Wednesday, June 05, 2013

On the Catechism of the Catholic Church

I recently finished reading the “Complete and Updated” Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York : Doubleday, 1995. 845 pages!) which is the definitive statement of what the Roman Catholic Church believes. I thought I’d give my impressions and analysis from an Evangelical perspective.
First, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I probably agreed with 80-90% of it! For example, as I expected, it affirmed the deity and the physical resurrection of Jesus (# 654, 643). It also affirmed the reality of hell and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, i.e. the idea that Jesus died an atoning sacrifice in our place for our sins (#1035, #615).

I was surprised to see that the Catechism affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture and the importance of authorial intent in interpreting Scripture (#107, #109, #110, #136). I was even more surprised to find that the Catechism affirmed belief in a coming tribulation period (of unspecified length) during which the Antichrist will offer men apparent solutions to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth (#675).

On repentance, faith and grace

I was somewhat surprised, to discover what the Catechism says about salvation, grace and faith. Although the Catechism says that “It is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone…that…salvation can be obtained” (#181, #816, #1445), it also paradoxically affirmed the salvation of people who belong to other Christian churches (#818, #819, #838, #1271) and possibly even some from other religions (#841-843, #947).

The Catechism also affirms that conversion “is first of all a work of the grace of God” (#1432) and that “Our justification comes from the grace of God…the free undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God” (#1996). This comes through faith which is also “a gift of God” (#153, cf. #154, #162, #179). Faith includes not only “assent to his words” (#1122) but also love for God (#1033) and the “personal adherence of the whole man to God” (#176) in which man “seeks to know and do God’s will” (#1814; cf. #546). Such faith is preceded by repentance which is,

A radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with the hope in God’ mercy and trust in the help of his grace (#1431).

These statements on repentance and faith would sound positively Evangelical were it not for some other statements that give Evangelicals significant concern. For example, the Catechism teaches that the sacraments, and the “service and witness to the faith” are all necessary to salvation (#980, #1129, #1816, #1256, #1257; emphasis mine). The Catechism says that “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by…concern for the poor, exercise and defense of justice and right…revision of life…endurance of persecution…” etc. (#1435; emphasis mine).

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly condemned the teaching that circumcision and good works were necessary for salvation. So when the Catechism teaches that the sacraments and the “service and witness to the faith” are necessary to salvation, this sounds very similar to the Galatian heresy. 
Evangelicals argue that “service of and witness to the faith” are the fruit of salvation, not the means to salvation. We would insist that conversion is evidenced by concern for the poor, the exercise of justice, etc. not the result of such good works.

This may seem like splitting hairs but the difference is absolutely crucial. Over and over again Paul taught that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not by any good works we do. Paul writes, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and not of yourselves, not of works lest any man should boast.” Paul is quick to add, however, that “we are his workmanship created for good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Works are the necessary fruit of faith, not the cause of salvation.

Sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism

One of the sacraments seen to be necessary for salvation is Baptism. The Catechism says that in Baptism “all sins are forgiven, original and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin” (#1263, cf. #405). According to the Catechism, baptism “communicates…the life that originates in the Father” and baptism “gives us the grace of the new birth” (#683, cf. #405).

In Catholic theology baptism is the New Testament counterpart to circumcision. Paul specifically argues, however, that circumcision was a sign of the covenant, not a prerequisite to salvation (Romans 4:9-11). Paul argued that those who were trusting in circumcision for salvation were not saved at all (Galatians 5:1-4). Evangelicals see little difference between insisting that circumcision is necessary for salvation and insisting that baptism is necessary for salvation. This is not to say that baptism is unimportant, indeed, the informed refusal to be baptized may be evidence of an unconverted heart. But baptism is the initial sign and evidence of salvation, not something that communicates or brings about salvation.

The Eucharist is another sacrament seen by the Roman Catholic Church as necessary for salvation. The Catechism teaches that the Eucharist is a literal sacrifice of Christ in which he “gives us his very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (#1365). The Catechism points out that the Old Testament priesthood was “powerless to bring about salvation, needing to repeat its sacrifices ceaselessly…” (#1450). On the other hand, the Catechism teaches that Jesus instituted the Eucharist to “perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again” (#1323).

