Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Church Fathers: Sola Scriptura or Catholic? Introduction and Table of Contents

One of the major arguments that takes place between Catholics and Protestants is over whether the Fathers of the early Church support a Catholic or a Protestant epistemology (“epistemology” is simply a fancy, but convenient, word for “a method of knowing truth”).

The Protestant epistemology is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The basic idea is that God has given us an infallible revelation in the Bible, and that this is the only place we can find God's infallible revelation. God has not granted infallibility to any Church tradition, and he has not granted to the Church or to anyone else infallibility in their interpretation and application of God's revelation in the Bible. No doubt the best and most classic statement of this position is in the words of the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms. Luther was commanded by the Catholic Church to recant his teachings in light of the fact that they were condemned by the Church. Luther refused, and gave his reason for this refusal:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. (Retrieved from http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html)

Sola Scriptura does not mean that we can't try to get help in our attempts to interpret the Bible from popes, councils, the Fathers of the Church, theologians, Church historians, etc., but it does mean that we cannot trust any of these other sources implicitly. We must always examine them in light of what we think Scripture is saying. After carefully taking into consideration all of the evidence we can get our hands on, after listening humbly and respectfully to the advice of others, especially those who are rightly held in high esteem in the Church, we must decide what we think is the correct biblical interpretation, and then we must stick with that, no matter who disagrees with us.

The Catholic view, on the other hand, is that God has given us, as it were, a three-legged school, and that all three legs are necessary for the correct interpretation and application of the word of God. God has given us the Bible. The Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God. In this, Catholics agree with Protestants. God has also handed down his word in the Tradition of the Church. In addition to the writing, collecting, preserving, and handing on of Scripture, the Church has also passed down the message of God by means of her preaching, her life, her worship, and her teaching. The Catholic view is that this other way of handing down the message of God has been blessed by God's gift of infallibility as well. The Tradition of the Church is also infallible, like the Scriptures. We can learn the revelation of God from both with equal surety. God has also blessed the Church herself with the gift of infallibility, and particularly her leaders, the bishops. The body of leaders and teachers in the Church is called the Magisterium. The Catholic position is that God has granted to the Church the gift of being able to unerringly recognize, gather, preserve, hand down, interpret, and apply the revelation of God whether found in Scripture or Tradition. The Catholic position also holds that the Church grows in her understanding and application of the word of God through history by the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit.  (You can read about this in the Catholic Church's own words here, especially Chapter II.)

In practice, then, where the rubber meets the road, if a Protestant is confronted with a contradiction between his own (carefully, humbly thought-out) interpretation of Scripture and what the visible, institutional Church is teaching (say, in a recognized Ecumenical Council), he will go with his own interpretation of Scripture. A Catholic, on the other hand, will follow the teaching of the Church. To take a concrete example: The Bible doesn't explicitly address the question of whether or not infants should be baptized. Proponents and opponents of infant baptism try to derive their view from inferences made from various statements and doctrines of Scripture. If a Protestant comes to the conclusion that, as far as he can tell, the best interpretation of Scripture would oppose infant baptism, then he will (if he is consistent) oppose infant baptism, even if the institutional Church as a whole is telling him to do otherwise. A Catholic, on the other hand, upon hearing the teaching of the Church, will decide that his own attempt to interpret Scripture in this case has been faulty, and he will abandon his own interpretation for that of the Church.

So the big question is, Which of these views or attitudes was embraced by the early Church and the Fathers of the early Church?

A few years back, when I was trying to get a clear idea of what the early Church had to say about the idea of the papacy (the authority and role of the Pope of Rome), one of the books I found by far to be the most helpful was a book written by an Anglican who simply printed out the vast majority of the quotations from the Fathers that had a bearing on this issue and also provided commentary on each quotation from both Catholic and Anglican scholars arguing for or against the papacy. The reason I found this book so helpful was that, while there are a host of books and articles on all sides arguing various views of what the Church Fathers had to say about the papacy, this book wasn't trying to present a case for one view or another. It was simply trying to lay out for readers the basic data and the arguments on both sides, allowing the reader to do his own critical thinking for himself without having to worry he was getting only a biased polemical argument or a set of one-sided quotations. This book had a huge influence on shaping my view of the papacy in the early Church.

There are many articles out there by Catholics and Protestants trying to argue that the Church Fathers took this or that view of Scripture and its relationship to the Tradition and authority of the Church. But I have not found an easily available resource doing what that book on the papacy did—simply presenting the relevant quotations used by all sides so that the reader can form his own judgment. So that's what I have done in this set of posts. I've gone through a number of articles written by both Catholics and Protestants. I've picked out from these the major quotations from the Church Fathers appealed to, gone back to their original sources to check the context, and then I've printed them here with enough context to tell what the quotation is trying to say in its own setting. There are a lot of quotations! I've ended up with fifteen posts full of them! But if you're the kind of person who wants to see for yourself what the Fathers had to say about Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority, and the relationship between these, you will find these posts a treasure-trove. I'm not sure you could get much closer to an objective presentation of the teaching of the Fathers on these issues unless you would go back and just read through all of them yourself in their entirety.

One of the things I've often found annoying about quotations from the Fathers used in controversy is that people tend often to provide tiny snippets of quotation, sometimes only a single sentence or two. The problem with this is that it is difficult to be sure that one is not getting words, phrases, or sentences out of context. So what I have done is go back to find the original sources of each of the quotations I've printed here, and I've put in enough context so that readers can see clearly what the quotation means (rather than taking the quoter's word for it). Some may think I've gone too far in this sometimes and provided too much surrounding text, but I say, better safe than sorry. There are a few times I have not been able to find the original source or context of a quotation. In such cases, I have made a note after the quotation that this has been the case.

Just to illustrate the importance of context, let me provide an example I came across of a quotation taken out of context. A Protestant apologist provided a quotation from St. Vincent of Lerins, a fifth century Father, in one of his articles. Here was his quotation: “. . . the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient.” The author intended this quotation as evidence that St. Vincent believed in Sola Scriptura. However, here is some larger context for this quotation:

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (This is from St. Vincent of Lerins's Commonitory, which you can read in full here.)

The context here reveals the meaning of St. Vincent's comment to be pretty much the exact opposite from what that little snippet by itself suggested. And in these posts, you will find even more context given for St. Vincent's comment in its proper place.

(Of course, I should add that Catholic apologists sometimes do the same sort of thing. For one example, I came across a Catholic apologist providing a quotation seeming to support a Catholic view of Tradition from St. Jerome. The apologist, however, had neglected to mention that the quotation came from a fictional dialogue written by St. Jerome, and particularly that the quotation was from the bad guy [from St. Jerome's point of view] in the dialogue. In this case, however, it does seem that St. Jerome himself endorsed what his fictional opponent was saying, based on the wider context, but I found it frustrating to be presented with a quote from St. Jerome without being told a very relevant aspect of its context.)

The large majority of my quotations are taken from the plain text versions of the writings of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers found on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (You can find the collection here.)  This is the famous nineteenth-century edition of the Fathers edited by Philip Schaff. I chose to make use of the plain text versions of these writings from CCEL because they are completely in the public domain, and, especially with so many quotations, I find looking up lots of proper citations for copyrighted books tedious. The quotations that come from other sources are, of course, provided with fuller citations. Although I have decided not to provide links with each of these quotations, if you know how to do a good Google search, I've provided you plenty of material to find the full works each of these quotations have come from, should you be inclined to go and look them up.

I mentioned that I found many of these quotations with the help of various Protestant and Catholic articles (even though, unless otherwise noted, I did not actually take the quotations from these sources but rather looked them up and copied them myself from their original source locations). I made use of two very helpful (but also very polemical) articles by Protestant apologist William Webster (found here and here). I also made use of some articles from Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong (herehere, and here), as well as some other sources (here and here). I no doubt utilized some other sources I don't even remember at this point. (I've been working on this for some time now.) I also found some of the quotations on my own. So thank you to all who helped me compile all of this!

Note that my focus in this compilation has been narrowly upon the Fathers' ideas of Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority, and the relationships between these. There are a number of related issues I avoided but that are also important, particularly the issue of the papacy. The papacy plays a hugely important role in Catholic epistemology, and I think the Catholic position is abundantly testified to in the early Church, but I have not focused any attention on garnering quotations related to this issue. It comes up from time to time incidentally in the quotations, but most of the data from the Fathers relevant to that issue is not here. You will have to look elsewhere for that. (And one resource I would very highly recommend is that book on the papacy in the early Church I mentioned earlier, which you can read about here.)

Also, note that, of course, even though there are a lot of quotations, lots more could be added!  What is here provides a nice, overall picture of the thinking of the Fathers, and it also includes most of the typical quotations that are used polemically by Protestants trying to show Sola Scriptura in the Fathers and by Catholics responding to them.  In fact, the selection of Fathers and quotations to focus on has been driven largely by the choices of Protestant apologists, and particularly by William Webster, looking for evidence of Sola Scriptura in the Fathers.  There are Fathers, especially later Fathers like St. Gregory the Great, that have been left out mostly because Protestants have not focused on them as much.  Nevertheless, what we have here illustrates well the overall thinking of the Fathers.  I also included at the end a series of quotations from various Church councils, especially Ecumenical councils, which round out the whole collection of quotations a bit.

I should also briefly note that a few of the authors here are somewhat on the borderline when it comes to being categorized with the "holy Fathers"--such as Origen, Tertullian, and, to some extent, Theodoret--because of certain viewpoints that came to be seen as at odds with some of the Church's overall teaching (Tertullian actually left the Catholic Church eventually and joined a sect called the Montanists).  I won't go into details about this here except just to make that note.  But, regardless of their overall position among the Fathers, they are important for their historical testimony and for their contributions.

OK, without further ado, here are the Fathers!

Part One: St. Irenaeus, Tertullian

Part Two: Clement of Alexandria

Part Three: Origen, St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Part Four: St. Athanasius

Part Five: St. John Chrysostom

Part Six: St. Gregory of Nyssa

Part Seven: St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nazianzus

Part Eight: St. Augustine of Hippo

Part Nine: St. Augustine of Hippo, continued

Part Ten: St. Augustine of Hippo, continued

Part Eleven: St. Epiphanius of Salamis, St. Isidore of Pelusium, St. Jerome, St. Vincent of Lerins

Part Twelve: St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, Theophilus of Antioch, St. Nicetas of Remesiana, Theodoret of Cyrus

Part Thirteen: St. Thomas Aquinas, Church councils

Part Fourteen: Church councils, continued

Part Fifteen: Church councils, continued

My Personal Conclusion

Taking the teaching of the Fathers as a whole, I, personally, would summarize their view of Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority in this way:

The word of God has been handed down to us in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the Holy-Spirit-guided Tradition of the Catholic Church.

The Scriptures contain the fullness of the gospel message.  They have parts that are more plain and parts that are more obscure.  The message of salvation is plain in them, so that all can understand, while there is enough depth to keep the intellectuals busy forever.  The Scriptures are, in principle, sufficient to give us everything we need to live the life God calls us to.

God gave to the apostles and to their successors in the Church, the bishops, his Holy Spirit to guide them to unfailingly hand on the truth, both through the writing and preservation of the Sacred Scriptures as well as through the Tradition of the Church—the unwritten proclamation of the truth, the teachings of the holy Fathers, the Church's divine worship, the declarations of the holy councils of the Church (especially the Ecumenical Councils of the entire Catholic Church), etc.  Since the Fathers of the Church, both past and present, have been granted the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Christ and his apostles, it is just as blasphemous to oppose the Tradition of the Church as to oppose the Scriptures.  One can disagree with individual Fathers, but one must not find oneself in opposition to the Fathers or the Church as a whole.

While the Scriptures are sufficient and sufficiently plain, yet they only lead to truth when used aright.  One must approach them prayerfully, with a pure heart and mind.  One must compare Scripture with Scripture.  And one must interpret and apply Scripture in the context of the Church's Tradition, for the Church provides the authoritative and true interpretation of the meaning of the Scriptures, and the Church has also handed down outside of the Scriptures certain practices and observances (such as, for example, using the sign of the cross, the anointing with holy oil those who are baptized, and the baptizing of infants) which provide essential context for how Scripture is to be applied.

The Church develops in her understanding and articulation of the divine word through time, especially as God prompts his people through the rising up of false teachings or previously-unconsidered questions.  What at one time is obscure may become more plain to the entire Church through the teaching of the Fathers and the deliverances of councils (especially Ecumenical Councils, which decisively and authoritatively affirm doctrine for the entire Church).

It seems to me that a thorough read-through of the Fathers makes it abundantly clear that the early Church held to the Catholic rather than to the Protestant epistemology.  But the reader must judge for himself.  That, after all, is why I've created these posts!  Go see what you think!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Response to "An Earnest Plea to Roman Catholics" by Pastor Jason Wallace of Christ OPC in Salt Lake City, UT

Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.

- St. Jerome (Letter to Pope Damasus, 376 or 377 AD)

All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness.

- St. Maximus the Confessor, a major 7th century Eastern Father (found in "The Ecclesiology of St. Maximos the Confessor," published in the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, No. 2, July 2004, p. 11)

My old pastor, Pastor Jason Wallace of Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, UT, has just published a YouTube video addressed to Roman Catholics, trying to debunk aspects of Roman Catholicism.  I decided to do a bit of a response to it, as it represents a fairly typical sample of Reformed Protestant apologetics against the Catholic Church.

I'm happy to have the opportunity to do this partly because it gives me pleasure to once again have an opportunity to interact a bit with Pastor Wallace.  My wife and I were members of Christ OPC for fourteen years.  I was a ruling elder in that church for seven years.  Many of my children grew up partly in that church.  Having been in the church for fourteen years, we developed many friendships there, and I think back very fondly on our time there.  I am very grateful to Pastor Wallace for having been our pastor all those years.  We didn't and don't, of course, see eye to eye on everything, but I have great respect for Pastor Wallace and his family and for all the members of Christ OPC.  I consider them my brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray for God's blessings in their lives.  I pray for God's blessings on Christ OPC, that it might be a faithful witness to the gospel in the Salt Lake City area.  I pray that the people of Christ OPC might someday be brought by God's grace into full communion with Christ's Catholic Church as we have been.  I pray that my comments here might be helpful to them and to others to see the Catholic faith more clearly and accurately, so that they may be brought closer to full Catholic unity with us.

Pastor Wallace covers a lot of ground in his video.  Many books could be (and have been) written to respond to the various points he raises so briefly.  I don't want to write all of those books right now, nor do I have time to do so.  What I want to do is try to respond as briefly and concisely to each point (or at least most of the points) he raises as possible.  I will not say everything that could be said on each subject, or that might need to be said in a more full investigation of the issues.  What I can do here is say enough to make clear that Pastor Wallace has not given us a full picture, that there are good responses that can be had from the Catholic point of view.

The work of apologetics, to be most effective, depends a great deal on the listener/reader, the person investigating the issues.  If the investigator lacks the ability or willingness to think critically about the issues raised, to do a bit of his own research, to truly consider fairly what can be said on all sides of a question, he will be like a ping-pong ball knocked back and forth by each argument made by the various sides.  Or he will stick firmly to the side he has chosen, the side he regards as his own, agreeing automatically with whatever his own side says and never giving fair consideration to the other side--rather more like a fan of one team at a football game than an objective investigator of truth.  I pray that those who listen to Pastor Wallace and to myself will have a real commitment to getting the truth right and accurately, with all its nuances, and will have gained the ability through practice to pursue the truth effectively.

The first thing we need to do is to say a few words about presuppositions/assumptions.  One of the most important parts of critical thinking is to be aware of the assumptions one brings to one's investigation of truth.  For example, in the Catholic-Protestant debate one of the most foundational issues is that of epistemology.  How do we know truth?  Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura--the idea that the Bible alone is infallible, and there is no infallible Church Tradition and no infallible Church authority.  The Catholic Church holds that there is an infallible Church Tradition and an infallible Church authority.  Now, of course, both sides must support their position with evidence.  But it is easy to simply assume without question one's own viewpoint.  For example, a Protestant might find himself saying, "Well, that Catholic has made a pretty good argument from the Church Fathers, but, in the end, that doesn't really count for much, because the Fathers aren't the Word of God.  Ultimately, we must submit to the Bible alone."  This attitude may seem almost self-evident to the Protestant, because this is how he is used to thinking, and it may not even occur to him to question it.  But he must recognize that this is a Protestant way of thinking, and it is different from the Catholic way of thinking.  Therefore, since this is in dispute, it cannot simply be assumed without evidence or argument.  The Catholic position on some issue cannot be judged to be false simply on the grounds that it disagrees with a peculiarly Protestant way of thinking about how we know truth, while that Protestant way of thinking itself remains without having been proved to be correct.

The Protestant Reformation was a break from the Roman Catholic Church.  Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers started out as Roman Catholics.  They then changed their position and came to rebel against the Church from whom they had originally received the revelation of God.  (Even earlier "pre-reformers" like Peter Waldo, John Hus, and John Wycliffe, so far as our historical records show, began their movements by coming out from the Catholic Church.)  This fact is important to remember, because it highlights that the burden of proof is on the Protestant to justify his departure from the Catholic Church.  Since Christianity is a revelation from God, we must receive it as God has handed it down to us.  We cannot alter what has been handed down arbitrarily, without good reason.  Take the canon of Scripture, for instance.  How do you know that the Book of Jude is supposed to be in the Bible?  Who decided it should be there?  You didn't make that decision; it was made long before you were born.  This decision was made by the leaders of the early Christian Church.  How do we know they got it right?  We can go back and look at their reasons and try to see if we think they made a good choice.  But this will only take us so far, unless we are also willing to trust in God's providential guidance of the preservation of his word through history.  Even if, through historical investigation, we can show that the Book of Jude is probably a very early book, very likely written close to the times of the apostles, even if we can show that it has doctrine that agrees with the rest of the Bible, etc., how do we really know that it belongs in the Bible?  There are lots of good books that no one thinks belong in the Bible.  How do we know that Jude was not written very early, perhaps during the times of the apostles, perhaps even by Jude himself, but that God did not intend it to be inspired Scripture?  Perhaps the Church really liked the book, and very quickly it became common belief that it is one of those books that should be in the canon.  (Actually, the entire Church did not agree that the Book of Jude should be in the Bible until a few hundred years after the time of the apostles—it was always a well-respected book, and many thought it belonged in the Bible, but this was disputed among the churches in the earliest days of the Church.)  How can we go back and figure out, by purely historical research, whether or not Jude should be in the Bible?  We can't.  The only way we can know for sure that it's supposed to be there is by trusting that God guided the Church to make the right decision.  We must trust God's providential handing down of his word through history.  We all recognize that it would be foolish and sinful to throw the Book of Jude out of the Bible simply because we can't provide our own independent proof that it should be there.  We would be arbitrarily altering the faith as it has been handed down to us.  We have no more ability to decide by ourselves that Jude should not be in the Bible than we have to decide that it should be there.  Either choice, made solely on our own independent judgment, would be arbitrary and without reason.  Therefore, since in order to follow God's word we must know what it is, the reasonable thing is for us to trust that God has handed down his faith to us in the way he wanted us to receive it.  Our job is to receive it humbly and live by it, not to arbitrarily alter it.

