There was a time when Catholic Answers tried to put forward a serious face of scholarship. They sought to utilize at least semi-scholarly sources (though even then without much serious effort to use them in context, see this example). But over the past few years it seems the bottom of the barrel has come into clear view, and the pretense of scholarship has become glaring.
In what is arguably the worst example of this in quite some time Jeffrey Morrow’s article, “In the Crosshairs of the Canon: Protestants Find History Aimed Against Them,” Catholic Answers reaches new lows in utterly miserable misuse of historical facts, let alone egregiously poor writing. I was especially bothered by this article, for it uses a genre of writing I have used myself: the imaginary dialogue. But, unlike Mr. Morrow, when I have my imaginary opponents speak, I feel it necessary to grant to them 1) intelligence and 2) a real knowledge of their professed faith. Instead of following this direction, Mr. Morrow presents us with three simply moronic Protestants who glibly trot down the path to papal slaughter without a second’s meaningful fight. Strong words? Then you haven’t read the article. For example, after one of our brilliant Evangelicals answers the question, “How did we get the Bible” with the insightful response, “I got mine at Wal-Mart,” a seemingly more well-read participant, Steve, chimed in with, “Wasn’t the King James Version the first Bible?” Ah yes, it’s going to be a scintillating conversation! Then, after the brilliant convert to Catholicism (a former Evangelical himself, of course), gives a little background about the languages of the Bible (forgetting to mention the decree of Trent establishing Latin as the “official” language of sacred Scripture), he asks, “Okay, does anyone know what a canon is?” Again the brainy Elizabeth is first to demonstrate her less-than stellar IQ with the response, “A cannon is a large gun that shoots cannonballs.” Oh my, did this lady vote in Palm Beach County, perhaps? But it only gets worse as our Evangelical friends bumble and stumble along, aghast at the brilliant eloquence and learning of our convert to Catholicism.
Aside from the inherent mockery of Evangelicals found in Morrow’s article, the simple fact of the matter is the “facts” he places in the mouth of “Paul” are anything but facts, and any prepared Protestant apologist would have turned the tables completely on “Paul” in any real conversation.
To demonstrate this, I here rewrite Mr. Morrow’s article, but with a tremendous infusion of facts and truth, resulting in a very different outcome.
Paul, a convert to Catholicism, sat down with John, Susan, and Bill to discuss the Bible. Paul, having converted by reading the writings of Scott Hahn and Karl Keating, felt quite ready to handle anything that would come his way. John, however, had also read Hahn and Keating, but he had also read Calvin and Turretin and Hodge and Salmon and Denny and Whitaker. Paul began the discussion by asking if anyone knew how we had gotten the Bible.
“The work of the Holy Spirit over time” Bill said.
“Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘getting’ the Bible” John added. “The Bible was given to us through the work of the Holy Spirit who, as Peter put it, carried men along as they spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21). The inspiration of the Bible is a different topic than the transmission of the Bible over time, and the canon of Scripture is yet a third topic as well, related to both of the preceding concepts, but separate.”
“I’m glad to see you know what the canon is” Paul smiled. “That’s a very important issue. For example, the Roman Catholic canon is different from the Protestant canon, as it contains seven more Old Testament books, Tobit, Judith, First and Second Maccabbees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, as well as small portions of Ester and Daniel. This represents the canon of the Septuagint….”
“Actually” John noted, “the manuscripts of the Septuagint that contain these books are Christian in origin, correct? Have you read the tremendous work of Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church? He deals with this issue in-depth with the most modern scholarly insights.”
“Well, no, I haven’t” Paul replied. “But, be that as it may, the fact is the early Church decided which books belonged in the canon….”
“Which canon?” John interrupted. “Old Testament or New?”
“Well, both” Paul replied. “There was no consensus as to what books were in the Old Testament amongst the Jews until the Council of Jamnia….”