First, it seems a bit odd that the Catechism should criticize the perpetual nature of Old Testament sacrifice while teaching the perpetual nature of the sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist. Second, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist seems to downplay the “once for all” nature of Jesus’ sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:1-10). Finally, to take Jesus literally when he said, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood,” appears to Evangelicals like insisting that when Jesus said, “I am the vine” he was affirming that he was vegetation.


I was puzzled by the fact that although the Catechism teaches that the Sacraments are necessary for salvation and that baptism actually imparts salvation, yet paradoxically the Catechism also held out hope that unbaptized infants might be saved (#1261). It also affirms that

“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst who are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, an together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” (#841-843).

Muslims certainly do not undergo Christian baptism which, according to the Catechism, removes sin and imparts salvation. In fact, the Qur’an not only denies the Trinity in general (Sura 4.171; 5.173) and the deity of Jesus in particular (Sura 5.72, 116), it even insists that those who worship Jesus will go to hell (Sura 9.30-35)! It is a mystery how those who adamantly deny and denounce the cardinal teachings of the Roman Catholic Church can be seen by the Church to have eternal life—especially in light of First John 2:23 which says that “no one who denies the Son has the Father….” That alone is enough to cause Evangelicals to question the infallibility of the Pope and bishops, which raises the next issue.

Final authority

One of the biggest disagreements between Protestants and Catholics concerns the final authority in matters of faith and practice. Ever since the Reformation, Evangelicals have regarded the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith and practice. The Catechism, however, is clear that “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (#82) and that “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” (#97).

First, this seems to contradict tradition itself. Ignatius (d. AD 110), for example, is careful to distinguish his writings from those of the apostles. In his letter to the Trallians he writes, “…I did not think myself qualified for this, that I, a convict, should give you orders as though I were an apostle” (3). To the Romans Ignatius writes, “I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul: they were apostles…” (4).

Similarly, in about AD 110 Polycarp writes,

For neither I nor anyone like me can keep pace with the wisdom of the blessed and glorious 
Paul, who, when he was among you in presence of men of that time, accurately and reliably taught the word concerning the truth. And when he was absent he wrote you letters, if you study them carefully, you will be able to build yourselves up in the faith that has been given to you…” (3).

The same attitude toward the apostles seems to be found in Clement of Rome (AD97; To the Corinthians, 42, 47). It appears that authors of the very earliest post-biblical tradition did not consider their writings on par with the apostles and other writers of New Testament books. Instead, they regularly quoted from books now collected in the New Testament as their authority. This was even more true of later church Fathers. The idea that the Church would later lift their writings up to the level of Scripture would have been scandalous to them.

Second, the church fathers sometimes exhibit strong disagreements and outright contradictions among themselves. In other words, the only traditions that are treated as inspired are those selected by later Church leaders.

Finally, the Catechism is clear that “The task of giving authentic interpretation of the Word of God…has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone” (#85). More precisely, “the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome” (#85). The Catechism teaches that the Pope and bishops have infallibility with regard to faith and morals (#890, #891, #2035).

Infallibility of the Church

To Evangelical ears this is especially puzzling. First, there is nothing in Scripture that would teach infallibility of the Church. Second, this doctrine seems to create problems for the Church itself. For example, the Catechism strongly affirms that Christians should continually read the Scriptures for themselves. It says, “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful” (#131). The Catechism goes so far as to say that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (#133).

On the other hand, in times past the Catholic Church, as a matter of official policy, was instrumental in the imprisonment and even execution of those who insisted that Christians should read Scriptures for themselves, e.g. Wycliffe, Tyndale, and hundreds if not thousands of ordinary Christians whose only crime was the possession of the Scriptures in English. That raises the question: Which Church is infallible? Was it the modern Church which insists that Christians should read Scriptures for themselves, or the Church in times past that persecuted Christians who read the Scriptures?

Another example would be that the Church once taught that there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church (vestiges of this teaching are still found in the Catechism, e.g. sections 181, 816, and 1445). On the other hand, the Catechism now affirms that many Protestants (and possibly even some in other religions) are saved. Which teaching is infallible; the teaching in the Catechism of today which holds out salvation for non-Catholics, or the Church’s teaching in the past which confined salvation to the Roman Catholic Church alone?

