An Examination of Roman Catholicism

It occurred to me today (in preparation for speaking to some folks about this) that it might be very helpful for people to have a handy chart for easily comparing the Reformed faith with official Roman Catholic teaching on a number of doctrines (comparing the Roman Catholic catechism with the Reformed confessions), and then seeing what Scripture has to say about it. So, references in the Roman side are to paragraph numbers in the RCC Catechism, and the standard abbreviations in the Reformed standards should be easily recognizable. I have concentrated on the most important issues. No doubt there are others I have missed. The format is first the Roman Catholic teaching, then the Reformed teaching, then the Scriptural teaching.

I. On Scripture: while Scripture is inspired by God, tradition and the pope have equal authority. See 891 of the Catechism.

Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith and practice. See BC, article 7, WCF 1.

2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 John 5:9

II. On Mary: She is Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix (Cat. 969). She continues to intercede for us in heaven.

Jesus is our one and only High Priest. We need no other Mediatrix save Christ. (BC 21, HC 18, WCF 8, LC 36)

Phil. 3:1-9, 1 Cor. 2:1-2, Heb. 7:26-8:6, 9:11-14, 9:25-10:14

III. On justification: happens at baptism (1987, 1992), involves sanctification (1989, 1995), can be lost (1446).

Justification happens at time-point of faith, does not involve sanctification, and cannot be lost (BC 22-24, HC 60, WCF 11, LC 70-73)

1 Peter 3:21, Romans 3-4, 8

IV. Baptism regenerates (1213).

Baptism is a sign and seal of salvation, not salvation itself (BC 34, WCF 28). We are saved by the thing signified (Christ’s blood), not by the sign itself.

1 Peter 3:21, Colossians 2:11-13

V. The Lord’s Supper: transubstantiation (1373-1378), which results in the worship of the bread and wine.

The Lord is present spiritually only (HC 78-80, WCF 29)

Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22ff., Luke 22:19ff, 1 Cor. 11:24ff.

VI. Purgatory: further purification might be needed after death (1030-1032)

Only two places for souls separated from the body (WCF 32.1)

Luke 23:39-43, 1 Cor. 3:10-15



  1. Bryan Cross said,

    June 26, 2009 at 4:31 pm


    while Scripture is inspired by God, tradition and the pope have equal authority

    The Catholic Church does not believe or teach that tradition and the pope “have equal authority” to Scripture. Don’t assume that for the Catholic Church, every “infallible” thing has equal authority.

    Jesus is our one and only High Priest.

    Catholics also believe this.

    We need no other Mediatrix save Christ.

    Catholics also believe this. Mary’s intercession is not because we need her intercession (or that of anyone else besides Christ), but because Christ has graciously given departed saints the opportunity to participate through their intercession in the salvific work He is doing now in the world.

    We are saved by the thing signified (Christ’s blood), not by the sign itself.

    We see that as a false dichotomy, as though its an either/or, and not a both/and. Peter himself says “baptism now saves you”.

    transubstantiation (1373-1378), which results in the worship of the bread and wine.

    Transubstantiation does not “result in the worship of the bread and wine”. Of course that’s not what Catholics believe at all, and it is not an accurate representation of the Catholic position. Transubstantation results in the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord, whom we adore in His Eucharistic presence.

    further purification might be needed after death

    Apparently all Reformed persons die in a state of perfect sanctification. :-)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Bryan, if tradition and the Pope can claim infallibility (Cat. 891), then they claim equal status with Scripture. Period.

    There is no proof anywhere in Scripture that the dead intercede on behalf of the living. At any rate, you cannot deny that Catholics pray to Mary almost as much, if not more than they pray to God.

    Roman Catholics believe that the sign and thing signified are always given together. Protestants do not. Protestants believe that faith must be present in order for the thing signified to be present.

    You may say that transubstantiation does not result in the worship of the elements (although what exactly does “reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful,” referring to the elements of bread and wine in Cat 1378 mean?), but the fact is that Roman Catholics bow down to the bread and wine, even if they do believe that it is Christ. There is no difference between veneration and worship. Furthermore, it results in a transformation of Christ’s humanity into deity. Christ is in heaven, not on earth. He can only be present according to His divine nature through the Spirit. Furthermore, Roman Catholics twist Aristotle’s categories of substance and accidents, which were never meant to be (ab)used to describe a situation where the accidents of one thing are joined with the substance of another.

