Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Assumptions and Shallow Arguments: Steve Ray and the Poor State of Catholic Apologetics (#1)
09/05/2007 - James WhiteOn August 13th Steve Ray posted a blog article that presented the "logic" used in Roman Catholic theology that lies behind the assumption and coronation of Mary. I replied the next day here. (Ray, in his response, has the wrong date of his own initial blog article, and links not to my initial response to him, but a later one). This began a give and take that was very one sided: on one side you had Ray's dismissive insults and ad-hominem argumentation, and on the other side factual and logical refutations focused upon the facts. Soon Ray mentioned he was going to post a lengthy refutation, co-authored by Gary Michuta. This appeared on August 21st in pdf format. It is 30 pages in length, though, the actual material directly relevant to the topic is a minority of the information. Instead, the response begins with pages of standard, oft-refuted Catholic claims, stated in such a fashion as to leave the knowledgable reader without any reason to believe Ray and those involved in the production of his response are either fully aware of, or concerned about, the refutations that have been offered of this kind of apologetic materials.
In any case, the "scatter-gun" format Ray uses throws out claims on a wide range of topics. It always takes far more time to accurately respond to falsehoods than it does to enunciate them. The errors that can be spoken in a few seconds may take many minutes to refute; falsehoods found on one page may take ten to correct. And so, responding to Ray's missive is a large task, not because it is particularly compelling argumentation (it is not), but because of the wide range of assertions he makes and how long it takes to correct his misapprehensions.
Despite the fact that my attentions are focused elsewhere, appropriately so, I have taken time to put together materials relevant to the claims Ray makes. But I wish to begin by pointing out something very important.
This discussion began when I replied to Ray's comments about the assumption and coronation of Mary. I was not replying to an obscure, irrelevant theological speculation on the part of an off-beat former fundamentalist. I tend to let such obscure things pass by, as they rarely hang around anyway. The internet is filled with the theologically speculative blog post, the theoretical musings of this person or that. I scarcely slow down long enough to notice such things. It is a bit like most of the current craze in eschatological nuttiness in post-evangelicalism. Not worth the time it takes to explain it, let alone refute it.
But the concept of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, while it may seem speculative and off-beat to many, is a completely different animal when we are speaking of its place in Roman Catholicism. While the "Queenly Coronation" element is part and parcel of Marian piety in Roman Catholicism, it is not, in and of itself, a dogmatic teaching. But the Bodily Assumption is. Since very few appreciate the difference between dogma and doctrine, a word of explanation is needed.
Roman Catholic popes have taught as doctrine the concept of Mary's standing as co-mediatrix with Christ for a hundred years. Yet, this teaching is not a dogma. A dogma is a revealed truth, a definitional truth, and it is to be accepted de fide, by faith. The Trinity is dogmatically true, and is to be accepted de fide. So is the resurrection. But Rome has gone far beyond these historic, clearly biblical teachings. For example, "It is permissible and profitable to venerate the Saints in Heaven, and to invoke their intercession" is a de fide teaching of the Roman Church. Likewise, "Christ becomes present in the Sacrament of the Altar by the transformation of the whole substance of the bread into His Body and the whole substance of the wine into His Blood" is de fide dogma, as is "The Worship of Adoration (latria) must be given to Christ present in the Eucharist." So is, "The Sacrifice of the Mass is not merely a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, but also a sacrifice of expiation and impetration," "The Church possesses the power to grant Indulgences," and "The souls of the just which, in the moment of death, are burdened with venial sins or temporal punishment due to sins, enter Purgatory." These are all de fide dogmatic statements. Some come earlier in church history, but some come very, very late.
In reference to authority, such statements as "The Pope possesses full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, not merely in matters of faith and morals, but also in Church discipline and in the government of the Church" and "The Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra" are both de fide statements. They are dogma. And they come much later in history than the primitive periods of the church, to be sure.
The Marian dogmas are just that...dogmas. They are not Marian speculations. They are not "nice and pious thoughts about Mary that one may or may not takes seriously." The following statements have been defined de fide as dogma:
- Mary was conceived without stain of Original sin.
- Also after the Birth of Jesus Mary remained a Virgin.
- Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven.
Now please realize, I don't live in a fantasy world. I know a large, large portion of Roman Catholics in America today can't tell the difference between the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception. And amongst those who know the difference, many are quite indifferent and could completely care less what the bishop of Rome has said on the topic. Nominalism is rampant in Rome's religion, especially in places like Italy, and surely here in the United States as well. So I know you know of a "good Roman Catholic" who doesn't believe these things about Mary.
At the same time, those folks are not believing, practicing, orthodox Roman Catholics, either. Even Rome has said that in the past, though it seems today Rome has completely lost her spine and dares not discipline anyone any longer when it comes to what they teach or believe. But that aside, truth is still truth, and if you don't believe what Rome has defined as dogma, well, don't be too shocked here, but that means you aren't a Roman Catholic.