The faith that came to the Protestant reformers was a Catholic faith, not a Protestant faith.  It was a faith that taught that Scripture, Tradition, and the Church are infallible, that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter, and so on.  The Church had come to these conclusions centuries before Luther (or even before the earlier "proto-reformers").  This is, in historical fact, how God handed down the faith through the centuries.  Therefore, the reformers had no ground to alter that faith unless they could prove that something had gone wrong in what had been handed down.  Now, maybe they could prove that.  We have to give a fair hearing to what they had to say for themselves.  But it is important to remember that they had the burden of proof.  Sola Scriptura is not the default position, for Sola Scriptura is not the position the Church historically embraced.  It is a position only embraced by Protestant churches after breaking from Rome.  Therefore, our default will be with the Catholic faith in Scripture as interpreted by the infallible Tradition and teaching authority of the Church, and we will only abandon this for Sola Scriptura if the Protestants can prove somehow that Sola Scriptura is correct.  Without such proof, we must default to the Catholic position.

I would also like to recommend to readers that, if you are interested in understanding what the Catholic Church really has to say, you do not content yourself merely with reading responses like this one.  A response to Protestant objections will necessarily present the Catholic faith only piecemeal.  It fails to provide a holistic, positive presentation of the Catholic faith.  But such a positive presentation is essential if one is to truly grasp what the Catholic faith is all about.  Listening only to Catholic responses to Protestant objections to learn about the Catholic faith is like listening only to Christian responses to Atheist objections to Christianity in order to learn about Christianity.  There is so much positive teaching that is necessarily left out in such responses, because, by their nature, such responses are focused in on only those points brought out in the controversy.  In order to get a more holistic view of the Catholic faith, you can do no better than The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the Church has put out for that very purpose.

OK, with these preliminary thoughts in mind, let's get to Pastor Wallace's arguments.


St. Athanasius and Sola Scriptura

Pastor Wallace makes the argument that St. Athanasius believed in Sola Scriptura--that the Bible alone is infallible, and that the Tradition of the Church is not.

The problem with this is that there is simply no evidence of it.  The Church Fathers as a whole did not subscribe to Sola Scriptura.  Rather, they held to a fundamentally Catholic epistemology.  Within the past week-and-a-half, I've actually just completed a series of articles laying out the views of the Fathers on these matters, so this is good timing.  What I did is I started with quotations used by authors on both sides (Catholic and Protestant) trying to argue that the Fathers supported their own view.  I took those quotations and laid them out side by side categorized by their authors, adding further context to the quotations and additional quotations.  My goal was to provide a useful resource for those who would simply like to see how the Fathers thought about these matters without getting only a few snippets of quotations used polemically to convince one of a certain position.  There are fifteen blog posts devoted to this in my collection of quotes, and you can find the introduction and table of contents here.  Here is my summary of what I think we see in the Fathers:

The word of God has been handed down to us in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the Holy-Spirit-guided Tradition of the Catholic Church.

The Scriptures contain the fullness of the gospel message.  They have parts that are more plain and parts that are more obscure.  The message of salvation is plain in them, so that all can understand, while there is enough depth to keep the intellectuals busy forever.  The Scriptures are, in principle, sufficient to give us everything we need to live the life God calls us to.


God gave to the apostles and to their successors in the Church, the bishops, his Holy Spirit to guide them to unfailingly hand on the truth, both through the writing and preservation of the Sacred Scriptures as well as through the Tradition of the Church—the unwritten proclamation of the truth, the teachings of the holy Fathers, the Church's divine worship, the declarations of the holy councils of the Church (especially the Ecumenical Councils of the entire Catholic Church), etc.  Since the Fathers of the Church, both past and present, have been granted the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Christ and his apostles, it is just as blasphemous to oppose the Tradition of the Church as to oppose the Scriptures.  One can disagree with individual Fathers, but one must not find oneself in opposition to the Fathers or the Church as a whole.


While the Scriptures are sufficient and sufficiently plain, yet they only lead to truth when used aright.  One must approach them prayerfully, with a pure heart and mind.  One must compare Scripture with Scripture.  And one must interpret and apply Scripture in the context of the Church's Tradition, for the Church provides the authoritative and true interpretation of the meaning of the Scriptures, and the Church has also handed down outside of the Scriptures certain practices and observances (such as, for example, using the sign of the cross, the anointing with holy oil those who are baptized, and the baptizing of infants) which provide essential context for how Scripture is to be applied.


The Church develops in her understanding and articulation of the divine word through time, especially as God prompts his people through the rising up of false teachings or previously-unconsidered questions.  What at one time is obscure may become more plain to the entire Church through the teaching of the Fathers and the deliverances of councils (especially Ecumenical Councils, which decisively and authoritatively affirm doctrine for the entire Church).


The Church Fathers did not hold that the Bible alone is infallible, but that the Tradition of the Church and the teachers of the Church are also infallible, by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

St. Athanasius fits perfectly well within this paradigm.  You can see a series of quotations from him on these matters here.  St. Athanasius did indeed believe that the Bible is infallible and sufficient in principle to provide us with the true doctrine of Christ.  However, he also held the Tradition of the Church to be authoritative.  Pastor Wallace gives the impression in his video that Athanasius was defending the biblical doctrine of Christ even against the Church and her Tradition, but this is not how Athanasius saw things.  He saw himself as defending both Scripture and the Tradition of the Fathers of the Church (both as authoritative) against the attempts by modern churchmen to rebel against these.  A couple of quotations will suffice to illustrate Athanasius's view here, and the reader can refer to the link above to see even more:


1.  The letters are sufficient which were written by our beloved fellow-minister Damasus, bishop of the Great Rome, and the large number of bishops who assembled along with him; and equally so are those of the other synods which were held, both in Gaul and in Italy, concerning the sound Faith which Christ gave us, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers, who met at Nicæa from all this world of ours, have handed down. For so great a stir was made at that time about the Arian heresy, in order that they who had fallen into it might be reclaimed, while its inventors might be made manifest. To that council, accordingly, the whole world has long ago agreed, and now, many synods having been held, all men have been put in mind, both in Dalmatia and Dardania, Macedonia, Epirus and Greece, Crete, and the other islands, Sicily, Cyprus, Pamphylia, Lycia, and Isauria, all Egypt and the Libyas, and most of the Arabians have come to know it, and marvelled at those who signed it, inasmuch as even if there were left among them any bitterness springing up from the root of the Arians; we mean Auxentius, Ursacius, Valens and their fellows, by these letters they have been cut off and isolated. The confession arrived at at Nicæa was, we say once more, sufficient and enough by itself, for the subversion of all irreligious heresy, and for the security and furtherance of the doctrine of the Church. But since we have heard that certain wishing to oppose it are attempting to cite a synod supposed to have been held at Ariminum, and are eagerly striving that it should prevail rather than the other, we think it right to write and put you in mind, not to endure anything of the sort: for this is nothing else but a second growth of the Arian heresy. For what else do they wish for who reject the synod held against it, namely the Nicene, if not that the cause of Arius should prevail? What then do such men deserve, but to be called Arians, and to share the punishment of the Arians? For they were not afraid of God, who says, Remove not the eternal boundaries which thy fathers placed [3714] ,' and He that speaketh against father or mother, let him die the death [3715] :' they were not in awe of their fathers, who enjoined that they who hold the opposite of their confession should be anathema. 
2.  For this was why an ecumenical synod has been held at Nicæa, 318 bishops assembling to discuss the faith on account of the Arian heresy, namely, in order that local synods should no more be held on the subject of the Faith, but that, even if held, they should not hold good. For what does that Council lack, that any one should seek to innovate? It is full of piety, beloved; and has filled the whole world with it. Indians have acknowledged it, and all Christians of other barbarous nations. Vain then is the labour of those who have often made attempts against it. For already the men we refer to have held ten or more synods, changing their ground at each, and while taking away some things from earlier decisions, in later ones make changes and additions. And so far they have gained nothing by writing, erasing, and using force, not knowing that every plant that the Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be plucked up [3716] .' But the word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicæa, abides for ever [3717] . For if one compare number with number, these who met at Nicæa are more than those at local synods, inasmuch as the whole is greater than the part. But if a man wishes to discern the reason of the Synod at Nicæa, and that of the large number subsequently held by these men, he will find that while there was a reasonable cause for the former, the others were got together by force, by reason of hatred and contention. For the former council was summoned because of the Arian heresy, and because of Easter, in that they of Syria, Cilicia and Mesopotamia differed from us, and kept the feast at the same season as the Jews. But thanks to the Lord, harmony has resulted not only as to the Faith, but also as to the Sacred Feast. And that was the reason of the synod at Nicæa. But the subsequent ones were without number, all however planned in opposition to the ecumenical.  (To the Bishops of Africa, 1-2) 

These sayings concerning the Holy Spirit, by themselves alone, show that in nature and essence he has nothing in common with or proper to creatures, but is distinct from things originate, proper to, and not alien from, the Godhead and essence of the Son; in virtue of which essence and nature he is of the Holy Triad, and puts their stupidity to shame. But, beyond these sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the very 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 so called. There is, then, a Triad, holy and complete, confessed to be God in Father, Son, and holy Spirit, having nothing foreign or external mixed with it, not composed of one that creates and one that is originated, but all creative; and it is consistent and in nature indivisible, and its activity is one (The Letters of Saint Athanasius, Concerning the Holy Spirit, C.R.B. Shapland, Translator [New York: Philosophical Library, 1951], Epistle I.27–28, To Serapion, pp. 133–134; the quotation was taken from "Scripture and Tradition in the Early Church," an article by William Webster, found here).


St. Athanasius, Papal Infallibility, and Pope Liberius

Pastor Wallace also discusses the relationship between Pope Liberius and St. Athanasius.  His intent is to to attack the Cathoic idea of papal infallibility by showing that Pope Liberius erred in embracing, under pressure from the emperor, some kind of subscription to a heretical semi-Arian position and the condemnation of St. Athanasius.  He portrays St. Athanasius as boldly standing against the Bishop of Rome to defend his biblical position.


In actuality, the situation is much more complicated than Pastor Wallace describes, and does not constitute any clear proof against papal infallibility.  The idea of papal infallibility, put simply, is basically this:  The pope, when teaching the Church definitively on a matter of faith or morals, cannot err.  (See here for a more complete analysis of this.)

What happened was basically this:  Most of the Eastern bishops had turned against St. Athanasius.  He found refuge in Rome, as the Roman bishops protected him and defended the Nicene faith.  Pope Liberius was a great defender of Athanasius and the Nicene faith, but at one point he was taken into exile by the emperor (who opposed Athanasius) and put under severe pressure to condemn Athanasius, and possibly to subscribe some kind of semi-Arian or at least ambiguous theological formula that, in effect, negated the clear stand of the Nicene Fathers and their clear affirmation of the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father.  There is some historical unclarity as to exactly what Liberius did.  There are various accounts in various sources, not all of which are held to be assuredly reliable sources.  He probably did fold to pressure and condemn Athanasius, and he may also have signed an ambiguous, less-than-adequately Nicene formula.  Once he returned to Rome, he continued to defend the Nicene faith until his death.  You can read more about what happened here.

So does this contradict Catholic claims about papal infallibility?  No.  Why not?  Because there is no reason to think that Pope Liberius ever intended to promulgate definitively for the whole Church any false views.  The Catholic Church does not hold that popes cannot err when they do not intend to teach definitively, or in every administrative decision that they make (including excommunications).  Since Pope Liberius only did what he did under severe duress, his actions certainly should not be read as reflecting his personal intentions and desires, much less any intent to teach anything definitively to the whole Church.

It is most instructive to read what St. Athanasius himself had to say about Pope Liberius's lapse:


Thus they endeavoured at the first to corrupt the Church of the Romans, wishing to introduce impiety into it as well as others. But Liberius after he had been in banishment two years gave way, and from fear of threatened death subscribed. Yet even this only shews their violent conduct, and the hatred of Liberius against the heresy, and his support of Athanasius, so long as he was suffered to exercise a free choice. For that which men are forced by torture to do contrary to their first judgment, ought not to be considered the willing deed of those who are in fear, but rather of their tormentors. They however attempted everything in support of their heresy, while the people in every Church, preserving the faith which they had learnt, waited for the return of their teachers, and condemned the Antichristian heresy, and all avoid it, as they would a serpent.  (St. Athanasius, History of the Arians, Part V, #41, found here)

As you can see, St. Athanasius, in his account, attempts to make it clear that whatever Pope Liberius subscribed under torture did not represent his actual views.  So there is simply no argument here against the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility.

Obviously, I don't have time here to mount a complete analysis of views of the papacy in the earch Church.  But while I'm thinking of it, let me highly recommend a book by E. Giles, an Anglican scholar who attempted to provide a nice database of quotations and commentary (from both sides, Anglican and Catholic) regarding the early Fathers' views of papal authority up to the time of the Council of Chalcedon.  You can find the book here.

And by the way, I think it is telling that Protestants, in attempting to disprove papal infallibility, feel the need to resort to examples like Liberius.  It must be very hard to disprove papal infallibility if Protestants feel a need to use as one of their prime examples a pope who, in some way, caved under pressure and didn't stand up adequately for truth after two years of torture.  Where are the clear, unambiguous examples of papal error?  It reminds me very much of Atheists trying to prove contradictions in the Bible.  They cannot find clear, unambiguous contradictions, so they resort to any unclarity that they can possibly in any way spin to put forward as a contradiction.  Let me remind Protestants of the same thing I would remind Atheists of:  There is a difference between a possible contradiction and a proven contradiction.  In order to prove a contradiction, either in a pope or in the Bible, it is not enough to find statements that one might be able to understand as a contradiction or an error.  One must find statements that cannot possibly or plausibly be taken in any other way.  If there is ambiguity, and it might not be a contradiction, then no contradiction has been proven.  We'll see this same issue come up again later on when we talk about Pope Honorius (another of the "big three" usually referred to by Protestants trying to disprove papal infallibility).


St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, and the Canon of Scripture

Pastor Wallace points out that St. Athanasius did not include the Deuterocanonical books (which many Protestants call the "Apocrypha") in the canon of Scripture.  He points this out to assert a contradiction between later Catholic teachings on the canon and what St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, and other early fathers held.


In the Catholic view, there is such a thing as doctrinal development.  What that means is that the Church over time, guided by the Holy Spirit, comes to a deeper and fuller understanding of all the implications of the divine revelation entrusted to her.  We see this even in the New Testament.  The Old Testament and Jesus had said nothing explicit about whether or not Gentiles coming into the Church should be circumcised.  The earliest Church, being made up solely of Jews, did not confront this question.  But when the Gentiles began to come into the Church, the Church had to face this question.  There was much dispute, and finally, at the Council of Jerusalem (you can read about it in Acts 15), the Church concluded that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised.  So we see here a situation where a doctrinal issue was not at first decided on by the Church, but once the issue was raised, the Church came to a definitive conclusion.

Well, the Church has done this sort of thing throughout its history.  One of the areas where we see this is the canon of Scripture.  It took the Church hundreds of years to come to any unanimous, universal consensus on what books belong in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.  In the 300s (the time of Athanasius and Jerome), this issue was still being disputed.  Some Fathers did not think of the Deuterocanonicals as being in the canon.  Other Fathers did.  There was also debate about which New Testament books are in the canon.  Some Fathers did not include the Book of Revelation or other books.  St. Athanasius himself rejected the Deuterocanonicals for the most part from being in the canon, but he did include the Book of Baruch.

So does any of this constitute an argument against Catholic claims?  No.  The Catholic Church does not claim that the Church always figures out everything right away.  Rather, she claims that there is doctrinal development.  (By the way, here is Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge also arguing for the idea of doctrinal development.)  Also, the Catholic Church does not teach that all the Fathers are always correct about everything, so even if we have a Father contradicting some aspect of Catholic doctrine, this is not an argument against Catholic claims.  In this case, however, we simply have a case of early Fathers disputing what only later would become indisputable.

Here is a helpful article going into some detail as to the history of the Church's view of the Old Testament canon.


St. Athanasius and Transubstantiation

Pastor Wallace argues that St. Athanasius rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and agreed instead with the Reformed view that there is only a spiritual and not a physical eating of the body and blood of Christ in Communion.


There is no doubt that there is less precision in the earlier Fathers (at least sometimes) regarding what would later be called transubstantiation than there is in later times and later Fathers.  This is not surprising, since, again, there is development in the understanding and articulation of doctrine over the centuries.

We must also keep in mind the danger of creating false dichotomies, or of reading into words and phrases things that aren't there.  For example, do the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, or are the bread and wine symbols of the body and blood?  The answer is: yes.  The bread and wine become the body and blood, but the body and blood are still hidden under the empirical characteristics of bread and wine.  The Catholic Church teaches that Christ is present in the consecrated bread and wine--the entirety of his body, blood, soul, and divinity.  But his body and blood are in a glorified state, transcending space and time.  They are not present visibly, but only under the empirical characteristics of bread and wine.  So there is an actuality in communion, and also a symbolism.  It is both-and rather than either-or.

And do we feed on Christ carnally in communion, or only spiritually?  Well, it depends on what you mean.  To say we feed on Christ carnally might suggest that what we have in the consecrated bread is a chunk of Christ's physical flesh, and we are eating it in the same way we might eat a steak.  But this would be a grossly distorted way of understanding communion.  Since Christ is glorified, his body is, in a sense, "spiritual" (to use St. Paul's own language in 1 Corinthians 15).  It no longer necessarily conforms to the limitations of what we think of as "physicality."  There is a spiritual reality present in communion much greater than the mere physical act of eating.  We do not gain union with Christ through communion simply by some biological process of digestion of some physical chunk of meat.  So in that sense, communion is not physical but spiritual.  On the other hand, we don't want to say it is only spiritual, because we don't want to say that part of Christ is not there.  We want to say that the entirety of his body, blood, soul, and divinity are there--that is, the whole Christ is there.  So the Church speaks of the reality of the presence of Christ's body and not just his spirit.

The Church has come, over time, to articulate this in certain official terms and phrases; but in the early Church, not surprisingly, terminology was more fluid.  So we have to be careful not to pit a particular early Father against the later teaching of the Church merely because he uses a different or less exact phraseology.

There is dispute over whether all the early Fathers understood communion in the same substantial way that modern Catholics do.  They all accepted the real presence of Christ in communion.  They all accepted some kind of change in communion where Christ becomes present in a way he wasn't before.  Do they all accept the idea that there is no identity of bread and wine there after the consecration but only the empirical characteristics of bread and wine?  I am not certain.  Even on this point, one might articulate things in different ways.  For example, could I not, in some sense, say that the bread and wine are still there after consecration?  True, the identity of what is there has changed, since before we simply had bread and wine and now we have Christ.  But still, what we call "bread" and "wine" is still there--for what is it that gives rise to our words "bread" and wine" but the empirical characteristics we give these labels to?  And those empirical characteristics remain.  So I could certainly conceive of an alternative phraseology of the same substantial doctrine the Church holds which would say that the bread and wine remain, but Christ is now with them and under them (much like the Lutheran phraseology of "consubstantiation").  This is not in fact the phraseology the Church has come to embrace, but it is not clear to me that someone lacking knowledge of the clear and official terminology of the modern Church could not come to articulate the same beliefs in different ways.  So, again, we have to be careful against reading a different substantial teaching into the earlier Fathers without asking ourselves whether or not what we have might be simply alternate phrasing of the same basic teaching.

But, worst case scenario, perhaps some of the earlier Fathers actually disagreed with the modern Catholic teaching on transubstantiation.  Would this constitute a refutation of Catholic claims?  No, because the Catholic Church does not claim that every Father was always right about everything.  She would simply hold that, over time, the Holy Spirit has led the Church to clarify her understanding of this doctrine to the point that, now, all Catholics must embrace a more developed articulation of it.

Here and here are a couple more helpful articles on this, one of which contains a quotation from Athanasius affirming that the consecration of the elements in communion accompany a change in which the body and blood of Christ are now present where they weren't before.