    Death means that all sin is gone, because it means the death of the old man of sin. How about explaining why the thief on the cross was going to be in paradise with Jesus that day? Surely he of all people needed purgatory, and yet didn’t get it.

  3. Bryan Cross said,

    June 26, 2009 at 5:15 pm


    Just because two statements are true, it does not mean that they are equally authoritative. Authority is not reducible to truth; that would be Kantian. Since infallibility means (at least in Catholic theology) “protected from error”, therefore it only means that the result is true. It does not, in itself, determine the degree of authority the statement has.

    Regarding whether the intercession of the departed saints is in Scripture, that depends on a more fundamental question having to do with the Protestant canon and the Catholic canon.

    Also, Catholic theology does not believe or teach that after the consecration of the bread and wine, “accidents of one thing are joined with the substance of another”. In fact, it explicitly teaches that they are *not* joined.

    Death means that all sin is gone, because it means the death of the old man of sin.

    If that were true, then all people would go to heaven upon death. The cessation of physical life does not ipso facto purify the soul.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. johnbugay said,

    June 27, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Lane, I’m a frequent commenter on Roman Catholic topics at Jason Stellman’s blog; I am glad to see this series. Comparing some of these individual doctrines is helpful, but the real heart and soul of the divide lies in the subject of “authority”.

    With that in mind, here are a couple of topics that need to be explored:

    1. Everything at this thread: the compatibility of authority structures of Trent with the “developed” authority structure put forth at Vatican II. This leads to a discussion of whether only “the precise words” of the councils should be taken into account, or whether the “conscious faith” of the attendees matters. The two are in grave conflict.

    2. The history of the early papacy. Documents as recent as Vatican I (see Session 4 Chapter 2) and the papal encyclical Satis Cognitum essentially posited the papacy as haven been “immediately given” (“He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue.”)

    It is this link to “successors” that has been essentially found to be “not there,” as there was no monarchical bishop in Rome up until about the year 175. The following works of the past 50 years have put a great deal of historical presure on Rome (and also describe this “not there-ness”) with a great deal of detail:

    Oscar Cullman: Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr
    Google book does not seem to be available.

    D.W. O’Connor: Peter in Rome: Literary, Archaeological, and Liturgical EvidenceGoogle Book does not seem to be available.
    Peter Lampe: From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries
    There’s a fair preview in the Google Book. See especially chapter 41.

    I’ve posted a review of Lampe’s work here.

    As a result of such work, I believe that Rome has recently admitted to “development” of the papacy for the very first time.

    This document was issued in conjunction with a symposium following the papal encyclical “Ut Unum Sint,” which Pope John Paul “in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.”

    This is a groundbreaking admission; so far I am not aware of Reformed efforts to address this “new situation,” but I believe it is ripe to be exploited.

    For more information, see here and here.

    3. Closely following on this, the Ratzinger-approved document “Responses to Questions on the Doctrine of the Church” denies that good Reformed Reverends such as yourselves do not enjoy “do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders” and thus your churches “cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”

    One of the defenses of this “Succession of the Sacrament of Orders” is John 20:22: “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In context, however, Carson holds that women are in the room with the disciples, and that this episode authorizes all to forgive sins by preaching the gospel. But Rome has drawn the “authority” line at the place of “a succession of orders,” and it is here that Reformed research would bear a great deal of fruit.

    4. The Council of Ephesus (the third council, 431 ad).

    Samuel Hugh Moffett, writing in “A History of Christianity in Asia,” describes this council:

    “On Easter Sunday in 429, Cyril publicly denounced Nestorius for heresy. With fine disregard for anything Nestorius had actually said, he accused him of denying the deity of Christ. It was a direct and incendiary appeal to the emotions of the orthodox, rather than to precise theological definition or scriptual exegesis, and, as he expected, an ecclesiastical uproar followed. Cyril showered Nestorius with twelve bristling anathemas…As tempers mounted, a Third Ecumenical Council was summoned to meet in Ephesus in 431 … [it was] the most violent and least equitable of all the great councils. It is an embarassment and blot on the history of the church. … Nestorius … arrived late and was asking the council to wait for him and his bishops. Cyril, who had brought fifty of his own bishops with him, arrogantly opened the council anyway, over the protests of the imperial commissioner and about seventy other bishops. … “They acted … as if it was a war they were conducting, and the followers of [Cyril] … went about in the city girt and armed with clubs … with the yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely … raging with extravagant arrogance against those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires. They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to fee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obsceneties… (Moffet 174).

