Part II: Mr. White’s 7-Page Initial Reply (6 April 1995)
My book (2013, 395 pages; available for as low as $2.99).
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April 6, 1995
To: Dave Armstrong
Dear Mr. Armstrong:
I am in receipt of your letter of March 23rd, which, it seems, was sent to a number of ministries listed in the Directory of Cult Research Organizations. I quote what seems to be the thesis statement of your letter:
“I am disturbed by the tendency among cult researchers and other leaders in Protestantism to regard the Catholic Church as “apostate” and/or non-Christian, since it supposedly denies the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not worthy of men of your stature and theological training, and is also uncharitable, since it is slanderous and schismatic.”
I am enclosing two books I have written on this subject. The thesis of the first, The Fatal Flaw, is seemingly, from your perspective, “uncharitable” and “slanderous and schismatic.” However, I stand by the thesis, and insist that truth is only uncharitable, slanderous and schismatic to those who have embraced a belief that is not in accordance with God’s revelation. I’m sure the teachers in Galatia felt Paul was being most uncharitable in writing Galatians, but that did not stop him from doing so.
Personally, Dave, I find the Roman church’s anathemas, contained in the dogmatic canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, as well as those of Vatican I, to be most uncharitable. What is worse, since they are in direct opposition to the truth, I find them to be most reprehensible as well, and much more accurately entitled “schismatic,” since that term can only be meaningfully used with reference to a departure from the truth.
Before you dismiss my response as merely the ruminations of a fundamentalist “anti-Catholic,” let me point out that I have studied the Roman position quite thoroughly. Indeed, I have engaged in seventeen public debates against Roman apologists such as Dr. Mitchell Pacwa, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Gerry Matatics, and a friend of yours, Patrick Madrid (my copy of Surprised by Truth is even autographed!). I will be debating Robert Sungenis and Scott Butler at Boston College in a matter of weeks. I know the arguments of Catholic Answers quite well, I assure you.
Your story in Surprised by Truth is almost predictable, Dave, no offense intended. Your rejection of Roman theology was not based upon a knowledge of why, and hence was ripe for refutation. You admit you rejected the tenets of the Reformation when you say, “I had always rejected Luther’s notions of absolute predestination and the total depravity of mankind.” And your involvement in Operation Rescue simply gave you the opportunity of seeing that Roman Catholics can be real nice folks who really believe in the teachings of the Church in Rome. And the feeling of “brotherhood” created by standing against a common evil, joined with the simple fact that you were not truly a Protestant to begin with, is reason enough to explain your swimming the Tiber.
You wrote in your letter,
“Catholicism is not only Christian — it is far superior to Protestantism on biblical, historical, and rational grounds. Secondly, I would say that a position maintaining that Protestantism is Christian while Catholicism is not, is self-defeating, incoherent, and intellectually dishonest, if thought through properly (which is rarely the case). I never had this outlook as a Protestant for these very reasons.”
I’m sure you believe that the Roman position is superior on biblical grounds, but, of course, how could you believe otherwise? Rome claims final authority on biblical interpretation to begin with, so surely once you have accepted the claims made by Rome to ultimate religious authority, how could you believe anything other? Yet, I have to wonder about claiming biblical superiority when, in point of fact, entire dogmas, like the Immaculate Conception, Bodily Assumption of Mary, and Papal Infallibility lie, quite obviously, outside the realm of the Scriptures. Oh yes, I know all the arguments — see my refutation of Patrick’s attempt to come up with a biblical basis for the Immaculate Conception in our journal, Pros Apologian (I am enclosing a copy for you), and my debates with Dr. Fastiggi on Papal Infallibility and the Marian doctrines. What really strikes me as being “not worthy” of someone such as yourself, Dave, is stating that a system that could produce a document like Indulgentiarum Doctrinais in fact “biblically superior” to a system that could produce something like Hodge’s Commentary on Romans or Edwards’ sermons on the sovereignty of God.
As to being superior on “historical” grounds, I again have to beg to differ. I well know how easily Roman apologists cite patristic sources as if the early Fathers would have been subscribers to This Rock. However, I have found a woefully consistent practice of “anachronistic interpretation” in Roman apologetic works. I have found that normally the Roman apologist will find a phrase, say, having to do with Peter, and will read into that phrase the fully developed Roman concepts that, quite honestly, did not even exist at the time of the writing of that particular Father. What is worse, many such apologists are dependent almost completely upon what I call “quote books.” For example, when I debated Gerry Matatics for more than three hours on the patristic evidence regarding the Papacy in Denver during the Papal visit, he did not have any original source materials with him. Instead, he was utilizing compilations, such as Jurgens. This often led him to grave errors. Indeed, one time he stood before the audience counting index entries in Jurgens and telling the audience that such-and-such number of early Fathers supported his position, and that on the basis of index entries in Jurgens! An amazing sight to behold, I assure you. Be that as it may, I believe it would be relatively easy to dispute such a broad statement as the one you made in your letter.