Reformation Doctrines and the Early Fathers

Pastor Wallace suggests that the views of the Reformers were, to a great extent, simply the historic views of the Fathers of the Church.  But I don't think that this is the impression one would come away with after reading through those Fathers.  Let me make one recommendation in this regard.  Try reading St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lectures These were a series of lectures written around the year 348.  Cyril was the Bishop of Jerusalem at this time, and these lectures were written for those who were going to be baptized into the Church.  The purpose of the lectures was to provide a summary of Church teaching.  These lectures are very helpful, therefore, at providing a look at what the Church was teaching in those days.


It is somewhat misleading to deal with the Fathers as Pastor Wallace deals with them in his video and as we are dealing with them in this article.  The focus is only on quotations whereby the Protestant attempts to find Protestant views in the Fathers, and so he picks out those quotations out of which might be squeezed some meaning pleasing to Protestants.  It is much like talking about the Bible with Atheists, where the Atheist tries to find the most damning or negative Bible verses he can, taken out of context, and then presents them to show how bad the Bible is.  By focusing on these verses, one gets a distorted view of what the Bible is like.  Similarly, in this sort of enterprise, one can get a distorted impression of the Fathers by only focusing on their most ambiguous, Protestant-sounding quotations.  In order to correct this, it is helpful to go back and read the Fathers more fully, in full context, or at least some portions of them.  That is why I recommend St. Cyril's lectures.  They provide a nice sample of early Church teaching that one can read through to get a more holistic perspective.  If you read the Fathers more holistically, I can tell you from experience that you will not be impressed by how Protestant they are.  Rather the reverse.  You will see just how Catholic they are, and how it is the tradition of the Catholic Church and not the Protestant and Reformed tradition which truly evidences itself to be in overall continuity with them.  It was not without reason that John Henry Newman said that "to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."


The Salvation of Non-Catholics: Has the Church Contradicted Herself?

Pastor Wallace argues that the Catholic Church used to teach that non-Catholics could not be saved, and now she teaches that they can be saved, and so modern Church teaching contradicts previous Church teaching.


But, in reality, there is no contradiction.  The Church has always taught that salvation comes only through Christ and through his Church and his sacraments (Christ has procured salvation for us, and it is in the Church and through the sacraments that we receive Christ's salvation).  She has always taught that it is necessary to believe in Christ to be saved.  She has always taught that all people are required to join the visible Catholic Church and partake of the sacraments in order to be saved.

However, she has never taught that God has so tied salvation to his Church and his sacraments that even those who, through no fault of their own (invincible ignorance, lack of access, etc.), cannot join the visible Church or partake of the sacraments cannot be saved.  Since the early days of the Church, there has been a recognition that those who, through no fault of their own, die without baptism, can be saved because of their desire for baptism. Theologians through Church history have often commented on the salvation of those who, through no fault of their own, could not be visible members of the Church (St. Justin Martyr, for example, spoke this way about ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, and St. Augustine said that those who disagreed with Church teaching through innocent ignorance were not really heretics in the full sense). Over the past few centuries, because of the growing pluralism of the Western world, this theme has received greater emphasis within the teaching of the Church. But the Church has never taken a position contrary to it. So there is no contradiction between earlier and modern Catholic teaching on this point.

Let me give you an example of both sides of this equation being put together. This is from Pope St. Pius X's Catechism:

21 Q. What is the constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ?
A. The Church of Jesus Christ has been constituted as a true and perfect Society; and in her we can distinguish a soul and a body. 
22 Q. In what does the Soul of the Church consist?
A. The Soul of the Church consists in her internal and spiritual endowments, that is, faith, hope, charity, the gifts of grace and of the Holy Ghost, together with all the heavenly treasures which are hers through the merits of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and of the Saints. 
23 Q. In what does the Body of the Church consist? 
A. The Body of the Church consists in her external and visible aspect, that is, in the association of her members, in her worship, in her teaching-power and in her external rule and government. 
24 Q. To be saved, is it enough to be any sort of member of the Catholic Church?
A. No, to be saved it is not enough to be any sort of member of the Catholic Church; it is necessary to be a living member. 
25 Q. Who are the living members of the Church?
A. The living members of the Church are the just, and the just alone, that is, those who are actually in the grace of God.

26 Q. And who are the dead members?
A. The dead members of the Church are the faithful in mortal sin.

27 Q. Can one be saved outside the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church?
A. No, no one can be saved outside the Catholic, Apostolic Roman Church, just as no one could be saved from the flood outside the Ark of Noah, which was a figure of the Church.

28 Q. How, then, were the Patriarchs of old, the Prophets, and the other just men of the Old Testament, saved?
A. The just of the Old Testament were saved in virtue of the faith they had in Christ to come, by means of which they spiritually belonged to the Church.

29 Q. But if a man through no fault of his own is outside the Church, can he be saved?
A. If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God's will as best he can such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.

30 Q. Suppose that a man is a member of the Catholic Church, but does not put her teaching into practice, will he be saved?
A. He who is a member of the Catholic Church and does not put her teaching into practice is a dead member, and hence will not be saved; for towards the salvation of an adult not only Baptism and faith are required, but, furthermore, works in keeping with faith. (Pope St. Pius X, Catechism of Saint Pius X [1908], “The Ninth Article of the Creed,” Questions 21-30, retrieved from the EWTN website at https://www.ewtn.com/library/CATECHSM/PIUSXCAT.HTM at 10:36 AM on 3/16/18)


The Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ. She alone has the authority from Christ to function as the legitimate Church. Therefore, everyone is required to be a member of the Catholic Church. To be outside the Catholic Church is to be split off from the de jure visible Body of Christ. However, it is not enough to be merely a member of the Catholic Church outwardly; one must also be a true Catholic inwardly. And there are those who, through ignorance, confusion, inability, or whatever, are outside the de jure visible body of the Catholic Church, but who, by God’s grace in Christ, are following God as well as they know how based on what they do know and are able to do. These people are inwardly true Catholics even if outwardly they are separated from the de jure body.

Is Peter the Rock?  What Did the Fathers Say?

Pastor Wallace claims that most of the early Fathers did not see Peter as the rock Jesus refers to in Matthew 16:18.  He claims that they saw Christ as the rock, or Peter's faith, not Peter himself.

Beware of false dichotomies!  What is the rock Jesus is referring to?  Is it Peter?  Is it Peter's faith?  Is it Christ?  The answer is: Yes!  Of course Christ is the ultimate rock, for our faith is in Christ.  Peter's faith was a faith that was in Christ, not in himself.  Of course the rock is Peter's faith, for it is faith in Christ that will be the foundation of the Church.  And of course the rock is Peter, for Peter's faith does not exist without Peter.  It is on the faith of the Church in Christ, and therefore on the faithful people of the Church who trust in Christ, that Christ will found his Church.  So if Protestants provide a series of quotations from the early Fathers saying that Christ is the rock or that Peter's faith in the rock, this does not prove that they did not believe that Peter himself is also the rock.  If we want to prove that, we have to show them denying that Peter was the rock.

Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#424--footnotes removed) teaches that Peter's faith is the rock:


Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.

This is exactly the sort of quotation Protestants frequently pull from the Church Fathers to prove that they did not hold that Peter was the rock.  So is the Catechism of the Catholic Church denying that Peter is the rock?  Of course not.  But these are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Here is a nice article providing quotations from the early Fathers showing their widespread opinion that Peter was indeed the rock on which Christ built his Church.


The Papacy in the Early Church

Pastor Wallace suggests that the concept of the papacy, or the Bishop of Rome being the head of the Church, was not the doctrine of the early Fathers of the Church.  I mentioned earlier a book by E. Giles, an Anglican author, who has compiled a series of quotations from the Fathers on this topic with commentary from both Catholics and Anglicans.  Anyone who studies this material should be able to see that the early Church did indeed embrace the papacy (though certainly there has been doctrinal development, and the doctrine becomes more formal and explicit as time goes by).  It is easy to provide a misleading picture by taking a few quotations out of their overall context, but this tactic will no longer work once one has become more well-read on the whole of what the early Fathers had to say on this subject, so I highly recommend Giles's book.  You can also look at this helpful article.


The Pope Honorius Affair

Pastor Wallace asserts that Pope Honorius taught doctrinal error in confirming Bishop Sergius's idea that Christ had only one will.

This article provides everything you might need or want to know about this issue, including the whole history of the controversy, what Pope Honorius said, how he might be properly understood, how he was condemned, etc.  It fully answers Pastor Wallace's charges.

We would have a clear argument against the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility if it could be shown that Pope Honorius taught definitively for the whole Church what the later Church recognized as a false doctrine.  So can this be shown?  No, it cannot.  I admit that, perhaps, one might interpret the facts in that way, but one need not do so, for there are other, more plausible ways of understanding the whole situation.

At the very beginning of the Monothelite controversy, before the Church had definitively decided anything regarding it, Sergius, the Bishop of Constantinople, came up with the idea that Christ had only one will.  He asked Pope Honorius about this, and Pope Honorius said that "we acknowledge one Will of our Lord Jesus Christ, for evidently it was our nature and not the sin in it which was assumed by the Godhead, that is to say, the nature which was created before sin, not the nature which was vitiated by sin" (Chapman, John. "Pope Honorius I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 3 Jul. 2018).  So Honorius became associated with the promoters of the Monothelite ("one will") heresy.  He died before the whole thing got resolved, but he was condemned by later Ecumenical Councils and popes for aiding and abetting heresy.

But what exactly was the meaning of what he taught?  It is not entirely clear, for his letter to Sergius was written before all the terms of the controversy were fully developed.  It seems apparent from the quotation above that his concern was to deny that Christ had anything like a fallen human will, which would make him a sinner.  He may have been trying to preserve the idea that Christ was one person, and his will was one with the Father's, as opposed to his having a distinct human will contrary to his divine will.  In this view, what he was saying was that Christ had only one will--that is, only one divine intention, and not a divine intention plus a contrary, sinful human intention.  And this is, of course, true, but it turned out not to be what the Monothelite controversy was all about.


But whatever he meant, his letter had the effect of abetting the view that was later condemned by the Church, and so he was condemned as a heretic.  Is this a problem for papal infallibility?  No.  Why not?  Because it cannot be proved that Pope Honorius intended to definitively affirm for the whole Church the full-blown Monothelite doctrine that was later condemned.  He approved Sergius's Monothelite-sounding language, but it is not clear that he intended by that language all the baggage that later become clearly associated with it.  Later popes condemned him for not standing up adequately for the apostolic faith.  Pope Leo II referred to "Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted."  But although he abetted heresy by his negligence, it is not at all clear that he intended to teach the full-blown Monothelite doctrine to the Church as its official teaching.  One might read this meaning into what he said and did, but one need not do so, and so a contradiction has not been proved.


The case of Honorius reminds me of similar arguments made by some Catholics regarding Pope Francis today.  Pope Francis is famous for saying ambiguous sorts of things to people in ad hoc situations, especially, for some reason, on airline flights.  He has often gotten himself in trouble with Catholics who are very concerned about theological precision for being misleading.  For example, back in 2013, upon being asked about a homosexual person who might be searching for God with a good will, he said, "Who am I to judge?", etc.  This has been hailed by a number of people as indicating that the pope has no problem with homosexuality.  But that is not what he said.  Here's the transcript of what he said (it was an interview):



Ilze Scamparini 

I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby? 
Pope Francis 

About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response. But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. Thank you so much for asking this question. Many thanks.  ("Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day: Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight," found on the Vatican website at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130728_gmg-conferenza-stampa.html at 12:40 PM on 7/18/18)



Pope Francis affirms the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which condemns homosexual sexual activity as sinful (see #2357-2359).  Note that in the interview, Pope Francis refers to someone having "this tendency"--that is, a tendency to homosexuality.  He seems to be speaking of someone who has a tendency towards homosexuality, a homosexual inclination, not someone who willingly acts on it and engages in homosexual activity.  The Catechism also affirms that homosexuals "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."  Subsequently, Pope Francis has said that he was simply referring to this idea in his statement.  (See this article.)  However, many Catholics have complained that, by making these sorts of off-the-cuff, less-than-entirely-clear statements that are predictably heard and received in certain ways by the surrounding culture, Pope Francis is compromising the purity of the faith by negligence.  I am not interested in weighing in on this debate right now.  I bring it up simply to provide another example that might help to shed light on the Honorius affair.  Informed Catholics do not claim that Pope Francis has actually taught (much less taught definitively!) some contrary teaching on homosexuality to the whole Church.  Their complaint is simply that he has in effect undermined Church teaching by speaking about these subjects unclearly and misleadingly.  If they are right that Pope Francis has been negligent, it would not be an argument against papal infallibility as the Church has understood it, because the Church has never claimed that popes can't do all kinds of foolish things, be negligent, etc.  (Think of Peter himself being rebuked by Paul in the Book of Galatians for acting hypocritically and implying by his actions a rejection of Gentiles from Christian fellowship.  Catholics are quite familiar with this passage and have no problem with it.)  The same applies to the issue of Pope Honorius.  So I would say that Honorius is certainly a better example for Protestants to try to use than Pope Liberius, but it still fails to prove their point.

Pope Vigilius

Pastor Wallace makes a passing reference to Pope Vigilius, saying that he had been excommunicated by the Second Council of Constantinople.  Perhaps I've missed something, but I am not aware that Vigilius was ever excommunicated by a council.  Could Pastor Wallace provide some evidence of this claim?


Pope Vigilius is one of the "big three"--that is, along with Honorius and Liberius, one of the most famous examples of popes used by opponents of papal infallibility to disprove this idea.  This has to do with the confusion of the Three Chapters controversy.  Thus far in the video, Pastor Wallace hasn't mentioned this, so I won't go into it here.  You can read about Pope Vigilius here.


Bad Popes

Pastor Wallace points out there there have been bad popes--that is, popes that have done immoral things, and even lived scandalous lives. This is true. It is also true that there have been many saintly popes. Pastor Wallace seems to think that the presence of scandalous corruption at times in the Church is evidence against the claims of the Catholic Church to be the true Church. I don't see how this follows, however, since the Catholic Church has never claimed that Catholic laypeople or Catholic leaders are going to be free from sin, or even serious sin, in this life.

If the Catholic Church claimed that all her members and leaders were perfect, this would be a knock-down argument. But she doesn’t. God has promised to guide his Church, to ensure the faithfulness of her doctrine, to keep his Spirit within her so that people are made holy by his grace through her, etc., but although the militant Church (that is, the part of the Church still on earth) is the kingdom of God on earth, she has not yet been brought to a state of heavenly perfection. There have been many holy men and women in the Church, and many holy leaders, including many popes, but there have been some bad examples as well. Peter himself, the first Pope, was not a model of unblemished perfection during his life on earth. In Matthew’s gospel, almost immediately after being blessed by Christ for speaking the truth about Christ according to the teaching of the Father and being declared the rock on which the Church would be built and given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Peter tries to dissuade Christ from his mission and is rebuked as an agent of Satan! Later on, he denies Christ three times in fear. Then, even after being restored from his fall, given the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and embracing his role as leader of the Church after Christ’s ascension, at one point Peter has to be rebuked publicly by the Apostle Paul for having exhibited hypocrisy because of fear by refusing to eat with Gentiles. And yet he doesn’t, for all of this, lose his role as the chief of the apostles. We do not throw out his letters in the New Testament on the ground that they were the product of a sinful and imperfect man. We recognize that God has always had a thing about using imperfect and sinful people to accomplish his purposes. Anyone even remotely familiar with biblical history is very well aware of this.

The Church has the Spirit. She is holy. But all her members have not yet been made perfect. There are, no doubt, plenty of members of the Catholic Church, both lay people and leaders, who are not in their hearts true followers of Christ, who have never truly and sincerely converted to him. There are many others who are true and sincere followers of Christ, but whose Christian lives are blemished in various ways with great imperfections. No member of the Church in this world is freed entirely from the pull of sin. In fact, to say otherwise has been declared heretical by the Church:

lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,-except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema. (J. Waterworth, tr., The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent, Sixth Session, canon 23 [London: Dolman, 1848], p. 47, "Scanned by Hanover College students in 1995," Hanover Historical Texts Project, Hanover College, retrieved from https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html at 10:53 AM on 3/15/18)

Can Popes Err?


Pastor Wallace suggests that not all popes or Catholics in the past have believed in papal infallibility, before this was affirmed at Vatican Council I.  It will be helpful here, then, to make sure we understand the meaning of papal infallibility.  I already dealt with this earlier, but just to reiterate:  The Catholic position is that popes can err when they are speaking as private persons as opposed to as pastors of the whole Church.  Also, popes can err when they are teaching the whole Church but in a non-definitive manner--that is, when they don't intend to be proclaiming the final word on a subject.  Popes cannot err when they proclaim definitively a doctrine to be binding on the entire Church.  Again, this article provides further definitions and links to other helpful sources.

So if we ask whether popes can err, the answer is, yes, they can. But there are some circumstances in which they cannot. This has been understood, so far as we can tell historically, from the earliest times in the Church. We find this idea bound up with the idea of papal authority from the very beginning. But, as with many doctrines, the idea has been defined more precisely and given more official articulation over time. Vatican I gave the classic, formal, modern definition of the doctrine, but it has been there from the beginning. It is, for example, clear in this statement signed by all the Eastern churches in the sixth century:

The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18), should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies . . .

Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St. Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion. And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries. But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned. I have signed this my profession with my own hand and have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome. (Jesuit Fathers of St. Mary's College, St. Mary's, Kansas, The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation, tr. John F. Clarkson, et al. [Tan, 2009])



Pastor Wallace provides a quotation from Pope Adrian VI which makes some strong statements about the possibility of popes erring.  So far as I can see, the quotation, though put in extreme language, can be understood consistently with Catholic teaching on this subject, since it is quite true that popes can err, even when teaching the whole Church, in certain circumstances.  The quotation certainly requires further clarification.  I have been unable to trace the source of this quotation.  I wanted to go back and look at its context, check its authenticity, etc., but I have been unable to do so.  Perhaps Pastor Wallace can help?

Pastor Wallace mentions the case of John XXII and his views on the Beatific Vision. You can read more about this here. Perhaps it would be worth quoting the article as well:

In the last years of John's pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope's view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favour of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.  (Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Pope John XXII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Jul. 2018 - embedded links removed)

Pastor Wallace also mentions Pope John XXII's controversy with the ultra-spiritualist Franciscan movement.  I've not done a great deal of research on this, but, from what I have seen, the gist of the controversy seems to have gone like this:  One group of Franciscans (the group that defied the pope came to be referred to as the "spiritual" or "ultra-spiritual" Franciscans, certainly not representative of all Franciscans) claimed that an earlier papal bull had said that Christ and his apostles owned nothing.  Pope John XXII refused to accept the idea that Franciscans can own absolutely nothing at all, and disagreed with the spiritual Franciscans about how to understand the earlier bull.  It is in this context that John XXII attacked their idea of the irreformability of previous bulls.  This is perfectly in line with Catholic teaching.  There have been many times in the Church when people have tried to use previous statements of the Church to oppose later ones.  While it is true that a definitive teaching of the Church or of a pope is infallible, this does not imply that earlier teaching cannot be further clarified by later teaching, or even that non-definitive teachings cannot be altered.  If certain issues are left unaddressed, or some ambiguities or questions remain or further clarification is called for, it is the prerogative of the Church to clarify, and it is not the right of individuals or groups to rebel against the Church, disagreeing with the modern Church's own interpretation of her earlier statements.  This does not mean, of course, that the Church can contradict herself and get away with it.  It simply means that one must defer to the modern Church in understanding what the Church has previously said.  If a clear, unavoidable contradiction could be proved between earlier and later teaching, this would be a serious problem for the Catholic Church.  But it is not a problem when there is reasonable room for interpretation of an earlier teaching, and the Church requires deference to her later teaching to clarify earlier teaching.  That seems to be at least partly what John XXII was getting at in that quotation Pastor Wallace provided.  Also, the Church makes a distinction between divine commands and teachings that are unalterable and matters of discipline and church order which can be appointed by the Church and also changed by the Church for various reasons. (For example, the Church used to mandate that everyone had to avoid meat each Friday.  Now, the Church allows the bishops of particular countries more leeway in this, and the US bishops, for example, have allowed Catholics to substitute other penitential practices on Friday.  This is a change in discipline, but not a contradiction in doctrine, because the Church never claimed that there was some kind of divine, unalterable rule that commanded that no meat could be had on Friday.  The Church has always recognized that this is a matter of discipline, appointed by the Church for the good of her people, and alterable according to her judgment.  Christ has given her authority, as shepherd of the people of God, to create such rules of discipline, just as parents can make such rules in their families.)