    The anathemas of this council were directed at Nestorius; they ratified 12 “anathemas” that, as Moffett relates, had nothing to do with Nestorius’s actual teachings.

    This is a travesty of church authority, and yet as Moffett and others have written, this schism was far greater extent than either the 1054 split with the EO’s or the Protestant Reformation. In this split, (effected by Cyril’s armed thugs and a council that bore false witness against Nestorius), the entire eastern portion of the church (farther east than Jerusalem) was cast off and later left to die at the hands of Islam. Yet this church was far larger in numbers and scope than the churches surrounding the Mediterranean see. For more information, see:

    Philip Jenkins: The Lost History of Christianity

    Mar Bawai Soro: The Church of the East: Apostolic and Orthodox

    I am sorry for overloading y’all with this. But here, I believe, firm and steady pressure from the Reformed community will be able to force many concessions both from popular Roman Catholic apologists as well as from “official Rome” itself. And I believe that conservative Reformed scholars and pastors, armed with such knowledge, can really put the Reformation (and the need for it) back into perspective.

  5. June 27, 2009 at 8:15 am

    […] Roman Catholicism” June 27, 2009 Lane Keister over at Green Baggins has posted “An Examination of Roman Catholicism,” in which he lists a few items of Catholic doctrine, a response from the Reformed […]

  6. June 28, 2009 at 8:19 am


    As a former Calvinist and graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), I read your post with great interest. I hope you don’t mind if I respond to your points.

    I’ve responded at length here:

  7. Pete Myers said,

    June 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm


    The Catholic Church does not believe or teach that tradition and the pope “have equal authority” to Scripture. Don’t assume that for the Catholic Church, every “infallible” thing has equal authority.

    I think this is a fair point – in principle.

    However, this is from 891:

    When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

    Do you think you could explain how the authority of the church differs to the authority of scripture? With special regard to the fact that the laity are to believe both with the “obedience of faith”. And how if the doctrines of the supreme Magisterium are the “teaching of Christ”, then where do the Scriptures derive their superior authority to this “teaching of Christ” from?

  8. Pete Myers said,

    June 28, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Oh, and while I’m here – Taylor I had a quick look at your post – I’d quite like to know how it is that the teaching of the supreme Magisterium isn’t inspired, but can be described “as the teaching of Christ”.

  9. Bryan Cross said,

    June 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm


    According to Catholic doctrine, the authority Christ gave to His Apostles and their successors is three-fold: the authority to teach, the authority to lead men to holiness (by way of the sacraments), and the authority to govern the Church. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 38) Your question, I think, is about the Magisterium’s teaching authority, and how it differs from the authority of Sacred Scripture.

    The Sacred Scriptures are divinely inspired. God is their author. They contain (in written form) the words of God, including the final word given to us in His Son. In giving us His Son, God has said everything He has to say, because to see Jesus is to see His Father. There will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross writes:

    “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.” (CCC, 65)

    For this reason, no new public revelation is to be expected until Christ returns on the clouds in glory. This is why “the Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions,” such as Islam or Mormonism. (CCC, 67)

    So when the Magisterium of the Church exercises its teaching authority and declares some doctrine (e.g. Nicea 325), it is not adding to the deposit of faith, but unfolding and clarifying it. In doing so, the Magisterium is not divinely inspired; no new revelation is being given. The Nicene Creed, for example, is not divinely inspired. But because God protects the Magisterium from error when it defines a doctrine to be believed by all the faithful, the Nicene Creed is without error. And because the Magisterium has the authority (given to it by Christ) to make definitive decisions regarding the content of the deposit of faith entrusted to it, therefore to deny any dogma so taught by the Magisterium is ipso facto, heresy. (This is why it is heretical to deny any part of the Nicene Creed.)

    One of the primary tasks of the Magisterium is to give the authoritative interpretation of the deposit of faith. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Dei Verbum, 10)

    But having interpretive authority does not mean that the interpret has more authority than what is being interpreted. Just as when the Apostles testified to Jesus being the Christ, they didn’t take away from Christ’s authority. An authorized witness can give an authoritative testimony to an authority greater than himself, otherwise no one could have come to believe in the divinity of Jesus through the authority of the Apostles’ testimony. That is why, according to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium “is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant”.

