Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Mark Shea's Marian Series
06/25/2009 - James WhiteI have added Mark Shea's Marian series to the Ministry Resource List. I would dearly love to see some of the major Roman Catholic apologists come out of hiding, in essence, and engage in a robust debate on the claims Rome makes about Mary, but the past five years have shown a Roman Catholic apologetics community in disarray and retreat. But with their claims of the need to "turn to Mary" in this time of "distress" growing louder, I believe they should show as much bravery in defending their claims as they do in making them. But, even if they will not defend their claims, we will still obtain their materials and subject them to truthful, fair, and primarily Biblical analysis and refutation.
Let it be clearly repeated: I stand ready to engage in debate with Mark Shea, Tim Staples, Patrick Madrid, Jimmy Akin, Karl Keating, John Martignoni, Steve Ray, and Scott Hahn on such subjects as the Marian dogmas, purgatory, justification, predestination and election, etc. Given that many of these men are putting out DVDs and CDs on these topics regularly, it would seem to me wisdom personified to demonstrate the supremacy of these teachings against knowledgeable Reformed opposition.
Jerusalem Jones on the DL
06/19/2009 - James White
Updates on Rome's Forgotten Apologists
06/17/2009 - James SwanI try to keep up with some of the fallen heroes of Catholic apologetics. Ten to fifteen years ago, it wouldn't be so uncommon to find the men below put forth as Rome's best defenders.
I take 44 cents out Gerry Matatics' pocket every so often. I'm on his mailing list, so the mailman brings me his newsletter. His most recent newsletter explains that his position is not a compromise with "the liberalism and modernism that has swept over the Catholic world in the last 50 years," and he offers a new set of recordings to prove it.
He then states,
So called "mainstream traditionalist" publications like The Latin Mass magazine, The Remnant, The Fatima Crusader, Catholic Family News, and groups such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, The Institute of Christ the King, and even the society of St. Pius X (still unapproved by, but ever hopeful for a rapprochement with, Rome), have all fatally compromised with this modernism, as these talks demonstrate.
At this point, I'm unsure exactly who's left in the room with Gerry. The only description that I can think of is, Gerry Matatics Contra Mundum.
Catholic Apologetics International is "a Catholic lay apostolate dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ preserved by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It stands on the forefront of Catholic Apologetics, explaining Catholicism to fellow Catholics and defending it against her opponents."
Here are some recent statements from CAI President, Robert Sungeinis.
"It's always amazing to me how blind Catholics are to Scripture and prefer popular science to God's inerrant word. Jimmy Akin should know better. Unfortunately, he molds Scripture to his own views and makes it teach things that it never said." [source]
"I'm sad to see Catholic Answers and Ave Maria give what basically is an anti-Catholic position of both evolution and Genesis 1 a public platform. It seems that modern Catholics will do just about anything today to accommodate the unproven theories of evolution."
"As for debating, I'll debate Dr. Collins, Catholic Answers, Ave Maria, or any other Catholic who is touting the theory of evolution as fact and has the audacity to distort Genesis 1 as Collins has done. Unfortunately, when you raise this issue to the specter of a public debate, the opponents usually run and hide. But I'll be waiting." [source]
"The problem here is that [Mark] Shea has invented a new degree of doctrinal validity called the 'pale of orthodoxy' for a doctrinal issue that has no 'pale.' "
"I wish Mr. Shea would engage me, because it is important for the Catholic community to know the truth of this matter."[source]
Well, so much for the unity of Rome's apologists. Perhaps though, it can best be explained by Mr. Sungenis:
"Yes, there is quite a variety of views in the Catholic Church, but that is to be expected. There is everything from the ultra conservative to the ultra liberal, just as in most intellectual and political issues of life. But the good thing about the Catholic Church is that it has a central body that can determine the correct answer if a controversy erupts, which is the way the RCC has established its doctrines for the last 2000 years. In the end, it is what the Church OFFICIALLY teaches that is important, while the views of its liberals and conservatives may only act as an impetus for the church to study the issue more deeply in order to come to a firm and official answer. For what it's worth, I am considered a "conservative," although I would not classify myself in that way. Sometimes I'm traditional, sometimes conservative, and even sometimes I favor liberal ideas. For me the criterion is truth and not party affiliation." [source]
My question of course would be, why are there still ultra conservative and ultra liberal positions within the Roman church after the church officially establishes a doctrine?