You can read more about this controversy here. Also, you can read here the actual entire document written by Pope John XXII which Pastor Wallace quoted from.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary

Pastor Wallace claims that the Church teaches dogmatically that Mary was immaculately conceived, but that earlier Doctors and popes of the Church denied this.

When the Church teaches that a particular doctrine has always been taught in the Church, she makes room for the idea of doctrinal development. Every doctrine the Church teaches is derived from the faith once for all delivered to the saints by Christ and his apostles. However, God has so designed things that the faith is unpacked over time. More and more implications of it are further realized and clarified over the centuries through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Some doctrines have been made more explicit from the earliest times, while others remained only mostly latent for centuries before being clearly unpacked and defined.

St. Vincent of Lerins, in the fifth century, described this process of doctrinal development:

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant's limbs are small, a young man's large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.
In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.
For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church's field. It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of grain, should reap the counterfeit error of tares. This rather should be the result—there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last. From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind— wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensue in the character of the plant. There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles. God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam, darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.  (St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Sections 55-57.  Translated by C.A. Heurtley, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894], revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Retrieved from the New Advent website [embedded links and section number headings removed] at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3506.htm at 7:41 AM on 2/21/18)

With regard to the immaculate conception of Mary, the fundamental ideas that are the root of this have always been held by the Church, but it took time for the Church to fully define the whole thing in all its parts.

Let's define the immaculate conception: The immaculate conception is the idea that, by the grace and through the merits of Christ, Mary was saved from sin by being kept free from original sin in her conception and actual sin in her life.

Belief in Mary's sinlessness dates back, so far as historical records show, to patristic times. The Church's terminology in doctrine and worship came eventually to refer to her as "all-holy," "immaculate," "spotless," etc.  However, there was dispute during the medieval period over how Mary's sinlessness related to her conception. Some Doctors (St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the best examples) argued that Mary was conceived like everyone else but kept free from all actual sin throughout her life. Others, like Duns Scotus, held that Mary was conceived in a special way that kept her free from all sin. The Church eventually overwhelmingly came to the conclusion that Mary's sinlessness implied a different sort of conception, and this was eventually declared the dogmatic position of the Church, so that now there is no controversy allowed on this point.

Mary and the Saints in General

Pastor Wallace, not surprisingly, brings out in his video one of the most troubling aspects of Catholicism to Protestants: its theology and practice regarding Mary and the Saints. I believe that a great deal of the concern that Protestants have on this point is rooted in a misunderstanding of these ideas and practices, so let me provide some brief and simple clarification.

First of all, let's look at the Catholic concept of a "saint." Of course, the word “saints” or “holy ones” is used in Scripture to refer to the people of God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. So all members of the Church are saints in this sense. The Church also applies the word in a special way to members of the Church who have lived especially noteworthy lives and have been set aside for special recognition. For example, Thomas More was a sixteenth century Catholic who suffered martyrdom for the Catholic faith. The testimony of his life was so powerful that the Church has set him aside for special recognition to be a model for others and as someone whose prayers ought to be especially sought. The Church, following the guidance the Holy Spirit gives her, by examining the lives of people like Thomas More, is able to discern the true santliness of their lives and thus that they lived in such a way as to warrant the conclusion that they are now in heaven with Christ. The process of making this kind of recognition about a person and setting aside that person for special note in the Church is called canonization. A canonized saint has the title of “saint” affixed to their name—so, for example, St. Thomas More.

The saints become saints, of course, through the grace of God and the merit of Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that it is appropriate to address saints who have died and are in heaven and to ask for their help, and particularly their prayers. It is, of course, not appropriate to worship them--that is, to give them honor due only to God. But it is appropriate to give them a kind of honor, a recognition of their dignity and holiness as saints of God by the grace of God, which redounds to the glory of God, since the goodness of the saints is the work of God. The saints can help us through their intercession. Of course, only Christ is the one intercessor, the one mediator, in an absolute sense, but in a lesser, subordinate sense, we can be intercessors and intermediaries for each other. For example, I may pray for you and God may help you in response to my prayers. I am, in this way, an intercessor. This does not, of course, take away from Christ as the sole intercessor in the sense of being the only one who has died for our sin and taken it away and reconciled us to God. Christ is the sole provider of salvation, but he uses means to apply it to us. We receive Christ and his grace through the sacraments. God may choose to apply salvation to a particular sinner in response to certain prayers of his people. Etc.

Mary is the mother of Christ.  The Catholic Church teaches that in connection with this role, she has been highly exalted and blessed in the Church.  (Of course, this is what she says of herself in her Magnificat in Luke 2.)  Her intercessions and help are of great value, and therefore Catholics are greatly encouraged to ask for her prayers and her help.  As we saw earlier, God saved her from sin in a unique way--by applying the merits and grace of Christ to keep her from falling into sin in the first place.  She was also assumed into heaven at the end of her life (probably after dying first).  God wishes her to be greatly honored for his work in her, which redounds to his own glory, just as the praise given to a great work of art redounds to the artist.

One of the things that tends to trip up Protestants is Catholic devotional language.  It tends to be very flowery and sometimes sentimental (particularly western language).  It uses extremes, much as love poetry tends to do.  So, for example, Catholic call Mary "our life, our sweetness, and our hope" in the prayers associated with the rosary.  Protestants gasp at this.  "Mary is your hope?  But Christ is our only hope!"  They tend to see it as taking away from trust in Christ.  But this is not how the language is understood within the Catholic Church.  This is a misinterpretation of it by those outside.  Mary is our hope in the sense that we put great confidence in her prayer for us.  Also, Mary is the one who brought Jesus into the world, and so she made possible our salvation.  Also, much, perhaps all, of the good God does in the world he does in response to Mary's prayers (not, of course, as if he would not have carried out his eternal plan without her, but simply that he has chosen to honor her by fulfilling his purposes in answer to her prayers).  But Mary is not our hope in the sense of being the one with the power to save us from our sins.  Only Jesus's death saves us from our sins.  Mary, being a mere creature, could not atone for our sins or procure for us grace in that ultimate sense.  She cannot reconcile us to God.  God makes use of her as a lesser intermediary, but not as the one Mediator who actually accomplishes our redemption.  If I pray for you, and God saves you because of my prayers, then you might say of me, using flowery language, "Thank you!  You were my hope!"  You wouldn't mean that my prayers actually accomplished your redemption, but only that God made use of my prayers as an instrument through which he decided to apply the salvation of Christ to you.  This is the sort of thing that is going on in Catholic devotions to saints and to Mary.  If it sounds over-the-top, well, people express themselves in different ways.  In the US, we find the idea of bowing to a ruler and calling him "Your Majesty" over the top, but, in England, this sort of thing is still ordinary.


Catholic theology has even developed a special language to distinguish the honor due to God alone from the honor due to the saints—the term latria is used for the former and dulia for the latter.  Protestant critics of Catholicism have often ridiculed the distinction between latria and dulia, saying that it is a theoretical difference forgotten in actual practice.  Well, let's say that they're right.  In that case, it is still a fact that the Church makes a theoretical distinction between the worship of God and the honor of mere creatures, even if she doesn't live up to her own teaching.  But, in fact, most of the examples Protestants appeal to to justify accusing Catholics of hypocrisy in this area fall short of providing such a justification.  The problem here is that there is much subjectivity.  If I show great honor towards an honorable human person, when have I crossed the line into worship?  How can you tell?  Is it when I bow just a little too low?  Is it when I spend just a little too much time?  If I speak poetically, do I cross the line when my words of praise become too grandiose?  (Just read love poetry and you will see the human tendency to speak in lofty terms of those we admire greatly.)  If I live in a country with a monarchy and I refer to the king as “Your Majesty,” have I crossed the line into worship?  Most people would say no, in spite of the use of the lofty word “majesty,” because we recognize the cultural meaning of the term used in this way.  It is very difficult to determine objectively when someone is showing honor too extravagantly, particularly when they profess quite clearly that they are distinguishing between creaturely honor and divine worship.  I think a rule of charity is advisable in situations like these.  Don't jump to negative conclusions about someone's alleged hypocrisy without clear, objective reasons to do so.  Give the benefit of the doubt rather than putting at first the worst face on what you perceive others to be doing—particularly when dealing with differences in cultural traditions and practices, which notoriously cause confusion when people of one culture try to understand by superficial observation the actions of people of another culture.  Just as various Protestant denominations or groups have unique cultures, so the Catholic Church has developed a certain universal culture over time and also a number of diverse local cultures in different parts of her.  We must use great sensitivity, charity, and carefulness is trying to communicate and gain understanding across such barriers.


Let me provide one example to illustrate the danger of such subjectivity in judgment.  It is well known that Martin Luther rejected the Book of James from being an authentic book belonging in the canon of Scripture.  Here are his reasons (written in 1522):



      I think highly of the epistle of James, and regard it as valuable although it was rejected in the early days. . . . Yet, to give my own opinion without prejudice to that of anyone else, I do not hold it to be of apostolic authorship, for the following reasons:
   Firstly, because, in direct opposition to St. Paul and all the rest of the Bible, it ascribes justification to works, and declares that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered up his son. . . . This defect proves that the epistle is not of apostolic provenance.
   Secondly, because in the whole length of its teaching, not once does it give Christians any instruction or reminder of the passion, resurrection, or spirit of Christ. . . . All genuinely sacred books are unanimous here, and all preach Christ emphatically.  The true touchstone for testing every book is to discover whether it emphasizes the prominence of Christ or not. . . .
   The epsitle of James, however, only drives you to the law and its works. . . .
   In sum:  he wished to guard against those who depended on faith without going on to works, but he had neither the spirit nor the thought nor the eloquence equal to the task.  He does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture. . . . I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible;  (Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, found in Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, ed. John Dillenberger [Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1961], 35-36.)


Luther's judgment was too subjective. "The Book of James does not emphasize Christ enough! A biblical book would do so. Therefore, James is not a biblical book." Beware of making a similarly subjective judgment regarding Catholic practice. "Those Catholics don't emphasize Christ enough. They talk about Mary too much! That proves their wrong and unbiblical." How much is talking about Mary or the saints too much? How much speech is allowed before it becomes too much? How much flowery language is allowed before it becomes unbiblical. If the Catholic doctrines on these matters themselves are valid, then it is subjective and superficial to judge Catholics the way Protestants often do. Take the rosary, for example. Protestants often complain about this, because it addresses Mary so much and so repetitively. But if you get beyond a superficial analysis, you will find that the rosary is very Christo-centric. It focuses on the life of Christ and the work of Christ. The focus on Mary is primarily as a gateway to Christ. The rosary is a Marian prayer—that is, a prayer that focuses attention on Mary. It consists of several “mysteries”—events in the life of Christ and of Mary—which are meditated upon while certain prayers (especially the “Hail Mary”) are repeated over and over again. But attention is focused on Mary in order ultimately to focus on and glorify Christ, for Mary’s glory is centered and rooted entirely in Christ. Just consider the actual words of the “Hail Mary”:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Notice how every aspect of what is said about Mary in this prayer refers back to Christ? Mary is hailed as being “full of grace”—her glory comes from the grace of God in Christ. “The Lord is with thee.” She is important because God is with her. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Mary is blessed not by herself or for herself, but in connection to the fruit of her womb, Jesus. “Holy Mary.” Mary’s greatness is because she has been made holy by God’s grace. “Mother of God.” Again, Mary’s importance stems from her relationship to Christ. She is his mother. “Pray for us sinners.” What are we asking from Mary? Not that she herself will save us, but that she will pray for us, intercede for us before God through her Son Jesus Christ. The “Marian-ness” of this prayer, and of the Rosary, is not in rivalry to a “Christo-centric” approach, but is a complement to it. That is, it is precisely because the Rosary is Marian that it is Christo-centric. When I pray the Rosary and meditate on the events in the life of Christ that it focuses attention on, I like to think of myself as praying alongside of Mary, seeing the events of Christ’s life with her and through her eyes.

In the Church's central public prayer, the prayers of the Mass, you will find Mary and saints mentioned only rarely, as we ask God to listen to their intercessions for us. The Mass is clearly focused and centered on Christ and his work. It is "Christ and him crucified" which is at the heart of Catholic theology and practice. Even when the immediate focus is on a saint or on Mary, the ultimate direction leads back to Christ and the focus on the saint becomes a means of praise to Christ.

So beware of quotations taken without full context, of flowery language taken too literally, of doctrines not clearly represented or understood, in all matters but especially in these matters where Protestants tend naturally to be very suspicious. If you are suspicious, fine, be suspicious, but also be honest and thorough and careful in your analysis.

Here are some further helpful resources on these topics:

Catholic Answers, “The Intercession of the Saints - https://www.catholic.com/tract/the-intercession-of-the-saints – Contains quotations from the Church Fathers on the intercession of the saints.

Jason Evert, “How to Defend the Intercession of the Saints” - https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/how-to-defend-the-intercession-of-the-saints - Answering some objections to the intercession of the saints.

“Intercession of the Saints in 205 AD” - http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2017/05/intercession-of-saints-in-205-ad.html – In this short article, I provide a quotation from the great fourth century Church historian Eusebius as he discusses an event which took place around 205 AD involving a saint's effective intercession.

“Did the Virgin Mary Live Without Sin? Some Comments from St. Augustine” - http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2016/05/did-virgin-mary-live-without-sin-some.html – Another example of how Church Fathers can be taken out of context and made to support Protestant ideas.

Catholic Answers, “Immaculate Conception and Assumption” - https://www.catholic.com/tract/immaculate-conception-and-assumption – Helpful discussion of these doctrines.

Fr. M. D. Forrest, “Devotion to the Blessed Virgin” - https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/devotion-to-the-blessed-virgin – Helpful discussion of this topic.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “Mary, Mother of Salvation” - https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/mary-mother-of-salvation
– Helpful discussion of this concept

Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia, etc.

Pastor Wallace brings up the controversy over Amoris Laetitia, a recent (spring of 2016) Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis.

Here's the gist of the issues: Catholic theology holds that divorce is not possible for a truly valid, sacramental marriage. Sometimes separation might be called for, and even civil divorce, but the separated parties are still married, and so if they were to join with another partner they would be guilty of adultery. This is clear and unchangeable. But it raises certain practical and pastoral questions, especially in modern times: How do we handle all those people who find themselves in circumstances difficult to navigate morally? For example, imagine a person who has been divorced and remarried, and who now has children with a new partner. Perhaps their new marriage is stable and happy, and they fear that changing it would be very dangerous for themselves and their children. And yet, according to Church teaching, they are not validly married. Their relationship is objectively adulterous. Let's say they come to find out about or to care about this situation and want to do the right thing. What should they do? Should they separate? Should they live together "as brother and sister" (i.e. without sexual relations)? Should they continue as before? Perhaps they feel bound in conscience that it would be wrong to change their relationship, because of all the negative consequences that they see as likely to result.

In Amoris Laetitia, and subsequently, Pope Francis has declared that there needs to be discussion and consideration of these questions. Could there ever be a case where, judged by the discernment of the priest, a person might be allowed to share in communion even while continuing to engage in sexual relations with their partner to whom they are invalidly married--such as in the sort of situation I mentioned? Even if we say that, objectively, they ought in fact to cease engaging in sexual activity, what if they seem to be, in good conscience, confused about how to act, while trying and truly desiring to do the right thing? Pope Francis has suggested that this should be an open question and judged by pastoral discernment.

Some conservative Catholics have strongly criticized Pope Francis for this, and have accused him of contradicting previously defined Church teaching. I think that some of them have gone too far and have failed to show appropriate deference to the pope. (Actually, I've been intending to write an article on this for the past few months and will likely do so before too long. When I do, I'll paste it here.) This would not be the first time in Catholic history where some Catholics have failed to show due respect to the Apostolic See.

I read Amoris Laetitia as soon as it came out. I was already a Catholic when all this started. I cannot see any problem with Pope Francis's position. More specifically, I don't see how it contradicts any previously defined Church teaching. Pope Francis is certainly contemplating cautiously greater leeway in disciplinary approach in these matters than has been done in the past, but the Church has never defined as doctrine that under no circumstances ever can a person receive communion in cases such as those under contemplation. This situation is very much like that of John XXII and the Spiritual Franciscans that I discussed earlier.

Now, it is quite possible and consistent with being a good Catholic to be critical of the Pope on this point in some ways. For example, one can hold that it seems unwise of Pope Francis to increase disciplinary leeway here. There are plenty of Catholics in good standing who hold this opinion, and I have no problem with them. I think that a few, though certainly not all, papal critics in the Church have failed to show proper respect even when they have a reasonable criticism to make. But many have expressed criticism in ways that are perfectly valid, whether or not one agrees with the particular criticisms.

Pastor Wallace paints a picture of this controversy which makes it sound like Pope Francis has clearly contradicted, ex cathedra, previous defined and irreversible Church doctrine. But this is simply not the case. (By the way, here is Amoris Laetitia.)

He also presents the whole affair in a sensationalistic way that is misleading. For example, he makes it sound like all "conservative" Catholics are opposed to the pope or even consider him a heretic, but this is far from the case. In general, there are far more nuances in the whole situaion than Pastor Wallace suggests. For another thing, I am not aware of any cardinal or bishop who has accused the pope of heresy. There have been requests for clarification, and even "filial correction" for not doing better at helping the Church think clearly on these issues, but there has been no charge of heresy from anybody in authority that I know of. For another thing, Pastor Wallace makes it sound like Pope Francis and Cardinal Müller are great enemies, but (as I recall--I haven't looked up the situation again to write this, I'm going by my memory of what happened as it happened) I believe that Cardinal Müller denied that he was replaced as the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith over the Amoris Laetitia issue. I think that he and Pope Francis were hoping for a somewhat different application regarding sacraments for those in irregular unions, but this hardly implies the sort of enmity one gets the impression of from Pastor Wallace.

Anyway, here are some articles you can look at to get a more clear and balanced picture of what's going on, what the various views are, etc. Here, here, and here you can read about what some of the critics of Pope Francis's approach in Amoris Laetitia have had to say. Here you can see a conservative defense of Pope Francis on these points. Personally, I am more sympathetic to the defense of Pope Francis on these points than his critics. I think his critics are taking too much upon themselves in terms of trying to rival the pope in saying how to do doctrine and practice in the Church. But this is not new. People have chafed against the authority of the Church when it goes somewhere that bothers them ever since there has been such a thing as Church authority. The Church will go on.

Sola Scriptura

Pastor Wallace rightly articulates that the Catholic Church holds that the authoritative foundations of our faith are Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (that is, the teachers) of the Church. He suggest that this means Catholics don't really care all that much about the Bible, but this doesn't follow. The Catholic view is that the Bible contains the teaching of the prophets and the apostles. The message of the gospel is in it. But God has also given us an infallible interpreter and applier of Scripture in the Church. Also, some things (especially certain practices, like the sign of the cross and infant baptism) have been passed down outside of Scripture, in the Church's teaching and practice, and these traditions shed light on how to interpret and apply Scripture. This scheme doesn't make Scripture useless. It gives it the highest importance, but it insists that we use it properly in the context of the Church, the context in which it was meant to be interpreted and applied.

