Resolved: The Church of the Council of Nicaea is not the Roman Catholic Church
Opening Statement: Professor White
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If you were to walk into a Church today, how would you know what kind of Church it was? I suppose you could look at the sign over the door, but if there was no sign, how would you know? Most people would answer, “Well, you ask the folks what they believe, and determine their theological beliefs from that.” Such would seem to be a proper procedure.
If you walk into a Church today that is in harmony with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, what distinctive doctrines would you expect to hear? Well, certainly, you would hear about the Bishop of Rome. You would hear about the Papacy, and how the Bishop of Rome is the head of the visible Church, the very Vicar of Christ on earth. You would also hear about the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, defined at the First Vatican Council. You would hear much about Mary, including doctrines like the Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption, both dogmas defined finally and infallibly within the past two centuries. In your conversations you would learn that the Bible is not a sufficient guide in and of itself (one must have “Sacred Tradition”), and you would also learn about purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, priestly celibacy, and the like. Taken as a whole, these doctrines would set that Roman Catholic Church apart from any other.
So the question before us can be rather easily resolved: if you walked into a Church in the year 325, say, in Alexandria, would the people there hold the same views as modern Roman Catholics? Or would fundamental, definitional doctrines that separate Roman Catholicism from all other groups be utterly absent from the everyday faith, life, and teaching of the Nicene Church? If, in fact, we discover that the Church of Nicaea did not hold to definitional doctrines that make Rome what it is today, then the debate is, for all practical purposes, over. Surely many modern Roman Catholics will agree with me in asserting that the ancient Church differed with the modern Roman Church on these topics: isn’t that what Newman’s “development hypothesis” was all about? Many Roman apologists have realized the impossibility of tracing many modern Roman dogmas to the primitive Church and have, as a result, abandoned the historical field of battle at this point. But a few die-hards remain who continue to believe (certainly as the majority at Trent believed) that the doctrines and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are truly apostolic in the obvious and historical meaning of that term; that is, that they derive from the actual teachings of the Apostles and were passed down from the beginning as “oral traditions.” Hence, for the person who really believes this, the necessity of historical defense is obvious.
I have undertaken to defend the thesis that the Church of the Council of Nicaea was not, in fact, the Roman Catholic Church. A few definitions are needed. When I say the Church of Nicaea is not Rome, what I mean is that there is a fundamental disjunction between the teachings and beliefs of the Nicene Church and those of the modern Roman Catholic Church. I am not saying that Rome cannot trace some kind of ecclesiastical genealogy back to that time period. She makes that claim all the time. What I am saying, however, is that such a claimed genealogy is irrelevant, since it only speaks to a succession of names not a succession of teaching or truth. Not only does such a succession beg the questions raised by such historical events as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (14th century) and the Great Papal Schism, but it ignores the fact that while President Clinton, for example, stands in the succession of Presidents, one would not wish to assert that his views, and his “teachings,” are in any way reflective of someone such as Abraham Lincoln. The mere historical “connection” guarantees nothing regarding fidelity to the truth itself.
The Church of Nicaea was not the Roman Catholic Church because that Church did not hold to certain fundamental, definitional beliefs that mark Roman Catholicism today. Specifically, the Church of Nicaea did not:
1) look to the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ, the head of the universal Church, the pastor of all Christians;
2) believe in the Marian doctrines that set Rome apart, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Bodily Assumption;
3) embrace such concepts as the thesaurus meritorum, purgatory, and indulgences;
4) believe in the Roman concept of authority, replete with extra-biblical, revelatory or inspired “traditions” that add to the “deposit of faith” items and beliefs not found in Scripture;
5) nor practice the necessary devotions to reserved, consecrated hosts that would substantiate the leap from a belief in “real presence” to the much later belief in “transubstantiation.”
My opponents, then, should have an easy task, if, in fact, their position is correct. One need only demonstrate, using historically valid and scholarly sources, that the Church of Nicaea believed in these five concepts that set Rome apart from other communions, and the debate is over. It is not enough, of course, to present an isolated quote here, and another there. Context, both literary and historical, must be observed carefully. I am well aware of the “cut and paste” methods of many Roman Catholic apologists who use patristic sources in a willy-nilly fashion. Serious concern for accurately representing patristic materials should be present in this debate.
Let us look, then, briefly at each of these five areas. If we discover that, in fact, these are beliefs that were not a part of the fabric and makeup of the Church that existed at the time of the Council of Nicaea, then the debate is won.
The Church and the Bishop of Rome in A.D. 325. The Council of Nicaea itself is a glowing example of how modern Roman Catholic claims fly in the face of historical reality. The Council was not called with the authority of a Pope—indeed, the bishop of Rome had nothing to do with its convocation, and little more to do with its outcome. Sylvester was too aged to attend, and was represented by two presbyters. Later tradition, attempting to “fix” the obvious problem history presents with reference to the very first (and arguably, greatest) Church Council, assigned to these presbyters authority that was not theirs at the Council.
The very fact that a Council was necessary to determine this theological issue is a conundrum for the proponent of the Papal system. Why not just appeal to the final say of the bishop of Rome? The answer is amazingly simple: no one had yet thought that such an appeal would have final authority over the entire Church. John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his work An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, quoted approvingly from Barrow’s 1836 work against Papal supremacy. He noted that it was quite right for the Protestant to point out that there are historical facts that are contrary to a functioning, widely recognized Papacy in the early Church. For example, he agreed with Barrow that had the pagans been aware of the institution of the Papacy, they would surely have raised great objections to it, but such objections are not to be found anywhere. And very importantly he quoted with approval Barrow’s statement,
It is most prodigious that, in the disputes managed by the Fathers against the heretics, the Gnostics, Valentinians, &c., they should not, even in the first place, allege and urge the sentence of the universal pastor and judge, as a most evidently conclusive argument, as the most efficacious and compendious method of convincing and silencing them.
The same is true regarding Arianism. The position of the bishop of Rome was known: why didn’t that end the controversy? Because no one believed the bishop of Rome was the universal head of the Church. He was the bishop of the greatest see in the West—but not the head of the Church. And the Nicene Council itself made this plain in its famous sixth canon:
Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.
Despite some incredibly strained attempts at getting around the plain meaning of these words, the import is clear: the bishop of Rome is seen as having jurisdiction in his own territory, which, plainly, is not worldwide, but is geographically limited, just as Alexandria, Antioch, etc. Nothing has changed since Cyprian had said eighty years earlier in the Council of Carthage:
For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another.
Therefore, we see that the Church of Nicaea was not the Roman Catholic Church, for Rome cannot be defined outside of a functioning Papal system, and no such system existed in A.D. 325. Indeed, in the decades following Nicaea, it was not Rome that led the way. It was not Rome that provided the necessary strength and leadership to withstand the Arian resurgency. Indeed, Liberius, bishop of Rome, caved in under Imperial pressure, and signed the Arianized Sirmium Creed. It was Alexandria, under the noble leadership of Athanasius, that led the way and eventually led to the defeat of Arianism.
The Nicene Church and the Marian Doctrines. If the Papacy is not evident at Nicaea, surely the Marian dogmas that define Roman Catholic worship are even more conspicuous by their absence from the same time period. One need only consult the work of Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott (hardly a liberal!) to realize this. For example, with reference to the Immaculate Conception Ott admits on page 201:
Neither the Greek nor the Latin Fathers explicitly teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Instead, he asserts an “implicit” teaching based upon Mary’s holiness and the contrast between her and Eve. Yet, I note that J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Ireneaus, Tertullian, and Origen all felt Mary had sinned and doubted Christ (Early Christian Doctrines, 493). In any case, Ott asserts on the same page that the first explicit assertion of the doctrine as believed today is found in the British monk Eadmer at the beginning of the 12th century! Even then, he notes it ran into much opposition, including the rejection of Bernard of Clairvaux. Certainly, it’s a doctrine absent from the early 4th century and the Church of Nicaea.
Likewise, the Bodily Assumption of Mary is a doctrine unknown to the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea. Ott says of it, “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing” (pp. 209-210). What Ott does not note is that these “transitus-narratives” were deemed heretical by the Church of the day and anathematized by Gelasius, bishop of Rome! Hence, the first documentable reference to the doctrine is from a heretical source, and that at least two and a half centuries after the Council of Nicaea! The doctrine, plainly, had no part in the Church in A.D. 325, and hence, again, the point is proven: the Church of Nicaea was not the Church of Rome.
The Nicene Church and Purgatory, the Treasury of Merit, and Indulgences. Here again we encounter a series of related doctrinal beliefs that were a long time coming in the history of Roman Catholicism. Historically, the concepts of purgation and merit came together to create the doctrine of purgatory, and then, later, the thesaurus meritorum, or “treasury of merit.” Once these concepts were in place, indulgences could develop. But no one can seriously suggest that the bishops who gathered at Nicaea spoke of purgatory in a doctrinal sense, nor do they ever speak of a “treasury of merit,” let alone a concept of indulgences.
The Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, and the related concepts of merit, forgiveness, etc., and what all of these things mean to the concept of grace and salvation, is central to defining the differences between biblical Christianity and the Roman Catholic “gospel” as defined by Trent. When one believes in indulgences, one believes in an entire framework of beliefs that are inter-connected and held together by the glue that is Rome’s dogmatic authority. Yet, Rome didn’t have such an authority in A.D. 325, and hence it is hardly surprising that one can read the doctrinal works of the bishops who were in attendance at the Council and never encounter the ideas that now define Rome’s soteriology. Some might point to the view of martyrs during the persecution as a possible pre-cursor of later doctrinal concepts, but the dogmatic teaching of a place of purgation after death where the temporal punishments of sins were removed by meritorious suffering (i.e., the concept of satispassio) was not a part of the doctrinal structure of the Nicene Church. While the full doctrine of indulgences awaited the eleventh century for definition, only two centuries earlier than Nicaea Clement of Rome had written:
They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen (Clement of Rome, 32)
Such words hardly flow from a belief in the modern Roman dogma, to be sure.
The Nicene Church and Authority. Here we can but touch briefly upon the simple fact that Roman Catholic apologists engage in the most egregious misrepresentation of patristic truths when they attempt to portray a monolithic acceptance of modern Roman concepts of tradition and authority in the primitive Church. The simple fact of the matter is, the Church of Nicaea was neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. It was, well, the Church of Nicaea, with its own strengths and weaknesses. I, as a Protestant, do not have to make the early Fathers into Protestants. They can be just who they were. But the Roman Catholic who insists Rome’s doctrine has been the constant and universal faith of the Church, does not have that luxury.
We have already seen that the Roman concept of Papal authority was not in place at the time of Nicaea. In the same way, the concept of tradition—whether we identify this as “Sacred Tradition, Tradition, or tradition—that fuels Roman theology today, was not the driving force behind the Nicene Council either. This can be seen in many ways. The Nicene Council does not make its definition in the name of a Roman bishop; neither does it say, “Tradition states thus and so, and hence we define this doctrine.” No, the Council, instead, is vitally interested in expressing themselves, as much as possible, in the language of Scripture, not the language of tradition.
Now, before my opponents blow a gasket, there are certainly references to “tradition” in the period prior to, and coinciding with, Nicaea. One can hardly open a copy of any Roman Catholic apologetic resource today without finding such references. But even a brief perusal of the patristic sources in their own context reveals immediately that what the early Fathers meant by “tradition” is not what Rome means by “tradition” today. For example, Irenaeus is often cited as being supportive of the concept of “tradition,” yet rarely will one find any discussion of just what he meant by the term “tradition.” What was Irenaeus’ “tradition”? Let’s see:
These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ, the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics (Ad Her. III:1:2).
One God, Creator, one Christ, Jesus, the Son of God. Such hardly qualifies as being very supportive of extra-biblical, oral “traditions”! No Bodily Assumption, no Papal Infallibility here.
When we speak specifically of the Nicene Church, we can find no greater example of that Church than the great Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria. And yet, his view of Scripture, and his view of tradition, and his view of authority, is far removed from anything a modern Roman Catholic would wish to present. Space does not permit but a few points. First, remember that Athanasius in the years following Nicaea at times stood alone against the vast majority of the hierarchy of the visible Church of his day in remaining true and faithful to the deity of Christ. He defended his faith by reference to Scriptural passages, not by reference to some nebulous, oral tradition. His was a biblical argument for the deity of Christ—all other “sources” are subserviated to the highest authority, that of Scripture. Nicaea was the very “word of the Lord” for only one reason: Nicaea spoke in concert with Scripture. This is Athanasius’ faith. And we can see this in his statements. I provide only a few representative samples:
…for the tokens of truth are more exact as drawn from Scripture, than from other sources…. (De Decretis, 31).
But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things (Ad Episcopos 4).
Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture (De Synodis, 6).
The Holy and Inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the Truth. (Contra Gentes, I:1)
These [canonical] books are the fountains of salvation, so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them: in these alone the school of piety preaches the Gospel; let no man add to or take away from them. (Fest. Ep. 39).
The simple fact of the matter is that the Nicene Church did not function on a Roman Catholic model of ultimate authority. Hence, the Nicene Church was not the Roman Church.
The Church and the Host. I would imagine my opponents will be somewhat surprised that I present this particular issue. It is assumed, by many, that history is simply beyond question in support of the Roman Catholic concept of the Mass from the first days on. However, it isn’t. Not only can a case be made against the later, physically-oriented concepts of “real presence” that one will find in medieval writers, but the idea that the early Fathers would have understood, or embraced, the modern concept of transubstantiation simply finds no solid basis in the early Church. When Tertullian wrote against Marcion’s gnostic denials of the physical nature of Christ’s body during His earthly ministry, he used the Lord’s Supper as an illustration of how absurd it would be to believe as Marcion does. At one point Tertullian says,
When He so earnestly expressed His desire to eat the passover, He considered it His own feast; for it would have been unworthy of God to desire to partake of what was not His own. Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is my body,”
If one were to find such a paragraph in the pages of most modern Roman Catholic works, one would expect to find it being read with the full-blown concept of the modern Roman Catholic Mass, replete with transubstantiation. “Here we find yet another witness to the early faith of the Church” we might expect to hear. Yet, as you may note, there is but a comma at the end of the sentence, not a period. For the rest of Tertullian’s statement is,
that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a figure (Latin: Acceptum panem et distributum discipulus corpus suum illum fecit, Hoc es corpus meum dicendo, id est figura mei corporis. Figura autem no fuisset, nisi veritatis esset corpus. Ceterum vacua res, quod est phantasma, figuram capere non posset.) If, however, (as Marcion might say,) He pretended the bread was His body, because He lacked the truth of bodily substance, it follows that He must have given bread for us. It would contribute very well to the support of Marcion’s theory of a phantom body, that bread should have been crucified! But why call His body bread, and not rather (some other edible thing, say) a melon, which Marcion must have had in lieu of a heart! He did not understand how ancient was this figure of the body of Christ…
As is so often the case, the reality of what is said by Tertullian (and many other early Fathers) is a good bit different than what we might be led to believe by the citation of just a part of the passage. Tertullian had no problems speaking of symbols and representations when speaking of the Supper. Of course, he never speaks of transubstantiation or anything that would lead us to believe that he thought in the Aristotelian categories of accidence and substance, either. In the same way Cyprian, fifty years later, could write an entire epistle regarding the Supper, and never once hint at the modern Roman concept. For example, he can write as follows:
Know then that I have been admonished that, in offering the cup, the tradition of the Lord must be observed, and that nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf, as that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be offered mingled with wine. For when Christ says, “I am the true vine.” the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures (Epistle LXII).
These are surely not the words we would expect from a modern Roman Catholic bishop. Often those who embrace the authority of Rome have a difficult time removing from their thinking the basic presuppositions that are presented with such force so that even when examining historical information they end up reading it as Rome would have them to, not as the original authors would have intended. This is most true when reading the early Fathers and how they spoke of the Supper. A common example can be drawn from Ignatius, who, when writing to the Smyrneans, said,
They abstain from eucharist (thanksgiving) and prayer, because they allow not that the eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up.
To the ear trained to hear the Fathers as Roman Catholics, Ignatius sounds as if he is referring to transubstantiation. He is not. Going back to the context, one finds he is making the same argument that Tertullian made above. He is arguing against the docetic gnostics who denied the reality of the physical incarnation of Christ. It is foolishness to participate in the Supper, which calls us to remembrance of the flesh and blood of Christ, broken for us, if, in fact, there never was such flesh! Only by reading a doctrine that would take a thousand years to crystalize back into Ignatius can one come up with a Roman understanding. Interestingly enough, Irenaeus, likewise, in his Against Heresies (5:2:2), is making the exact same argument, not teaching transubstantiation, but instead fighting against the docetic gnostics who denied the physical reality of Christ’s incarnation.
But there is another direction from which I wish to briefly approach this issue: that of the reserved host. If the doctrine of transubstantiation is, in fact, the proper understanding of the phrase “real presence” in patristic sources, then it would follow that consecrated hosts would be treated as later councils would demand. We should expect to find tabernacles in the churches of the days of Nicaea, and should expect to find worship of the reserved hosts. Yet, Roman Catholic sources are quick to admit that tabernacles did not develop for at least another six hundred years after Nicaea! Why? For the same reason the term “transubstantiation” did not appear until about the same time: the concept of “real presence” as found in modern Roman dogma was not a part of the ancient faith of the Church. And if you don’t have transubstantiation as a part of the faith of a Church, I submit you do not have the Roman Catholic Church.
What, then, must we conclude on the basis of the facts of history? First, that there are certain doctrines and dogmas that set Roman Catholicism apart from all other communions. That these doctrines are, allegedly, based upon apostolic tradition. Furthermore, we assert that without these doctrines, you do not have Roman Catholicism. We have asked the question, “Did the Church which produced the Nicene Council exhibit these fundamental hallmarks of Roman Catholicism?” The answer provided by the facts themselves is quite simply, “no.” Hence, we propose to the reader that the Church of Nicaea was not the Church of Rome, and that the changes that have taken place in the nearly 1700 years since then are not a matter of natural progression and “evolution,” but are, instead, degenerations and perversions of the Church that so clearly defended the deity of Christ so long ago.
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Submitted April 17th, 1997
Resolved: The Church of the Council of Nicaea is not the Roman Catholic Church
Opening Statement: Brother John Mary
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Professor James White, who has chosen the proposition for this debate, believes that the Council of Nic€a was a legitimate council of the Catholic Church. He believes he is a member of the Catholic Church, but not the Roman Catholic Church. I have taken the negative position against his proposition, knowing full well that the Church of the Council of Nicaea was indeed the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the same Church to which I belong in the twentieth Century.