“That’s untrue” John asserted. “As Beckwith proved, there was indeed a clear consensus on the Old Testament canon long before the time of the New Testament. This is seen in noting the testimony of Josephus, the testimony of the Jewish writings themselves, and the issue of the books that were ‘laid up” in the Temple. Further, there was no ‘Council of Jamnia.’ There was discussion concerning a couple of minor books amongst some Jewish leaders, but surely no ‘council’ in the sense of a formal meeting with voting, etc. The canon of the Old Testament was clearly understood, and clearly functional, at the time of the Lord Jesus’ ministry in Palestine. And what is also clear is that the canon used by Jesus and His apostles did not include the apocryphal books.”
“I am uncertain about those issues” Paul replied, “but I am certain that the choosing of the book of the Bible….”
“You mean the New Testament?” John interrupted.
“OK, the New Testament….was a process undertaken by the early Church, which was thoroughly Catholic.”
“Catholic, or Roman Catholic?” John asked.
Paul looked surprised by the question. “There is a difference?”
“Of course” John replied. “Catholic simply means ‘universal,’ and it was a term used in the early Church to differentiate true believers from those outside. ‘Roman Catholic’ carries far more ‘baggage’ than the mere term ‘Catholic.’ It includes, as it is used by modern Roman apologists, the idea of Papal authority, doctrines such as purgatory, indulgences, Marian dogmas, etc. The early church was ‘catholic’ but it was surely not ‘Roman Catholic.’”
Paul looked flustered at this point. “Well, I disagree. The early Christians believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion….”
“But not in transubstantiation, right?” John inserted.
“Well, they may not have used the term….”
“So why do you interpret their belief in a ‘real presence’ as being relevant to a Roman Catholic dogma defined a thousand years later?”
“Well, it’s one of the many evidences that the Roman Catholic Church has been the one true Church all along….”
“And if that were the case, Paul, it would follow that what the early Fathers believed regarding what you call the ‘real presence’ would fit with what Rome teaches today, which is manifestly not the case. You will not find the early Fathers setting aside consecrated hosts, for example, in a tabernacle or monstrance for the express purpose of worshipping it, which is a natural and necessary result of a belief in transubstantiation. So, whatever they meant by ‘real presence’ it surely was not what you as a Roman Catholic believe today.”
“That’s just not the case!” Paul retorted. “Even Ignatius clearly believed in what I believe. He said in Romans 7.3, “I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who was of the seed of David; and for a draught I desire His blood, which is love incorruptible.”
“Think about what you just quoted, Paul” John replied. “There is nothing about transubstantiation in those words. When you realize the background of Ignatius’ writings, and his battle against gnosticism, as well as Jesus’ words in John 6 about Him being the bread of heaven, the words of Ignatius make perfect sense without reading into them any kind of Aristotelian dogma of accidents and substance, etc. and etc. Besides, if you really think this is such a universal belief, please explain the following four citations to me:
“The sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, which we receive, is a divine thing, because by it we are made partakers of the divine-nature. Yet the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease. And assuredly the image and the similitude of the body and blood of Christ are celebrated in the performance of the mysteries.” Gelasius, bishop of Rome, in Jacques Paul Migne, Patrologiae Latinae, Tractatus de duabis naturis Adversus Eutychen et Nestorium 14.
“The mystical emblems of the body and blood of Christ continue in their original essence and form, they are visible and tangible as they were before [the consecration]; but the contemplation of the spirit and of faith sees in them that which they have become, and they are adored also as that which they are to believers.” (Theodoret, Dialogue ii, Opera ed. Hal. tom. iv p. 126).
In other words, in respect of His divine presence we always have Christ; in respect of His presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples, ‘Me you will not have always.’ In this respect the Church enjoyed His presence only for a few days: now it possesses Him by faith, without seeing Him with the eyes….He left the world by a bodily withdrawal, He proceeded to the Father by His ascension man, but He forsook not the world in the ruling activity of His presence.
The Lord Jesus, in the discourse which He addressed to His disciples after the supper, when Himself in immediate proximity to His passion, and, as it were, on the eve of departure, and of depriving them of His bodily presence while continuing His spiritual presence to all His disciples till the very end of the world….” (Augustine, John: Tractates 50, 92, 102, and 118).