St. Vincent of Lerins, a Church Father from the 5th century, articulates this clearly:

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason,--because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (Commonitory, #5)

Vincent articulates the view of the Fathers in general. (I would recommend reading through his Commonitory in full. You can find it here.) Again, as I said earlier, it is difficult to get a clear idea of what the Fathers are saying just from short snippets selected for polemical purposes. That is why I put together a larger, more contextualized set of quotations from the Fathers, including quotations used by both sides with fuller context, on the subject of Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority. I refer you there to see for yourself how the Fathers actually thought about these matters.

To see how the Church in modern days has described the relationship between Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority, see the Vatican Council II document Dei Verbum (The Word of God), found here, especially Chapter II.

Again, beware of presuppositions without basis. To a Protestant who is used to it and has never seriously considered other ways of thinking, Sola Scriptura might seem like the obvious way to go. But this is not the historic position of the Church. It is a position that was only really embraced in any clear and formal way after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The historic way of looking at things handed down by the Church in the providence of God is the Catholic way of the three-legged stool of infallible Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority. Just as with the canon of Scripture, we should not alter this historic view based on subjective and insufficient arguments. We should defer to what God has handed down unless we can prove the contrary. So our default is the Catholic view, and the burden of proof is on the Protestant to justify the novel idea of Sola Scriptura against the historic view of the Church. If we become more historically aware, we will no longer see Sola Scriptura as the natural approach, but as the unnatural approach that has to justify itself. The question is not, "Why should we add traditions and Church authority to Scripture?", but rather, "What justification do we have to tear Scripture out of its historic context as part of a three-legged stool of infallible Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority, in order to treat it as alone infallible and therefore ultimately to be interpreted by ourselves and our own fallible judgment?"

Catholics often point out that Sola Scriptura has trouble with the canon of Scripture. If only Scripture is infallible, and there is no infallible Church or infallible Tradition, how do we know which books belong in the Bible? This is a serious problem that Pastor Wallace glosses over too easily. Without trust in God's guidance of the Church, there is no way to know which books belong in the canon of Scripture. But if we trust God's guidance of the Church (that is, if we take the Tradition of the Church in this matter to be infallibly guided by God to be surely reliable) to know which books are in Scripture, why not trust God's guidance of the Church in other things the Church has taught in its Tradition? But Protestants cannot do that, or they would have to be Catholic. I've dealt with this in this article, where I ask, How do we know the Book of Jude, for example, ought to be in the Bible?

St. Augustine dealt with this issue in the early Church in his arguments with the Manichean heresy. There is an interesting place in one of his writings where he challenges the Manicheans in this way (I'm paraphrasing): "You claim the gospels support Manichaeus. But the Catholic Church rejects Manichaeus. If I accept that the gospels support Manichaeus, I will no longer have any basis to believe in the gospels, because my reason for believing those books to be divine is because the Catholic Church teaches me so. But that same Catholic Church teaches me that you are wrong. So if I believe the Catholic Church about the gospels, I will have to also believe that you are wrong. But if I believe you are right because the gospels support you, then I lose my reason for believing the gospels, for I can no longer trust the Catholic Church, which is the authority behind why I believe in the gospels."

Here is this argument as St. Augustine himself articulates it:


Let us see then what Manichæus teaches me; and particularly let us examine that treatise which he calls the Fundamental Epistle, in which almost all that you believe is contained.  For in that unhappy time when we read it we were in your opinion enlightened.  The epistle begins thus:--"Manichæus, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the providence of God the Father.  These are wholesome words from the perennial and living fountain."  Now, if you please, patiently give heed to my inquiry.  I do not believe Manichæus to be an apostle of Christ.  Do not, I beg of you, be enraged and begin to curse.  For you know that it is my rule to believe none of your statements without consideration. Therefore I ask, who is this Manichæus?  You will reply, An apostle of Christ.  I do not believe it.  Now you are at a loss what to say or do; for you promised to give knowledge of the truth, and here you are forcing me to believe what I have no knowledge of.  Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichæus.  But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. [267]   So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent?  Take your choice.  If you say, Believe the Catholics:  their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you;--If you say, Do not believe the Catholics:  you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel;--Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichæus:  do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason?  It is therefore fairer and safer by far for me, having in one instance put faith in the Catholics, not to go over to you, till, instead of bidding me believe, you make me understand something in the clearest and most open manner.  To convince me, then, you must put aside the gospel.  If you keep to the gospel, I will keep to those who commanded me to believe the gospel; and, in obedience to them, I will not believe you at all.  But if haply you should succeed in finding in the gospel an incontrovertible testimony to the apostleship of Manichæus, you will weaken my regard for the authority of the Catholics who bid me not to believe you; and the effect of that will be, that I shall no longer be able to believe the gospel either, for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me.  Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichæus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you.  But if you read thence some passage clearly in favor of Manichæus, I will believe neither them nor you:  not them, for they lied to me about you; nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the authority of those liars.  But far be it that I should not believe the gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too.  For the names of the apostles, as there recorded, [268] do not include the name of Manichæus.  And who the successor of Christ's betrayer was we read in the Acts of the Apostles; [269] which book I must needs believe if I believe the gospel, since both writings alike Catholic authority commends to me.  The same book contains the well-known narrative of the calling and apostleship of Paul. [270]   Read me now, if you can, in the gospel where Manichæus is called an apostle, or in any other book in which I have professed to believe.  Will you read the passage where the Lord promised the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete, to the apostles? Concerning which passage, behold how many and how great are the things that restrain and deter me from believing in Manichæus.  (St. Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental, chapter 5)


Pastor Wallace asks, How do we know the Church is infallible, if we must trust the infallible Church to tell us which books are in the canon of Scripture.  He suggests that Catholics are guilty of circular reasoning here:  "We trust the Church to be infallible because she says she is."  But Catholics are not guilty of circular reasoning.  We trust the Church to be infallible for this reason:  We have good reason to believe that God has given us Christianity as a revelation of himself.  (I won't go into this argument now.)  If Christianity is a divine revelation, we must know where to find that revelation, how to read it, etc.  The only way to know this is to trust that God has successfully handed down true Christianity through history, and this leads to a trust that God has guided the transmission of Christianity through the centuries to be correct.  This leads us to the default position:  We must default to whatever God has handed down and not change it arbitrarily.  Again, God has handed down to us a historic canon, affirmed by the historic Church.  We must therefore trust that canon, for any attempt to alter it would be without adequate ground.  Similarly, the Church has historically handed down to us a Christianity that is Catholic and not Protestant.  The Protestants had to break from this in order to be Protestant.  Therefore, we ought to default to the historic view unless the Protestants can prove they are right.  They have the burden of proof.  If Sola Scriptura were the historic position of the Church, handed down through the centuries, then that would be a good reason to accept Sola Scriptura.  But it isn't.  Rather, it is the Catholic view that is the historic view.  We thus have good reason to accept the infallibility not only of Scripture, but of the Church and its Tradition as well.  If Protestants can prove Sola Scriptura, well and good, they win.  But they can't, and so their assertion of Sola Scriptura is to be rejected in favor of the historic position of the Church handed down in the providence of God.  I deal with this a little more here and here.


Can Protestants prove Sola Scriptura?  I've already pointed out that they cannot prove it from the Fathers of the Church.  They cannot prove it in any other way either, for there is no biblical evidence for it.  I argue this here.  Sometimes Protestants attempt to mitigate the practical implications of Sola Scriptura.  Ultimately Sola Scriptura means that I must trust my own interpretations of Scripture as the ultimate authority, even over the majority of other Christians and the testimony of the historic institutional Church.  Protestants often don't like to hear this stated so bluntly, but it is what it is, as I've argued here.


But perhaps we ought to look at some attempts of Protestants to prove Sola Scriptura from Scripture before we move on.


2 Timothy 3:16-17 is often appealed to:



All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.


What does this passage of Scripture say?  It clearly affirms that Scripture is inspired by God.  It affirms that it's useful for various things—doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction.  It affirms that if we make use of Scripture we will be able to become all we should be, ready for all good works.


Catholics agree with all of this.  But where does this passage say that Scripture alone is infallible as opposed to the Tradition or teaching of the Church?  I don't see it.  Protestants sometimes argue in this way:  “The passage says that following Scripture makes us perfect, ready for all good works.  If Scripture wasn't sufficient without the Tradition or teaching of the Church, then following it wouldn't be enough to make us perfectly ready.  Therefore, this passage teaches Sola Scriptura.”  In response, at best I'll grant that, if this passage was all we had, it could be conceded that maybe St. Paul had this idea in mind when he wrote the passage.  But the idea is certainly not clearly there.  Paul is not addressing in this passage the question of whether the Church or its Tradition is infallible, and Sola Scriptura is at best a somewhat flimsy, speculative, and uncertain inference from it.  Catholics will grant that Scripture is wonderfully useful for training people up into all good works, provided it is interpreted correctly and taken in the context of the Church's Tradition—as we cited St. Vincent of Lerins saying earlier.  However, if Scripture is taken out of its proper context in the Tradition of the Church, it is likely to be useful rather for creating errors and all sorts of strange practices, as history demonstrates (take the infamous snake handlers, for example, who are quite sure they are properly applying Mark 16:18).  Does Paul say, or even clearly imply, anything in this passage about the context in which Scripture is to be used?  Does he say that Scripture is useful to train people up into all good works when we use it out of the context of reliance on the Tradition of the Church to help us interpret and apply it?  No, he doesn't say anything about this.  The only teaching we can clearly derive from this passage by itself is teaching that Catholics and Protestants would all agree on.  Protestants can only get Sola Scriptura from this passage by going out on a speculative limb without any kind of conclusive justification.


Protestants often appeal as well to Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of ignoring the word of God to follow their own man-made traditions instead.  Jesus says that they are “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” that they are “laying aside the commandment of God” in order to “hold the tradition of men,” that they are “making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered.”


Well, Catholics certainly agree with Jesus on these points.  It is a wicked thing to abandon the word of God in order to maintain merely human traditions.  That's what the passage is clearly saying.  So what does this have to do with Sola Scriptura?  “You Catholics are just like the Pharisees here, holding to traditions along with the Word of God.”  But wait a minute.  Jesus nowhere says here that the word of God is only in the Scriptures, and that there is no such thing as divine as opposed to man-made traditions.  Catholics are reminded of the words of St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, where he says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”  What is that?  We are to hold to traditions?!  Apparently not all traditions are bad to hold to.  And St. Paul even talks about unwritten traditions that ought to be held in addition to written ones!  There is simply nothing in Jesus's words to the Pharisees in Mark 7 to justify the conclusion that Sola Scriptura is true.  Protestants are reading this into the text rather than getting it out of the text.  They tend to see it there because they already believe it.  This sort of thing is exactly what St. Vincent of Lerins was talking about when he said that it is dangerous to take Scripture out of the context of the Church's interpretation.  As he put it, Scripture “seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.”  Therefore, he said, “it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.”  Protestants would do better at avoiding reading their own ideas into Scripture if instead of trying to make obscure inferences beyond the clarity of the text, they instead took as their rule of interpretation the Tradition of the Church.


Let's look at another passage: 1 Corinthians 4:5-6:



Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.  And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.


“St. Paul,” says the Protestant, “says that in our thinking we should not go 'beyond what is written.'  So that proves that only Scripture is infallible and that there is no infallible unwritten Tradition and no infallible ecclesiastical teaching authority.”


Does it?  How, exactly?  Whatever the saying means, it can't mean “Don't listen to anything unless it is written down, ignore all further authoritative teaching, especially when it's given orally,” because right as Paul is recounting this saying to the Corinthians, he is giving them more authoritative teaching!  Is he telling them here to ignore him if he speaks to them orally, and only to listen to things he's written down?  If so, how does that fit with the fact that Christ and the apostles taught orally, and that Paul commands the Thessalonians, as we saw above, to listen to and keep as authoritative all the traditions he gave to them, whether delivered orally or in written form?  If “Don't go beyond what is written” means “Don't take anything as authoritative that is not written,” then this contradicts Paul's command to the Thessalonians to follow his oral teaching as authoritative as well as his written teaching.  If the saying doesn't mean that—if it doesn't preclude there being additional teaching, and even additional oral teaching, that we are supposed to take as authoritative—then how is it relevant for proving Sola Scriptura?

Let's look at one last passage: Acts 17:10-11:

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

What is this passage saying?  That the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians, because when Paul preached the gospel to them, instead of just rejecting it they looked into it, examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.

So how does this passage prove Sola Scriptura?  When Paul preached the gospel to the Berean Jews, he made arguments to them regarding Jesus being the Messiah from the Jewish Scriptures.  The Bereans looked at those Scriptures to check up on what Paul was teaching to see if it held up.  So what can we learn from this?  That we ought to check up on things before rejecting or accepting them.  That if we happen to be Jews having preached to us that Jesus is the Messiah based on our Scriptures, we ought to look at our Scriptures to see if what is being preached is true.  Both Catholics and Protestants can accept these ideas.  None of this requires Sola Scriptura.  Where does this passage teach that the word of God is always found in written Scriptures only?  Where does it teach that God has not granted infallibility to the Church and its Tradition?  Where does it teach that Scripture is not to be interpreted only in the context of trust in the God-guided Tradition of the Church?  I don't see that the passage even remotely addresses any of these questions.  Again, Protestants are reading their entire epistemology into passages that just don't address it.  Why are they doing this?  Could it be they are doing this because there aren't any clear places where Scripture teaches Sola Scriptura, and these are the best kinds of passages they can find?

Aside from appealing to specific passages, Protestants might try to argue for Sola Scriptura from the general flow and themes of the Bible.  For example, they might argue that there is no evidence of an authoritative Tradition in Old Testament times, and that Jesus only ever appealed to the Old Testament Scripture as an authority and never to an authoritative Tradition.  If Sola Scriptura was practiced in Old Testament times, the argument goes, then we should assume it would be practiced in New Testament times as well.

One problem with this argument is that it is not clear that there was no authoritative Tradition outside of Scripture in Old Testament times.  It is true that the Pharisees had invented some man-made and false traditions, but it doesn't follow from this that there were no true and reliable traditions.  Jesus didn't appeal to any unwritten traditions, but this is not conclusive.  It may be that, as with Catholic Tradition, the Tradition of Old Testament times did not add much independent doctrinal substance to what was written in the Scriptures.  It may have mostly overlapped with what was written, and been of use mainly as a help for interpreting the Scriptures.  In this case, it would not be surprising to find Jesus finding his references in the written Old Testament Scriptures (just like it is not surprising to find the Church Fathers, or Catholic authors ever since, referring their doctrines back to the written Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments).

How Tradition functioned in relation to Scripture in Old Testament times is a point of interest that I would like to study further.  But it is already evident to me that there are signs in the Old and New Testaments that there was some kind of authoritative Tradition in Old Testament times.  For one thing, the Jews, by the time of Christ, had a canon of Scripture.  There may have been some question about certain books (such as the Deuterocanonical books—what Protestants tend to call the “Apocrypha”), but all Jews accepted certain books as definitely from God—such as the five books of the Torah.  As with the New Testament tradition, the existence of a canon implies some kind of trust that the teachers of Judaism had handed down the correct books, led by the providence of God.  Also, in the New Testament, we find that Jesus seems to accept the authority of the Pharisees (see Matthew 23:2) to be authentic teachers of God's word, and the Pharisees taught that there was an authoritative Tradition in addition to written Scripture.  Jesus opposed some of the traditions of the Pharisees, but he may have accepted other traditions.  New Testament writers seem sometimes to refer to extra-biblical traditions as if they were true and reliable (see, for example, 2 Timothy 3:8, 1 Corinthians 10:4, Jude 14-15, and Jude 9).

We must also keep in mind that Sola Scriptura is not just a rejection of an oral Tradition, but also the rejection of any infallible interpretative authority given to the people of God to interpret the word of God.  It is certain that the Jewish leaders were not infallible, for Jesus attacked some of their traditions, and also they ended up rejecting Christ, which, of course, could not have happened if they were infallible.  But it doesn't follow that there was no infallibility at all working among the people of God in Old Testament times.  I already mentioned the issue of the canon, which implies some kind of infallible guidance given to the people of God.  Infallibility might have been manifested in other ways as well—for example, in the ability of the people of God to interpret how to carry out aspects of the Law of God, the worship of God, etc., particularly with regard to details not expressly dealt with in the written Scriptures.

The other main problem with this argument is that even if it was the case that there was no authoritative Tradition outside of Scripture in Old Testament times, it doesn't necessarily follow from this that there is no infallible, authoritative Tradition for New Testament times.  After all, there are many substantial differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament dispensations.  Given such great differences, it is precarious at best to simply assume that a particular feature occurring in one dispensation would necessarily apply to the other.  This is especially the case when we keep in mind that the New Testament seems to promise to the New Testament dispensation a greater and more permanent and successful power and authority to follow the will of God (see, for example, Jesus's promise to Peter in Matthew 16 that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church, or the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21, which seems to teach that the Church will not fail in the way Old Testament Israel did).  It may be that, in giving the Holy Spirit in a new and special way to the Church at Pentecost, God has given to the Church a new ability of discernment to interpret and apply his word, so that what had to be delivered in a more outward form in Old Testament times would come more internally in New Testament times.  For example, God gave continual outward revelation (new prophets and new revelations) to his people throughout Old Testament history, but in the New Testament we seem to find the idea that revelation has been completed in the Son (Hebrews 1), and we see new problems being dealt with by the Church not by receiving new outward revelation from God but by the Church's own discernment being aided by the Holy Spirit (as, for example, in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15).  So, in conclusion, this argument for Sola Scriptura rests on too many unproven and dubious assumptions to provide any good reason to embrace Sola Scriptura.

It is safe to say, then, that Sola Scriptura cannot be proved from Scripture in any non-question-begging sort of way.  Protestants will have to look elsewhere to find a foundation to affirm their epistemology in opposition to that of the Catholic Church.  But I can think of no other way in which Protestants might try to prove Sola Scriptura.  It cannot be proved from the history and Tradition of the Church, from Scripture, or from reason.  Protestants don't claim that it is a divine revelation directly granted to them, as if Luther was a prophet who received his doctrine from a special revelation.  They claim to be able to prove it from the sources I've already dealt with.  I think the conclusion must be that Sola Scriptura is simply unjustified.

If Sola Scriptura is unjustified, then it cannot provide a justification for the Protestant break with the Catholic Church.  The Reformers received as their birthright the Christian faith as handed down by the providence of God through the Catholic Church.  This inheritance included the Catholic epistemology.  Without an alternative epistemology that could be shown to be correct, the right thing to do was to defer to the epistemology handed down by the Church.  They had no basis to reject it.  To reject the Catholic epistemology on the basis of their own arbitrary and ungrounded imaginations was to reject the faith as God had handed it down for a reliance, ironically, on man-made tradition.  They put themselves in the place of God.  We can all agree that it is unjust to break the continuity, authority, and unity of the Church in order to follow nothing more than what our own imaginations have invented without any evidence.  It is dishonest to assert that which we have no basis to believe to be true, especially in such a serious matter.  As we've established previously, if Christianity is a divine revelation, we have no just alternative but to submit to that revelation as God's providence has handed it down to us, without arbitrarily altering it.  We must trust God's guidance of the Church as it has handed down the faith through history.  So it turns out that we have just as much reason to trust God's guidance of the Church when it comes to our epistemology as we do when it comes to the question of the canon.  Our situation is exactly the same in both cases.  Just as we should not arbitrarily reject the Book of Jude because we cannot independently, on our own, establish that it belongs in the Bible but should instead trust in God's guidance of the Church's judgment in forming the canon, so we should not arbitrarily reject the Church's traditional epistemology for a different epistemology grounded in nothing.  In both cases, we have ample reason to follow the faith handed down to us by the providence of God.