To say “The Church of the Council of Nicaea was not the Roman Catholic Church” is sort of like saying to Leonardo DaVinci: “I don’t care what the history books say: You did not paint the Mona Lisa!,” or to George Washington : “It doesn’t matter whom they carved into stone at Mt. Rushmore: You were not a president of the United States,” or even better: “Thou art not Peter; and upon this rock I do notbuild my Church, and the gates of hell shall prevail against it.” Sounds silly? Of course it does. Why? Primarily because such claims would deny the obvious. What is obvious here? That from the founding of the Church by Christ in 33 AD until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, there has always been a body of Christians acting as the visible and authoritative True Church, espousing Roman Catholic doctrines. The actions and language of the Council of Nicaea confirms this. It is my intention to present all the available arguments and historical documentation to help you, the reader, realize this.
If the Church at the Council of Nicaea was not the Church with papal authority, hierarchical structure, the priesthood, bishops with jurisdiction, the sacraments, blessed objects, ritual exorcisms, holy water, infant baptism, relics, veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary (who was assumed into heaven), belief in her Immaculate Conception and perpetual sinlessness, veneration of the Saints, excommunications, statues and icons, prayers for the dead, apostolic succession, miracles and all the other components of Roman Catholicism rejected by Professor White, then what Church was it? Later, I will provide proofs that those men who were present at the Council of Nicaea held Roman Catholic beliefs, distinct from those beliefs of James White. If Professor White does not hold the same beliefs as the men who were part of the Nicene Council, then it will be plain to see thatJames White is not part of the Church responsible for the Council of Nicaea. When I provide the proofs that the Nicene bishops and priests held Catholic doctrines, then it can be concluded that the Church at Nicaea and the Roman Catholic Church are indeed the same entity.
Would Dr. White care to list the condemnations of the Catholic Church against Christians like St. Ephrem who apparently held “heretical” beliefs concerning the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her perpetual sinlessness? Is there any mention at Nicaea of such condemnations? Why would the Catholic Church allow St. Ephrem to hold such a position as he held at the council if he was a heretic?
Is it not heresy to “deny” Holy Scripture? “For all have sinned and do need the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Is it or is it not heresy to say that Mary never sinned? If you say yes, why was Ephrem not condemned? His belief in the Immaculate Conception was certainly no secret. Were they more lax back in those days, or is it that his profession represented a time-honored tradition originating from the Apostles? St. Ephrem was only one of many that professed the Universal belief in the Immaculate Conception. If Professor White disagrees with the latter remark, he will be asked to back it up, and I will prove him wrong. The Catholics present at the Council of Nicaea were well-familiar with this Marian tradition, and would have joyfully accepted Pope Pius IX’s definition of the Immaculate Conception. (This will be expounded on in a future debate on The Assumption of Mary.)
By attempting to defend his proposition, does Professor White think he can easily dismiss the copious and manifest facts of history, not to neglect the very words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? In this debate, I will carry the following principles unto their conclusions:
1) Christ founded a visible Church which was to be in existence for all time and everywhere, until the end of the world (ergo the name Catholic, meaning Universal). 2) The Church would have binding authority over men in matters of faith and morals. 3) By its very nature, the Church of 33 AD, established by Christ, would always be recognizable throughout the centuries.
There can be only one Church that fits that description. What Church existed in all centuries since the first century AD? If Dr. White intends to prove that The Roman Catholic Church is not that Church, then he must supply the proofs indicating which Church does fit the description, and has been in existence from 33 AD. Whatever Church the Church at Nicaea was, its structure, hierarchy and doctrines would have to be found in every single century subsequent to the fourth century: “And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matt. 28:20) Acknowledging these very words of Christ as meaning that He would always be with His Church, I will insist, throughout the debate, that Professor White positively identify the True Church of Christ in centuries following the Council of Nicaea. Remember: James White has stated he believes Christ established a visible Church. He will not be able to claim that the Church was not visible after the Council of Nicaea. Here, he must positively identify the True Church after the fourth century. When he attempts to do this, I will show that those Christians, whom he will be quoting, were actually Catholics or heretics. In this endeavor, I will be giving him two choices: 1) to deny that Christ intended His Church to continue after the Council of Nicaea 2) to admit that the visible Church seen throughout history was indeed Roman Catholic.
As an aside, James White is part of a Reformed Baptist congregation. Could he name some of the councils initiated by the Reformed Baptists, subsequent to the Council of Nicaea? And if Reformed Baptists were not in existence yet, then why is he a Reformed Baptist? Would he also name some of the members of his church from those councils? And if his church did not initiate councils, why not? He does not deny that the Council of Nicaea was a legitimate council of the Church established by Christ. According to James White, was Nicaea the last council the “True Catholic Church” ever had?
At this point, I wish to establish some foundational arguments based on Holy Scripture. The following quotes are from the New Testament and pertain directly to the Church Christ established. Here I point out that in order for the Church in question to be universal, and established by Christ, it must be able to pass this litmus test which incorporates Our Lord’s own words:
“Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)
If Christ did not come to destroy the Old Law, but to fulfill it, then we know the Church He was about to establish in the New Testament could be recognized by its resemblance to the Church of the Old Testament – the Church of the Jews. Because if He did not intend destruction of the Old Law, then He must have intended a certain preservation of it by way of continuity. Now, ask yourself this one question: What Church, claiming to have been established by Christ and in existence since the first century AD, would bear resemblance to the religion practiced by the Hebrew high priests in the Holy Temple? The Roman Catholic Church would. What denomination has designed its church buildings, according to the design of the Holy Temple, including the sanctuary, porch and knave? Again: the Roman Catholic Church. Further, in what church will one find incense, candles, holy water, vestments, rubrics, and other such ceremonies found in the Old Testament? Need I answer?
What Christian Church has a priesthood? Did Christ say He would destroy the priesthood? Where does it say that in the New Testament? What Christian Church offers sacrifice? (The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.) Where does Christ say that sacrifice will no longer be offered for remission of sins in His Church? What Christian Church has the Eucharist and declares it to be the Body of Christ? Why did the Council Fathers at Nicaea codify Canon #18 if they did not believe in the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the power of the priesthood?
Would Dr. White care to explain the seemingly Romanish tone of that canon? And while we are on canons: Would Dr. White care to list any “canons” proposed by the Reformed Baptist Church? If such canons exist, am I bound to obey them?
All of the Catholics attending the Nicene council had a belief in Purgatory. What Christian Church has a belief in Purgatory, as the Jews of the Old Testament did, and the Jews of today still do? Ask any Rabbi who says the Kaddish — the prayers for the dead at a Jewish funeral. The Rabbi will relate that it is simply an ancient tradition from the Patriarchs and Prophets (before the Christian era). We even see St. Paul making reference to the deceased Onesiphorus:
“The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day. And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou very well knowest.” ( 2Tim. 1:18)
Since it is plain to see that St. Paul offered a prayer for the repose of the soul of Onesiphorus, a repose which according to St. Paul was, in part, merited by certain works he had performed for St. Paul, then surely we can assume that every faithful Catholic at the Nicene Council held the same belief. And why pray for the repose of a Christian soul if there is no Purgatory, only Heaven or Hell? (This apparently heretical utterance by St. Paul may have given St. Peter an opportunity to even up the score with St. Paul, after having been rebuked by him in Galatians Chapter 2.)
“The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day.” This sounds so much like the Catholic prayer for the faithful departed: “Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. And may his soul and the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.” Why offer prayers for the dead if it is to no avail? Either St. Paul was a heretic or a Catholic. Now I ask Dr. White: Since the Jews always believed in a place of purgation, as we Catholics believe in Purgatory, then where in the New Testament do we hear of Purgatory being abolished? Even more interesting: What year did the Catholic Church initiate an unscriptural and untraditional doctrine known as Purgatory? Also: Who were the true Christians who condemned that belief when the Catholic Church initiated it? Surely there were Christians around like Dr. White to challenge this novelty.
I continue with the foundational scripture quotes:
“And I say to thee: thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shall bind upon earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth is loosed also in heaven.” (Matt. 16: 18,19)
James: At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself: “Here we go again.” Surprise! I won’t be getting into an explanation of how Christ founded the Church on Peter, and that Peter was the first Pope, as is evidenced by the above quote. Rather, I will make the following points: 1) Christ founded the Catholic Church; 2) Christ promised His Church shall never fail (indefectability) 3) Christ gave His Church authority over men. (James White would agree with all of these statements).
The lawful authority of the Catholic Church was witnessed at the Council of Nicaea when it corrected the heretics through the binding force of it canons. That authority was recognized by the entire Catholic Church in future Councils. In this debate, James White has not questioned the authority of the Catholic Church which was exercised at the Nicene Council. Quite fairly then, I ask, what other Councils of the Church does James White accept, and if he does accept any others, does he also recognize the authority behind them which binds the faithful? Extending the idea further: What church other than the Roman Catholic Church exercised binding authority on its members, for instance, in the 9th century AD? If it wasn’t the Roman Catholic Church, then which Church was it?
Does Professor White exercise binding authority over the members of his congregation as the Catholic Church does by Her disciplines (fasting, indulgences, penances, etc.)? If not, then who in his denomination has that authority? (The same kind of authority we witness at Nicaea – a council Professor White accepts.)
“You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid.” (Matt. 5:14)
“So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Here Our Lord tells the Apostles that their faith and good works must be visible for all the world to see. He is revealing His plan for the Church – a plan that includes high-visibility and edifying example. The Church at the Council of Nicaea was as visible as city seated on a mountain. The entire Christian world knew that the True Catholic Church convened the council. It gave light to the world in its condemnation of Arianism, the denial of the Divinity of Christ, when it defined His Divinity for all time.