Yet another example is the fact that the Catechism condemns torture and killing (#2297).  The catechism even acknowledges that “In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals of the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture.” The section continues, “Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood” (#2298).

Many will undoubtedly find this section misleading if not outright deceptive. First, while it may be true that clerics were forbidden to personally shed blood, it was the bishops of the church who handed the “heretics” over to civil authorities to be tortured and/or executed for their opposition to the Church. I’m sure it made little difference to the victims whether they were being tortured directly by the Church, or by civil authorities on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. Second, it is simply not true that these practices were always used “to maintain law and order.” Torture was often used simply to weed out and punish otherwise law-abiding and peaceful “heretics.” 

The point of this discussion, however is to ask the question: Which Church was infallible, the modern church which condemns torture, or the Church in times past which, for hundreds of years,
made it a regular practice?

Yet another reason to question Church infallibility is the Catechism teaching that man “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (#1782). In times past, however, the Church regularly sought to force people like Martin Luther, for example, to act or profess contrary to their conscience.


Catholics would no doubt protest that these were not official proclamations of the Catholic Church but such protestations would sound pretty hollow to Protestants who were often the victims of such official persecution carried out by the bishops in full communion with Rome. 

Therefore, while there is much in the Catechism that Evangelicals and affirm and celebrate, Evangelicals will insist that that the Pope and bishops are not infallible and that some parts of the catechism are merely “barnacles” of tradition, added by the Church on its own authority apart from the authority of Jesus and the apostles.

Take, for example the Church’s teaching on Mary. The Catechism teaches not only that Mary was devoid of original sin, but that she was absolutely sinless during her entire life (#411, #491, #493, #508, #722, #966). By contrast, the Bible teaches that “There is no one righteous, not even one” and that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:10, 23). The Bible specifically indicates that Jesus is an exception to this rule (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 9:14; 1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; John 8:46) but there are no statements anywhere in Scripture that would say or imply that Mary is also an exception. The sinlessness of Mary is a doctrine developed by the Church long after New Testament times and is in direct contradiction to what the New Testament teaches (It is interesting that the Catechism actually talks much more about the sinlessness of Mary than it does about the sinlessness of Jesus).

Similarly, the Catechism teaches that Mary was “taken up body and soul into heavenly glory” and was “exalted as Queen over all things” (#966, cf. #969, #974). The Bible knows nothing of this. This is another example of “barnacles” which attached themselves to Christianity long after the time of the apostles. Other “barnacles” include the Church’s teaching on indulgences (#1471, #1479), purgatory (#1030-1032, #1054, #1475, #1479), Mary’s perpetual virginity (#499, #500), and the teaching that 
Mary and the canonized faithful become intercessors for us (#1014, #828), none of which have any basis in the New Testament.

Veneration and Worship

One of the most serious “barnacles” is the doctrine of the “veneration” of Mary and of icons. The Church recognizes that if people were to worship Mary or icons they would be guilty of idolatry so the bishops are adamant that veneration is not the same as adoration or worship (#971). Unfortunately, the Catechism does not always make this distinction. For example, section #1378 refers to the “Worship of the Eucharist” in which “faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine” is expressed by “genuflecting, or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.” The section goes on to say,

The Catholic church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during the Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hoses with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful” (#1378, emphasis mine).

First, in this section the words “worship,” “adoration,” and “veneration” are seemingly used synonymously, so when Catholics say that they venerate Mary and icons, but adore or worship Christ, Evangelicals hope Catholics will understand our skepticism, especially in light of the impression we have that many average Catholics don’t really seem to make much distinction between veneration and worship.

Second, in an attempt to explain that the “veneration” of the icon of Christ is not idolatry, the Catechism states that icons of Christ “can be venerated” because the one “who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted” (#477). Since the subject of this “veneration” is Christ himself, we can only conclude that the word “veneration” here is used synonymously with worship.
It, therefore, appears to Evangelicals that the only distinction between veneration and worship is that if you “venerate” Christ, you are worshiping him but if you “venerate” Mary or icons you are not worshiping them. This is a distinction without a difference.

