THE CATHOLIC RESPONSE, PART IV
Picking up where my last post left off, Jason contends that
"The earliest post-apostolic document written by the Roman church, First Clement, contradicts the teachings
of today's Roman Catholic Church. It teaches salvation through faith alone, for example (First Clement, 32). "
There are four points I would like to make here:
1. No Church father is infallible. While the writings of the Church fathers carry a great deal of weight, no one of them
is guaranteed infallibility in all that he asserts.
2. First Clement 32 reads as follows:
"Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognise the greatness of the gifts which were given by
him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also
[was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the
race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, "Thy seed shall be as
the stars of heaven." All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for
their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we,
too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding,
or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the
beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
If one takes the time to study Catholic doctrine, he will find that Clement's words are in perfect harmony with it:
"Our justification comes from the GRACE of God. GRACE is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to
respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.[Cf. Jn 1:12-18; Jn 17:3 ; Rom 8:14-17 ; 2Pet 1:3-4.]" [CCC #1996]
I have gone into much further detail in an earlier post refuting this essay, so I will not repeat myself here.
3. All of the writings of the Church fathers must be taken in context within the body of each father's writings.
1 Clement 32 speaks of the gratuitous nature of salvation (which is taught by the Catholic Church), but Clement spends the previous *two* chapters as well as the following *three* chapters speaking of the necessity and role of good works (which the Catholic Church is maligned for teaching).
He writes, for example,
"Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering
and evil-speaking, being *justified by our works*, and not our words." (Chapter 30)
"For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? was it not because he *wrought righteousness and truth through
faith*?" (Chapter 31)
" It is requisite, therefore, that we be prompt in the practice of well-doing; for of Him are all things. And thus He forewarns us: "Behold, the Lord [cometh], and His reward is before His face,*to render to every man according to his work*." (Chapter 34)
"Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? If our understanding be fixed by faith rewards God; if we earnestly seek the things whichare pleasing and acceptable to Him; if we do the things which are in harmony with His blameless will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity, along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering, and evil-speaking, all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vainglory and ambition." (Chapter 35)
4. The writings of any Church father must be taken in context within the entire, comprehensive body of patristic writings. And so one must ask, did the early Church fathers corporately teach sola fide?
Let us consider some of the writings of the early Church fathers:
"Be pleasing to him whose soldiers you are, and whose pay you receive. May none of you be found to be a deserter. Let
your baptism be your armament, your faith your helmet, your love your spear, your endurance your full suit of armor. Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you."
[Ignatius of Antioch, "Letter to Polycarp" 6:2 A.D. 110]
"We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man's actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed."
[Justin Martyr, "First Apology" 43 A.D. 151]
"[Paul], an able wrestler, urges us on in the struggle for immortality, so that we may receive a crown and so that we may regard as a precious crown that which we acquire by our own struggle and which does not grow upon us spontaneously. . . . Those things which come to us spontaneously are not loved as much as those which are obtained by anxious care." [Irenaeus of Lyons, "Against Heresies" 4:37:7 AD 189]
"Again, we [Christians] affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man."
[Tertullian, "To the Nations" 19 A.D. 195]
"The Lord denounces [Christian evildoers], and says, 'Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we
not prophesied in Your name, and in Your name have cast out devils, and in Your name done many wonderful
works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity' [Matt. 7:21-23].
There is need of righteousness, that one may deserve well of God the Judge; we must obey His precepts and
warnings, that our merits may receive their reward" [Cyprian of Carthage, "The Unity of the Catholic Church"
15, 1st ed. A.D. 251]
"In reality, the earliest generations of Roman Christians were not Roman Catholics. When Catholic apologists speak of a
"succession" of the Roman Catholic Church going back to the time of Peter, they're not being honest about history. Not every church of Rome has been the Roman Catholic Church."
First of all, there is an unbroken succession going back to Peter. The first Pope was Peter, who reigned until
67 AD. Then came Linus, Cletus, Clement I.... all the way down to John Paul II, the 265th Pope. For a complete list of Popes (including dates) seehttp://www.knight.org/advent/ppindx.htm
Finally, Jason has provided three "proofs" that the early Church was not Catholic: Paul's letter to the Romans which he has misinterpreted, Clement's letter which he has misinterpreted and taken out of context, and the apostolic succession which he claims does not exist but in reality does.
What Jason *has not* done, is provide his readers with the answer to the six million dollar question:
If the early Church was not the Catholic Church, WHICH CHURCH WAS IT???