    “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (Dei Verbum, 10)

    Protestants sometimes mistakenly think that the Catholic position is sola ecclesia, but that is inaccurate. There is a three-fold structure of authority consisting of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and Magisterium, each according to its own mode:

    “It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (CCC, 95)

    Catholics treat Scripture as something known and properly understood only within the bosom of the Church, and only as explicated by the Magisterium of the Church. (Of course this doesn’t preclude private study of Scripture, which is encouraged.) The point is that we view Scripture as something known through the Magisterium’s teaching authority.

    So, in short, the authority of Scripture is authority with respect to the content of the deposit of faith. The authority of the Magisterium, on the other hand, is interpretive authority with respect to the deposit of faith. These are two different types or modes of authority. They do not compete with each other, but complement each other, and are mutually dependent. The Magisterium cannot exist as an interpretive authority, without the sacred deposit of the Word of God. Similarly, the Sacred Scriptures cannot provide their own authentic and authoritative interpretation to the Church, and so require the Magisterium in order to fulfill their purpose in the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. johnbugay said,

    June 28, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Catholics treat Scripture as something known and properly understood only within the bosom of the Church, and only as explicated by the Magisterium of the Church.

    Bryan — tell them the one about Mary’s “immaculate foot” crushing the head of the serpent in Genesis 3:15 (from “Ineffabilis Deus”, the document outlining the Immaculate Conception of Mary). That’s a really good interpretation.

  11. June 28, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    John Bugay,

    Does not Revelation ch. 12 depict the Devil at war with the Blessed Mother of the Savior?

  12. johnbugay said,

    June 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Taylor Marshall: Does not Revelation ch. 12 depict the Devil at war with the Blessed Mother of the Savior?


  13. Bryan Cross said,

    June 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm


    If someone has a question about that, I’d be glad to try to answer it. The understanding of Mary’s participation, by her fiat (Luke 1:38), in her Seed’s victory over Satan, shouldn’t be controversial. It is found widely throughout the fathers, and is part of the tradition shared both by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. In humble obedience she participates (cf. Gen 3:15) in crushing the serpent’s head precisely by bringing forth the Seed.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. johnbugay said,

    June 28, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Bryan, here’s the reference in question:

    Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot. (emphasis added).

    You called this “Mary’s participation.” Are you downplaying it? Pius IX said, “just as Christ … so the most holy Virgin … ” This implies equality, does it not?

    As well, you referred to “her participation,” but again, you are downplaying. It is her foot doing the crushing. There is no intermediary here, either implicit or explicit.

    Up above, you again downplayed Mary’s participation. You said, “Christ has graciously given departed saints the opportunity to participate through their intercession in the salvific work He is doing now in the world.”

    There is no question, the actual words of the document here have Mary’s “immaculate foot” doing the actual crushing of the serpent’s head.

    Are you somehow ashamed to accept the full implications of this?

  15. Bryan Cross said,

    June 28, 2009 at 8:43 pm


    I explained this to you back in October. You are [mistakenly] imposing an either/or paradigm on Catholic theology. That’s why when you read a document of the Catholic Church stating that Mary does something, you [mistakenly] interpret it as saying that only Mary does it. Understanding her activity as a participation in Christ’s work is not “downplaying” anything. It is simply rightly explaining it against the background Catholic theology of the gracious gift of participating in the work of Christ. In order to interpret Catholic documents properly, you need to know that background theology.

    If someone else has a question about this particular matter, I’d be glad to try to answer. But since you and I have already discussed this last year, I’d rather not take Lane’s thread down this rabbit trail.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. johnbugay said,

    June 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Bryan — You think this Marian dogma is a “rabbit’s trail”? This is directly pertinent to the question in the initial post about Mary.

    You explained this away, but Pius IX clearly did not have your “participating in the work of Christ” paradigm in that document. She was a full co-equal with him in this effort.

    Note this line:

    For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them;

    You also, back then, tried to explain to me that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was a “development,” even as I insisted that Pius’s intention was that this was held from the earliest days of the church.

    Here is a fuller quote: The Fathers and writers of the Church, well versed in the heavenly Scriptures, had nothing more at heart than to vie with one another in preaching and teaching in many wonderful ways the Virgin’s supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin, and her renowned victory over the most foul enemy of the human race. This they did in the books they wrote to explain the Scriptures, to vindicate the dogmas, and to instruct the faithful. These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind — words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed” — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

    You are “diminishing” Mary’s thorough equivalence with Christ in this activity by explaining it away as you have tried to do.