If Our Lord intended His Church to be highly visible and recognizable, as Dr. White has already agreed , then after the Council of Nicaea we should be able to easily identify the True Church and her members in subsequent centuries. After all, Nicaea was held in 325 AD, and we will be citing councils that came hundreds of years after Nicaea. Records and writings concerning these councils are much more abundant that those available from the 4th century AD. It will be by this continuity that you will discover the Roman Catholic Church is the same Church which was responsible for the Council of Nicaea. Maybe we should ask Dr. White to list all known Church councils convened in the East and the West after Nicaea, and tell us which were “Catholic” and which were Roman Catholic or which were neither. I assume he would accept the Catholic ones while rejecting the Roman Catholic ones thus leaving me to wonder what he would do with the “neithers.” I think this would be a good one for the Q&A.
As a follow-up question, Professor White could be asked to identify members of the True Church in centuries following Nicaea, and show how those members did not hold Roman Catholic beliefs. In order to identify himself as a member of the True Church that convened the Council of Nicaea, he must prove those Christians believed what he believes as a Reformed Baptist.
My next Scriptural passage:
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matt. 28:19,20)
By this passage, we surely know that Christ will always be with His Church. Professor White agrees with this principle. Christ was with His Church in 325 AD when it convened the Nicene council – another fact with which my opponent would agree. If He was with his Church in 325 AD, then He is with His Church in 1997. The burden of proof is on Professor White to show us which Church is the True Church of Christ in the twentieth century. Since we will prove that the Council of Nicaea taught Roman Catholic doctrines, and its participants also held Roman Catholic beliefs, then the obvious conclusion will be that the Church at the Council of Nicaea was indeed the Roman Catholic Church.
Thus far, all of my arguments have been mainly conceptual, establishing a logical framework for the rest of my part in this debate. What follows are factual proofs from history which clearly show the Roman Catholic nature of the Church at the Council of Nicaea. For the sake of space, they are presented in brief, buletted paragraphs:
First Point: The Council of Nicaea was attended and run by Roman Catholics.
- Pope Silvester was represented by two Roman priests, Victor and Vincent, and also by the Bishop of Cordova, Hosius. Both St. Athanasius and Theodoret confirm that Hosius was the president of the Council. In a list drawn in order of rank, the historian Socrates lists Hosius first of all bishops, before more eminent bishops. In fact, Hosius and the two priests signed the decrees first. After their signatures comes that of St. Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria. By right, no priest should have signed before any bishop. Neither did the bishop of Cordova, Spain have the right to sign before a Patriarch. The other Spanish bishops signed further down on the list, where Hosius would have, had he merely been representing himself, and not Pope Sylvester.
- The synod was convened, according to the Sixth Ecumenical Council – Constantinople III – by Constantine and Pope Sylvester: “Arius arose as an adversary to the doctrine of the Trinity, Constantine and Silvester immediately assembled the great Synod at Nicaea.”
- According to Socrates, Pope Julius asserted that, “Ecclesiastical discipline prohibits that a decree be received by the Churches unless sanctioned by the Roman Church.” Pope Julius ruled the Church 11 years after the Council and was the Pope who affirmed Athanasius’ orthodoxy. Athanasius himself quotes this same pontiff rebuking the Eusebians for bypassing his authority (which he “received from the blessed Apostle Peter”) in condemning the church of the Alexandrians.
- In Dionysius’ collection of the Acts of Nicaea, he affirms that the Pope approved the Council: “And it pleased the council that all these things be send to the Bishop of Rome, Silvester.”
- Two of the theologians at the Council were Sts. Ephrem and Athanasius. Both were deacons at the time. The first remained so and a monk his whole life, while the other eventually became a bishop. Ephrem, it can be proved, believed the following: Mary was the Mother of God, thewoman of Genesis 3:15, our intercessor in heaven, the “source of our salvation,” and she resembles Christ in being totally free from all sin; Peter was the Rock and head of the Church. He (Ephrem) also prayed to saints (dead ones).
- We already cited Athanasius quoting Pope Julius asserting his own papal authority. Elsewhere, Athanasius calls Peter “the Chief” and refers to Rome as “the Apostolic throne.”
Second Point: The Council of Nicaea taught Catholic doctrine.
- Certain canons of the council, among them the eighth, speak of “doing penance” for sins. People found guilty of certain crimes (schism, for one) were to do assigned penances for a certain duration of time. This is the Catholic discipline of “doing penance” that Protestants reject. This canon (8) and others explicitly mention the “Catholic Church.”
- Canons 15 and 16 speak of the “ordination” of Bishops, priests, and deacons.
- Canon 18 explicitly mentions the “Eucharistic Sacrifice.” In fact, this canon asserts three Catholic dogmatic truths: (1) The Eucharist is the Body of Christ. (2) The Eucharistic service is a “sacrifice.” (3) Bishops and priests alone have the power to consecrate the Eucharist. (Do you, James White, accept all Canons from the Council of Nicaea?)
- During the discussion over the Creed, the Eusebians wanted to use only biblical expressions in the Creed, hoping that such wording would be sufficiently vague to allow their Arian interpretation. This was frustrated when the term homousios (“consubstantial”) was used. This was a rejection, by the Council Fathers of the sola scriptura approach of the Eusebians.
Third Point: The Church which later subscribed to Nicaea was the Catholic Church.
- The Robber Council of Ephesus: In 449, the defenders of Eutyches (the Monophysite Heresiarch) summoned a council which was intended to be Ecumenical. A papal legate named Hilarus (later pope) was sent. At one point, through military force (soldiers were present), bishops were forced to sign a decree deposing Saint Flavian, who had condemned Euteches and his followers. With one word, the papal legate brought the council to a halt: Contradicitur, “it is contradicted.” He quickly ran from the scene in fear of his life.
- The Council of Chalcedon, which was two years after the Robber Council, condemned its chief architect, Dioscorus because he “…had held an (ecumenical) council without the Apostolic See, which was never allowed.” This was a reference to Dioscorus’ re-convening the council after the papal legate withdrew. St. Leo the Great excommunicated the perpetrators of the synod and wrote to the emperor that the acts of the council were null. No one in the East or West considers “Ephesus II” to be ecumenical, because the pope condemned it. Was this not the same Church which had, just over one hundred years earlier, held a Council at Nicaea ? Could it have been a different Church?
- Constantinople II: The same guilty party that schemed at the Robber Council also schemed for a Council which eventually became ecumenical – Constantinople II. Pope Vigilius was, in the year 545 forcibly taken to Constantinople, where he was to approve a council convened to condemn, more than 100 years after the fact, the Nestorian doctrines of Theodore of Mopsuestia and two other men. (The monophysites, whose heresy was the opposite of Nestorianism, viewed any fresh condemnation of Nestorianism as a feather in their cap.) The Pope approved the Council, which taught sound doctrine. Because of his approval, this council too is received as ecumenical.
- The Synod at Arles (France) in 314 said that Easter should be celebrated on the same day everywhere, and it appealed to the authority of the Pope to enforce the decision. (This issue was finally settled at the Nicene Council, where the Roman custom for keeping Easter was made the positive law of the Church.)
- Some ancient Latin translations of the Council’s sixth canon read: “Ecclesia Romana semper habuit primatum.” (The Roman Church has always had the primacy.) This led Emperor Valentinian III in an edict of 445 to maintain that the Council had confirmed the primacy of the Apostolic See.
- In the person of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (certainly run by the same Church which ran the First!) sent to Pope Leo their acts to receive his approval, saying, “All the force and confirmation of these acts is reserved to the authority of your Holiness.”
- Such saints as Popes Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Ambrose, and Chrysostom, all of whom, it can be proved, held Roman Catholic doctrine on the Papacy, the Mass, prayers to saints, the authority of Apostolic Tradition, the Papacy, etc., believed in the authority of the Council.
In summary, James White will have the burden of explaining to the reader: why the Council of Nicaea contains canons that are explicitly Roman Catholic in content; why the periti at that Council held Roman Catholic beliefs; why Pope St.Sylvester I sent legates to the Council with an authority which was recognized by all, and much, much more. I look forward to the first set of rebuttals.
Resolved: The Church of the Council of Nicaea is not the Roman Catholic Church
Rome Continues to Play Fast and Loose with History
Professor White’s 2500 Word Response
For many hundreds of years, Roman Catholics used the famous Donation of Constantine as evidence of Papal supremacy in even temporal and political affairs. Yet, as everyone knows, the Donation was a fraud. Rome has a rich history in changing and rewriting history to insert her own claims into the historical record. And why would any group have to change history, if, in fact, their claims are true?
This debate is on the question of the identity of the Church that existed in the days of Nicaea. I have already stated that the Church of 325 was just that: the Church of 325. It was not Roman Catholic for all the reasons already enumerated. It was not Eastern Orthodox, nor was it Protestant. My opponent attempts to provide at least some of the necessary elements of Roman Catholicism, but certainly not all. Let’s note a few items:
- Most of Brother John’s presentation is irrelevant to the thesis at hand. I am most disappointed by the rhetoric that fills the first half of his presentation, and will not violate the spirit and decorum of proper debate in responding to issues that are not even marginally relevant. I will trust the reader to do as any debate judge must do: dismiss any and all claims that are not substantiated by documentation, citation, or logical argument from previously established points.