Rome is defined by her own dogmas. Rome has defined as a dogma the Bodily Assumption of Mary. So here is my point: dogmas can only be defended as dogmas, not as mere speculations. The standard of "proof" of a dogma is the highest it can be. Consider one of the glorious truths of the Christian faith, the deity of Jesus Christ. Consider the tremendous works that have been written by godly men over the centuries in defense of this wonderful truth. Consider a book like B.B. Warfield's The Lord of Glory, (#1332) for example. This truth can be defended by in-depth, careful, and consistent Scriptural analysis and argumentation. Its witness is to be found throughout not only the canon of the New Testament, but its foundations run deeply into the Old as well. It is likewise found all across the spectrum of patristic writings, from Ignatius onward. It is a truth testified to in every way fitting to that which can properly be called "a dogma of the Christian faith."
But look at the Marian dogmas. Consider the argumentation put forward by those who would seek to promote them. Is the argumentation anything like that which is found in favor of the deity of Christ? Is there any comparison between, for example, giving lexicographical information on the meaning of the term "deity" at Colossians 2:9 (qeo,thtoj) and demonstrating how in the immediate context, and in the apologetic context of Colossians, this term shows us that Paul taught the deity of Christ, with the Roman Catholic argument that Solomon's placing a throne for Bathsheba to sit upon is somehow relevant to the assumption of Mary (Ray even goes so far as to try to say Solomon "assumed" Bathsheba "up to a throne to sit at his right hand"). Do New Testament writers ever hint at such an understanding? No. Does anyone in the early church promote such a view? No. The very substance of the arguments differs plainly for all to see.
The burden of proof lies upon the one who promotes something as a dogma of the Christian faith. The burden of proof for one suggesting that a certain belief may be appropriate for Christians to consider, or to utilize privately in their own spiritual lives, is something completely different than that which must be applied to dogmas. And it is just here that Rome falls flat. The arguments she provides for her own self-defined, non-catholic, unbiblical, a-historical dogmas always partake of the "well, it would be fitting for God to do this" category, not the "God has revealed with clarity consistent with His nature that this is to be believed" category. They are arguments for the already convinced meant only to prop up an already existing faith in Rome. They surely do not partake of the nature of arguments fitting for the establishment of the divine truths of the Christian faith. In fact, their very nature is an insult to those Christian truths Rome does confess. In fact, when Rome parallels her own self-defined dogmas, such as the Marian dogmas, with the great truths of the faith like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection, she is doing damage to the cause of Christ far greater than anything that could be done by all the cults and -isms that have developed over time. Just look at how quickly Muslims, for example, assume Rome represents the Christian faith, and you will see how damaging her false teachings are to the promotion of true Christianity in our world today.
How seriously does Rome take this idea of "dogma"? When Pope Pius IX promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854, the papal bull, Ineffabilis Deus, included these words:
Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.Please note that even to think otherwise than what Rome has defined results in condemnation and shipwreck of the faith. I get the feeling the Roman curia takes itself very, very seriously. So less than a century later, when the Bodily Assumption was defined by Pope Piux XII (that seems to be what we need to get the Fifth Marian Dogma defined: a pope named Pius!) in his Munificentissimus Deus, we are not surprised to find these words:
Since, then, the universal Church, in which the Spirit of Truth flourishes, who infallibly directs it to achieve a knowledge of revealed truths, has through the course of the ages repeatedly manifested its own faith; and since the bishops of the whole world with almost unanimous consent request that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven be defined as a dogma of the divine and Catholic faitha truth which is founded on the Sacred Scriptures, has been fixed deeply in the minds of the faithful in Christ, has been approved by ecclesiastical worship even from the earliest times, is quite in harmony with other revealed truths, and has been splendidly explained and declared by the zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the theologians, We think that the moment appointed in the plan of a provident God has now come to proclaim solemnly such an extraordinary privilege of the Virgin Mary. . . .Even here the argumentation put forward is hardly worthy of the description "argumentation." "We've got the votes, we've done this for a long time, our theologians have written some really cool books about it, and in the final analysis, we just want to do this, so, here we go! A new dogma!" Compelling indeed. But note again, you can't even call into doubt this definition without cutting yourself off "from the divine and Catholic faith."
Accordingly . . . by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority We pronounce, declare and define that the dogma was revealed by God, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, after completing her course of life upon earth, was assumed to the glory of heaven both in body and soul.
Therefore, if anyone, which may God forbid, should dare either to deny this, or voluntarily call into doubt what has been defined by Us, he should realize that he has cut himself off entirely from the divine and Catholic faith.
So what kind of level of evidence and argumentation is necessary to substantiate such high claims? And for our own purposes over the course of this review, does Ray ever come close to recognizing the level of argumentation required to substantiate Rome's position? Or is Ray content to do the "keep the troops happy, don't worry about those who don't already bow the knee to Rome" routine? We shall see.