  17. Pete Myers said,

    June 29, 2009 at 3:17 am

    #9 Bryan,

    I think, given your explanation, Lane’s comment on authority still holds water.

    In the space he gives to the issue (one sentence), to say that tradition and the pope have equal authority fairly conveys the key idea. From the laities position, disobeying the pope is disobeying scripture.

    The goes beyond how we (Protestants) would treat the Nicene Creed, or the 39 Articles, or the Westminster Standards. We do think they are expressions of the faith revealed in the scriptures, however, they are not infallible. Hence we are prepared to accept in principle that they can be improved upon, may contain incorrect emphases, etc. and expect the church to improve upon them with superior statements of faith in time to come, as becomes necessary.

    I agree with St John of the Cross on the matter you quote him on, however, I think you’ll find that numerous people in the history of the church don’t. St Birgitta of Sweden for example.

  18. John Wilson said,

    June 29, 2009 at 4:20 am

    I am sad to see the ecumenical movements of recent years have not done more to erase erroneous ideas across church lines. Havimh been raised Protestant but now Catholic, I find this article provides a very poor description of Catholicism.

    If this is what Catholicism actually taught, I would not be a member. Once someone actually studies the Catholic Faith for themselves with open eyes, they will see a very different Faith than the one parodied here.

  19. Bryan Cross said,

    June 29, 2009 at 6:27 am


    If interpretive authority were ipso facto equivalent in authority to that which it had been given the authority to interpret, then since the Apostles had the authority to speak in Christ’s name (“The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me”), therefore it would follow that the Apostles and Christ had “equal authority”. But the Apostles and Christ do not have equal authority. Therefore, interpretive authority is not ipso facto equivalent in authority to that which it has been given the authority to interpret.

    We too agree that anything taught by the Magisterium “can be improved upon” in the sense of “be further developed.” That’s how the Nicene Creed went from the form it had in 325 to the form it acquired in 381. But development never contradicts what has already been given. If it could, then over the last 2000 years, nothing at all would have been definitively established; the Arians might still turn out to have been right. And in that case, there would have been no point in holding any councils.

    Regarding St. Birgitta, there may be private revelations, but these are never proposed to the faithful as articles of faith. The Church’s approval of them, when that happens, only means that there is nothing in them contrary to faith or morals. The Church’s position on this is as I described in comment #9.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. johnbugay said,

    June 29, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Bryan< But development never contradicts what has already been given.

    It merely twists it beyond the recognition, as in [forgive me for the code, but the readers here likely know the incidents] “no salvation outside the church,” the “two-source/one-source” controversy as listed in this thread, the prohibition of icons, the recognition of “development” in the early papacy, and even your backpeddaling on Mary.

    If it could, then over the last 2000 years, nothing at all would have been definitively established

    These incidents prove that everything and anything can now change at the hands of the “Magisterium du jour” — anything at all can be “reformulated” to the point at which it means precisely its opposite.

  21. Bryan Cross said,

    June 29, 2009 at 7:24 am


    None of those involves a denial of a previously defined dogma. And that’s precisely what development cannot do — it can never deny a previously defined dogma.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  22. johnbugay said,

    June 29, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Bryan — it doesn’t specifically say, “we deny what we previously affirmed,” but it denies it and twists it in every other way. But my sense is that that’s ok for you. You have a weasel-word “out”.

  23. June 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

    […] am (Bible, Church, Communion, Justification, Roman Catholicism) Here is a brief response to Bryan, and a somewhat longer response to Taylor. First […]

  24. Bryan Cross said,

    July 2, 2009 at 8:22 am


    To clarify my first comment:

    The Catholic Church does not believe or teach that tradition and the pope “have equal authority” to Scripture.

    Here I was speaking of ‘tradition’ as referring to the decrees of popes and councils (e.g. Nicene Creed). I was not speaking of the Apostolic Tradition, which is the word of God. In Catholic theology the word of God given to the Apostles is both written (i.e. the New Testament) and unwritten. The unwritten Apostolic Tradition, since it is also the word of God, is no less authoritative than is the written Apostolic Tradition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  25. Fr Alvin Kimel said,

    July 2, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    In discussions such as this, I find it is always helpful to focus on the concrete and specific, rather than to dwell on more abstract issues such as authority, which can be argued back and forth with little illumination.