See also here.

Has the Catholic Church Been Opposed to People Reading the Bible?

No, but she has regulated the reading of the Bible historically in various ways. There have been times when she has encouraged vernacular translations of Scripture and general reading of Scripture. There have been times when she has discouraged lay reading of Scripture. She has forbidden the circulation of certain vernacular translations of Scripture. She has permitted and encouraged the translation and dissemination of others. The Church has always had a healthy fear of people, without proper training, misuing the Bible by interpreting it themselves wrongly against the correct interpretations of the Church. She has, at times, dealt with this by forbidding certain people to read Scripture directly. Now, if Sola Scriptura were true, it would be hard to see how this could be justifiable. But if the Catholic epistemology is correct, the Church's controls here are understandable, although Catholics are free to argue about the wisdom of particular un-infallible prudential disciplinary decisions of this sort. You can read more about this here and here, among other places.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

Pastor Wallace discusses this incident. Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia's discussion of it. You will be shocked to find that the situation is more nuanced than Pastor Wallace's account suggests.

What is Required of Catholics?

Pastor Wallace says that the Church allows Catholics pretty much to make of the faith whatever they like. Hmmm . . . You might read here what the Church actually requires of Catholics.

Are Non-Christians OK, and is Non-Christian Worship OK?

From Vatican Council II document Lumen Gentium, #16 (formatting altered):

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.


Here is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #843-844 (footnotes removed):



843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life." 


844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:


The Church has a nuanced approach to its view of non-Christians and non-Christian religions.  There are elements of truth in non-Christian viewpoints which God can use for good.  But, insofar as they are erroneous, non-Christian religions are evil and harmful.  With regard to persons, non-Christians can be in different subjective conditions.  Certainly, anyone who rejects God cannot be saved.  Anyone who rejects Christ and the gospel cannot be saved.  Anybody who rejects any teaching or practice commanded by Christ cannot be saved.  As James said, if we keep the whole law and yet fail in one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it.  However, human psychology has room for a great deal of confusion.  Are there Christians who truly love God and seek to follow Christ but who, at least partly out of confusion, are wrong on some doctrinal point?  For example, consider the difference between Presbyterians and Baptists regarding infant baptism.  Are there believers in God who have not heard the gospel, but in whom God's grace has been at work, so that they follow Christ subjectively in their hearts even though they have not known his objective name?  Are there those who have, outwardly, rejected the gospel, but it is out of confusion and misunderstanding or an erroneous impression of the evidence or something like that, so that, inwardly, they are truly following Christ?  Are there those who, outwardly, reject God, out of confusion (perhaps they have been confused by Atheist philosophical arguments, or they are afraid of taking a position without sufficient evidence, etc.), but who truly follow God in their hearts, even though they cannot properly articulate what they are doing?  The Church doesn't rule these sorts of possibilities out.  However, she warns against presumption.  For those who know what they should do and don't do it, no amount of pleading of "confusion" will justify them or excuse their rejection of truth.  And the rejection of truth, even if subjectively innocent or relatively innocent, still has objective negative consequences.  A person cannot be a moral person unless he loves God and his neighbor, and he cannot love God if he does not believe in God.  A person cannot be saved unless he counts himself a sinner and relies on the grace of God in Christ for salvation.  A person cannot be a true follower of Christ if he refuses to listen to the teaching of the apostles on any point.  So all of these things are fundamental.  And yet, people can be true followers of Christ with various degrees of subjective confusion.  We must beware of presumption on either side--discounting the importance of objective truth or ignoring nuances in human psychology.


This has always been the Church's approach, although in these days she has tended to emphasize empathetic understanding of where other people are coming from, surely at least partly as a result of recognizing the confused state of our present pluralistic culture.  But she does not reject her firm stand on the importance of objective truth and the evils of religious error, schism, and heresy, that she has manifested so many times throughout her history.


We see these sorts of nuances in Scripture.  We are told it is a sin to worship God at the high places, and yet God seems to tolerate this to some degree.  He even appears to Solomon and grants blessings at a high place.  On the other hand, he wipes out Nadab and Abihu for relatively minor changes in how to make sacrifices.  False teaching is condemned, and any deviation from the teaching of the Apostles, and yet Apollos is considered a righteous man, though erroneous in serious ways (before being better instructed).  We are to treat those who will not listen to the Church as heathen and tax collectors, and yet we are also told at times not to treat those who are put out of the fellowship of the Church as enemies but as brothers.  How do all these things fit together?  We have great severity and lenient toleration.  How do we apply these nuances appropriately?  Different groups of Protestants take different approaches.  Catholics believe we have the Church's God-guided help to apply these things appropriately in the various circumstances in which we find ourselves.


With regard to worshiping God according to his commands and not human imagination, see here.



Images



Pastor Wallace attacks the Catholic use of images, so let's look at this a bit.  Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 4:15-19 forbid images in worship.  Here is Deuteronomy 4:15-19:



Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them.


All the pagan peoples round about Israel worshiped false gods, and they often did so by means of images—statues, paintings of the gods, etc.  Of course the pagans (at least the more sophisticated ones) did not believe that their gods were actually the statues they directed their worship towards, but the prophets of Israel saw no real distinction there, since the gods the statues symbolized were the creations of men just as much as the statues they used to worship them.  Israel is forbidden to make images, apparently, for two main reasons:  1. There would be a tendency to make use of images in a pagan sort of way—to control God, to subject him to the desires and imaginations of the Israelites, etc.  Israel needed to make a clear distinction between the worship of the true God and pagan worship.  2. As the passage in Deuteronomy emphasizes, God has no form.  His divine nature transcends space and time.  That nature therefore cannot be captured in the form of any space-time object, which must, by its very nature, be finite.  Thus, the Israelites were prohibited from using images in their worship.


God himself was not bound to this regulation, however.  We see him from time to time appearing in human form.  The most remarkable example of this, I think, occurs in Daniel 7, where God the Father is described as an old man sitting on a throne:


I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire (Daniel 7:9).

We also recall various theophanies in the Old Testament, as God manifested himself in human form.  We can also mention that in the building of the tabernacle and the tent of meeting and later in the temple, the Israelites were commanded to make images of cherubim.  While these were not images of God, they were remarkably close to the sorts of images used in paganism.  God did not trust the Israelites to make their own images based on their own imagination, but he was not averse to giving them his own imagery from time to time.

If this was all we had to go on, it would be hard to see how the Catholic Church could justify using images in worship.  However, we also have the New Testament to consider.  Did anything important happen in New Testament times that might possibly affect how imagery might be used by the people of God?

Well, for one thing, we know that in New Testament times, God abolished the ceremonial laws of the Law of Moses—the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, various purity rituals, etc.  These were necessary for the people of God “under age,” to use St. Paul’s image (Galatians 3:23-4:11), but they were no longer needed in the New Testament era, once Christ had come.  Laws necessary for Israel’s earlier state would not necessarily still be required.

Even more noteworthy, however, is the very meaning of the coming of Christ.  In Christ, God became incarnate.  He entered into the world of space and time.  Christ forever stamped the image of the divine on human nature.  Could this have had an impact on the use of imagery in worship?  It is obvious that it could have.  Did it, in fact, have an effect?  The New Testament doesn’t directly address the subject.  Are there principles there that imply an effect?  The historic Christian Church has answered yes to that question.  In the Second Council of Nicaea, the Seventh Ecumenical Council, in the year 787, the Church formally and dogmatically affirmed that images are appropriate in Christian worship.  Here is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2129-2132 - footnotes removed, text size altered) on this subject:

2129 The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains: "Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure. . . . " It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel. "He is the all," but at the same time "he is greater than all his works." He is "the author of beauty." 

2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim. 

2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons - of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy" of images. 

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: 

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.

Here is the Seventh Ecumenical Council itself on the subject:

To summarize, we declare that we defend free from any innovations all the—written and—unwritten ecclesiastical traditions that have been entrusted to us. 

One of these is the production of representational art; this is quite in harmony with the history of the spread of the gospel, as it provides confirmation that the becoming man of the Word of God was real and not just imaginary, and as it brings us a similar benefit. For, things that mutually illustrate one another undoubtedly possess one another's message. 

Given this state of affairs and stepping out as though on the royal highway, following as we are the God-spoken teaching of our holy fathers and the tradition of the catholic church — for we recognize that this tradition comes from the holy Spirit who dwells in her—we decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord, God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men.  (The Second Council of Nicaea [787], retrieved from the EWTN website at https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/NICAEA2.HTM at 10:11 AM on 3/12/18 [section heading removed].  Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner [Georgetown University Press, 1990].)

Some Protestant traditions, particularly the Reformed, interpret Scripture in such a way as to maintain that images of God—including images of the human form of Christ—are inappropriate, even in this New Testament age.  They maintain that since Scripture does not clearly teach that the incarnation of Christ implies an allowance of such images, there is no warrant to draw that conclusion.  Therefore, the stronger ban on images from the Old Testament is still in force.  I think this argument has some plausibility . . . if we assume the Protestant epistemology of Sola Scriptura.  But, as we are reminded once again by the comments of the Second Council of Nicaea, Sola Scriptura is not the view of the historic Christian Church that God has handed down to us in his providence.

Pastor Wallace points out that some in the early Church opposed images.  That is true.  The quotations Pastor Wallace gives are the only ones I know of from the early Church opposing images (that is, opposing images in the orthodox Christian sense, not images in a pagan sense, of course).  The issue was simply not widely discussed in the earliest centuries of the Church (at least so far as we know from the historical evidence we possess).  However, over the early centuries, images became common.  By the time of the iconoclastic Council of Hieria in 754, images were part of the normal and accepted practice of the Church.  This council sought to remove them.  Later in the same century, the Second Council of Nicaea rejected this earlier council and definitively affirmed images.  Unlike the Council of Hieria, the Second Council of Nicaea was recognized by the Bishop of Rome as the authentic Seventh Ecumenical Council, and eventually it was universally received East and West.  Once again, we see here the principle of doctrinal development.  Gradually, the Church began to make use of images, as opportunity allowed (there was much more opportunity when Christianity became legal and could do more with buildings and art) and as the Church's awareness of this implication of Christ's incarnation grew.  Finally, when some bishops challenged this growing awareness, it was made formally definitive in an Ecumenical Council and has been the formal dogma of the Church ever since.  Was the Church right or wrong about this?  Our answer will at least partly depend on our epistemology--Is Scripture alone infallible and should we follow our own fallible interpretations of it?  Or should we interpret Scripture in the context of the infallible Tradition of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

The Sacraments

Pastor Wallace says that Catholics confuse baptism of water with spiritual regeneration.

The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X gives this definition of a sacrament:  "By the word sacrament is meant a sensible and efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ to sanctify our souls."  (Pope St. Pius X, Catechism of Saint Pius X [1908], "The Sacraments," Question 2, retrieved from the EWTN website at https://www.ewtn.com/library/CATECHSM/PIUSXCAT.HTM at 3:11 PM on 2/24/18)  It goes on to say that "I call the sacraments sensible and efficacious signs of grace because all the sacraments signify by means of sensible things, the divine grace which they produce in our souls."  (Question 3)

God gives his grace to us through various means that he has appointed.  The sacraments are particular rituals appointed by God through which especially grace is communicated to us.  The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X provides an example in the sacrament of baptism:

In Baptism the pouring of water on the head of the person, and the words: "I baptise thee," that is, I wash thee, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," are a sensible sign of that which Baptism accomplishes in the soul; just as water washes the body, so in like manner does the grace given in Baptism cleanse the soul from sin. (Question 4)

The sacraments are one way in which God pays respect to our tangible, physical nature.  God and grace are invisible to us in this world, but the physical signs and symbols of the sacraments make God's grace more tangible to us.

The sacraments are not magical rites that somehow automatically, of themselves, give special powers.  They are simply means that God chooses to use in order to connect us with his grace.  Take baptism, for example.  There is nothing magical about the water of baptism.  Baptism is the sacrament that symbolizes and seals our regeneration, the renewal of our fallen natures by the grace of God.  Obviously, however, water itself cannot regenerate us.  It is God's grace that regenerates us.  And the renewal of our souls is not so tied to the time of the rite of baptism that the hearts of sinners are unchanged before it, as if a rebellious, unrepentant sinner suddenly turns into a God-loving saint the moment water is poured on his head.  God gives grace previous to the time of baptism which changes the heart and draws the sinner to baptism.  Also, baptism doesn't regenerate a sinner apart from the presence of faith in the person being regenerated.  First of all, a person receives grace which leads him to desire to turn to God in faith and repentance.  Then, moved by this grace, he seeks baptism, for baptism is the sign and seal of the grace he seeks.  In baptism, God seals to him that grace that he has already started to receive before baptism and which will continue to grow after baptism.

I emphasize this point because I have often heard confessional Reformed Protestants quake in fear over the concept of "baptismal regeneration."  I think that many of them think the Catholic Church teaches some of the magical sorts of concepts I mentioned above.  But this is simply not true.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the working of the sacraments in this way (note how the sacraments are not magical but a means by which the power of the grace of God works in us, and how they do not work independently of our internal dispositions):

Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power. 

This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God." From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1127-1128 (footnotes and section number headings removed), retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm at 3:38 PM on 2/24/18)

So baptism, for example, doesn't function by itself in a magical way, independent of faith.  It is the means by which the grace-wrought faith of the repentant sinner takes hold of the grace offered in the gospel.  That is why, although baptism is necessary in the sense of being required, people can be saved without being baptized if they are unable for some reason to receive baptism:

God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. 

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. 

For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1257-1259, retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a1.htm at 3:51 PM on 2/24/18.

Is this so different from the doctrine of the sacraments found, for example, in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith?

Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ, and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word. 

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 27, Sections 1, 3 [section number headings and capitalization of entire first word removed], retrieved from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Confession_of_Faith_of_the_Assembly_of_Divines_at_Westminster at 7:59 PM on 2/25/18) 

Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world. 

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. 

The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time. (Ibid., Chapter 28, Sections 1, 5, 6 [section number headings and capitalization of entire first word removed], retrieved from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Confession_of_Faith_of_the_Assembly_of_Divines_at_Westminster at 8:03 PM on 2/25/18)

What is the substantial difference between the Catholic and the Presbyterian systems on this point?  In both cases, God gives his grace through tangible signs that function as means of grace.  In both, the sacraments truly confer grace, but not through a magical power inherent in the elements but through the working of the Holy Spirit which God has connected with the sacraments.  In both, grace is tied to the sacraments, but not so that no one can receive grace without them or that anyone who receives them, with whatever disposition, receives effectively the grace conveyed in them.  Is there really any substantial difference here?

Mortal and Venial Sin

As does Pastor Wallace, Protestants sometimes object that the Catholic distinction between "venial" and "mortal" sins is problematic.  In Catholic theology, a "mortal" sin is a sin in which, with full knowledge and conscious decision, we make a choice which involves our souls turning away fundamentally from the way of God.  It is called "mortal" because it is a choice to turn our backs on God and thus to turn our backs on life.  It destroys our relationship with God because it involves a turning away from a life of love to God.  Mortal sin is equivalent to a state of unregeneracy.  Moral sin is contrasted with "venial" sin, which is sin that does not involve a fundamental rejection of a life of love to God.  Venial sins are the remaining imperfections of the regenerate soul.  They do not destroy our overall relationship with God, though they harm it.

Some Protestants object in this way:  "You can't say that some sins are venial.  All sins are mortal, for all deserve damnation!  There is no such thing as a 'light' sin!"  This objection seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding.  Yes, all sins deserve damnation, in the sense that all sin, considered in itself and in its own inherent nature, is infinitely heinous because all sin is against a being of infinite value and goodness.  (See Pope St. Pius X, The Catechism of St. Pius X [1908], “The Fourth Article of the Creed,” Questions 8-11, found here.)  And all sin naturally tends to damnation, because sin in general, by its very nature, involves a state of will contrary to God.  The difference between mortal and venial sins lies rather in the place they have in the overall moral condition of the person.  Venial sins are sins committed by a person who is, overall, living a life of  love to God and repentance, but who is not free of remaining imperfections.  (Think, for example, of a person striving by grace to love his neighbor, but who finds that he has trouble at times not being patient with others.  It is something he regularly works on.)  A mortal sin is an act that involves the fundamental rejection of a life of love to God.  (Think of a person who, with full awareness of all that his actions would mean, decides to divorce his wife and run off with another woman, deciding to live his life in a permanent unrepentant sin.)  The moral conditions of these persons are very different, not because the first person's sin is not, in itself, a serious matter, but because, given the place it holds in his overall life, it is not fatal to his overall relationship with God.  He must struggle against it, and eventually it must be purified, but it does not change the fact that he is on the path towards eternal life, whereas the person who pursues the mortal sin has chosen the path of eternal death.

Sin, Salvation, and Justification

Pastor Wallace has a frighteningly inaccurate view of the Catholic view of sin and salvation.  No wonder he hates Catholicism so much!

He paints a dramatic contrast between Catholic and Reformed views of the nature of fallen man, free will, and how we are saved by grace.  But he creates divisions where there need be none.  Catholic doctrine holds that fallen man is dead in sin.  He cannot do any good pertaining to salvation apart from grace, including accept Christ and the gospel.  He is an irreformable rebel against God.  Only the grace of God in Christ, purchased by the merits of Christ, can change his heart.  Man must cooperate with God's grace, but if a man cooperates with God's grace it is only because God has given him that very cooperation as a free gift.  Human beings contribute no saving goodness, including any good choice of the will, on their own apart from grace.  It is all, from beginning to end, a gift of grace.

Calvinist teaching on the nature of fallen man, free will, the nature of saving grace, and God's predestination is often summarized using the TULIP acrostic.  Upon investigation, the soundest Calvinist interpretation of these doctrines, for the most part, agrees with Catholic teaching.  Catholics and Calvinists are much closer than many people realize because of difficulties in communication between the two groups.  I have examined this thoroughly here.

The Reformed view of the core of the gospel centers on the idea that man, since the Fall, has been an enemy to God, that he cannot save himself, that only God can save him.  God sent his Son into the world to save God's people.  Christ has taken upon himself human sin, and his suffering has made satisfaction to God's justice for that sin.  The satisfaction and righteousness of Christ are given to believers so that as Christ took upon himself their sin, so they might take upon themselves his righteousness.  We are saved not by our own righteousness but only by the righteousness of Christ, and so all the glory goes to God.  We are given Christ's righteousness as a free, undeserved gift of grace.  Having Christ's righteousness made ours, we have the fruit of this in our lives as we are reconciled to God and given the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and make us holy.  Thus, through God's grace alone, we are made right with God and made fit for heaven.

This is also the core of the gospel in the Catholic view.  We have the same gospel!  We differ on many things, but we are one in our central picture of sin and salvation (if not in every specific detail).  We don't want to trivialize differences, but in the midst of dealing with differences let us not neglect to notice the great things we have in common!

