I was looking through the materials we have on Roman Catholicism in our articles section and I noted a lengthy discussion of Augustine’s Sermon 131. I noticed the date: April 11, 2000. Why is this significant? Recently I have noted, in the context of his unscrupulous behavior and actions, the many errors of Steve Ray. Examining his writings and claims with knowledge of the Bible and history puts a Protestant apologist in a “target rich environment,” to be sure. We have only scratched the surface of the refutations to be offered of Ray’s claims. But some have suggested that I am picking on Ray because of his shameless promotion of Patty Bonds. But there is a bit of a historical problem with that claim, similar to the anachronism inherent in Roman historiography relating to such things as the Papacy. It doesn’t fit the time line. You see, Mrs. Bonds contacted me anonymously on July 15, 2000. And it was not till November of 2000 that I learned of her apostasy to Rome (and even later that I put two and two together and realized that the e-mail I had responded to in July of 2000 was from her). Yet, the following section about Steve Ray is from an article I posted in April of 2000, months before the Bonds situation became known to me. Hence, I have identified Ray’s work as shoddy, shallow, and easily refuted independently of his impudent involvement in Mrs. Bonds’ activities. Here’s the relevant portion:
Stephen Ray’s Presentation
But while we can excuse Keating on the basis of possible ignorance of the actual events of history, we cannot do so with Catholic convert Stephen K. Ray. Instead, we must soberly conclude that his treatment of this issue in his 1999 book Upon This Rock (Ignatius Press) is simply deceptive. This work is, in my opinion, the clearest example of the lengths to which a Roman controversialist will go in twisting history so as to support Roman claims. In a work that is without question one of the least accurate and scholarly works I have ever seen on the subject, one that argues in circles constantly, Ray addresses both Cyprian and Augustine’s views. However, given that Ray does not use the tools of a historian, and in fact utterly abandons any kind of scholarly methodology, the result is predictable. He early on exposes how utterly unreliable his work will be in words such as these:
Sometimes silence is more eloquent than words. This is especially true in Church history. We hear so much about what the Fathers say and so little about what they do not say. This is revealing and should play a significant role in our research. (Upon this Rock, p. 12).
Such a methodology is, quite simply laughable. Ray goes on to use this to argue that unless an early Father specifically denies Petrine primacy and succession that this is somehow “relevant” to historical research. It is painfully obvious, to any semi-unbiased reviewer, that Ray is assuming what he seems to know he cannot prove. The grotesquely anachronistic “examination” that follows is glowing evidence of Ray’s inability to accurately handle historical data and to provide any kind of meaningful presentation. Protestant apologist William Webster has thoroughly refuted Ray (see www.christiantruth.com) who, in response, has only been able to provide more thorough documentation of his own anachronistic, circular reasoning. Utilization of Ray’s means of thought could provide the basis for any kind of belief in the early church, no matter how far-fetched.
But despite this, Ray’s treatment of both Cyprian and Augustine is not just grossly flawed, it is deceptive. It is obvious Ray knows the truth of the matter, but he either suppresses that truth, or twists it into a shape unrecognizable to anyone who reads the early Fathers for themselves. When dealing with Cyprian he desperately attempts to undercut the reality of Cyprian’s view of the cathedra Petri, and likewise somehow “forgets” to cite the passages we provided above which demonstrate Cyprian’s rejection of Stephen’s meddling in the affairs of the North African Church. Though providing lengthy footnotes, he does nothing but ignore Cyprian’s real doctrine, while attacking William Webster for pointing out the obvious. But our concern is much more with the tremendously deceptive presentation regarding Augustine’s Sermon 131.
Beginning on page 230, Ray provides a completely circular argument, not based upon Augustine, but upon Ray’s desperate need to read into Augustine the concept of Petrine primacy in the bishop of Rome. His citations (as throughout the book) are meant to be relevant only given the assumption of what he is trying to prove, the pre-existing commitment to the modern Roman theory of Petrine primacy. He even takes a pathetically weak shot at my own discussion of Augustine’s view of Matthew 16:18-19 which is so poorly constructed that there is no need to refute it: it stands as its own refutation. But on page 233 we read the following: “Roma locuta est; causa finita est [Rome has spoken; the case is closed].” Look familiar? It should. As we have seen, Augustine never said this. Ray uses the same quotes Keating did: but, he then attaches an almost page-length footnote that shows that he is well aware Augustine never uttered these words! This is the deception. Keating can claim ignorance: Ray has no such excuse. Look at what Ray says:
This popular, shortened version of Augustine’s statement put to rest the contention caused by the Pelagian heretics. The full text of his statement—the exact equivalent of the shortened version above—is, “[On the matter of the Pelagians] two Councils have already been sent to the Apostolic See [Rome]; and from there rescripts [decrees from the Pope] have come. The matter is at an end [causa finita est]; would that the error too might sometime be at an end.” (Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, 3:28).
As we see, Ray knows that Augustine did not say the words he quotes, but, he excuses this misrepresentation by re-translating the term “rescripts” (Latin: rescripta) as “decrees from the Pope.” Upon what basis does he do this? We are not told. We know that Innocent responded to the actions of the councils in North Africa. It is pure anachronism to 1) assume the North Africans held to Rome’s view of supremacy, 2) assume that the North Africans felt their actions required “ratification” by the bishop of Rome, and 3) assume that Augustine was basing his statement “the matter is at an end” on the decision of Innocent rather than (as the context shows) the Scriptural arguments he had presented against Pelagianism and the actions of the North African councils. Ray makes no reference to the actual substance of Sermon 131. He never quotes it. And what is worse, he utterly ignores the entire issue of Zosimus and the entire history of what transpired immediately after this sermon was preached! Instead, he provides two Roman Catholic citations that utterly ignore the historical context of Augustine’s words. One, from Bernard Otten, is a simply ridiculous assertion that while Augustine never said “Roma locuta est,” “its equivalents occur again and again.” We have already seen Sermon 131 surely does not do this, so where else do we look for these “equivalents”? We are not told. Another pro-Rome work is cited that inserts the anachronistic idea that the North African bishops felt they had to send the conclusions of their councils to Rome “for ratification,” and as normal, we are not given any foundation upon which we can examine the claim. The fact that the North Africans rejected Zosimus’ clear, forceful rehabilitation of Pelagius, which included his insulting the North Africans as “storms of the church” and “whirlwinds” and which came couched within his complete claim of apostolic authority, shows this is not the case. The North Africans rejected his authority and his conclusions. So upon what basis can anyone say they felt the decisions of their councils needed Roman ratification? Indeed, as John Meyendorff points out, barely three years later these same African bishops wrote to Celestine, bishop of Rome, and said, “Who will believe that our God could inspire justice in the inquiries of one man only (i.e., the bishop of Rome) and refuse it to innumerable bishops gathered in council?” (Imperial Unity and Christian Division, 1989, p. 65). Does that sound like these men believed as Stephen Ray assumes everyone must have? Surely not. The facts are clear.