It seems to me that if one spends so much time and energy attempting to prove that the first Christians were not Catholic, he might at least give us a clue as to what exactly they were. Were they Lutherans? Evangelicals? Pentecostals?
If they were not Catholic, how did they arrive at any certainty as to their beliefs? For example, in the early 300's, a heresy known as Arianism arose, claiming that the Son was a created being, inferior to the Father, not divine. In 325, the Catholic Church held the Council of Nicea, which declared that the Son was "coessential" with the Father-- of the same essence as Him and equal to Him in divinity. If the Catholic Church was some improvised cult with no authority, why should Christians today accept what was decreed by the councils called by the Catholic Church?
The Arians (the heretics who were refuted by Nicea) read the Bible-- and they sincerely believed that it taught that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father. If the council were not infallible, who would be able to say that Nicea's decrees were, beyond the shadow of a doubt, correct? Both sides quoted Scripture, both sides had many and
powerful advocates. If all we have to go on is the prevailing opinion of men that Nicea was right, what certainty have we that the Arians were wrong? If Nicea is not infallible, then neither is its definition that the Son is coessential with the Father.
If the council is not infallible, how do we *know* that it's decrees are correct (as opposed to the beliefs of the Arians)? If the protestor's answer is that we know because its decrees are Biblically based, then how do we know that its decrees (as opposed to those of the Arians) are Biblically based?
If a council's assertion that such and such a doctrine is biblically based is fallible, how are we to know which councils to believe and which to reject, or which parts of councils are to be believed and which are to be rejected? Yes, it is the power and munificence of God which preserves pure doctrine, but how are we to know, with absolute certainty, where it is being preserved at each particular point in history? Where was it preserved in 100 AD? And in 207, was it
preserved here, or here, or over there? Was pure doctrine preserved in this case by a council, or by those men refuted by the council? How about this case? In 364 AD, where had pure doctrine gotten to? Where was it to be found in 684? Is that the same place it was found in 822? If we've managed to keep up with it so far, where do we find it in 1197, 1351, 1580, 1713, 1899, 1998?
The Arians believed that the doctrines decreed by the Council of Nicea were not Biblically based, and all Christians side with the Council. The "reformers" believed that the doctrines decreed by the Council of Trent were not Biblically based, and Protestants side with the "reformers". Why the switch? How can one be sure that he's sided with the right camp? What does his decision boil down to? It boils down to the fact that *he believes* that the protestors held
to the teachings of Scripture, while the Council of Trent did not, which is exactly what it boiled down to for the Arians: a matter of private opinion, devoid of certainty, devoid of guarantees against error, devoid of the surety of Truth.
In "What to Expect from Catholic Apologists and How to Respond to It" Jason Engwer asserts that Catholic apologists err by
"Drawing a Connection Between Previous Roman Churches and the Roman Catholic Church of Today
" Catholic apologists refer to past churches in the city of Rome as though they were all Roman Catholic. The truth is that the
earliest Roman churches were vastly different from today's Roman Catholic Church."
This seems to be a common Protestant assertion, and one which never ceases to amaze me. Before moving
on to the reasons why Jason believes that they were different, there is an important point which needs to
It is preeminently easy to say that the early Church was not the Catholic Church, but it is much more difficult to specify which Church it actually was. Perhaps that is why such an identification is so rarely attempted. It takes one sentence to claim that the early Church was not Catholic, but if one wishes to make such a claim, he had better be
prepared not only to provide his proofs in the face of historical documentation of an unbroken line of appostolic succession as well as a continuity of belief in a myriad of doctrines (ranging from the papacy to Mary to purgatory to the Eucharist, etc...), but also to supply for us the name of the Church existing today which *is* the same as the Church founded by Christ.
This leads us to an interesting dilemma: Is it the Baptist church? The Anglican? Presbyterian? Methodist? If we're feeling reckless, we might as well even throw in the Mormons :-) Whichever church the protestor chooses as the one which was founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter, he must then be prepared to defend as being the Church which has persisted to this day, constantly teaching the same doctrines with absolute surety. Jesus has promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church, and so if the early Church was not Catholic, it remains to the protestor
to identify which Church in existence today the early Church actually was.
The protestor has got to establish firstly what body was founded to guard the deposit of faith and pass on that pure teaching throughout the ages and with certainty. Next, he must specify how people are to know that this body is the body which is the guardian of truth and interpreter of Scripture, and how they are to distinguish it from other bodies which have cropped and will continue to crop up as the precedent of protesting and "reforming" is followed by more and more people with more and more diverse theological opinions. Moving along, if a man has managed to follow
the elusive trail of pure doctrine, what guarantee does he have that the body he is part of is in fact the true and pure guardian of the faith, and what guarantee does he have that it will always remain so? Finally, if he does not have a completely certain guarantee that the body to which he belongs is the true and pure guardian of faith and interpreter of Scripture, and will always be so (which sounds frighteningly close to the idea of infallibility) what criteria is he equipped with to discern which body would fulfill this role in the event that the body to which he currently belongs apostacizes?