Third, section #2132 says,

Religious worship is not directed to images themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate.

So the worship is not actually directed to the images but rather to what the images symbolize. Unfortunately, this does little to ease Evangelical concerns that Catholics are engaged in idolatry.
After Aaron crafted the Golden Calf he immediately announced a “festival to Yahweh.” He apparently saw the calf as a visual representation of Yahweh worship. According to the story, Yahweh saw it as idolatry and considered it to be a very serious offense (Exodus 32:1-5). Evangelicals generally fail to see much difference between the use of a golden calf in the worship of Yahweh and the use of a crucifix (or other icon) in the worship of Jesus.

It would be possible to argue that I am just quibbling over words, and that the Church is not really teaching the worship of Mary and that the sections in the Catechism that use the words worship, veneration and adoration synonymously were just unfortunate, unguarded statements. Similarly, it would be possible to argue that the Church is really not guilty of the Galatian heresy of requiring works for salvation, rather the Church really means that baptism, the Eucharist, other Sacraments and good works are the essential fruit of salvation and not something people must do in order to be saved. If this was the case, it would go a long way toward unifying Catholics and Protestants if the Catholic Church were to revise the Catechism with a view toward making these positions more clear.


I agreed with the majority of the Catechism and found it a joy and blessing to read. Nevertheless, some of the disagreements—like the infallibility of the Church, the “veneration” of Mary and icons, or the precise relationship between faith and works, are extremely significant and could be matters of spiritual life and death.


Phil said...

Alright, I'll address a few things here that I am familiar with. Given that I don't have my catechism on hand at this moment (no really... I'm at a computer away from home and my catechism is on my self [and another on my computer]), I won't be able to give "exact references" at the time but can give some thought or maybe just a different way to interpret a couple of things.
Just like reading anything, you have to take what you read in context of the rest of what you read. While I hate to compare the Catechism or the Catholic Church (CCC) to the Bible, just like reading the Bible you have to take what you read several paragraphs later or several pages later in the context of what you already read. Now, with that in mind, there are several cases in the Bible where someone could say that the Bible says one thing in one spot and another in another spot so it is contradictory. An Evangelical, however, might respond with something like, "no, you have to interpret what you have just read in the context of that other statement." Yet it seems that MOST Evangelicals, when they read the Catechism or study Catholic teaching, refuse to consider the same concept. I will explain further:

Phil said...

Evangelicals (any who actually READ the Bible) would believe in something called "Lordship Salvation," which I'm sure you've heard the terminology. This, of course, means that when a person is converted and becoming sanctified through Jesus Christ that their actions reflect their faith. Now with this in mind, if something is "sacramental "(some traditions would define a sacrament as something commanded by Christ and some would define this as something that reflects and symbolizes a spiritual truth... off the top of my head I believe the Roman Catholic Church [RCC] kind of teach both but I am not fully recalling). Is it not reasonable, then, to suggest that if someone is truly saved that they would do what is commanded by Christ? In fact, does Christ himself not say, "you love me if you keep my commandments."?

Phil said...

So with that in mind, does the Bible itself not say that Baptism is for the remission of sins? So there fore, is it possible that what the CCC is saying is that the believer receives Baptism by faith (that is assuming the person was not Baptized already), believing that by dying in Baptism and rising with Christ (as the Evangelicals proclaim in their own Baptismal ceremonies) that their sins are washed away? I know for the Catholics there is a little bit more literalism involved than for Evangelicals but being faithful to be obedient to the command to be Baptized does not reduce the aspect of it.

In regard to the Eucharist, I fail to see the contradiction between #1450 and #1323. In the case of paragraph #1450 it was a sacrifice created by human hands of an imperfect sacrifice. In the case of #1323 it WAS the perfect sacrfice done by Christ. The repition, however, does not reduce the effectiveness of the sacrifice but only brings it into reality for the present believer. It is not that He needs to be resacrificed but that the believer needs to be obedient to partake in the Eucharist as Christ commanded, "do this in rememberence of me." The repition of the Eucharist does not downplay the "once and for all" aspect when you consider it from the perspective that it is still that ONE AND ONLY sacrifice as opposed to the several but insufficient sacrifices being offered perpetually in the OT.