But what about the specifics of the doctrine of justification?  The sticking point for some (particularly historic Reformed and Lutheran) Protestants is that the Church says that justification is “not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”  These Protestants object to this because they want to say that what makes us justified—that is, what makes us right with God and his moral law—is only the forgiveness of sins and the imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness, and not at all God’s making us holy by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When they talk about imputation, they mean that Christ’s righteousness is counted ours by a kind of legal declaration.  It is not that Christ’s righteousness comes to actually be within us, making us internally righteous, but that we are counted righteous because Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.  So, in this view, God’s acceptance of us as righteous has absolutely nothing to do with our internal moral condition.  The righteousness that makes us justified before God is purely a legal righteousness accounted to us, not any righteousness living within us or done by us (even by the power of God’s grace).  To describe this, Lutheran and Reformed Protestants will often make use of a striking image from Martin Luther, who compared the process of imputation covering our sins to snow covering a dunghill.  What makes the hill pleasant is not that the dung is removed, but that we can’t see it because it is covered with snow.  Similarly, in this view, what makes us right with God is not that our sins are removed, but that they are covered by the legal imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

It should be noted that Reformed Christians are not antinomians.  They accept the necessity of being made holy by God’s grace.  They simply insist that this process is a process entirely distinct from justification, though it always goes along with it.  The basic idea goes like this:  We are justified—made right with God—entirely on the basis of the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ imputed to us and not by anything grace does within us, but at the same time we are justified we are also sanctified—made holy by God’s grace within us.

So Reformed confessional Protestants object to the Catholic view because we include the idea of sanctification by the Spirit in the idea of justification.  We hold that we are made right with God not only by Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us but also by its being infused within us and changing our actual lives.  In the eyes of many Reformed, to say this is to deny the gospel altogether.  It is to mix our works in with God’s grace.  It is to replace Christ’s righteousness with our own righteousness.  It is to say that we can earn salvation by our own works so that our acceptance with God is no longer a gift of grace.

Honestly, I find this reaction to the Catholic view baffling.  I think it stems to a great degree from a kind of rigid prejudice that gets so caught up in words and formulas that it has trouble listening to the meaning and substance of what people are saying.  So I would encourage any Reformed readers to give extra special attention to trying to listen carefully to what I am saying here.  Is my view, is the Catholic view, really a denial of the gospel?

First of all, note what we have in common:  In the Catholic view, we are justified entirely by the righteousness of Christ and not at all by our own righteousness.  Whether we think of righteousness as imputed or infused, it is not a righteousness that we have produced from ourselves.  It is entirely a gift of grace—an unmerited, undeserved gift.  We cannot take credit for it or boast in it.  I am reminded of a quotation from Puritan theologian Thomas Watson that I recently came across on a Reformed website:

As God’s mercy makes the saints happy, so it should make them humble. Mercy is not the fruit of our goodness, but the fruit of God’s goodness. Mercy is an alms that God bestows. They have no cause to be proud that live upon the alms of God’s mercy. ‘If I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head,’ Job x 15: all my righteousness is the effect of God’s mercy, therefore I will be humble and will not lift up my head. (Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth, 1978), p. 94, quoted by Rev. G. B. MacDonald, “The Mercy of God—A Quote from Thomas Watson,” Sydney FP Church Blog, February 17, 2018, retrieved from https://sydneyfpchurch.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/the-mercy-of-god-a-quote-from-thomas-watson/ at 11:07 AM on 2/23/18)

That’s the Catholic view exactly.  So how can this view be categorized as a form of “justification by works” in such a way as to characterize it as a fundamental denial of the gospel of grace?  Even if Catholics and Protestants disagree on some aspects of the doctrine of justification—particularly the question of imputation vs. infusion—why does this entail that the Catholic view is a denial of the essence of the gospel?  Reformed Christians are used to having all sorts of disagreements with people without saying those people are denying the essential gospel.  The Reformed disagree with Baptists over infant baptism.  They disagree with Episcopalians over church government.  They disagree with each other over such things as whether or not hymns should be sung in worship rather than psalms only.  I could go on and on.  So even if there is a genuine disagreement with Catholics here, why does this disagreement entail that Catholics don’t have the gospel at all, when they affirm that we are made right with God solely as an unmerited gift of grace through the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ?  Isn’t this at least the core essence of the gospel of justification by faith through grace, even if Catholics don’t get the doctrine right in every aspect?

Secondly, how much do Catholics and Protestants really disagree, even in the area of imputation vs. infusion?  There certainly seems to be a disagreement.  The language is certainly different.  But how much of the difference is only in wording and formulation as opposed to real substance?  For one thing, although Catholics don’t typically use this language, their doctrine is certainly able to embrace the idea that we are justified by Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.  The concept of imputation refers to our legal status.  It also relates to the concept of ownership.  Since Christ’s righteousness belongs to him essentially and not to us, it only becomes ours by being given to us as a gift.  He has to declare it to be ours, or credit it to our account, before we can say it is ours.  (Think of how transfer of ownership of a house or a car involves a declaration of a change of legal status.)  Even if we go on to add that Christ’s righteousness also comes to be within us (and of course, the language of “Christ in us” is very biblical) and manifests itself in our own holiness of life and our good works, yet it remains ours by imputation, because for all eternity it will only be ours because God freely gave it to us.

For another thing, although Reformed Christians want to say that it is only the imputation of Christ’s righteousness that makes us right with God and not at all any righteousness infused within us by grace, yet they also strongly assert the necessity of internal sanctification and good works.  As I said earlier, they are not antinomians.  Well, what is the purpose of sanctification?  Is it not necessary because God could not find us morally acceptable to stand before him unless not only our status but our actual internal condition is changed?  Could we stand before God in perfect acceptance if we were unchanged inwardly?  If we could be left in an unregenerate, unsanctified state, at fundamental moral enmity with God, for all eternity, and yet be justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, would that justification be enough to remove the displeasure of God against our condition?  Would it not be unfitting for a holy God to treat unregenerate, unrepentant rebels against himself as if they were wholly pleasing children through all eternity?  Picture an unrepentant sinner standing before God and spitting in his face, and in response, God smiles and says, “I find nothing morally objectionable about you at all!  I’m perfectly pleased with you.  Your presence gives me nothing but delight, and there is nothing morally unfitting at all about our relationship.”  Surely this situation would be absurd.  Reformed Christians will object and say, “But that is not our view!  We recognize the necessity of sanctification!”  Yes, you do, and that is precisely my point.  You recognize as well as I do that God could not find totally morally acceptable a person who has not been inwardly transformed by his grace.  We may be justified entirely by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, but if that righteousness does not also bear its fruit within us by sanctifying us, it cannot bring about fully our reconciliation with God.  Christ’s righteousness is fully sufficient, but it cannot have its full effect of making us entirely morally acceptable to God and fully fit to stand before him unless it is not only legally credited to our account but also comes to dwell within us, changing us and making us holy.  A snow-covered dunghill isn’t enough.  God, being absolutely holy and omniscient, cannot ignore the dung underneath, and our reconciliation with him cannot be fully actualized or realized unless the dung is not only covered but actually removed or transformed.  This is not merely a side issue to our being made right with God (or the actualization of our being made right with God); it is an essential component of it.  That’s what Catholics are trying to say when they include sanctification in the definition of justification.  They are not denying that we are justified only by Christ’s righteousness.  They are not trying to mix in our righteousness with Christ’s.  They are not denying the reality of imputation (that is, that we are justified by a righteousness not ours credited to us as a free gift).  They are not denying the utter graciousness of our salvation.  All they are doing is recognizing that the process of our being made right with God cannot exclude the moral transformation of sanctification.  So is this really a problem?  Don’t Protestants agree?  Do they really want to say that God has no moral concern regarding our inward moral condition, that he finds equally morally pleasing and acceptable to himself (so long as we think of both as having an imputed righteousness) an unregenerate God-hater and a perfectly sanctified saint?  If Protestants recognize that moral transformation is essential, could we perhaps see the Catholic-Protestant difference on imputation vs. infusion to be more of a language and articulation issue rather than a fundamental difference in substantial beliefs?  Both sides agree that we are justified solely by the righteousness of Christ and not by our own righteousness.  Both sides believe that that righteousness is given to us, credited to our account, as a free gift.  Both sides agree that that gift is not complete or fully actualized and realized until righteousness is not only credited to our account but actually bears its fruit within us by making us inwardly holy.  So if one side wants to use the term “justification” to refer only to the imputation component and “sanctification” to refer to the transformation component, and the other side includes both components under the term “justification” and uses the terms “justification” and “sanctification” as near synonyms, might this be more of a difference in systematic theological terminology than a difference in the fundamental substance of what is being affirmed?  And if so, then is there really a basis here to say that Catholics deny the essence of the gospel?

Here is an analysis of Romans 1-8 on the doctrine of justification.  Here is an article making a biblical case for the Catholic, Augustinian doctrine of justification, contrasting it with the Protestant doctrine.  (I think we can portray these doctrines as conflicting, but we can also see them as harmonious, depending on how we interpret the Protestant view.  Here is a discussion on that.)

Merit

"But," responds the Protestant critic, "the Catholic Church teaches that we can merit God's salvation!  Listen to the words of the Council of Trent (the council of the Catholic Church that responded to the Protestant Reformation):

For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God,-we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace: seeing that Christ, our Saviour, saith: If any one shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst for ever; but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting. (J. Waterworth, tr., The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and  Oecumenical Council of Trent, Sixth Session [London: Dolman, 1848], p. 43, "Scanned by Hanover College students in 1995," Hanover Historical Texts Project, Hanover College, retrieved from https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html at 9:51 PM on 2/23/18)

Or listen to the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2009, retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm at 9:57 PM on 2/23/18 [footnote removed])

You see how crystal clear it is that Catholics teach we can merit salvation and eternal life?"

The Catholic Church has indeed used the term "merit" to refer to the worthiness of the holiness produced in us by God's grace to receive God's favor.  The idea of "merit" is simply "fitness."  If a matter is important, we say it "merits" our attention--that is, it is important enough to be worth our attention, it would be unfitting for us not to give it our attention.

The holiness God has given to us as a free gift is indeed worthy of God's pleasure and praise.  This shouldn't be surprising, because it is his own work in us!  Do we think that the work of God's own Spirit would not be worthy of God's pleasure and approbation?  God loves holiness and hates sin.  If we are holy, by his grace, our condition warrants God's favorable response.  If we are in a state of sin, our condition warrants God's displeasure.

However, this does not imply that we ourselves have earned God's favor.  Remember, our holiness is a gift of grace to us.  It is not something we have produced for ourselves out of our own resources.  Therefore, we cannot boast in it.  It is not that we earn God's favor by our works.  It is rather that the work of God's Spirit in us, given to us as a gift of grace, merits God's favor and makes us fit for eternal life with God.  The Council of Trent put this very beautifully:

Neither is this to be omitted,-that although, in the sacred writings, so much is attributed to good works, that Christ promises, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, shall not lose his reward; and the Apostle testifies that, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; nevertheless God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Council of Trent, Sixth Session (page number removed), pp. 43-44, retrieved at 2:04 PM on 2/24/18

The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the same point:

With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator. 

The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit. . . . 

The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. . . . 

The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2007-2011 [footnotes and section number headings removed], retrieved at 2:05 PM on 2/24/18)

The Bible teaches quite plainly that, at the Day of Judgment, we will be judged according to our works.

Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (1 Corinthians  5:9-10). 

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works (Revelation 20:12-13). 

And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Revelation 22:12). 
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works (Matthew 16:27). 
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29). 
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Galatians 6:7-8). 
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile (Romans 2:5-10).

What is this biblical doctrine saying except that, at the Day of Judgment, God will treat every person's moral condition, judged by his moral output, according to what it deserves (merits)?  How does this fit in with justification by grace through faith?  It fits perfectly, because the holiness of life that merits God's favor at the Day of Judgment is nothing other than the gift of God's grace to us, purchased for us by the sacrifice and merits of Christ.

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The great Doctor of the Church (called by the Church the “Doctor of Grace”) St. Augustine commented on this harmony in his Treatise on Grace and Free Will:

And hence there arises no small question, which must be solved by the Lord's gift. If eternal life is rendered to good works, as the Scripture most openly declares: "Then He shall reward every man according to his works:" how can eternal life be a matter of grace, seeing that grace is not rendered to works, but is given gratuitously, as the apostle himself tells us: "To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt;" and again: "There is a remnant saved according to the election of grace;" with these words immediately subjoined: "And if of grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace"? How, then, is eternal life by grace, when it is received from works? . . . 

This question, then, seems to me to be by no means capable of solution, unless we understand that even those good works of ours, which are recompensed with eternal life, belong to the grace of God, . . . It follows, then, dearly beloved, beyond all doubt, that as your good life is nothing else than God's grace, so also the eternal life which is the recompense of a good life is the grace of God; moreover it is given gratuitously, even as that is given gratuitously to which it is given. But that to which it is given is solely and simply grace; this therefore is also that which is given to it, because it is its reward;--grace is for grace, as if remuneration for righteousness; in order that it may be true, because it is true, that God "shall reward every man according to his works." (St. Augustine, “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 20 [footnotes removed].  Translated by Peter Holmes and Robert Ernest Wallis, and revised by Benjamin B. Warfield, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5, edited by Philip Schaff [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887], retrieved from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website, Calvin College, at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.txt at 2:30 PM on 2/24/18)

But what about priests, penance, purgatory, indulgences, and all of that sort of thing?

Priests and Priesthood

Since the days of the early Fathers, elders ("presbyters" in Greek) in the Church have been called "priests."  This bothered Protestants at the time of the Reformation, and they therefore abolished this usage.  Having read the previous section, you can guess why.  To call Christian elders "priests" seemed to them to take away from the unique priesthood of Christ and to revive the Old Testament priesthood abolished in the New Testament.  There was also a fear that Catholic doctrine makes Christian priests intermediaries in a way that is dishonoring to Christ as the "one mediator between God and man" (1 Timothy 2:5).

But these concerns are unnecessary.  Christian elders have not been called priests as rivals to Christ as the one High Priest in the ultimate sense.  Christian priests do not accomplish our redemption by offering themselves up to death for our sins.  They are not the ones who overcome our sins and bridge the gap between fallen humans and God.  Only Christ can do this.  Christian priests are called priests because they offer up to God on behalf of the congregation the Eucharistic sacrifice (see previous section) and because they represent God to the people in various ways (especially in ministering the sacraments).

The Bible often speaks of the ministerial role of the apostles and leaders of the Church (and of Christians in general towards each other and towards the world).  Christ is the one ultimate Mediator, but this does not preclude that Christ uses lesser intermediaries to communicate with his people, to represent himself, to give grace, to govern his people, to evangelize the world, etc.

He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me (Matthew 10:40). 

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18).
Then said Jesus to them again, "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:21-23). 

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). 

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:1-4). 

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:14-20). 

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Timothy 2:1-6).

Whenever you pray for another person, you become a mediator and an intercessor between that person and God.  You are not the Savior of that person.  You did not provide an atonement to cleanse their sins.  But Christ makes use of you as a means to give his blessings to others.  Many times we receive blessings because people pray for us.  Though God does not need us, he gives us the privilege of being "co-workers with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9).  And God uses the leaders of the Church in special ways as well to represent him, to mediate his presence and grace to his people.  I am reminded of the recommended words for pastors when administering communion in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, as I, ministering in his name, give this bread to you. . . . 

In the same manner, our Savior also took the cup, and having given thanks as has been done in his name, he gave it to his disciples, as I ministering in his name give this cup to you. (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, "Directory for the Public Worship of God," III.C.6, The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church [Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2015], retrieved from https://opc.org/BCO/DPW.html at 2:31 PM on 2/27/18)

Does this Orthodox Presbyterian formula make pastors rival mediators with Christ?  No, of course not.  And neither does Catholic doctrine.  If I grant the privilege to someone to represent me, I do not therefore make that person a rival to me—otherwise all ambassadors would be traitors to those who sent them.

Confession

The Sacrament of Confession is particularly difficult for some Protestants to swallow.  In this sacrament, a person goes to the priest to confess sins.  The Church requires all mortal sins to be confessed in this way and highly recommends the confession of venial sins.  Upon hearing the confession, the priest will prescribe a penance to the person (see the next section for more on this) and then pronounce the absolution (that is, forgiveness) of his sins.  Here is the formula of absolution in use in the Latin part of the Catholic Church:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1449 [footnote removed and spacing altered], retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm at 11:11 AM on 2/28/18)

Sin injures our relationship with God and therefore also our relationship with God’s people.  The purpose of the Sacrament of Confession is to help God’s people get back on track and be reconciled to God and to the Church.

“But only God can forgive sins!” replies the Protestant critic.  “Catholic doctrine blasphemes Christ by taking a power belonging only to him and giving it to the priests.  The priests are taking the place of Christ as intermediaries between God and his people.”  But this objection is false, because it is Christ who has delegated the authority to forgive sins in his name and to preside over the process of reconciliation to the pastors of the Church.

Then said Jesus to them again, "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:21-23). 

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18).

It is not a coup against Christ to exercise the power that he himself has delegated.  The priest is not forgiving sins by his own personal authority or in his own name; he is pronouncing forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.

Again, many Protestants should be familiar with this sort of thing.  Most Protestants don’t practice individual confession the way the Catholic Church does, but many recognize the authority granted to the pastors of the Church to act in Christ’s name with regard to receiving people into the Church, excommunicating them from the Church, and giving them various disciplinary sanctions (and restoring them from such sanctions).  This is, in principle, the same basic idea.

The individual Christian has a direct relationship with God, and he should confess his sins directly to God and receive forgiveness from him.  But, as in many other areas, in this area too God works through means.  In addition to our direct relationship with God, we relate to God as part of the larger body of the Church and through the ministrations of the Church.  We do not give ourselves Communion.  We do not excommunicate ourselves or restore ourselves after being excommunicated.  We do not declare ourselves to be our own pastors.  Nor do we ignore the ministry of the Church when it comes to the confession of sins.  In addition to confessing our sins directly to God, we also confess to the priest who is God’s representative.  In addition to receiving forgiveness of our sins directly from God, we receive absolution through the ministry of the priests.

Penance

The Catholic Church distinguishes two aspects of sin and its consequences.  She speaks of the eternal consequences of sin, and also of the temporal consequences of sin.  If I turn away from God fundamentally and choose to live a life without supreme love to God and repentance, this “mortal” (i.e. “deadly”) state of sin leads to the eternal consequence of hell—eternal separation from God under his wrath.  If I repent and turn back to seeking to follow Christ and to live a life of love to him, I am forgiven of my sin.  I am no longer on the path to hell but am now on the path to heaven.  However, although I am fundamentally in a right relationship with God, my relationship with God may not be perfect.  I may have certain areas in my life that sinfully contradict my overall attitude of love to God—bad attitudes I haven’t quite let go of yet, smaller actions I know are wrong but can’t quite bring myself to face.  And these remaining imperfections and also the past sins I have committed may leave lingering consequences.  If I stole from someone in the past, I may still need to return what I stole.  It may take time to rebuild relationships with people I have hurt.  I may need to make up for my past bad actions in other ways.  It may take time to learn good habits of turning away from even the little sins—I may need to undergo painful trials for my continuing sanctification.  God may see fit to inflict various consequences on me for my past sins or present remaining imperfections (think of David losing his child after being forgiven for his repented-of acts of adultery and murder in 2 Samuel 12:13-14).

All of these sorts of things Catholics call the temporal aspects or consequences of sin.  Indeed, the path to heaven for redeemed sinners is a rocky one.  Being redeemed is a painful process.  It is not as though Christ suffered for us and so we have no suffering.  Rather, as St. Paul said,

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together (Romans 8:16-17).

Catholics use the term penance to refer to actions we do in order to grow in sanctification, to learn to overcome sin, and to make up for the temporal effects of previous sins.  The term making satisfaction is also used.  Many Protestants will get their hackles up at this point.  “How dare you say that we, by our actions, can make up or satisfy for our sins!  Only Christ can satisfy for sin!”  Yes, of course only Christ provides satisfaction for our sins in this ultimate sense of the idea.  When Catholics talk about making up for or satisfying for our sins, they mean it in the way I described above—by the grace of God, living out the redemption purchased for us by Christ’s merits, we struggle forward for greater sanctification, learning to discipline ourselves, making up for the temporal consequences of our sins.  We cannot save ourselves from hell.  But, by the power of God’s grace, we can suffer with Christ in order to advance in our spiritual growth and in repairing the damage caused by our sins to ourselves, to others, to our relationships with others, etc.  That’s what Catholics have in mind here.