    And so I invite a return to a key point mentioned in the original article: transubstantiation. The charge is made that this doctrine results in the worship of the bread and wine. Here, I suggest, is something fundamental to the Catholic apprehension of the faith. Catholics believe and confess that the consecrated elements are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and thus offer to him full worship and adoration. Is this idolatry? It would be only if Catholics were worshipping created substances, but this is the whole point of transubstantiation: by the Spirit of God the bread and wine have been transformed into Christ himself. When I direct my prayer and adoration to the Holy Gifts, I am not praying to creatures; I am praying to God.

    Is this contrary to the witness of Scripture? Absolutely not! It is grounded upon the promises of Christ. The idea that the Bible teaches that Christ is only “spiritually” present in the Eucharist is preposterous. It plainly teaches no such thing. I do not deny that the words of Scripture that relate to the Supper can be given a “spiritualist” construal; but this construal is ultimately grounded not in exegesis but in a prior theological conviction that is then allowed to govern the interpretation of Scripture. Catholics, of course, do the same thing, as they insist that the liturgical and ascetical experience of the Church must properly guide Christians in their reading of the Bible.

  26. Ron Henzel said,

    July 3, 2009 at 4:44 am


    What is the specific content of the “unwritten Apostolic Tradition?”

  27. TurretinFan said,

    July 3, 2009 at 11:49 am

    “It would be only if Catholics were worshipping created substances, but this is the whole point of transubstantiation: by the Spirit of God the bread and wine have been transformed into Christ himself.”

    Unfortunately, transubstantiation is not true. There is no physical change: the accidents accurately report the substance. Thus, regardless of the sincerity of Roman Catholic worshipers, the object of their worship is, in objective reality, a created thing.

    Now, if you could somehow show that transubstantiation actually occurs …

  28. Ron Henzel said,

    July 3, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Having been raised Roman Catholic, I understand the sincerity and reverence with which Catholics hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation. To most of the Catholics I know, denying transubstantiation sounds just as absurd as the affirmation of it sounds to most Protestants. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “This is my body”?

    I took it very seriously a second-grader preparing for my first holy communion. But frankly discussions about substance and accidents—and the nuns did try to help our little eight-year-old brains to comprehend this Aristotelian reasoning—went straight over my head and out the window. I was more able to grasp the argument based on the Lord’s simple words of institution. This is, after all, the basis for the entire theological construct: the assumption that Jesus meant for His apostles to understand that the piece of bread He held in His hand was just as much “His body” as the body they could see holding it, and the wine they could see in the cup He was holding was just as much “His blood” as the blood they knew was actually flowing through His veins.

    Now, when I stop for a moment and think about it that way—they they could actually see His body in front of them—it begins to give me pause about the notion that He meant to inform them and expected them to understand that He was actually performing an “invisible miracle” before their eyes. And that, of course, is the second thing that gives me pause. An invisible miracle? Jesus performed many miracles, many of them not apparently even recorded in Scripture, according to John, but all of them for the purpose of bringing us to faith in Christ. And the reason it was assumed that they served that purpose is almost too obvious to mention: they were visible. Witnesses saw them happen. What witness saw the bread and wine transform into the body and blood of Jesus?

    The next thing that gives me pause is a question I thought of, I believe on my own (although it may have been inspired by the argument Zwingli threw at Luther, even though I’m not a Zwinglian). Before I present this question, let me first say that I am not trying to mock transubstantiation with it, much less the people who believe in it. Again, I understand how seriously it is taken by Catholics. Nevertheless, I believe my question is valid and has important ramifications for the discussion.

    I’ll present the question as part of a hypothetical scenario. Suppose one of the apostles was unfamiliar with the layout of Jerusalem. He knew they would be going to the Garden of Gethsemane next, but was afraid he might get lost. And suppose Jesus pulled out a map to show him the route, and holding it up so the apostle could see it, He said, “This is Jerusalem.” And suppose this episode was actually part of one of the gospels. Would any reasonable person ever conclude that at that point in time, Jesus had miraculously transformed the map into the city of Jerusalem? Would anyone be tempted to think, even during the High Middle Ages, that the accidents of the map remained the same, but its substance had changed?

    Well, would they?

    Oh, and I really hope Bryan identifies the specific content of the “unwritten Apostolic Tradition” for me.

  29. johnbugay said,

    July 4, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Ron — I too grew up Catholic, and for large portions of my life, I was very devout as a Catholic. Now that the dust of these threads has settled down a bit, I wanted to say it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve very much appreciated the depth of your thought and erudition in these threads, as well as your patience.