Phil said...

While I agree, there is room to debate on whether "this is my body..." should be taken literally or not, what I find so interesting among so many evangelicals is how many (not all, and not even saying you personally) REFUSE to consider that by a miraculous change that a literal understanding MIGHT be accurate when read from a passage of direct discourse yet, when they read poetic, apacolyptic, prophetic literature absolutely INSIST that a "1000 year reign" is ABSOLUTELY literal. But I digress...

In regard to the Muslim paragraph, the RC, it can be said, are inclusivists which is a doctrine I do not agree with. I think they ARE off base with this. I have not read the updated version, however, but what I recall of the original CCC from the Vatican II councils is that when they are discussing Muslims and other religions they are also referring to those who, by no fault of their own, have not been introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and therefore could not actually reject it (you know... the argument about that tribe in the middle of nowhere... etc etc etc.) Again, I do not agree with this teaching but it does make a difference when considering what they are suggesting. It is kind of taking the teaching in Romans that says when people follow the law who have not been exposed to the law they are a conscience to themselves. Again, I do not think this passage in Romans necessarily teaches inclusivism; I think Paul is trying to make a different point there.

Phil said...

This brings up the next issue with the "Sola Scriptura" arguments. As much as I hate to say it, "Sola Scriptura" is not entirely Biblical. What did I just say? II Thes 2:15 says to keep the traditions taught to them both in writing and in speech. In other words, not everything that was important was written down. Somethings where just understood and continued. In I Cor 11:2 Paul praises the Corinthians for holding to the traditions he had taught them. In other words, they were holding to teachings not necessarily WRITTEN in Scripture. I Thess 2:13 also refers to teachings given orally and not in "written Scripture" and refers to them as the "Word of God."

Now, even with these verses aside, any good teacher of exegetics and hermaneutics will teach that Scripture must also be interpreted using the cultural contexts of the time and the situation being discussed. Is this any different than using "tradition" (or history) to interpret Scritpure? I would say not! Now, this is not to advocate teaching tradition Over Scripture but IS to suggest teaching Scripture in light of tradition. One doctrine this could be VERY important on is that of infant baptism, for example. I can see understanding and interpretation for both infant and believer's baptism in the Bible. The important question is, if infant baptism is wrong, when did it start? Even Polycarp writes of baptizing infants and this is only 2nd or 3rd Century AD. Now with this in mind, let us also consider that, at that time, no "new" teaching rose up without it stirring HUGE contraversy within the body of believers resulting in calling of councils, etc. But for some reason, MOST evangelicals refuse to answer "when did infant baptism start" by saying, "I don't need to answer that, I have the Bible to tell me otherwise." Well... yes you do... because you don't "have the Bible" you have your interpretation of the Bible. By using tradition (which could be translated "history" in MOST cases), we find that the documented process goes back within two generations of the Apostles. Further, "believer's baptism" revolves around the argument that faith and repentence require cognition which requires adulthood. Well, this is NOT in Scripture but is is the result of modern philosophy and psychology.

In summary on this point, "Sola Scriptura" is against Scripture in the first place and any good exegetic and any good practice of hermaneutics considers cultural contexts and situation at the time which is nothing more than relying on tradition to interpret Scripture.

Phil said...

Ignatius and Polycarp are careful to distinguise their writings from Scripture, but this is really a red herring. Any theologian agrees the canon was closed by their writings but that does not take away from the oral teachings and traditions taught by the Apostles in the first place. Ultimately, the reference to Ignatius and Polycarp have no relevence to this topic.

In regard to the doctrine of "infallability" one has to really carefully read the catechism. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then would it not stand to reason that it is infallible? HOWEVER!! That does not mean that the INDIVIDUALS within the body are infallible. With this in mind, there are also key words that need to be recognized within even the citations you made. Para #891 says very specifically, "enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful," and "infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council." Further, according to the First Vatican Council and the First Dogmatic Constitution of the Church the doctrine of infallibility applies "ex cathedra" which is defined as, "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (the Bishop of Rome) defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church."