"Tradition" as Viewed by Popular Roman Catholic Apologists... and a Response
06/07/2009 - James SwanIn the written disputes and published propaganda between sixteenth-century Protestants and Roman Catholics, the mass-marketing victory clearly lay in the hands of Rome's detractors. Protestants out-published Rome's apologists winning the popular opinion. Catholic works were unlikely to sell, and therefore not sought out by printers. Rome exasperated the loss by not supporting her apologists in their written endeavors.(1)
Now five hundred years later, current popular Protestant writing produce more self-help tomes, fictional entertainment, and end times forewarnings than theological treatises specific to exposing Roman Catholic error. Roman Catholic writers though have consistently produced popular works specifically geared toward evangelizing Protestants.(2) One need only visit a big-chain bookstore and scan the shelves to notice apologetic works from Roman Catholic authors typically outnumber Protestant works geared toward defending Reformation principles. Producing works distinctively for laymen, Rome's apologists have hammered away specifically at sola fide and sola scriptura. In the popular Catholic convert book, Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic,(3) almost all of those recounting their swim across the Tiber mention that a rejection of sola scriptura was key in their subsequent rejection of sola fide.
Indeed a historical irony, Protestants defending the faith against Rome's popular writers now find themselves in a similar plight as the sixteenth-century Catholic apologist. More often than not, works specifically directed to defending the solas of the Reformation are least likely to find their way to the bookstore shelf, while Rome's champions have thoroughly penetrated the mass market.(4) These Catholic apologetic works have ready and confounding answers to counter the sole authority of Scripture. A Protestant unfamiliar with Catholic authority argumentation can easily be befuddled and silenced quickly.
Papal apologists often have an eager Protestant audience. It is often the draw of Tradition (5) that so intrigues many Protestants. Catholic polemicists offer it as an historical and / or interpretive solution for Protestants lacking any connection to those generations of Christians who came before. Tradition is put forth as that vehicle which connects an evangelical with a two thousand year old historical church. With the acceptance of Tradition, the notion of an historical hierarchical authority finds easier acceptance. With these other authorities standing beside sacred scripture, Catholic apologists seek to establish a basis for promoting a gospel of infused righteousness obtained through faith, sacraments, and works, in essence another gospel (Galatians 2:6-9).
Defusing the Catholic apologetic use of Tradition causes the fall of the entire system. It needs to be exposed as an incoherent authority, fraught with double standards, and unable to meet the qualification of theopneustos (God breathed) revelation. If the scriptures truly are the believers infallible sole rule of faith, it should follow necessarily that any other rule claiming a similar pedigree will be exposed as a counterfeit. Any other infallible rule of faith will not be consistent with either the facts of the Bible or history. If the Bible is the only infallible rule, any other alleged infallible rule will fail as a template to accurately size reality. While Protestants committed to Reformation principles may currently lack a voice in the public market, the first step to reversing this trend is to understand and counter the lynchpin of Catholic argumentation, Tradition.
What is Tradition According to Rome?
The official Roman claims for Tradition are found in statements from the councils of Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II. Trent states the gospel truth and instruction are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions which have been received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the apostles themselves.(6) While Vatican I and II reaffirmed Trent's statements, Vatican II adds,
Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move toward the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.(7)
These statements, while giving the appearance of clarity, are in actuality the exact opposite, being oft debated by Catholic scholars as to what exactly they imply. There is not a consensus opinion as to the exact content of Tradition, the precise relationship between scripture and Tradition, and exactly how the vehicle of Tradition functions and becomes known by the church. Rome's official statements do not explicitly define whether Tradition is the second of a two-part revelation (known as partim-partim), or if both forms of revelation contain the entirety of God's revealed truth. Does Tradition function as the interpreter of scripture, or is it interpreted by scripture, or do they interpret each other? Is the content of Tradition confirmed by historical scrutiny, or is it an unwritten opinion only confirmed by a movement within the developing church? Vatican II commands Catholics to accept and honor something quite ambiguous. One wonders if individual Catholics attempting devotion and reverence toward Tradition actually have the same or a differing concept in view. While dogmatic statements from official Roman Catholic councils are put forth to clarify truth, their statements on Tradition have done quite the opposite. II.
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Irenaeus and the Reliability of "Early" Oral Tradition
06/03/2009 - Tur8infanPeople sometimes like to think that if you go back to the earliest fathers you'll get very good accounts of extra-scriptural tradition. There is a certain amount of intuition to back this up. After all, the earliest fathers were closer in time to the gospel accounts than we are.
Intuition is wrong - at least to some extent. One reason it is wrong is that we look at the fathers with a foreshortened perspective. If you've ever looked at a mountain range from a distance and then driven up to it, you know what I'm talking about. From far enough away the mountain range looks like the serrated edge of a knife. From up close, you see that some of the mountains are miles closer or further from you. You also see the same effect when photographers take in urban scenes using a telephoto lens. Things blocks apart can look practically adjacent.