- Even in the later sections where my opponent attempts to provide some serious argumentation, his assertions are almost universally undocumented. It is next to impossible to interact with assertions that have no citations, no documentation. On a simple debate level, almost no serious information has been provided by Brother John.
Numerous assertions are made that, while relevant to my presentation, are utterly without merit. For example, my opponent says, “All of the Catholics attending the Nicene council had a belief in Purgatory.” Yet, not a single word or citation from any of those attending Nicaea is provided in support. This kind of argumentation would disqualify my opponent immediately in any formal setting. In the same way, broad, sweeping (and generally untrue) assertions are made, such as, “Such saints as Popes Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Ambrose, and Chrysostom, all of whom, it can be proved, held Roman Catholic doctrine on the Papacy, the Mass, prayers to saints, the authority of Apostolic Tradition, the Papacy, etc., believed in the authority of the Council.” Again, no citations are given, and such simply disqualifies my opponent on any logical or scholarly level.
So I have very little, in reality, to which I can respond from a professional perspective, since the majority of Brother John’s arguments have been presented in an invalid way, without scholarly citation or concern for documentation. Even those areas that I have chosen to address are, technically, beyond comment, since even the assertions concerning such things as the role of Hosius and the wording of the Sixth Canon of Nicaea were presented ipse dixit, without proper documentation.
Let us keep in mind throughout the debate the issue at hand: was it Roman Catholicism that forged the Nicene faith? Or does modern Roman Catholicism hold as doctrines beliefs that were not held by the Church of that day? If my opponent fails to establish the belief in all five of the areas of doctrine that I presented in my opening statement (and documented from valid sources), he loses this debate. And let us remember: findingsome areas of agreement is not enough for my opponent. I can find all sorts of areas of agreement with Protestant belief in the early Church, and I provided some examples in my opening statement. If finding some agreements equals identity, then the early Church was Protestant. But obviously, that doesn’t follow. It is the unique and definitional beliefs that are important.
And, in passing, I would point out that my opponent is attacking a straw man when he asks me to find “Reformed Baptist” councils at the time of Nicaea. I have never claimed there were any. Apostolic succession is a matter of fidelity to the truth, not historical genealogy. It is more important to stand in the teaching of the Apostles than to trust in an alleged historical procession that casts truth out into the cold.
Let’s review the five areas I presented in my opening statement. I said the Church of Nicaea did not:
- look to the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ, the head of the universal Church, the pastor of all Christians;
- believe in the Marian doctrines that set Rome apart, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Bodily Assumption;
- embrace such concepts as the thesaurus meritorum, purgatory, and indulgences;
- believe in the Roman concept of authority, replete with extra-biblical, revelatory or inspired “traditions” that add to the “deposit of faith” items and beliefs not found in Scripture:
- nor practice the necessary devotions to reserved, consecrated hosts that would substantiate the leap from a belief in “real presence” to the much later belief in “transubstantiation.”
No effort was made on my opponent’s part to say that these doctrines are not, in fact, definitional of Roman Catholicism. So what effort was made on my opponent’s part to document these beliefs in the early Church? Let’s go in order
- Brother John presents undocumented assertions concerning the role of Pope Sylvester. Modern historians agree that Pope Sylvester did not call the Council of Nicaea (see Schaff’s comments in his History of the Christian Church 3:335.) Basing his argument upon the order of signatures, rather than any statement made by any participant, Brother John asserts that the Spanish bishop Hosius was representing the Pope. Yet, he cannot provide any documentation of this outside the unfounded assertion concerning order of signatures. Roman primacy can find no better support than the order of signatures?
- Brother John then points to the assertion—found nearly four hundred years later!—from A.D. 680 that Sylvester called Nicaea. The fact that the earliest documentable evidence for this claim comes from the end of the seventh century is sufficient to dismiss the claim and to prove the correctness of my original assertion. Reliance upon such dubious material is the hallmark of Roman Catholic historical revisionism (seeSalmon’s comments on this, Infallibility of the Church, p. 289).
- He asserts (again, without citations) that “Pope Julius ruled the Church 11 years after the Council” and that Julius claimed he had to acknowledge the Council for it to be valid. Yet, simple historical fact proves that Julius’ support of Nicaea was insufficient to establish it against the Arian resurgency that arose immediately after the Council, proving that the idea that the Church as a whole subserviated their beliefs to the Roman bishop is an anachronism of monumental proportions. The lapse of Liberius, bishop of Rome, that followed, likewise shows the anachronistic character of modern Roman claims regarding this period.
Hence, with reference to the first issue, Brother John fails completely to establish, from any credible sources at all, the concept of Papal supremacy at Nicaea. Instead, he assumes it, as all faithful Roman Catholics must.
Next, in regard to the Marian doctrines, all we find is a single line from Ephraem, noted by Kelly in these words, “Only in Syria, where Marian devotion was particularly fervid, do we find Ephraem delineating her as free from every stain, like her Son” (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 495). Yet Brother John not only takes this isolated quotation as being representative of all in attendance at Nicaea (an incredible leap!), but goes on to draw from one line the entire doctrine of the Immaculate Conception! Such misuse of historical materials is reprehensible, especially since even the most conservative Roman sources, such as Ludwig Ott, recognize the historical development of the doctrine (see Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp. 200-201). No citations are provided from any of the leading figures who left us volumes and volumes of works on the subject of theology, such as Athanasius. Why? Because the doctrine did not exist in the Church at the time.
With reference to purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits, we are provided with absolutely nothing outside of mere speculations and unfounded assertions. A passage that is manifestly unrelated to the topic (2 Timothy 1:18) is cited by Brother John, but other than this a-contextual use of a Bible passage, we are given no evidence that the Nicene Church did, in fact, believe in purgatory, the treasury of merit, and indulgences. Instead, we are offered only unfounded assertions, such as, “Since the Jews always believed in a place of purgation, as we Catholics believe in Purgatory, then where in the New Testament do we hear of Purgatory being abolished?” Such is not logical argumentation or debate, it is a classic example of begging the question.
Only one effort is made to establish any kind of Roman concept of “tradition,” and that in reference to the use of homoousios by the Nicene Council. However, as I pointed out in an article on this subject (“What Really Happened at Nicaea?” in the Christian Research Journal, Summer, 1997):
Athanasius notes that the gathered bishops truly desired to express their faith in primarily Scriptural language, and they tried to do so. But every time they came up with a statement that was limited solely to biblical terms, the Arians would find a way of “reading” that in such a way as to allow for agreement.
This was followed by an endnote that read,
Someone might well say that this demonstrates the insufficiency of Scripture to function as the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church; i.e., that it denies sola scriptura. But sola scriptura does not claim the Bible is sufficient to answer every perversion of its own revealed truths. Peter knew well that there would be those who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, and it is good to note that God has not deemed it proper to transport all heretics off the planet at the first moment they utter their heresy. Struggling with false teaching has, in God’s sovereign plan, been a part of the maturing of His people.
It would seem to me that the issue of the deity of Christ and Arianism would be the perfect place for the Roman apologist to be able to prove the existence of his inspired oral tradition. Surely someone like Athanasius should have been appealing to such an “oral tradition” over and over again in his defense of Nicaea. Yet, of course, this isn’t the case (see the discussion in “Sola Scriptura and the Early Church” in Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, pp. 42-52).
As to the worship of reserved hosts, the closest we come is the assertion that canon 18 of the Council of Nicaea speaks of the “Eucharistic sacrifice.” The phrase, however, does not appear in any of the standard English translations to which I have access, and since we are, as normal, not given any reference citations, it is impossible to deal with the assertion. The same holds true with the assertion that the canon uses the term “sacrifice.” Canon 18 is actually about deacons not administering the Eucharist to presbyters. Again, if this is the best the Roman apologist can muster, what does this say about the actual state of affairs?
The value of this debate has been seriously diminished by my opponents failure to present his material in a scholarly fashion. I cannot help but to point out that Rome has a long history of using fraudulent and untrustworthy sources of information when it comes to historical claims. Even here, Brother John has given us an example. He goes so far as to cite a later Latin interpolation of the sixth canon of the Council of Nicaea that inserted the phrase, “Rome has the primacy.” I wish to conclude by asking the reader to consider what this means. Why would a person have to cite a later interpolation (the insertion is clearly not original, and no modern scholars, Roman or otherwise, defend it as original) to make their point? Why? Because Canon Six is so devastating to Roman claims. Note what it says:
Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.
The most obvious reading of the canon is that Rome’s privileges are limited (just as the 28th Canon of Chalcedon would say more than a century later). Later devotees of Roman authority would find this disagreeable, hence, they had to change the reading, just as later centuries would make up the myth that Pope Sylvester had called the Council of Nicaea in the first place. Obviously, if history is on one’s side, you don’t have to expend energy to re-write it. The long, long list of historical revisions undertaken by Roman apologists over the centuries proves one point beyond question: Rome did not have the position in the past that she claims for herself now.
Hence, in conclusion, we see that Brother John has failed to present meaningful counter-argumentation to my opening statement. What argumentation he has provided has been undocumented and unverifiable. His facts are disjointed, and he has failed to deal with the simple fact that finding similarities does not prove identity, anymore than my being able to find similarities in early sources with my own Protestant beliefs makes the Fathers Protestants. I can agree, wholeheartedly, with many things spoken by Athanasius or Augustine or Chrysostom or Cyril of Jerusalem. For example, Augustine said (Epistolam Johannis tractus, 2):
For when He offered Himself to them to touch, this did not suffice Him unless He also confirmed the heart of the believers from the Scriptures, for He foresaw that the time would come when we would not have anything to touch but would have something to read.