In short, the protestor has got to tell us what the litmus test for discovering the true Christian Church is, how
men are supposed to know about this test, what certainty they will have that they have performed it correctly and that it is, in and of itself, a sure guide to pure doctrine, and what happens when other "reformers" disagree about the results of the test.
That having been said, let's move on to Jason's first "proof":
"Paul's epistle to the Romans, which we can reasonably assume to reflect beliefs that the Roman church would have accepted at that time, contradicts Roman Catholicism over and over again (Romans 3:23, 4:4-16, 8:30-39, 11:6, 11:29, etc.)."
First of all, one would hope that the readers of this essay are not so naive as to accept Jason's assertion based on a
list of citations and absolutely no explanations. Let's look at each verse cited above:
I. [Romans 3:23]"since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, "
I suppose that the Catholic doctrine which Jason believes Paul contradicts here is that of the Immaculate Conception, wherein we believe that the Mother of God, by a sovereign act of *His* grace and mercy, was conceived without the stain of original sin.
The word used for "all" in the original Greek version, is "pas". "Pas" does not always mean every single one, but the rather a vast majority, most, or a great amount. The Bible contains passages utilizing "pas" which clearly do not carry the meaning of "every single one":
"I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another." [Romans 15:14]
In this passage, "all" certainly does not mean every single one. If it did, the Romans, who Paul tells us had all knowledge, would have had the knowledge of God!
II. [Romans 4:4-16] "Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin." Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to
Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised?
It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is
null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all,"
What Jason is attempting to do here is assert that Paul believed in sola fide-- salvation by faith alone. Interestingly
enough, though, the correct understanding of Paul's words is included within the passage he has cited. Paul
speaks of righteousness apart from "the law". What law does Paul mention? Does he speak of acts of mercy?
Charity? No. He speaks of one law: circumcision-- the Mosaic law. This is part of an overarching point Paul was
trying to get across; namely, the Jews would not be saved simply because they are Jews and have been circumcised-- rather, salvation comes through Christ alone.
In a refutation to an earlier section of Jason's essay, I have gone into this with much more detail, and so I
will merely summarize here:
The Catholic Church emphatically teaches that all saving grace comes from God and is a free gift which can never,
under any circumstances, be merited or earned. Once a man has received saving grace, he is given a share in the
life of God and in the Sonship of Christ. Because of this, his good actions both bear witness to the life of God in
him and merit sanctifying (meaning something that helps holiness rather than something that imparts holiness) grace
for himself and others. Even his good actions, however, are possible only by the grace freely given by God, Who
is the source of all goodness. Thus, no man can "earn" heaven, but all men can, and are called to, be "fellow
workers for the kingdom of God" (Colossians 4: 11).
III. [Romans 8:30-39] "And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and
those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who
did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any
charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was
raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the
love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else
in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I can't for the life of me figure out which Catholic doctrine Jason thinks Paul is contradicting in this passage, unless
he's referring again to the faith and works issue which I have answered above.
IV. [Romans 11:6] "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be
See above. Also, I strongly suggest reading the book of James.
V. [Romans 11:29] "For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."
My guess here is that Jason is trying to use Paul to advance the "once saved always saved" position, but
nowhere does Paul say this. What he does say is that the *gifts and call of God* are irrevocable; what he
does *not* claim to be irrevocable is the faith and accceptance of that calling by men. It is the immutable
will of God that all men be drawn to Himself (cf John 12:32) -- the call is extended to everyone, but Jesus Himself
tells us that "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the
will of my Father who is in heaven." [Matthew 7:21]
[ Matthew 10: 22] "and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who *endures to the end* will be
[Matthew 24: 12-13] "And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who *endures to the end* will be saved."
[John 5:29] "And come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."
[Philippians 2:12] "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but
much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
[Hebrews 4: 5-6, 11] "And again in this place he said, "They shall never enter my rest." Since therefore it
remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of
disobedience,....Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. "
This post is getting rather long, so I'll finish dealing with this section of Jason's essay in a second post.
In closing, allow me to quote St. Paul:
[1 Corinthians 9: 26-27] "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the
air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be
In Christo Domino et Maria,