeking justification from them. It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognise the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent…80
A.A. Hodge: Now, every Christian who really has experienced the grace of Christ must, unless very greatly prejudiced, recognize the fact that this work of sanctification is the end and the crown of the whole process of salvation. We insist upon and put forward distinctly the great doctrine of justification as a means to an end. It is absolutely necessary as the condition of that faith which is the necessary source of regeneration and sanctification; and every person who is a Christian must recognize the fact that not only will it issue in sanctification, but it must begin in sanctification. This element must be recognized as characteristic of the Christian experience from the first to the last. And any man who thinks that he is a Christian, and that he has accepted Christ for justification when he did not at the same time accept Christ for sanctification, is miserably deluded in that very experience. He is in danger of falling under the judgment of which Paul admonishes when he speaks of the wrath of God coming down from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, and with special reference to those who ‘hold the truth in unrighteousness.’81
R.C. Sproul: Technically the term justification does refer to the declarative judicial act of God and not to the person who receives the benefit of this declarative act and is said to be justified. The declaration changes the status of the believer and not his or her nature. However, as John Gerstner relentlessly points out, it is not a declaration about or directed toward people who are not changed in their constituent nature. God never declares a change in the status of people who are unchanged in nature…The antinomian error (assumes) that God justifies people who are and remain unchanged. All who are justified possess faith. Faith abides as a necessary condition for justification. All who have faith are regenerate. Reformed theology sees regeneration as a necessary condition for faith. All who are regenerated are changed in their natures. It is not change in our nature wrought by regeneration or our faith that flows from it that is the ground of our justification. That remains solely the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. But that righteousness is not imputed to unbelieving or unregenerate persons.82
John Gerstner sums up the issues in these words
Romanists have always tried to hang antinomianism on Protestantism. They seem incapable even of understanding ‘justification is by faith alone, but not by the faith that is alone,’ though that formula has been present since the Reformation.
If this were a true charge it would be a fatal one. If Protestantism thought that a sinner could be saved without becoming godly, it would be an absolute, damning lie. His name is ‘Jesus’ for He saves His is people from their sins, not in them. And He saves His people not only from the guilt of sin but from its dominating power as well. If a believer is not changed, he is not a believer. No one can have Christ as Savior for one moment when He is not Lord as well. We can never say too often: ‘Justification is by faith alone, but NOT by a faith that is alone.’ Justification is by a WORKING faith. Why does Rome continue to make that centuries–long misrepresentation of justification by faith alone? Because:
First, she knows that faith without works is dead. Second, she hears Protestantism teach justification by faith alone ‘apart’ from works. Third, she doesn’t listen when Protestantism explains that ‘apart from works means ‘apart from the merit of works,’ not ‘apart from the presence of works.’ Fourth, she hears some Protestants, who also misunderstand Protestantism, teaching ‘easy–believism.’ Fifth, she knows ‘easy–believism’ is an utterly overwhelming argument against Protestantism (which it would be it were true).
Let me explain, therefore, once again what the Protestant biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works means. Justification with God is apart from the merit of works. That does not mean that justification is apart from the existence of works. Christianity teaches justification apart from the merit of works. Easy–believism teaches justification apart from the existence of works. Faith without the existence of works is dead…Faith with the merit of works is legalism.83
These kind of quotations could be multiplied many times over demonstrating the spuriousness of Beckwith’s assertions that Reformed teaching on grace is purely legal or forensic in nature. Are there Protestants today who teach what Beckwith asserts? Yes, as Gerstner makes clear in his reference to easy-believism. But that teaching is not reflective of the teaching of the Reformers or the Reformed faith. It is a departure from it. The Reformers and theologians who followed them never taught that men who were justified in Christ remained dead in sin and continued living in it. The Reformers all taught in the strongest possible terms the absolute necessity for sanctification. What they did not do was equate sanctification with justification. The Reformers affirmed what scripture affirms—an imputed righteousness for justification as well as the righteousness of sanctification received through the grace of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. There is an important legal or forensic aspect to salvation embodied in the atonement of Jesus and the perfect life of righteousness that He lived out under the law. This is justification. But there is also an important moral aspect in the work of salvation. This is called regeneration and sanctification where an individual receives a new nature, his life is set apart to God and he begins the walk of holiness of life as a fruit of the saving relationship with Christ. Salvation is deliverance from the guilt, state, bondage, eternal consequences and eventual presence of sin and restoration to a right relationship with God.