In other words, moral and faith infallibility do not mean they are perfect but it means that when a decision is made concerning those issues the decision is infallible but only when done ex cathedra.

In regard to salvation, previous ecumenical councils DID actually confirm savaltion to the outside church; namely to the Eastern Rites. I do hot have this on me at the moment but I will work to find it if you so desire.

Phil said...

It might not make a difference to the victims whether certain acts were carried out by "civil authorities" or the church but it DOES make a difference in regard to understanding church doctrine.

In regard to Mary, many would interpret the Woman in Rev 12 as the support for such a belief as well as other references. I do not necessarily agree with those interpretations, but to say they are not at all founded in Scripture is not accurate either. These are assumptions based on interpretation of Scripture (pun not intended) which might be a stretch in regard to interpretation, but the beliefs are based on Scripture.

You are correct that the average Catholic does not differentiate the difference between adoration, veneration, etc. But you cannot base your belief or assessment of a doctrine on the average Catholic any more than you can base a Charismatic Church's teaching about tongues based on the average Charismatic believer. How people practice it is not what determines the doctrine. That only determines the average understanding. And that is not disctinction without difference. The difference is Christ!! That is a VERY important difference. The lack of ease given to Evangelicals by #2132 is not the responsibility of the Catholic Church but is on the Evangelicals. The reality is that MOST (not all) Evangelicals are so hell bent on finding fault with the Catholic Church that they refuse to consider the other perspective. That "lack of ease" is due to hardness of heart, not because of reality and has nothing to do with whether it really is "idolitry" or not. How many Evangelicals pray at the foot of a Cross? How many old a Bible or a Cross while they pray? Are they worshipping the cross? Are they worshipping a Bible? Of course not! The cross is just as much an "icon" as anything else... there are just more of them in Catholicism.

Phil said...

For my conclusion, you are correct that the CCC has the unfortunate use of miswordings or unclear statements. At the same time, many Protestants would not care less what the wording is and and accuse the Catholics falsely anyway. I know full well that you are a very scholarly person who honestly searches for truth and not to militiously slander a person or a group. However, I have read the tracts put out by such organizations as Dallas Theological Seminary or the "Chic tracts" and have seen the BLATANT disregard for context. I have seen these alleged "Gospel" organizations take a phrase from the CCC that says, "people can merit eternal life" but entirely leave out the five words before that that say, "empowered by the Holy Spirit (as in, not of themselves) people can merit the graces necessary for eternal life (graces does not mean, "Grace" but more refers to God's favor). The reality is that too many of our churches are too busy trying to attack the Catholic faith to actually pay attention to what they teach. The further problem is on the part of several generations of lazy priests and parents who go through the motions and make such comments as, "now pray to Mary" which is found NOWHERE in TRUE Catholic teaching instead of telling someone to, "ask our Holy mother to pray for strength" (which is different than "praying" to her.

Ultimately, I disagree with your final premise. How people interpret and misuse Catholic doctrine CAN truly lead to an matter of salvation. However, a true following of Catholic doctrine takes a person to no place but the Cross of Christ.

Further, if we REALLY want to I can point out how EVERY one of these "problems" within Catholicism are in almost EVERY other denomination (including most Evangelical churches) right on down to the holding of a supreme "pontiff". Evangelicals might call the practices by a different name, but the results are still the same. If the Catholics are potentially on the verge of Hell for their practices, I fear for where most Evangelical and Protestant churches fall who do the same things but point their fingers at the Catholics. I seem to recall Paul, in Romans, saying that such people who accuse others of breaking the law but break the law themselves will receive nothing but condemnation (this is not directed at you, Dr. Ingolfsland, personally... I have all the respect for you as a knowledgable and devout man of God whose true intent is to educate others and glorify the Lord). (Chapter 2 if memory serves)

Dennis said...

Wow! Phil, thank you for taking the time to read and analyze my post in such depth.

First, I agree with your last post that many Evangelicals have sometimes engaged in what amounts to anti-Catholic hate speech. That was certainly not my intention at all. I was genuinely and happily surprised at how much I agreed with in the Catechism and what a blessing it was to read.

Nevertheless, there do seem to me to be some very significant differences between most Evangelicals (including myself) and Rome.