Who is the bread of the Kingdom of God, but He who says, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven?” Do not get your mouth ready, but your heart. On this occasion it was that the parable of this supper was set forth. Lo, we believe in Christ, we receive Him with faith. In receiving Him we know what to think of. We receive but little, and are nourished in the heart. It is not then what is seen, but what is believed, that feeds us. Therefore we too have not sought for that outward sense.
This is then to eat the meat, not that which perishes, but that which endures unto eternal life. To what purpose do you make ready teeth and stomach? Believe, and you have eaten already. (Augustine John: Tractate 25:12).
Paul blinked and asked, “You carry stuff like that around?”
“Yeah,” John beamed, “I have a Palm Tungsten T, and its loaded with all sorts of fun stuff.”
“Well, I’ll have to look into those quotations, especially the one from Gelasius. But, let’s lay that issue aside for a moment. They believed what we believe about baptism, surely you believe that.”
“Most who addressed the subject surely believed baptism was a part of their salvation, that is certain. Some did not address it, and a small few, such as Clement of Rome and Mathetes in his letter to Diognetius, clearly taught a belief in justification by faith without works of human merit, which would hardly be consistent with the modern view of baptism in Roman Catholicism.”
Paul pressed on, “Well, they surely believed in the authority of bishops and priests, especially the Bishop of Rome, the pope, who was looked to as a supreme authority by all the churches spread across the known world.”
“I imagine you actually believe that, Paul, but you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Not only did it take quite some time for the unbiblical concept of a priesthood to develop (it is absent from many of the earliest Christian writings, let alone the New Testament), but the distinction of elder and bishop, likewise an unbiblical one, took time in many quarters as well. But it is especially misleading to engage in the kind of anachronism you just did regarding the Papacy. It is simply impossible to substantiate that kind of assertion from a fair reading of the historical records. There is so much evidence contradicting what you just said it is hard to even know where to begin….” [For a summary, see http://www.straitgate.com/aom/#pacwapapacy]
Susan finally piped up and joined in, “OK, so you disagree over the nature of the early church. Let’s get back to the subject at hand if we could.”
“The subject of the nature, and authority, of the Church, is very much related to Roman Catholic claims regarding the canon and the Bible, Susan” John pointed out.
“Yes,” Paul agreed, “especially since it was the bishops of the Catholic Church like Augustine and Athanasius who decided the extent of the canon.”
“Tell me, Paul,” John replied, “Did either Augustine or Athanasius ever say anything like, ‘We as bishops are determining the books of Scripture’?”
Paul pursed his lips. “Well, not off the top of my head.”
“When Athanasius wrote his 39th Festal Letter in 369, had any allegedly infallible ‘councils’ met to ‘determine’ the canon?”
“No, the Council of Rome, though was only a little over a decade later.”
“Many scholars today recognize the alleged ‘Council of Rome’ did not even take place, and is an anachronistic interpolation of Gelasius’ listing. Be that as it may, here is what Athanasius said in that letter:
3. In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: ‘Forasmuch as some have taken in hand,’ to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued steadfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance.
4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.
5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.
“Well, two things. First, Athanasius says this had been handed on to him, establishing the need of tradition, and second, he does include Baruch, and he doesn’t include Esther” Paul quickly claimed.
“Quite true, Paul. Athanasius gives the same canon listing of the Old Testament we find earlier in Cyril of Jerusalem, who likewise said it had been passed on to him, and by Melito of Sardis, who wrote long before, at the end of the second century. If you want to make this some kind of ‘tradition,’ you instantly have a problem: it contradicts what your own Church has defined as ‘tradition’ regarding the canon! Athanasius, and Cyril, and Melito, are witnesses to the fact that the decision of the Council of Trent does not command the weight of history. In fact, Paul, I would assert that the early Church Fathers who knew the most about Old Testament backgrounds were least likely to hold to the Apocryphal books, and those who knew the least were most likely to do so, depending on the manuscripts of the Septuagint that they were familiar with. It is no wonder that Origen, who learned Hebrew, Melito of Sardis, who inquired into Palestine on the issue, and Jerome, who likewise learned Hebrew, all understood the issue and rejected the Apocryphal books.”