The Church of Rome has condemned the biblical teaching of forensic justification and imputation of Christ’s righteousness for justification by grace alone completely apart from the merit of works and has defined justification in terms of the works of sanctification. The Reformed faith on the other hand teaches both imputed righteousness for justification and infused righteousness for sanctification. Contrary to what Beckwith claims, it is the Reformed faith, not Rome, that does full justice to the biblical revelation of justification, sanctification and salvation. The Church of Rome perverts that revelation because she has anathematized the teaching of imputed righteousness that is clearly taught in Scripture. Therefore she has rejected biblical salvation and teaches a gospel that is no gospel. It is not the gospel of Scripture. It is the gospel that comes under the apostolic anathema of Paul in Galatians 1. In the final analysis Rome condemns what God teaches and teaches what God condemns.
So through the door of a falsified Church history that promotes false claims of authority and infallibility men and women like Frank Beckwith become duped into embracing a gospel message that is contrary to the word of God. A gospel of semi-pelagianism. Beckwith reasons that in reverting to the Roman Catholic Church from Evangelicalism he had nothing to lose. He says:
After all, if I return to the Church and participate in the Sacraments, I lose nothing, since I would still be a follower of Jesus and believe everything that the Church creeds teach, as I have always believed. But if the Church is right about itself and the Sacraments, I acquire graces I would have not otherwise received.84
On the contrary, one has everything to lose because what is at stake is the gospel. Paul says if we embrace a gospel contrary to that which has been revealed we desert Christ and are not his follower. A commitment to Christ calls for a commitment to truth, the truth of the gospel. The creeds are not the gospel. They are important delineations of truth that embody doctrines that are germane to the gospel but the creeds themselves are not the gospel. One can be committed to the creeds but not committed to the gospel. We need both. What ultimately defines Christianity is the gospel:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).
For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:3, 7-9).
Am I to blindly follow an organization that demands absolute, unquestioning submission, whose authority claims cannot be supported by Scripture or history, which promotes doctrines and elevates them to the status of dogma that are additions to the ancient rule of faith and which often have their roots in gnostic heresy; which chastises the Protestant Church for theological novelty in its teaching of forensic justification and imputed righteousness which is clearly apostolic because it is the teaching of the New Testament and yet hypocritically promotes numerous teachings such as the Marian and Papal dogmas, Purgatory, and Indulgences which are genuine theological novelties; which promotes teachings that are contrary to the universal practice of the ancient Church for centuries such as sola scriptura and the canon; and finally which stands opposed to the sufficiency of the work of Christ, which teaches a semi-Pelagian view of grace contrary to the Scriptures thereby undermining and distorting the gospel? I don’t think so.
Jesus warned the men of his day to beware of an authority whose teachings contradicted the written word of God in its tradition. He said to men, ‘He who has ears to hear let him hear’, as He called men to reject the teachings of those who ‘sat on Moses seat.’ Paul warns us against the traditions of men (Col. 2:8). Dr. Beckwith approvingly quotes this passage applying it to human philosophy. But contextually this passage has to do not only with philosophy but any teaching that diminishes the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in salvation. This is why Paul uses such strong language in Galatians 1 against those who preach a false gospel, all the while professing the name of Christ. The salvation teachings Paul is condemning are in essence the same teachings promoted by the Church of Rome.
The gospel is the ultimate issue—truth. And as we have seen it is the Reformers and the Reformed theologians who have followed in their steps who affirm the true gospel and who have brought men and women back to that universal patristic principle—the final and ultimate authority and sufficiency of the word of God. Neither Scripture nor the ancient footsteps of history will allow me to return to Rome.