And Cyril of Jerusalem said:
In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures (Catechetical Lectures, 4:17).
But I do not err, as Brother John errs, in thinking this makes Augustine or Cyril a Protestant. In the same way, my opponent has erred in thinking the Church of Nicaea was Roman Catholic, when it was not.
[End Word Count. Total = 2471]
Submitted June 3, 1997
ADDENDUM: Please note. I will not be able to participate further in this debate until July 15th, 1997 at the earliest. I have responsibilities to my publisher that will preclude further participation until after that date. It is my intention to complete the debate, but to do so in an orderly, proper manner.
Resolved: The Church of the Council of Nicaea is not the Roman Catholic Church
First Rebuttal: Brother John Mary
[Note: Many of the hyperlinks on this page must be read to understand the commentary.]
I couldn’t agree more with James’ technique for identifying a church: “Well, you ask the folks what they believe, and determine their theological beliefs from that.” This approach is very logical and certainly makes the delineation between us quite noticeable. I will use hismethodology to show that whatever church he claims membership in is not the same Church of the Council of Nicaea. Remember: James White “accepts” The Nicene Council as valid and authoritative, but says it is not Roman Catholic.
To organize his presentation, James used five categories of doctrines not believed or practiced in the Nicene Church (according to him). I will use these same categories as my outline.
1) “…look to the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ, the head of the universal Church, the pastor of all Christians.”
For this section, I will simply rely on the writings and history of Athanasius. This Catholic Bishop said, “For this will seem to be most good and very proper, if to the HEAD that is the SEE of PETER the APOSTLE, the BISHOPS of the Lord shall refer FROM ALL provinces.” (Letter from the Bishops of the Council of Sardica — including Athanasius — to Pope Julius.)
Athanasius, in his Defense against the Arians called the (local) Council of Sardica a “Great Council.” This Council, in two of its canons (3 and 6), graphically states the primacy of the Roman Pontiff over other bishops. These canons were no doubt in Athanasius’ mind when, around 360 he noted in De Synodis that “…a charge had been laid by some people against the bishop of Alexandria before the bishop of Rome… [Pope Julius]” Athanasius himself had been personally vindicated by Pope Julius after he appealed to the Holy Father. He appealed not only in writing, but in person, traveling all the way to Rome whither he stayed for three years. What’s more interesting is that the Eusebians (the bad guys) also asked the Pope to judge in the matter.
Athanasius himself quotes this same pontiff rebuking the Eusebians for bypassing his authority (which he “received from the blessed Apostle Peter”) in condemning the church of the Alexandrians. (Apologia Contra Arianos 35)
Writing about a pre-nicene condemnation of Arianism, he says “For Dionysius, Bishop of Rome, having written also against those who said that the Son of God was a creature and a created thing, it is manifest that not now for the first time but from old the heresy of the Arian adversaries of Christ HAS BEEN ANATHEMATIZED BY ALL.” (De Sententia)
Not the Universal Pastor?
2) “…believe in the Marian doctrines that set Rome apart, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Bodily Assumption…”
Since no Marian doctrines were addressed at the Council, I will not go into detail here. The Marian doctrines were touched upon in my opener and will be more thoroughly explored in our next debate. For now, I will refer the reader back to here for a refutation.
3) “…embrace such concepts as the thesaurus meritorum, purgatory, and indulgences…”
Lest James accuse us of “cut and paste” methods with our patristic sources (used, no less, in a “willy-nilly fashion”), we will confine ourselves to the mere mention of a few names of Fathers who affirm the truth of Purgatory: Sts. Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem, Tertullian, Perpetua. If James is interested in examining our willy-nilliness, he can ask us for references in the Q&A section.
Now, for a little more of James White’s intellectual insanity, we direct your attention to some of Luther’s 95 Theses found posted on his web page. We only speculate that White had an anti-Catholic intention in mind when he posted these. You figure it.
7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making humbly submissive to the priest, His representative.
9. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit, acting in the person of the pope, manifests grace to us, by the fact that the papal regulations always cease to apply at death, or in any hard case.
16. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as between despair, uncertainty, and assurance.
17. Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased.
25.The same power as the pope exercises in general over purgatory is exercised in particular by every single bishop in his bishopric and priest in his parish.
26. The pope does excellently when he grants remission to the souls in purgatory on account of intercessions made on their behalf, and not by the power of the keys (which he cannot exercise for them).
73. In the same way, the pope rightly excommunicates those who make any plans to the detriment of the trade in indulgences.
74. If therefore, indulgences were preached in accordance with the spirit and mind of the pope, all these difficulties would be easily overcome, and indeed, cease to exist.
James White: Did you bother to read the 95 Theses before posting them on your web site? To reiterate an important point made by Prof. White in Paragraph #1: “Well, you ask the folks what they believe, and determine their theological beliefs from that.” His acceptance of Luther’s 95 Theses, coupled with his rejection of the doctrines of Purgatory and indulgences, forms a contradiction. Can we expect an explanation for this?
Luther confesses that not only does the Pope exercise authority over Purgatory, but even the bishops and ordinary priests in their parishes. Two questions here: 1) Does the Reformed Baptist Church of James White have bishops and priests? 2) Do they exercise authority over Purgatory as their “pope” does?
Now really James: Does it look like Martin Luther would agree with you in your trashing of Purgatory and indulgences? I think he would more likely say: “Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of the indulgences.” (#71 of 95.)
Rhetorical question, James: was Martin Luther 1) a member of the Church of Nicaea, 2) a Roman Catholic or 3) something new under the sun?
Regarding the thesaurus meritorum (treasury of merit): not only did the Church of Nicaea believe it because it was a tradition from the Apostles,but it is clearly found in Holy Scripture. Matt. 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33, Luke 18:22 all indicate that there is merit for doing good works. All deal with the “treasure in heaven” given those who do charitable works. If James White wishes to deny Scriptural facts which are so clear, then surely he will lose his credibility.
4) “…believe in the Roman concept of authority, replete with extra-biblical, revelatory or inspired “traditions” that add to the “deposit of faith” items and beliefs not found in Scripture…”
Oral tradition is, of course, provable from scripture. We read 2 Thes. 2-15:
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
Furthermore, can you tell me what Christ was revealing to His Apostles in Acts 1:3 if it was not doctrine meant to be received by the ministers of His Church by way of oral tradition?
“To whom He shewed Himself alive after His passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God.”
Where in the New Testament can we find all the words spoken by Our Lord during the forty days after his Resurrection?
Is not all of God’s revelation important, especially when He speaks of the Kingdom of God, His Church? Luke 4:4:
“And Jesus answered him: it is written that man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
EVERY word is important. Do you mean to tell me that not even one of those words, which Jesus spoke during that specific period of time, was passed on orally? The burden of refutation is on your shoulders, James White.
White Claims: “Many Roman apologists have realized the impossibility of tracing many modern Roman dogmas to the primitive Church and have, as a result, abandoned the historical field of battle at this point.”
Really? I would like to know who these Roman apologists are that find it impossible to trace many Roman dogmas to the primitive Church. (If that is the case, then it is recommended that they find new work, and don’t give up their day jobs.) I dare James White to offer me one Roman Catholic dogma which he believes cannot be traced to the primitive Church. Whatever formal teachings found in His Church at any time of history must have originated from Christ Himself directly or through the Apostles. Our Lord’s very own words guarantee the infallibility of the teachings of His Church:
“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
“And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matt. 28:20)
There was no universal church in existence at the time of the Council of Trent that would dare claim physical and doctrinal “genealogy” back to the Apostles except for the Catholic Church (and the eastern schismatic churches). Would James care to produce counter evidence? Were not all of the major Reformers ex-Catholics?
If the above scriptural quotes are true and inerrant, then certainly there was a Church in existence in the 16th century which could claim to have preserved the teachings inherited from the Apostles by oral and written tradition. James White denies it was the Roman Catholic Church. If it wasn’t that Church, then tell us James, which visible body was the True Church, and why weren’t the Reformers members of that Church? Why were they originally Roman Catholic? If James answers that the Reformers were returning to original and true Christianity, because Rome departed from it, then how is it the Reformers (when regrouping) excluded the Pope, who existed, according to him, even during Nicaea? (White simply calls him the Bishop of Rome. If White acknowledges the existence, authority and legitimacy of the Bishop of Rome in the fourth century, then would he be kind enough to name the successors of that bishop up to and including the twentieth century?) Why did they abandon the Papacy? You see, according to non-Catholic “christians,” the Papacy has been part of the Roman Catholic Church at least since the fourth century. Maybe James implies that the Great Apostasy occurred in the fourth century, as many non-Catholics claim? If that didn’t happen, James, then in subsequent centuries beyond the Council of Nicaea, identify by name, members of the visible True Catholic Church. I choose the eighth century as a focal point. If you don’t answer this here, you will be forced to do so in the Q&A section where one cannot skirt issues.
James, would you explain what you mean by “general revelation?” And how can revelation that is “supernatural” be anything other than infallible? To say otherwise is self-contradictory. If you are sure it is from God, you can call it supernatural. How can it NOT be infallible? Can God err? If you are not sure it is from God, then why do you call it “supernatural?”