“But none of those men were infallible, John.”
“Of course not, Paul, and that is your problem. You can’t point to any single man who was. So how this collection of fallible men all of a sudden becomes ‘infallible’ when it becomes the ‘universal faith of the church’ or the ‘consensus of the Fathers’ is hard to understand. In fact, take a wild guess who said the following:
I am but showing how Romanists reconcile their abstract reverence for Antiquity with their Romanism,–with their creed, and their notion of the Church’s infallibility in declaring it; how small their success is, and how great their unfairness, is another question. Whatever judgment we form either of their conduct or its issue, such is the fact, that they extol the Fathers as a whole, and disparage them individually; they call them one by one Doctors of the Church, yet they explain away one by one their arguments, judgments, and testimony. They refuse to combine their separate and coincident statements; they take each by himself, and settle with the first before they go to the next. And thus their boasted reliance on the Fathers comes, at length, to this,–to identify Catholicity with the decrees of Councils, and to admit those Councils only which the Pope has confirmed.”
“Well, whoever it was was not very nice, calling us Romanists!” Paul retorted.
“Actually, the term was common in the nineteenth century, but what about what it says? Every time we Protestants show you this Father or that who disagreed with what you now claim we must believe, they are dismissed as “individually fallible.” The result is that ancient “catholicity” is, for you, nothing more than what the modern Roman Church demands it to be.”
“That’s not the case at all. Who was it, then, that you were quoting? Some anti-Catholic writer from the last century?”
“No, actually, that was John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 70-71.”
“Well he surely changed his tune later on!” Paul exclaimed.
“Yes, he did, but he never successfully refuted his own previously made arguments. His development hypothesis is not an argument, it’s an excuse.”
“I disagree, but before discussing that, you mentioned Jerome. Jerome included the deuterocanonicals in the Vulgate translation, and he simply noted that he knew the Jews did not include them in their canon. It’s obvious he did accept them.”
“That’s interesting,” John replied, opening another file on his Tungsten T, “since more than a thousand years later, Cardinal Cajetan….”
“That the same Cajetan that interviewed Luther?”
“Yes, the general of the Dominican order who examined Luther in October of 1518. He wrote a book, a commentary on the Old Testament, in which he wrote,
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. (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.)
John continued as he switched to another file, “Now as to your claim that Jerome embraced the apocryphal book, you have again been misled. Yes, he learned that the Jews rejected these books when he learned Hebrew. However, the way you put it it sounded like you were saying he was simply mentioning that the Jews rejected them and he didn’t. That’s just not the case. Listen to his own words which he wrote in his prologue to ‘the three books of Solomon’:
There circulates also the ‘all-virtuous’ Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sira, together with a similar work, the pseudopigraph entitled the Wisdom of Solomon. The former of these I have also found in Hebrew, entitled not ‘Ecclesiasticus’, as among the Latins, but ‘Parables”. … The latter is nowhere found among the Hebrews: its very style smacks of Greek eloquence, and several ancient writers affirm it to be the work of Philo the Jew. Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.
As you will note, Paul, Jerome specifically excludes these books from the canon, and relegates them, like Cajetan, to those that are to be read for edification but not for dogma.”
“I’m now completely lost” Susan opined.
“Sorry,” John said, “but I think Paul here understands why these issues are important.”
“Yes” Paul answered. “But I’ve been told by a number of men I truly trust that the Bible of the early Church was apostolic tradition. You need to realize the earliest Church fathers, like Clement and Ignatius, were disciples of the apostles themselves. What Jesus taught was faithfully passed by the apostles to their own disciples. This was in accordance with what Paul commanded Timothy while planting a church: ‘And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach other also.’ This is found in the second verse of the second chapter of the second book of Timothy.”