1Francis J. Beckwith, Return to Rome, Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), pp. 115-116 Back to Article
2 Francis J. Beckwith, Return to Rome, Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), pp. 92, 97. Back to Article
4 Ibid., p. 83. Back to Article
5 Ibid., pp. 83, 116. Back to Article
6 Ibid., p. 106. Back to Article
7 Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, On Faith, Chapter III. Found in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York:Harper, 1877), Volume II, pp. 244-245. Back to Article
8 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 4-5, 253. Back to Article
9 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), Volume VI, pp. 25-27. Back to Article
10 The Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford: Tan, 1978), Fourth Session, The Canonical Scriptures, pp. 18-19). Back to Article
11 Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), pp. 207, 236. Back to Article
12 ANF, Vol. I, Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.1.1. Back to Article
13 NPNF2, Vol. 7,Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:17. Back to Article
14 John Rotelle, Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), Sermons, Vol. 6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327. Back to Article
15 A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), Homilies of S. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 54.3. Back to Article
16 Commentary on Isaiah IV.2, M.P.G., Vol. 70, Col. 940. For a detailed historical analysis of the patristic interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18 please refer to William Webster’s web page at http://www.christiantruth.com under the Articles link under Roman Catholic. Back to Article
17Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1869), pp. 70–74. Back to Article
18 Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion (Mystic: Twenty–Third, 1982), pp. 26–27. Back to Article
19 Yves Congar, After Nine Hundred Years (New York: Fordham University, 1959), pp. 61–62. Back to Article
20 Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 398. Back to Article
21 Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Marty ,(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), p. 162. Back to Article
22 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. Back to Article
23 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). Back to Article
24 Vatican One 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), p. 270–271). Back to Article
25 Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility (Leiden: Brill, 1972), pp. 11–13. Back to Article
26 Luis Bermejo, Infallibility on Trial (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1992), pp. 164–165. Back to Article
27 Session XIII: The holy council said: After we had reconsidered, according to the promise which we had made to your highness, the doctrinal letters of Sergius, at one time patriarch of this royal God–protected city to Cyrus, who was then bishop of Phasius and 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, namely, that of Sergius some time bishop of this God–preserved royal city who was the first to write on this impious doctrine; also that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, who died bishops of this God–preserved city, and were like–minded with them; and that of Theodore sometime bishop of Pharan, all of whom the most holy and thrice blessed Agatho, Pope of Old Rome, in his suggestion to our most pious and God–preserved lord and mighty Emperor, rejected, because they were minded contrary to our orthodox faith, all of whom we define are to be subject to anathema. And with these 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 we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.
Session XVI: To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema! To Sergius, the heretic, anathema! To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema! To Honorius, the heretic, anathema! To Pyrrhus, the heretic, anathema! To Paul, the heretic, anathema!…
Session XVIII: But as the author of evil, who, in the beginning, availed himself of the aid of the serpent, and by it brought the poison of death upon the human race, has not desisted, but in like manner now, having found suitable instruments for working out his will (we mean Theodorus, who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus…and moreover, Honorius, who was Pope of the elder Rome…), has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling blocks of one will and one operation in the two natures of 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 (NPNF2, Vol. 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, III Constantinople, Extracts From the Acts, The Definition of Faith, pp. 342–344). Back to Article
28 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1974), Volume Two, pp. 150–151. Back to Article
29 Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896), Volume V, pp. 181. Back to Article
30 Cited by Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility (Leiden: Brill, 1972), p. 11. See also Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1896), Volume V, p. 180. Back to Article
31 Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896), Volume V, pp. 181-187. Back to Article
32 Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1870), p. 61. Back to Article
33John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 353. Back to Article
34 W.J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London: John Murray, 1909), p. 35. Back to Article
35 Ibid., p. 33. Back to Article
36 NPNF2, Vol. 7,Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:17. Back to Article
37 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), 46. Back to Article
38 ‘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). Back to Article
39 Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.1.1, in Alexander Roberts and W. H. Rambaugh, trans., in The Writings of Irenaeus (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874). Back to Article
40 Ellen Flesseman-Van Leer, Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1953), 133. Back to Article
41Now, 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). Back to Article