This sentence in paragraph 29 is pregnant with meaning: James has revealed one of the cardinal weaknesses of Protestantism, and, at the same time, he has shown why it was so necessary that I spend as much time as I did in my opener on the concept of continuity of religion. Simply put, if the three religions named by the Prof. are not the Church of Nicaea, and if the Church of Nicaea was the true Christian Church, then none of these sects are the true Church. But if the Church of Nicaea continued as God intended, and can be found today as a modern reality, then which one is it? James admits it’s not Protestantism; but, as any reader of this debate can tell, WE have not given up the ghost. Nicaaea is Roman Catholic in its doctrinal content, and its hero, Athanasius, was a Roman Catholic. (Not even a Reformed Baptist).
James claims there is a “fundamental disjunction” between the teachings and beliefs of the Nicene Church and those of the modern Roman Catholic Church. If that is true, then he himself has a responsibility to be able to identify those doctrines taught at the Council of Nicaea that are now formally rejected by the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly: Can James White state unequivocally that he embraces all of the doctrinal teachings disseminated by the Nicene Council the same way we Roman Catholics do? I, for one, reject not even one of those teachings.
James spends #34-39 on Athanasius, a section in which he does some willy-nillying of his own: He accurately quotes Athanasius partially and out-of-context, only the Saint goes on to say …”…but the ill disposition and the versatile and crafty irreligion of Eusebius and his fellows, compelled the Bishops, as I said before, to publish MORE DISTINCTLY the terms which overthrew their irreligion…” (Decretis 32) More distinct than Scripture? How can that be? (Sarcasm intended). What “extra-biblical” standard could possibly permit the Nicene Fathers to reformulate the content of Scripture in their own words? Athanasius himself will give us the key to this when he says:
“But beyond these [Scriptural] sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian and should no longer be called” (Ad Serapion 1:28)
“But you are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from APOSTOLIC TRADITION, and frequently accursed envy has wished to unsettle it, but has not been able” (Festal Letters, 29).
These, and the above quotes from Athanasius should settle the issue of that Father’s Catholicity.
5) “…nor practice the necessary devotions to reserved, consecrated hosts that would substantiate the leap from a belief in “real presence” to the much later belief in “transubstantiation.”
James has approached the brink of dementia at this point. The belief in the doctrine of Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist – a doctrine James admits is historically provable, but one he rejects as a Protestant – finds its devotional expression in reserving the Sacrament in our tabernacles for private adoration. (We hope this fact gives the reader some insight into the “logic” of James White.) The fact that this particular devotion was not practiced in the time or region of the Council of Nicaea is a moot point. (If James wants to know why it wasn’t practiced, I’d be happy to let him know in the Q&A section).
He would like to make “transubstantiation” depend on reservation of the Host, where as “transubstantiation” is proven from the doctrine of the Real Presence – a doctrine James concedes as “Nicene” (even though he rejects it). This is something of a catechism lesson for James on what Transubstantiation is: In between “bread” and “Real Presence” what happens? In other words, we know the early Christians weren’t worshipping bread as God – that’s idolatry (right?); so when the priest said certain words on the altar and then the people worshipped – as God – that which had formerly been bread, what do we call this change? The correct philosophical word is “Transubstantiation.” That’s not too difficult, is it? The Copts, who went into schism from Rome in 451 and the Greeks, who did so in 1054 both believe this same doctrine of Transubstantiation. James’ point here is either totally dishonest or pathetic and maybe a little of both.
By the way, James, since you complain that we Romans leaped from a belief in the “Real Presence” to “Transubstantiation.”: Do YOU believe in the Real Presence? A simple “Yes” or “No” will suffice. The audience awaits your response. ???????????
Resolved: The Church of the Council of Nicaea is not the Roman Catholic Church
Rome Fails to Follow the Rules
James White’s Second 2500 Word Response
Note: Please see the background information provided on our debate page here for information concerning this debate.
The following response is written in view of the following: Responses are limited to 2500 words, not 2500 words plus numerous hyper-links so as to provide citations without those citations counting against the word total.
[Begin Word Count Here]
If professional debate judges were involved in this adventure, the debate would have ended. John Mary has violated every canon of decorum and behavior in debate. If this was a public debate, the judges would have stopped it, and assigned the victory to me already, merely on the basis of flagrant disregard for the rules. But we have no debate judges. Instead, those who love the truth and are concerned about representing it will disregard the numerous ad-hominem attacks, irrelevant comments, and off-topic presentations, and will press onward with a positive defense of the thesis. That is my intention.
The vast majority of my opponent’s first rebuttal is beyond the bounds of response. I will attempt to find enough to interact with within the realm of what is proper to provide an edifying experience for those who are following the debate.
Most importantly, I wish to deal with the complete misrepresentation of Athanasius that marks the majority of John Mary’s comments. I have presented a great deal of information regarding the fact that at the Council of Nicea the bishop of Rome was not viewed as the head of the universal Church, the pastor of all Christians. Indeed, I refuted my opponent’s use of Sylvester, his anachronistic appeal to a tradition that did not develop until the seventh century, and the like, in my earlier installments. I stand with many historians in recognizing the process of development in papal authority. Indeed, Dr. Jackson rightly commented:
In truth the supremacy of the Roman see, as it has been understood in later times, was hardly [at the time of Basil] on the horizon. No bishop of Rome had even been present at Nicea, or at Sardica, where a certain right of appeal to his see was conceded. A bishop of Rome signed the Sirmian blasphemy. No bishop of Rome was present to save `the world’ from the lapse of Ariminum….The great intellectual Arian war was fought out without any claim of Rome to speak. Half a century after Basil’s death great orientals were quite unconscious of this supremacy [referring here to Theodoret]. (NPNF, Series II, vol. 8, xxx.)
My opponent attempts to push Athanasius into a Roman Catholic mold by citing the Council of Sardica. The reader should note a couple of things. First, Sardica was a completely Western council, the Eastern delegates refusing to attend due to the presence of Athanasius and other non-Arians. The rights granted to Julius, the orthodox (i.e., non-Arian) bishop of Rome, were apellate in nature only, and, one would think, would be unnecessary to even be stated if my opponent’s theory is correct, that being that years earlier, at Nicea, the gathered bishops viewed the bishop of Rome as the universal head of the Church, the pastor of all Christians. Why grant to the bishop of Rome a lesser authority at Sardica than what my opponent claims was already his by universal acclamation two decades earlier? My opponent speaks of Athanasius appealing to the “Holy Father,” though, of course, one will search in vain for such terminology. Athanasius did appeal to the bishop of Rome. . . and many other bishops, in his fight against Arianism. Let us not forget that one of those bishops of Rome, Liberius, caved in under pressure and condemned Athanasius. One would think that if Athanasius viewed the bishop of Rome as the universal leader of all Christians, he would have acquiesed to Liberius’ condemnation. But he did not.
The fact of the matter is plain: Rome was the only apostolic see in the West. As such, it had a great position of prestige and power. But prestige and power do not equate to primacy over the universal church. It is interesting to note that the very canons my opponent cites from Sardica were never accepted by the Eastern churches, and ironically, a hundred years later Zosimus, bishop of Rome, mistakenly cited them as if they had come from the Council of Nicea rather than the local council of Sardica.
Let the reader consider well the lengths to which the defender of Rome must go to turn Athanasius into something he wasn’t. Hundreds of pages of his writings are available to us, and yet my opponent cannot come up with anything more substantive than what he has? Can you imagine a modern Roman theologian addressing the deity of Christ and related subjects without repeatedly mentioning the authority of the “Holy Father” on the matter? And yet, any person who reads Athanasius seriously and fairly will understand why it can be safely concluded that Athanasius did not see any one man, or any one position, as the “head of the Church” on earth.
Later on in his rebuttal my opponent again returns to Athanasius, even providing us with some actual citations. But these not only do not help him, they prove his unfamiliarity with the writings of the early Fathers in their original contexts. He reads into the phrase “apostolic tradition” his own modern understanding, failing to recognize that Athanasius used the term to refer to the writings of the Apostles themselves, not to some extra-biblical source of revelation (see Letter LX, Ad Adelphium, 6). But more seriously is his use of sources out-of-context. While accusing me of citing Athanasius out of context, he does this himself. Note his citation:
“But you are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from APOSTOLIC TRADITION, and frequently accursed envy has wished to unsettle it, but has not been able” (Festal Letters, 29).
But if you follow the hyper-link, or look up the passage yourself, you find the following:
On the contrary, they have rather been cut off by their attempts to do so. For this is it that is written, ‘Thou art the Son of the Living God,’ Peter confessing it by revelation of the Father, and being told, ‘Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to thee, but ‘My Father Who is in heaven,’ and the rest. No one therefore will ever prevail against your Faith most beloved brethren. For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should [seem to] speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment [by means] of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke they were deserted by the truth. What profit then is the Place to them?
Note that this letter is written at the height of the Arian ascendancy and during the reign of Liberius. Athanasius’ whole point is that while the Church itself is inhabited with unbelievers (Arians), the truth remains strong, even though the majority of the professing Church denied it, including at this point the Roman bishop! Yet, as Athanasius says, “yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us.” Can you imagine a Roman Catholic saying this? And after saying all of this, including making reference to apostolic tradition, how does Athanasius clinch his point? By reference to the Scriptures, of course, not by reference to an infallible Pope. Such would have been impossible at the moment, of course, since this is the exact same year in which Liberius caved in and acquiesed to the demands of the Emperor and entered into fellowship with the Arian bishops against Athanasius! John Mary could not have picked a worse example to cite, for it proves my case for me with brilliant colors. It is almost humorous, then, that immediately upon citing this passage, my opponent says, “These, and the above quotes from Athanasius should settle the issue of that Father’s Catholicity.” Catholicity, yes; Roman Catholicity, no.