    I don’t believe Bryan can or will identify the “specific content” that you asked for. Congar did a study on “tradition,” and it involves, as he said, “always a question of secondary points relating to some main reality itself clearly mentioned in Scripture; it is a question of interesting details concerning either liturgy and worship, or Church discipline and the Christian life; they are practical points of application and not articles of the faith.” (The Meaning of Tradition, 37).

    These he gives: lenten fasts; certain baptismal and eucharistic rites; infant baptism; prayer facing east; validity of baptism by heretics; rules for the election and consecration of bishops; the sign of the cross; prayer for the dead (Chrysostom); other liturgical feasts and rites. And as he says, none of these is doctrine; all are practices — “things you do”.

    These, of course, are the “traditions,” which Bryan has already said are not the “Apostolic Tradition,” which he equates with “the word of God.” Fr. Kimel says he prefers to deal with “specifics,” but when it comes to the “Apostolic Tradition,” there are no “specifics.” It is all just nebulous BS designed to maintain a non-specific “authority” which “developed”.

    My experience with Catholicism is one of bitter disappointment. It promises so much — it promises everything, in fact. But all it delivers is falsity and rot. That’s why I’m often so vocal about it.

    My fervent prayer is that individuals like Bryan and Fr. Kimel, who have converted to Rome based on its promises, will see through the false nature of its claims and promises, and turn to that which the Apostles saw with their eyes and what they proclaimed to the world.

  30. Ron Henzel said,

    July 4, 2009 at 8:10 am


    Thank you for your kind words. I always feel a special connection with former-Catholic evangelicals, especially those who are Reformed like myself.

    Even if Bryan cannot identify the specific content of the supposed “unwritten Apostolic tradition,” I hope he at least tries. It seems to me that post-Reformation Catholic conciliar formulations on this point have been deliberately equivocal in defining this unwritten tradition, and more recently betray confusion on this point. All one need do is read the footnotes of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation to see what I mean.

    On of the problems I have with the term “unwritten tradition” is that I have yet to see one that has not been written down. And once it is, especially in an official document of a church which has already declared said tradition’s authority to be equal to that of the Bible, I contend that such a claim results in de facto additions to the canon of Scripture on the part of Roman Catholicism.

    I totally understand the passion you bring to this subject, given your background. Mine is perhaps somewhat different. I was raised during the period when the wake of Vatican II was rocking the boats of everyone in the church, to the point that many were thrown either into the water or into other boats, mostly evangelical ones.

    The council was announced two months before I was born, was convened when I was 3, and was closed when I was 6. I have a dim memory of the transition from the Latin mass, but more vivid recollections of the unveiling of women, the promulgation of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, the controversial revision of the Calendarium Romanum (among other things it excluded St. Christopher and implied that the central miracle of his life was a myth), the transition to nuns who neither wore habits nor assumed a saint’s name, and other changes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the crisis of authority that both prompted the council and resulted from it caused people to begin leaving Catholicism in unprecedented numbers.

    At the risk of over-generalizing, conservative Catholics I knew suffered from widespread disorientation and sometimes even depression over the changes. Meanwhile, liberal Catholics grabbed the football they thought was being passed to them and tried to run it into an endzone that featured married priests practicing birth control while reading Barth and Küng.

    Vatican II was spurred by the belief that significant concessions to modernity were required to ensure the long term survival of Catholicism. I think it became as obvious to insiders as it is to historians that as soon as it convened a power struggle between a pastorally-minded episcopacy and a traditionally-minded bureaucracy over the very question of whether was any reform needed was inevitable. It was a struggle both sides lost, and which exposed major faultlines that continue to jolt the church to this day. I think it also in no small way contributed to my descent into agnosticism as I entered my teen years.

    I think one of the final straws for me (and there were many) was during one of our legendary “guitar masses” of the ’70s the musical ensemble broke out into George Harrison’s Hare Krishna-inspired song “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” during the liturgy. Interpretations of Vatican II by parish priests were both diverse and confusing. One priest even told me that the council decided it was improper to evangelize people who already had their own religion. Did the Catholic church have anything distinctive to offer anymore?