Even so it is with the "Early Church Fathers." Most of the early church fathers are not just decades but centuries removed from the apostles. Even those in the second century were about as far or farther removed (in practical terms) from the gospel accounts than you are from Abraham Lincoln.
Consequently, even as early as the second century there were a number of wildly erroneous traditions trying to take hold with greater or lesser success. Thus, for example, we see Irenaeus (lived and died in the 2nd Century) who declares that Jesus lived to be 50 years old, which today is rejected virtually unanimously.
Of course, Irenaeus also provides testimony that those who are of the Church of Rome today find helpful to their case (they don't much care about the 50 years old claim, but they like some of the other traditions he alleges). Thus, you can see folks like Art Sippo (on the newly re-opened "Speak Your Mind" forum), an apologist who is part of the "Catholic Legate" group making the following claim to try to revitalize Irenaeus:
Jesus was likely 30 or so when he started his ministry. That is close to 50 since the life expectancy of most men at that time was ~45. That age represented a man in his so-called "declining years" since it was all down hill from 30 onwards.(source).
St. Irenaeus was postulating that Jesus as the New Adam had lived out in his body all the ages of man from infancy to adolescence to young manhood to seniority. This recapitulation theory was never picked by other theologians and is of no real importance than as an historical curiosity. The only relevant thing about it is that it emphasizes that Jesus was truly human and not just a phantom.
One wonders whether this is simple ignorance on Sippo's part or a disregard for the truth in the form of a lie to try to support mother Rome. Surely Sippo is aware that Irenaeus doesn't equate 30 and 50, in fact, he specifically distinguishes them:
Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information.(Against Heresies, 2:22:5)
But, besides this, those very Jews who then disputed with the Lord Jesus Christ have most clearly indicated the same thing. For when the Lord said to them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad,” they answered Him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?” Now, such language is fittingly applied to one who has already passed the age of forty, without having as yet reached his fiftieth year, yet is not far from this latter period. But to one who is only thirty years old it would unquestionably be said, “Thou art not yet forty years old.” For those who wished to convict Him of falsehood would certainly not extend the number of His years far beyond the age which they saw He had attained; but they mentioned a period near His real age, whether they had truly ascertained this out of the entry in the public register, or simply made a conjecture from what they observed that He was above forty years old, and that He certainly was not one of only thirty years of age. For it is altogether unreasonable to suppose that they were mistaken by twenty years, when they wished to prove Him younger than the times of Abraham. For what they saw, that they also expressed; and He whom they beheld was not a mere phantasm, but an actual being of flesh and blood. He did not then want much of being fifty years old; and, in accordance with that fact, they said to Him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?” He did not therefore preach only for one year, nor did He suffer in the twelfth month of the year.(Against Heresies, 2:22:6)
No, Irenaeus didn't mean that Jesus was thirty which is basically the same thing as fifty - quite to the contrary he made a big fuss over the fact that Jesus had a long ministry of closer to 20 years than 1 year. Sippo's comment about Jesus being flesh and blood rather than a phantasm suggests that Sippo is not ignorant of the context of the quotation - which then would suggest a measure of dishonesty in suggesting that Irenaeus was simply equating 30 and 50.
Incidentally, in the same thread, another poster recommended an article by another apologist for Rome, Mark Bonocore (link). This article has long ago (January 2005) been rebutted (link to rebuttal), and I will not bog down this blog unnecessarily be repeating what has already been said in rebuttal.
The bottom line is that just because Irenaeus declares something to be tradition and is one of the earliest fathers (though not one of the apostolic fathers), it does not mean that Irenaeus got it right. Sometimes (as with Jesus' age) Irenaeus got it horribly wrong. There's another example we can point to as well:
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.(Against Heresies 3:3:2)
Yes, Irenaeus thought that the church of Rome was founded and organized by both Peter and Paul. In fact, however, we can know with assurance from Paul's epistle to the Romans that Paul did not found the church at Rome. So, again, Irenaeus - while undoubtedly sincere - was sincerely wrong about what the history of the even more recent event of the founding of the church(es) at Rome was.
That's why we need Scripture to be our rule of faith: not oral tradition (even if it was written down in the second century). Oral tradition is prone to error and Irenaeus is a prominent example of that problem. Scripture on the other hand is the inspired Word of God and has been providentially preserved for us down through the centuries so that we me read and believe it. Don't let the telephoto lens of phrases like "the early church" lead you to erroneous conclusions regarding their historical reliability.
Place your confidence without reservation in one worthy of your whole trust, in God the author of Scripture, not in Irenaeus the mistaken author of Against Heresies or in your church which likewise can err - either sincerely or in a self-serving way. The wise man built his house upon a rock, and you will do well to emulate his example.