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

When a person confesses his sins to the priest, the priest will typically give him a penance—something to do to further his spiritual growth, to make up for what he has done, to repair relationships, to express his repentance, etc.

Purgatory

Talk about raising Protestant hackles!  This topic and the next one (indulgences) are certainly among the scariest ones from the perspective of most historic Protestants.  But let’s see if they’re as scary up close as they appear from a superficial view at a distance.

Here’s the Catechism on purgatory:

All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. 

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030-1031 [footnote and section number headings removed], retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm at 12:16 PM on 2/28/18)

So the idea is that those who are saved but still have some things they need to deal with in terms of the temporal aspects of sins—consequences to undergo, bad attitudes to be purified of, etc.—when they die will deal with those things after death before entering heaven, so that when they enter heaven they will do so fully purified and fit for the enjoyment of God.

“But why should we need purgatory?  Christ fully paid for our sins!  It is finished!  There should be no temporal consequences left to deal with!”  Well, that’s just not the case.  Christ did indeed fully pay for our sins, but in biblical Christianity that does not mean that we’re just saved in an instant—no sanctification, no trials, no need to make up for or repair any damage caused by sin.  That’s not the way God designed the sanctification process to occur.  Again, as St. Paul said, we must “suffer with Christ so that we might be glorified together with him.”  It is not that there is anything lacking in Christ’s sacrifice, as if we, by our actions and sufferings, were adding to that sacrifice and making up for its deficiencies.  It’s simply that God has chosen that Christ’s sacrifice be applied to our lives by means of a long and difficult process of sanctification.  Our sufferings and penances are not intended to rival Christ’s sufferings.  On the contrary, they are the fruit of Christ’s sufferings applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit.  Once all of this is understood, I don’t see why the concept of purgatory should be scary at all.  It’s simply the very same process of sanctification we all recognize from our lives in this world brought to completion after death and before we arrive in heaven.

“But purgatory is not in the Bible!”  It isn’t?

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

There are those who are saved but who will arrive at the fullness of salvation only through a process of purification.

“But this passage of Scripture doesn’t refer to purgatory!  I don’t see purgatory anywhere clearly in the Bible.”  Who is it who has the right to authoritatively interpret and develop the implications of Scripture for God’s people?  Is it the individual Christian using his fallible judgment, or is it the Church relying on the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit?  The Church has derived the doctrine of purgatory from the deposit of divine revelation.  The Protestant, relying only on the unbiblical notion of Sola Scriptura (following the traditions of men!), has no authority or basis to offer an alternative reading.

Indulgences

The doctrine of indulgences was the doctrine that set off the Protestant Reformation.  It was the preaching of indulgences by Johann Tetzel that spurred on Martin Luther to write the famous Ninety-five Theses.  Not surprisingly, therefore, Protestants have historically retained a strong aversion to this doctrine.  But, again, let's look more closely at it and see if it's as scary as some people think.

Here is the Church's definition of an indulgence:


An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1471 [quotation marks and footnote removed], quoting the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina by Pope Paul VI [1967], retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm at 8:26 PM on 3/2/18)

So here's the basic idea:  Christ has authorized the Church to govern the people of God as they move along the path of sanctification, working out the fruit of God's grace in their lives.  The Church is the agent which admonishes sinners, pronounces the forgiveness of sins, and prescribes penances in order to aid sanctification.  The Church has the authorization both to prescribe penances as well as to lessen them or remit them if she deems it appropriate and prudent.  When the Church authorizes the penances or temporal consequences of a person's sins to be remitted or lessened, this is called an indulgence.  Indulgences can be partial or total (plenary)—that is, the Church can remit a part of the temporal consequences of a person's sins or all of the consequences.

An indulgence is granted by the Church in light of certain things a person might do, such as saying certain prayers, going to visit a holy place, reading Scripture, or any number of things.  If a person does what is prescribed with the right attitude, the Church grants a lessening of the temporal penalties of sin to the person.

Indulgences are also granted in view of the merits of Christ.  Jesus merited for us eternal life, and he has also merited for us all that is needed for our complete sanctification.  He has authorized the Church to grant leniency to sinners when appropriate in light of his infinite merits.

Indulgences also take into account the merits of the saints.  The Bible uses the term "saints" to refer to God's people, made holy by grace.  There are many people who have lived lives of holiness through grace who have died and are now in heaven with Christ.  These people lived lives that were pleasing to God, and they ask God to grant mercy to those still on earth (or in purgatory) to help them with the difficult process of sanctification.  God authorizes the Church to grant indulgences to people in view of the prayers and pleasing lives of the saints.  "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).  God loves righteousness, and he is especially pleased to grant the requests of the righteous.  Indulgences are one example of this.

Now let me give a concrete example to illustrate all of this:  Bob is a follower of Christ.  He has been converted by grace and truly loves God and seeks to do his will.  He is in a right relationship with God.  However, he is not perfect.  He still sins, and he has sinned in the past.  He thus has temporal consequences for those sins coming to him.  He must face those consequences and work through them (suffering with Christ so as to be glorified with him) either in this life or in purgatory.  Bob knows that God, in view of the merits of Christ and the saints, has authorized the Church to grant indulgences to people under certain conditions.  Through things that penitent sinners can do, the temporal consequences of their sins can be lessened or eliminated.  Bob decides to seek a plenary (total) indulgence—a complete remission of the temporal penalties of his sins.  One thing the Church has said he can do is to pray through the Rosary (a particular, popular Catholic prayer form).  In addition to doing this, he is also required to say some other prayers, go to Confession, and take Communion around the same time he prays the Rosary.  He must also be free from all attachment to venial sin while doing these things.  That is, he must not be holding onto an attachment to even small sins—such as improper attitudes, or small actions inconsistent with holy living.  Of course, Bob will not be perfect in this life, but he can choose to fight against even his smaller sins rather than to refuse to face them or to coddle them.  The Church says that if Bob does these things with the right attitude and intentions, he will receive a plenary indulgence and will be free of the temporal penalties owed to his sins (at least up to this point).  If he dies right after doing this, he will go straight to heaven without going first to purgatory.  Basically, taking into account the attitude and efforts of Bob in pursuing the indulgence (which attitude and efforts show Bob's serious pursuit of sanctification), and taking into account the infinite merit of Christ and the derived, grace-wrought merits of the saints, the Church appropriately grants to Bob the remission of the temporal penalties of his sins.

Note that even before Bob sought the indulgence, he was already forgiven of his sins.  He was headed for heaven.  He was free from the path of hell.  With or without the indulgence, when Bob dies, he will die in friendship with God and will be set for heaven.  Bob seeks the indulgence not to attain the forgiveness of his sins and freedom from hell but to lessen the temporal consequences of his sins—that is, to make the path to heaven he is already on smoother.  Note also that Bob's actions and God's response to them are not something Bob has contributed from himself, as if his actions are a rival to the work of Christ.  Bob's entire sanctification, from beginning to end, in both its eternal and temporal aspects, is a gift of God's free, unmerited grace alone.  Everything good that Bob does is a product of God's grace—his choice to follow Christ, his repentance from sin, his good attitude and actions in seeking the indulgence, etc.  Bob's sanctification and his efforts and progress towards that end are not things that Bob contributes of himself.  They are the fruit of Christ's righteousness and satisfaction applied to Bob by the Holy Spirit, and thus part of the gift of grace God has given Bob.

Indulgences can be gained not only for oneself but for others.  Just as we can pray for others, and God often grants blessings to others in response to our prayers, so if we seek to help others by gaining indulgences for them, God is pleased with this and will often help others, when appropriate as judged by his will, in view of what we have offered up to him on their behalf.  This is yet another example of how, Christ being the one ultimate mediator who has gained salvation for us, God condescends to allow us to be co-workers with him and lesser intermediaries on behalf of each other.

See here for a family analogy I have used to help explain penance, purgatory, and indulgences.

While we're here, let's look at the doctrinal development of the concept of indulgences, just to illustrate that concept further.

The New Testament, of course, says nothing about indulgences.  Nor do we read of them in the earliest Fathers.  In fact, as the critic notes, we do not find them in their fully modern form until the High Middle Ages.  However, the idea is latent in the understanding of penance and the Church's authority in matters of forgiveness of sins and penance that the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, derived from the revelation of Christ in the New Testament.  And so we see that even before the full-blown modern concept of indulgences arose in the Church, earlier versions of the idea began to crop up even in the times of the early Fathers.

In the early Church, as is well known, Christians were grievously persecuted by the Roman Empire at various times.  During these persecutions, many Christians fell away, giving in to the worship of false gods or other sins in order to save their lives.  One of the biggest challenges faced by the early Church was the question of what to do with these lapsed Christians (the lapsi) when they repented and wanted to be received back into the Church.  I won't go into this question now, but there were various positions taken by individuals in the early Church, some more, some less severe.  The penitential practices of the early Church were often quite severe.  It could often be years before a person who had committed serious sin could be received back into full communion; they would have to undergo a long period of penance first.

In the midst of all of this, there eventually developed ways in which these times of penance might sometimes be shortened and the temporal consequences of sins remitted or lessened, either by means of things the penitents themselves might do or (and this is particularly interesting) through the applications of the merits of the martyrs to the penitents.  A practice arose in which the martyrs (or, more accurately, those who were about to be martyred) would write certificates (libelli pacis—“certificates of peace”) in which they authorized their sufferings and merits to be applied to the penitents in order to mitigate their sufferings.  The bishops could then approve or apply these certificates as appropriate.  Of course, we see here an embryonic version of the practice of indulgences.

The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses some of these early practices:

The lapsi were in the habit of seeking the intercession of the confessors, who were suffering for the Faith; and the latter would address to the bishop libelli pacis petitioning for the reconciliation of the apostates. The libelli were, however, more than mere recommendations to mercy; the confessors were understood to be petitioning that their own merits should be applied to the excommunicated, and procure them a remission of the temporal punishment due to their defection. And this indulgence was not simply a remission of the canonical penance; it was believed that it availed before God and remitted the temporal punishment that would otherwise be required after death (Cyprian, "De Lapsis", ad fin.). This custom does not seem to have been established in Rome, but it was particularly prevalent in Carthage, and was not unknown in Egypt and Asia Minor. Even in the time of Tertullian, the lapsi of Carthage were in the habit of thus appealing to the intercession of the confessors ("Ad Mart.", I; "De Pudicitia", xxii). (James Bridge, "Libellatici, Libelli," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 9 [New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910], retrieved from the Catholic Answers website at https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/libelli-and-libellatici at 7:13 AM on 2/21/18)

After the persecutions had ceased, the penitential discipline remained in force, but greater leniency was shown in applying it. St. Cyprian himself was reproached for mitigating the "Evangelical severity" on which he at first insisted; to this he replied (Ep. lii) that such strictness was needful during the time of persecution not only to stimulate the faithful in the performance of penance, but also to quicken them for the glory of martyrdom; when, on the contrary, peace was secured to the Church, relaxation was necessary in order to prevent sinners from falling into despair and leading the life of pagans. In 380 St. Gregory of Nyssa (Ep. ad Letojum) declares that the penance should be shortened in the case of those who showed sincerity and zeal in performing it—"ut spatium canonibus praestitum possit contrahere" (can. xviii; cf. can. ix, vi, viii, xi, xiii, xix). In the same spirit, St. Basil (379), after prescribing more lenient treatment for various crimes, lays down the general principle that in all such cases it is not merely the duration of the penance that must be considered, but the way in which it is performed (Ep. ad Amphilochium, c. lxxxiv). Similar leniency is shown by various Councils—Ancyra (314), Laodicea (320), Nicaea (325), Arles (330). It became quite common during this period to favor those who were ill, and especially those who were in danger of death (see Amort, "Historia", 28 sq.). The ancient penitentials of Ireland and England, though exacting in regard to discipline, provide for relaxation in certain cases. St. Cummian, e.g., in his Penitential (seventh century), treating (cap. v) of the sin of robbery, prescribed that he who has often committed theft shall do penance for seven years or for such time as the priest may judge fit, must always be reconciled with him whom he has wronged, and make restitution proportioned to the injury, and thereby his penance shall be considerably shortened (multum breviabit poenitentiam ejus). But should he be unwilling or unable (to comply with these conditions), he must do penance for the whole time prescribed and in all its details. (Cf. Moran, "Essays on the Early Irish Church", Dublin, 1864, p. 259.) (William Kent, "Indulgences," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7 [New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910], retrieved from the Catholic Answers website at https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/indulgences at 7:17 AM on 2/21/18)

Edgardo Mortara

Pastor Wallace brings up the case of Edgardo Mortara.  You can read about the case in some detail here (I've not done my own research to verify everything that is said in the article, but, on a glance, it looks pretty thorough from what I do know).

It is true that the Catholic Church teaches that when a baby is baptized, he is regenerated by the Spirit.  He also comes to be considered a member of the Church.  The Church had developed through the ages a policy in which baptized persons are considered to have the rights of members of the Church.  They are not considered the same as those outside of the Church.  So, in the Middle Ages, for example, if a Jewish family, say, were to have a child, that child would not be considered to have the rights and responsibilities of a Catholic, and the Church would not see itself as having a responsibility to ensure the child's Catholic education, etc.  But if a child is baptized, he becomes a member of the Church and thus the Church has responsibility to ensure his Catholic education.

This was the basis of Pope Pius IX's actions in the Mortara case.  I understand why Pius IX did what he did.  Edgardo Mortara himself seems to have come to wholeheartedly agree with Pius IX, as you can read about in the article.  But this is a matter of potentially variable discipline, not unchangeable divine doctrine.  The Church is free to reconsider whether her application of her discipline in such matters is adequate, and to change it if it is not.  In such a case, therefore, Catholics are free to dispute whether the discipline of the Church is being applied in the right or best way.  This is not an issue I have spent a lot of time thinking about, so I hesitate to be dogmatic; but my current thought is that I can't see how Pius's actions in the Mortara case are justifiable or make sense.  Surely, it seems to me, in such a case, even though the child is baptized, the rights and responsibilities of his parents should have precedence over any responsibility the Church might have to give the child a Catholic education.

The Sacrifice of the Mass

Many Protestants object to the Catholic idea that the Eucharist is a sacrifice.  "There is only one sacrifice which can take away sins," they say, "so the idea that the Eucharist is also a sacrifice that takes away sins is blasphemous towards the one sacrifice of Christ!"

Let's first get a clear understanding of what the Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass really is.  As usual, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a nice, succinct definition (this time quoting from the Council of Trent):

[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1366 [footnotes removed], retrieved from the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm at 2:25 PM on 2/26/18)

So Catholic doctrine agrees (with both Protestants and with the Bible) that there is only one sacrifice that can take away sins—the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  The Eucharist is not an additional sacrifice; rather, it is a ritual that makes present the fruit of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice.  In the Eucharist, Christ makes himself and the fruit of his sacrifice on the cross present to us, and we receive him and his grace when we partake of it.  Also, in the Eucharist the Church offers up to God the one sacrifice of Christ, memorialized in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit: (Ibid., #1366)

The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X makes the same point:

Q. Is not the Sacrifice of the Cross the one only Sacrifice of the New Law?
A. The Sacrifice of the Cross is the one only Sacrifice of the New Law, inasmuch as through it Our Lord satisfied Divine Justice, acquired all the merits necessary to save us, and thus, on His part, fully accomplished our redemption. These merits, however, He applies to us through the means instituted by Him in His Church, among which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (Pope St. Pius X, Catechism of Saint Pius X [1908], "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass," Question 8, retrieved from the EWTN website at https://www.ewtn.com/library/CATECHSM/PIUSXCAT.HTM at 9:32 PM on 2/26/18)

It is common in some Protestant (confessional Reformed, for example) circles to accuse the Catholic Church of teaching that in the sacrifice of the Mass Christ is re-sacrificed over and over again because his sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient.  We can see that this is a false caricature of Catholic teaching.  Evangelical Protestant theologian Gregg Allison recognizes this and calls on Protestants to cease to make this inaccurate claim:

Certainly, Jesus Christ as High Priest died on the cross once, and only once. Indeed, evangelical theology urges its adherents not to misunderstand Catholic theology on this point: Catholic theology does not teach that Christ is re-sacrificed each and every time the sacrament of the Eucharist is celebrated. Today, at a Catholic mass, Jesus is not dying for the 2,503,693,176th time. He died once, and both evangelical and Catholic theology affirm this truth. (Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014], 235)

Conclusion


And that's it!  We've reached the end of the video.  One more thing before I close.  I would like to recommend the work of St. Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church, who took up a mission to a Protestant area near Geneva in the late sixteenth century in an attempt to help bring the Calvinists there back to the Catholic faith.  Here is the description of his mission from Catholic Online:

During the time of the Protestant reformation, Francis lived close to Calvinist territory. He decided he should lead an expedition to bring the 60,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic Church. 
For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. 
Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So, Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out little pamphlets to explain true Catholic doctrine and slipped them under the doors. This is one of the first records we have of religious tracts being used to communicate the true Catholic faith to people who had fallen away from the Church. 
The parents wouldn't come to him, so Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him. 
By the time Francis returned home, it is believed he brought 40,000 people to the Catholic Church. . . . 
In 1602, Bishop Granier died and Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva, although he continued to reside in Annecy. He only set foot in the city of Geneva twice -- once when the Pope sent him to try to convert Calvin's successor, Beza, and another when he traveled through it.  ("St. Francis de Sales," Catholic Online, found here)

His tracts have been collected and made available in a book called The Catholic Controversy.  You can find it here, or buy a hard copy online here.  His work does a superb job of hitting the nail on the head in terms of confronting the problems with the Protestant break with the Catholic Church.  He is especially good at challenging the alleged authority of the Reformers to break with the Church and the viability of Sola Scriptura.  He presents a clear call to Calvinists to come back home to the Church Christ founded, the Catholic Church.  I highly recommend it.

I'll close with a couple of quotations, the first from St. Cyril of Jerusalem and the second from St. Augustine:

But since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theatre of the Ephesians, And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly), and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, And in one Holy Catholic Church; that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated. And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord's House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God (for it is written, As Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and all the rest,) and is a figure and copy of Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of us all; which before was barren, but now has many children.  (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 18, section 26, translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894], revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310118.htm [with embedded links and added Scriptural references removed] at 11:12 AM on 8/13/15) 
For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual men attain in this life, so as to know it, in the scantiest measure, indeed, because they are but men, still without any uncertainty (since the rest of the multitude derive their entire security not from acuteness of intellect, but from simplicity of faith,)— not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should, though from the slowness of our understanding, or the small attainment of our life, the truth may not yet fully disclose itself. But with you, where there is none of these things to attract or keep me, the promise of truth is the only thing that comes into play. Now if the truth is so clearly proved as to leave no possibility of doubt, it must be set before all the things that keep me in the Catholic Church; but if there is only a promise without any fulfillment, no one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion.  (St. Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, Chapter 4, section 5, translated by Richard Stothert, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4, edited by Philip Schaff [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887], revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1405.htm [with embedded links removed] at 11:15 AM on 8/13/15)

May God bless this response to all who read it, that it might help them to see more clearly the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church that Christ founded, so that they might embrace Christ and all that he has for us.  Amen.

Published on the feast of Sts. Anthony Mary Zaccaria and Elizabeth of Portugal