    I certainly never heard anything close to what I would call a clear presentation of the gospel, as I indicate in an article I recently wrote that contains some autobiographical references. Neither would I have heard it had I remained in the church for the John Paul II/Benedict XVI backlash against Vatican II’s excesses that began nearly three years after I became an evangelical and was already at a Bible College.

    I think there’s a lesson to be learned for all denominations from the legacy of Vatican II: relevance is not a viable substitute for reality. If you offer something that is real, you will hold people over the long haul. If you offer something that is merely relevant, people will leave when you are no longer able to credibly adjust to the next fad in relevance. Relevance is fleeting; reality is final.

    Evangelicalism began borrowing pages out of Vatican II’s book in the late ’70s when it started transitioning to a generation of church planters who borrowed their techniques on youth ministry (think Bill Hybels, et. al.). Relevance is the meat and drink of youth ministry, but it defines it in terms of questions people ask before they’re old enough to reliably identify what is real. Now that the latest crop of youth ministers that has started to plant churches has thrown its lot in with postmodernism so as to not miss out on its share in the “Emerging Church,” we have an “evangelicalism” that questions everything from the authority of Scripture to the nature of the atonement to sinfulness of homosexuality to anything that was not nailed down during the Seeker-Sensitive movement.

    It’s little wonder that the Coming Home Network thinks it has so much to gloat about. I believe that the pendulum will swing the other way, of course, as it always has. Eventually a new John XXIII will assume the chair in Rome, one who will not remember John Paul II or Benedict XVI. And one day (probably sooner than they think) the Emerging Church will be absorbed into the great amorphous world of the WCC and never be heard from again. But until we stop entrusting our leadership to image makers and trend setters (which will be harder and harder to do as our culture becomes more media saturated), we will continue to mistake relevance for reality, and continue to set ourselves up for the next fall.

  31. johnbugay said,

    July 4, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Ron, thanks for that summary of your thought (?). It does seem as if there are two Roman Catholicisms: the backward-looking pre-1950’s Catholicism (from Trent to Vatican II) which, as sort of summarized by Pius XII in Humani Generis, and also the one of Vatican II, which has re-written the rules by which it understands itself (and which led to the confusion you mentioned), and in doing so, which has untethered itself from history, from reality, and which just is seeming to fly by its own lights.

    I’ll take a look at that article you linked to. I’m very glad to see that you are “out there” discussing these sorts of things.

  32. Jason said,

    September 12, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    If we look at the words of Calvin
    “We begin now to enter on the question so much debated, both anciently and at the present time—how we are to understand the words in which the `bread is called the body of Christ, and the wine his blood. This may be disposed of without much difficulty, if we carefully observe the principle which I lately laid down, viz., that all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all. That being fixed, we will confess, without doubt, that to deny that a true communication of Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Supper, is to render this holy sacrament frivolous and useless—an execrable blasphemy unfit to be listened to.” (
    We see that Calvin seems to imply something greater to the Lord’s Supper than just symbolism. So when the Catholic Church teaches that the Lord’s Supper is something more than mere symbolism they might be stumbling into truth? Or is the teaching authority of the Catholic Bishops in communion with the Pope speaking to a greater truth as testified by the Holy Scriptures and the Holy spirit? The idea of the Lord’s Supper is just a symbol a new development, yet no one wants to admit that and the development that the Lord’s Supper is merely a spiritual change is getting a stone’s thourgh from transubstantiation. If we believe there is a change that takes place in a man’s soul at baptism then the change in the Bread and Wine would not be unreasonable. God is all powerful after all.

    It seems I once heard that all Catholics who leave the Catholic Church leave not because of theology but rather based on moral teaching ( e.g. contraception, abortion, etc.). The fact Ron mentions Humanae Vitae is consistant with this idea. The Catholics that leave the Church do so because they don’t like some old crusty dude in Rome (the Pope) telling them that using birth control will send them to hell. It is not unlike telling a teenager that they can’t have the car for the party they want to go to. So their response is to discredit the authority of the crusty old dude (the Pope). If you look at his arguements they deal with authority.

    Now at least Protestants (who have never been Catholic) are honest and sincere about their questions of authority and its sources. That is a real question that honest people can discuss. Those former Catholics need to realize or rather be honest with them selves and say they are angry about not using the car to go to their party. And the conection they have is not unlike the kids at the party pissing and moaning about how mean their parents are. When these people are ready for real undestanding then there can be a discussion.

    PS The bible passages that were cited for Sola Scriptura don’t state or imply anything remotely close to only. Do you have any other bible passages?

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