“Known to the rest of us as 2 Timothy 2:2” John chuckled. “But again, you couldn’t be farther from the mark, Paul. The Bible of the early Church, as I would think you must know, included far more than some wonderfully nebulous concept of ‘apostolic tradition.’ All one has to do is read a few pages of the New Testament to find that the “Bible” was alive and well in the hands of the Apostles, and hence the early Church. We know that Paul’s letters were considered Scripture during the lifetime of Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16), and Paul quoted Luke as Scripture as well (1 Timothy 5:18). That means you had New Testament Scripture functioning as such in the apostolic period itself. Next, I note in passing that if you mean ‘Clement of Rome’ with that reference to ‘Clement’ that we actually do not know who wrote the epistle of “Clement of Rome to the Corinthians,” and the letter itself speaks in the plural, not the singular, as there was, at the time, a plurality of elders ruling the church in Rome, not a single bishop. Finally, Paul’s words to Timothy are not supportive of some concept of “oral tradition passed down outside Scripture” as they are so often misused by Roman Catholic apologists. In fact, Tertullian refuted your own use of this verse when he wrote,
But here is, as we have said, the same madness, in their allowing indeed that the apostles were ignorant of nothing, and preached not any (doctrines) which contradicted one another, but at the same time insisting that they did not reveal all to all men, for that they proclaimed some openly and to all the world, whilst they disclosed others (only) in secret and to a few, because Paul addressed even this expression to Timothy: “O Timothy, guard that which is entrusted to thee;” and again: “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep.” What is this deposit? Is it so secret as to be supposed to characterize a new doctrine? or is it a part of that charge of which he says, “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy?” and also of that precept of which he says, “I charge thee in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ who witnessed a good confession under Pontius Pilate, that thou keep this commandment?” Now, what is (this) commandment and what is (this) charge? From the preceding and the succeeding contexts, it will be manifest that there is no mysterious hint darkly suggested in this expression about (some) far-fetched doctrine, but that a warning is rather given against receiving any other (doctrine) than that which Timothy had heard from himself, as I take it publicly: “Before many witnesses” is his phrase. Now, if they refuse to allow that the church is meant by these “many witnesses,” it matters nothing, since nothing could have been secret which was produced “before many witnesses.” Nor, again, must the circumstance of his having wished him to “commit these things to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also,” be construed into a proof of there being some occult gospel. For, when he says “these things,” he refers to the things of which he is writing at the moment. In reference, however, to occult subjects, he would have called them, as being absent, those things, not these things, to one who had a joint knowledge of them with himself.
Paul looked unhappy. “How can I fight a Palm Tungsten T that seemingly has no limitations upon memory?”
John chuckled. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been over this ground.”
“I can see that” Paul replied. “But it amazes me that, despite your study of these things, you continue to hold to the Protestant position. Let’s cut to the quick, then” Paul decided, moving to the “big gun” that would surely demonstrate the need of the Roman Catholic position.
“Praise be” Bill finally muttered. “Yes, let’s” Susan added.
Paul prepared to deliver what he himself had believed to be an unanswerable argument. “The simple reason sola scriptura doesn’t work is because without the Catholic Church’s decision regarding the canon you don’t have a reliable Bible.”
“Really?” John asked, sitting back. “And when exactly did that take place?
“Well, you have the councils of Hippo and Carthage….”
“Those were not ecumenical councils, correct?”
“Well, no, they are not reckoned as such” Paul replied.
“And you are saying we must have an infallible decision to have a reliable Bible, so, are local councils infallible?”
“No, they are not.”
“OK, so the first infallible reckoning of the canon was when?”
“Well, that would be Trent, 1556.”
“1546, actually, April.”
“No, 1556, it’s right here in the November, 2000 issue of This Rock magazine.”
“There were no meetings of the Council of Trent between 1552 and 1562, Paul. It was April, 1546. This Rock just needs a better copy editor, that’s all.”
“Oh, well, whatever.”
“So,” John continued, “no one had a reliable Bible until April of 1546?”