You are also certainly right that just as many people take various passages of the Bible out of context, so it is possible that I have interpreted the Catechism out of context. I don’t think I’ve done that but would be delighted if a Roman Catholic Bishop were to explain to me how some of my perceived disagreements are really not disagreements.

A case in point is your mention of Lordship Salvation. I am very familiar with lordship salvation and would be overjoyed if a Bishop could explain to me how the Catholic Church really intended to teach that we are saved entirely by grace through faith and that works are the essential byproduct of that faith…not something we must do in order to be saved. Since I don’t know any Roman Catholic bishops, all I can go on is what the Catechism seems to say in my good faith attempt to interpret it.

You wrote, “Ignatius and Polycarp are careful to distinguise [sic. Distinguish] their writings from Scripture, but this is really a red herring. Any theologian agrees the canon was closed by their writings but that does not take away from the oral teachings and traditions taught by the Apostles in the first place. Ultimately, the reference to Ignatius and Polycarp have no relevence to this topic.”

We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. My point is that the very earliest church Fathers who wrote after the books we now have in our NT were written, were careful to distinguish their own writings from the writings of the apostles. If they would not put their own writings on the same level as the apostles, why should I (or the Catholic Church)?

Regarding the doctrine of infallibility, I was surprised to read that this does not just apply to the Pope’s official announcements, but to the Magisterium as well. The catechism did not say anything decisions being infallible only when they are “ex cathedra.” If the official Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church does not fall under the umbrella of infallibility, I can’t imagine what would. Since I am absolutely convinced that there are errors in the Catechism (a point even you seem to concede), you will have a hard time convincing me of the doctrine of infallibility.

Anyway, thanks again for your detailed analysis!

Phil said...

Ha, don't get me wrong. I don't agree with the doctrine of infallibility either. I have Catholic leanings in many aspects. Further, in the areas where I might disagree with the Catholics, most of them I do not see a huge issue (huge being the opperative word). I have actually read something (cannot recall where, honestly) that actually says that the Catechism does not fall into the area of ex catehdra because it is meant to be a general statement of general doctrines; but what I do know is that the last statement that was made "ex cathedra" was in 1870 and it had to do with the Blessed Virgin. I THINK it was an the issue of the assumption (which I also concede is a doctrine based entirely on... assumption [see what I did there?]).

And I may not know you OVERLY well, but I do know you well enough to know that if something was neglected from context, that you surely didn't do it maliciously or intentionally. To me you always have been, and always will be a very respectable and very educated educator (more and more you become one of my favorites; partly because you continue to educate me via this blog YEARS after I graduated from your work-place).

Thank you for the interesting read whether I agree with some of your points or not.

Norma said...

I've been reading the catechism in daily doses through an e-mail program with links out to other sources as well as the Bible. I'm an evangelical too (Lutheran), but I realize that when we look in the mirror we see the pope, and we trust our own traditions, so in that we are like Catholics who trust in scripture, tradition/the magisterium and the pope. It's really odd that evangelicals will lean so heavily on the Bible and ignore who developed the canon in the first place. The Church.

Dennis said...

Norma, I think we'll have to agree to disagree. First, regarding who developed the canon, the fact is that although as far as we can tell, the very earliest churches throughout the Roman empire agreed on the vast majority of NT books (200 years or so before any church council voted on anything), there was still over 200 years in which many individual churches were quite free to disagree over individual books, e.g. James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, etc. So the idea that "The Church" developed the canon is reading fourth century developed Roman Catholic Church structure back into earliest church history.

Second, when I look in the mirror, I am not looking at the pope and traditions. I do not think my understanding is infallible. I interact with numerous Christian scholars from my own and other traditions and try to determine what most accurately reflects what the Scriptures themselves actually teach--and I try to allow Scripture to stand in judgment on tradition--even my own.

Third, I cannot ignore the fact that many Catholic teachings simply do not come from Scripture and some are just plain wrong (for example, the perpetual virginity of Mary and the infallibility of the Pope). Martin Luther would agree :-) Thanks for your input.

Stan Blackburn said...

I posted a comment on Dr. Ingolfsland's excellent commentary at the following link: It would not fit in this comment section.

John Forrester said...
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