Regarding purgatory, my opponent provided a list of names of early Fathers he said confirmed the “truth of Purgatory.” However, as he did not provide a single citation from any of them, his assertion is not allowable in a debate, due to lack of support. After a long and pointless tirade on the Luther’s 95 Theses, my opponent claims the Nicene Fathers believed in the treasury of merit because he today interprets certain verses to refer to merit. Not only is his exegesis flawed and without merit itself, but it hardly follows that because John Mary misunderstands certain Bible passages today that the bishops at Nicea had to suffer from the same problem. Again we find his claims to have nothing more than the force of his own word.
Regarding extra-scriptural tradition, my opponent does not demonstrate that the Nicene Church interpreted the passages he presents in the same way he does. Aside from this problem, he assumes that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 presents some separate, different “oral tradition” that fits his definition. As I have pointed out many times in the past, this is untrue. The passage does not bear the weight placed upon it by Roman apologists. For the passage to be relevant, it would have to be proven that the tradition to which Paul refers differs in substance from the message he had delivered to the Thessalonians in writing. And, since the context of the passage identifies the topic to be the gospel itself, Paul is simply exhorting the Thessalonian believers to fidelity to the gospel message that was delivered to them orally (i.e., by preaching) and by letter (1 Thessalonians). Since it is the Roman Catholic who is making the positive claim that this passage refers to more than the context demands, the weight is upon him to prove his case.
The self-refuting nature of the Roman claims to authority is further illustrated by the following statement of my opponent: “Where in the New Testament can we find all the words spoken by Our Lord during the forty days after his Resurrection?” This is offered as a rebuttal to the sufficiency of Scripture. Many Roman apologists use this kind of argument, yet, we have to ask in response, “Where does Roman Catholic tradition provide us with all the words spoken by our Lord during the forty days after His resurrection?” Of course, Rome doesn’t claim to know, so why offer the argument? The argument also errs in assuming we have to know. We don’t. The Word does not have to be exhaustive to be sufficient.
My opponent asks for one Roman dogma that cannot be traced to the early Church. Since I offered a whole host in my opening statement (indeed, isn’t that what this debate is about in the first place?), I can’t imagine what he’s thinking. But, to be simple, the Bodily Assumption of Mary is one such doctrine. It first appears around A.D. 495, and then as a doctrine found only in heretical books anathematized by Gelasius, bishop of Rome!
Finally, my opponent completely ignores the point I have raised on a historical basis regarding the concept of transubstantiation and the worship of reserved hosts. He writes:
James has approached the brink of dementia at this point. The belief in the doctrine of Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist – a doctrine James admits is historically provable, but one he rejects as a Protestant – finds its devotional expression in reserving the Sacrament in our tabernacles for private adoration. (We hope this fact gives the reader some insight into the “logic” of James White.) The fact that this particular devotion was not practiced in the time or region of the Council of Nic€a is a moot point. (If James wants to know why it wasn’t practiced, I’d be happy to let him know in the Q&A section).
Aside from the blatant ad-hominem argumentation, what is this supposed to mean? I have pointed out that “real presence” does not mean “transubstantiation.” If he says the two are the same, the burden lies upon him to prove his point. Saying he will provide such documentation in the Q&A section is cop-out and should not be accepted. The simple fact is that tabernacles were not a part of the experience of the early Church—-not just in Nicea, but anywhere, for that point. It is not a moot point. It is a historical confirmation of the evolution of the doctrine of Christ’s spiritualpresence with His people in the Supper into the Aristotelian dogma of transubstantiation. I can understand why John Mary does not wish to engage this topic. I wouldn’t want to if I were in his position, either. However, I hope he does not intend to relegate this topic to a position in the debate where length limitations will preclude any meaningful counter-documentation.
In conclusion, I note that my opponent, aside from violating every rule of debate, has also failed to make any kind of meaningful case against the presentation I have submitted. I have shown his attempted use of historical sources to be very faulty, and his exegesis to be surface level at best. I submit to the impartial reader that my opponent is so locked into his system that he cannot see how it developed and evolved over time. Since Rome’s authority is his highest authority, it becomes the presupposition that gives form to everything else, including his use and understanding of scriptural and historical data. The vast majority of Roman apologetic material suffers from this same problem, though not to the depth seen in John Mary.
[End Word Count]
[Total Word Count: 2327]
The Debate …. Ends
But the Bullying Just Begins….
A lesson in not wasting your time with street thugs.
Meaningful debates require that both sides maintain adult behavior. Unfortunately, some people can fake a sufficient level of maturity to make itlook like they might be able to behave in a scholarly and adult manner—right up to the point where they begin throwing a temper tantrum, or casting about insults. Such was the case with “Brother John Mary,” a heretical monk from an order of self-described “Mary worshippers.”
As those who followed this saga know, we began a debate with “Brother John.” The files of the first few exchanges are included below. It only took one round for the ad-hominems to begin to fly, and the rules to fall by the wayside. Many wrote to us complaining that John Mary is a very poor representative of Catholicism, and we could hardly argue that point. We pointed out that he had already lost the debate by breaking the rules in his first response (see Brother John Mary Disqualified) and that he was behaving in a simply infantile manner. But, we replied anyway. That was in the middle of 1997. Six months went past with only one message from John Mary:
Date: 97-10-09 09:49:39 EDT From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Saint Benedict Center) To: Orthopodeo@aol.com James, I finished my priority assignments, and I’m coming after you. Expect my rebuttal by next week the earliest. Gee… I just love cliffhangers, don’t you? Oh, and by-the-way: I listened to the debate between you and Butler/Sungenis — you got your scrawny little Prot. butt kicked (they also exposed you for the culpable, blatant liar that you are). Need I issue threats about how I will leave you? Please post this letter with my other insulting ones — I like the attention. Bro. John, Expert at Ad Hominems.
Finally, on January 14th, 1998, we posted an announcement that we had no intention of continuing a debate where the other side acts like John Mary acts, and when there has been no contact from the other side for months on end. (One can only imagine if we had kept John Mary waiting for that long!) The very same day we received a note from John Mary, announcing his posting of his next reply! We pointed him to the web page and indicated that the debate was over. His replies have been most interesting:
James, (Chuckle) Let’s see who ends up looking bad here. True or false: We never agreed on any time limit for debate entries? Of course, this makes your attempt to cease the debate laughable. By what grounds do you think you can substantiate your action? (You got tired of waiting?) Now my rebuttal is in, and you cannot answer it – that is the bottom line. The readers only see bottom lines. Everyone who reads my last rebuttal will be thinking one thing, after witnessing your cowardly (but prudent) retreat: “The Catholic Church looks good.” Just think what an impression those final remarks of mine will make on them, with your inability to “resolve” them. I thank you profusely. You have finally done a great service to Holy Mother Church (albeit inadvertently). Make sure you visit our homepage. You’ll regret you ever got involved in this debate. Oh, and by the way: it is so ostentatiously contrived when you attempt to look cool like me – Prots (nerds) should know their limitations (chuckle, chuckle). Brother John Mary
We pointed out that on the level of looking bad, we admit to being completely outclassed by John Mary. Never at a loss for words, John Mary replied:
Forward those letters to me to prove that you aren’t simply lying again (they don’t exist). But not to let you think you have an alibi, in your imagination, that will justify your backing out of the debate: I have a letter from our bishop stating how very Catholic we are, and that Catholics may donate money to our cause. Your approach reminds me of the atheist who quotes Scripture in an argument with a Christian. As usual, James, Ignoratio Elenchi. But the readers will be looking this time for reasons why you chickened-out of the debate and all your pathetic excuses will have no value. In forensics, it matters not what status the opponent has with any institution nor what are his personal beliefs when defending his assigned position. The only thing that matters is the force of the argument. In our high school forensics class, we would flip a coin to see who wanted to defend an unpopular or disliked position. And if that side won, they looked even better than the side that got to defend the position they found favorable. So just for the sake of argument, what if I was excommunicated, or not even a true member of the Roman Catholic Church? What would that have to do with defending a Roman Catholic position? Technically, in a debate, I could be an atheist and do the same. What have you now to say Mr. Smart? Again, I end up looking good – you end up looking like the fake, phony fraud that you are. Your forensic superior, Bro. John
The term “street thug” seems a bit too mellow for the likes of John Mary, self-described worshipper of Mary. Many Catholics have written to me after they had had a run-in with John Mary, shocked at the infantile behavior of this man. His modus operandi is now all too clear to see: he acts the hypocrite at first, then, once a discussion or debate has begun, his true colors show through. But, he knows it doesn’t matter what he says or how he says it: if you stand up for truth, honesty, or simple civil behavior, he will attack you as a “chicken” and claim victory. In fact, it doesn’t matter what you do or say—John Mary can’t lose, at least in his own mind.
We’ve told him many times, but he won’t listen. He doesn’t realize the damage he has done to his own cause. He thinks he’s promoting “mother Church.” Instead, he’s busily giving a black eye to the very institution he claims to love.
(*Please note: This Rebuttal Violates the Debate Rules. It is 240 words beyond limits, and uses hyperlinks to provide citations that are materially relevant without counting those citations against the word limit). For further information regarding the background of the debate at this point, and the problems that have developed at this early stage, click here: Brother John Mary Disqualified.