42 Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350 (Leiden: Brill, 1972), pp. 16-17. Back to Article
43 St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, Daniel, Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, vol. VI, pp. 492-93. Back to Article
44 New Catholic Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ., 1967), III:29. Back to Article
45 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, p. 424. The New Catholic Encyclopedia confirms that Pope Gregory did not accept a canonical status for the Apocrypha (II:390). Back to Article
46 New Catholic Encyclopedia, Glossa Ordinaria; Glosses, Biblical, pp. 515-516. Back to Article
47 Karlfried Froehlich and Margaret Gibson, Biblia Latina Cum Glossa Ordinaria, Introduction to the Facsimile Reprint of the Editio Princeps Adolph Rusch of Strassborg 1480/81 (Brepols-Turnhout, 1992) Karlfried Froehlich, The Printed Gloss, p. XXVI. Back to Article
48 Alister McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the Reformation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), p. 126. Back to Article
49 Karlfried Froehlich and Margaret Gibson, Biblia Latina Cum Glossa Ordinaria, Introduction to the Facsimile Reprint of the Editio Princeps Adolph Rusch of Strassborg 1480/81 (Brepols-Turnhout, 1992), The Glossed Bible, pp. VIII. Back to Article
50 Ibid., pp. VIII-IX. Back to Article
51 Biblia cum glosa ordinaria et expositione Lyre litterali et morali (Basel: Petri & Froben, 1498), British Museum IB.37895, Vol. 1, On the canonical and non-canonical books of the Bible. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward. Back to Article
52 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. Back to Article
53 New Catholic Encyclopedia, II:390, III:29. Back to Article
54 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). Back to Article
55 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). Back to Article
56 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, Schaff and Wace, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 149-50). Back to Article
57 Juniper Carol, ed., Mariology (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), 1:146. Back to Article
58 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]). Back to Article
59 Juniper Carol, ed., Mariology (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), 1:149). Back to Article
60 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. Back to Article
61 Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post‑Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume III, St. Augustin, On The Creed 15, 16. Back to Article
62 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 216‑217. Back to Article
63 The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms these facts: ‘During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this “order of penitents” (which concemed only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the “private” practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church (Rome: Urbi et Orbi, 1994), #1447). Back to Article
64 The Church historian Philip Schaff states: ‘At the close of the twelfth century a complete change was made in the doctrine of penance….The first elements added by the medieval system were that confession to the priest and absolution by the priest are necessary conditions for pardon. Peter the Lombard did not make the mediation of the priest a requirement, but declared that confession to God was sufficient. In his time, he says, there was no agreement on three aspects of penance: first, whether contrition for sin was not all that was necessary for its remission; second, whether confession to the priest was essential; and third, whether confession to a layman was insufficient. The opinions handed down from the Fathers, he asserts, were diverse, if not antagonistic’ (History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1907), Volume V, p. 731. Peter the Lombard, Sentences, XVII.1). Back to Article
65 The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (Catechism of the Catholic Church (Rome: Urbi et Orbi, 1994), #1030, 1031). Back to Article
66 See Jacques LeGoff, The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981), pp. 50-51. Back to Article
67 Ibid., pp. 30-37. Back to Article
68 Francis J. Beckwith, Return to Rome, Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), p. 103. Back to Article
69 Ibid., p. 105. Back to Article
70 The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1919 ed.), Decree on Justification, Canon 24, 32, pp. 45, 46. Back to Article
71 John Hardon, The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism (Garden City: Image, 1981). Back to Article
72 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), Book Four, Part I, p.219; 3.5, p. 222; Book III, Part 2, Chapter 2.III.11.3, p. 190; Book IV, Section 2, Chapter 3.23.2, 3.25.1, pp. 264, 267. Back to Article
73 The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1919 ed.), Decree on Justification, Canon 10, p. 43. Back to Article
74 Justification by Faith Alone, Don Kistler, Ed. (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), John Gerstner, The Nature of Justifying Faith, pp. 111–113. Back to Article
75 Francis J. Beckwith, Return to Rome, Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), p. 84. Back to Article
76 Ibid., p. 92. Back to Article
77 Ibid., p. 99. Back to Article
78 Ibid., p. 110. Back to Article
79 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Found in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Volume XIX, Book III, Ch. XVI.1, p. 798. Back to Article
80 Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty. Found in Luther’s Primary Works (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1896), Henry Wace and C.A. Buchheim Ed., , pp. 275-277, 288. Back to Article
81 A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology (Edinburgh: Banner, 1976), p. 297. Back to Article
82Justification by Faith Alone, Don Kistler, Ed. (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), The Forensic Nature of Justification, pp. 43-45. Back to Article
83 Ibid., John Gerstner, The Nature of Justifying Faith, pp. 113–115. Back to Article
84 Francis J. Beckwith, Return to Rome, Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), p. 116. Back to Article