“Well, they had Apostolic tradition” Paul replied uncertainly.
“I repeat. It is your position that in April of 1546 the world, for the first time, had a reliable Bible? The greatest theological battles had already been fought against Arianism and the like without a reliable Bible? Of what use, then, really is the Bible, if, in fact, the Church got along without a ‘reliable’ Bible for three-fourths of its existence?”
“That sounds really strange, Paul” Susan added.
“Well, at least we have a reliable canon of the Bible!” Paul replied, getting a bit desperate. “That’s more than you can say!”
“Actually, Paul, you don’t” John said, leaning forward in his chair. “All you have done is move the canon question back one step and hidden your action by covering the track with a little dust and obfuscation. You say you know the canon, and we don’t, because a group of men representing Roman Catholicism met at Trent in 1546. You submit yourself to their decisions. Yet, I have to ask, why do you believe they have the authority to determine the canon? Why are they the only true holders of the title ‘Christ’s true Church’?”
“I’m glad you asked” Paul replied. “You are right that I know the Bible is the Word of God because the Church tells me so. And I know the Church can tell me because when we study history we find the Bible trustworthy. We can know what Jesus did and said. He told his apostles he would send them the Spirit to lead them into all truth. Jesus’ Resurrection, which is the only adequate explanation for his empty tomb, proved his divinity. So we can trust what he told his disciples. Jesus hands Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, a symbol of not only authority but of dynastic succession. So the Holy Spirit leads the offices of the apostles and their successors, the bishops, into all truth. The Church, as 1 Timothy 3:15 informs us, is the pillar and bulwark of the truth.’ So when the episcopal successors of the apostles of the apostles were exercising their offices in the form of ecumenical councils, the Holy Spirit kept them free from error. This goes for not only when they determined which books belonged in Scripture, but also when they determined Jesus was fully man and fully God, as well as the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and all of the other Catholic dogmas.”
John smiled. “I’m glad all the cards are now on the table, for this will help everyone to see the true nature of the claims of Roman Catholicism. I would like to note two major things. First, the argument you present is challengeable at many levels. You say Jesus gave Peter the keys, yet, in Matthew 16, the original Greek text uses the future tense, and the only other place in Scripture that could show us this happening is Matthew 18:18, yet there, Peter receives this authority alongside the other Apostles. The idea of “dynastic succession” is easily challenged, especially if you are using Isaiah 22:22 as your basis. Yes, the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, but that doesn’t make her infallible, nor does it make her the truth itself. A pillar and foundation support something else: in this case, the truth. So the argument you present is by no means itself certain, hence, how can an uncertain, easily challengeable argument provide you with the certainty you say we do not have?
“But secondly, and more importantly, is the obvious inconsistency in your entire position. You say that we Protestants must have an infallible definition of the canon by some ecclesiastical body or the Bible cannot ‘function’ for us, it becomes ‘unreliable.’ Yet, when we ask you about your ultimate authority, the Church, you ‘prove’ its authority by an extended and questionable historical argument. When Protestants point to the historical development of the canon, you say that is insufficient ground. Yet, you point to a much less clear, far more arguable historical presentation to substantiate your own ultimate authority. How can it be ‘OK’ for you to appeal to such an argument in defense of the Church, when it is not for me when I point to the passive, historical development of the canon over time? An argument that is so obviously self-contradictory cannot possibly be true.”
Now at this point I could present a number of responses that have been offered by Roman Catholic controversialists, but they all share the same circularity: the decision to embrace Rome as the final authority in all things is a fallible decision. It can produce no more certainty than any other human decision. The use of the argument that we must have Rome to have a Bible is internally self-contradictory and hence utterly illogical, no matter how often it is presented. It is the classic “shell game,” where the real question is hidden from view in the hopes that the person who is being scammed will not notice. Sadly, those who are being scammed are evangelical Protestants who are embracing Rome’s claims to authority, like the “Paul” of Morrow’s article and our re-write.
James White, December 1, 2000, rev. 2/4/2003