As to the use of the broad term “Christian” with reference to Roman Catholicism, such a term, due to its ambiguity in this situation, is less than useful. Faithful in preaching the apostolic message of the gospel? Certainly not, and that is the issue, Dave. If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called “Christian,” then please go ahead and use the phrase. But please understand that if a person shares the perspective of the epistle to the churches of Galatia they will have to hold to a different understanding, and hence may not be as quick to use the term “Christian” of such a system.
You then listed a number of what you called “insuperable difficulties of anti-Catholicism.” I would like to briefly comment on each one.
1) The Canon of the Bible was determined by the Catholic Church. Thus, “sola Scriptura” necessarily requires a Tradition and Catholic (conciliar and papal) Authority. Not to mention the preservation of Bible manuscripts by monks.
That is a common argument, but it is a sadly misinformed argument, Dave. The canon of the NT may have been recognized by the Christian Church (note I specifically limited that statement 1) to the NT, as the OT canon long pre-existed the Christian church, and 2) to the passive voice, “recognized” not “determined” as you used it), but that is a long stretch from the point you and your compatriots not only would like to make, but must make to establish your position. First, the canon of the NT pre-existed either Hippo or Carthage, see Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter for just one example. Secondly, your entire argument falls apart when we ask if your theory holds true for the Old Testament. If the OT did not require conciliar and papal authority, why would the NT? And what is more, please note how easily, and yet without any basis, you insert the capitalized form of Tradition into your argument. Are you saying the canon is an apostolic tradition? If so, which apostle gave the canon? If not, are you not admitting that it was derived at a later time? Roman apologists take all sorts of different positions on these topics, especially when it comes to the nature and extent of tradition. In light of your third point I think you might seek to do some “house-cleaning” before condemning Protestants for their variety of opinions. Oh, one other item: the Catholic Church of the fourth century was a far cry from the Roman Catholic Church of the 20th, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, you constantly mentioned Newman’s theories in your Surprised by Truth article, and it would seem to me that anyone who recognizes the necessity of embracing Newman’s hypothesis recognizes the vast differences between primitive and modern beliefs on many important subjects.
2) At what moment did Catholicism becomes apostate? At John’s death? In 313? With Gregory the Great and the ascendancy of papal power? In the “Dark Ages” of c.800-1 100? With the Inquisition or Crusades? Or at the Council of Trent? And how can anyone know for sure when?
What’s even more important, why does it matter? It was obviously a process, just as the papacy developed, changed, and grew over time. Do we know for sure when the Pharisees became corrupt? Do we need to know? Of course not.
3) 23,000 denominations and the scandalous organizational anarchy, schism, and theological relativism inherent within virtually disproves Protestantism in and of itself.
Does the theological relativism in modern Roman Catholicism disprove it on the same grounds, Dave? Does the fact that you can get about as many opinions from Roman priests as you can get from Protestant ministers mean something to you? As you well know, the Watchtower Society makes a similar claim. Why is their claim invalid and yet yours is not?
4) Protestantism has only been around for 477 years!
And modern Romanism, replete with such theological novums [sic] as Papal Infallibility and the Bodily Assumption of Mary, has been around for less time than that, Dave. It really doesn’t seem like your arguments are very consistent, does it?
In your fifth point you mention the Inquisition “disproving” Catholicism. The problem with your point is this, Dave: we Protestants don’t claim infallibility. Rome does. There is a big difference. Please note the following comparison:
IV LATERAN COUNCIL
Convicted heretics shall be handed over for due punishment to their secular superiors, or the latter’s agents. . . . Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy the same indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land.
This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.
Not only do we see the obvious conflict between these two ecumenical” councils, but we see that the IVth Lateran Council specifically taught that those who would take up the cross in the effort to exterminate heretics would enjoy the same indulgence as those who went to the Holy Land. Now, Dave, surely you can see the vast difference between the silliness of, say, a “Protestant” like Benny Hinn teaching his ideas as facts, and an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church teaching that indulgences would be given to those who took up the cause of exterminating the heretics (i.e., simple Christian folks who were slaughtered at the behest of the Roman hierarchy). What is more, is not the granting of indulgences based upon the exercise of the keys? Does this not then touch upon the very faith of the Roman church? I believe it does.
Your sixth point was little more than a statement that you feel Protestants “inconsistently and dishonestly appeal” to various of the early Fathers. Well, I feel that Roman Catholics “inconsistently and dishonestly appeal” to the very same Fathers. So? What do you do with citations such as the following?
Regarding the Papacy itself, and Matthew 16:18, Oscar Cullmann said: “He who proceeds without prejudice, on the basis of exegesis and only on this basis, cannot seriously conclude that Jesus here had in mind successors of Peter. . . . On exegetical grounds we must say that the passage does not contain a single word concerning successors of Peter . . . The intent of Jesus leaves us no possibility of understanding Matthew 16:17ff. in the sense of a succession determined by an episcopal see.” (Peter: Disciple, Apostle, and Martyr (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), 207, 236.)
On page 162 of the same work Cullmann said: “We thus see that the exegesis that the Reformation gave . . . was not first invented for their struggle against the papacy; it rests upon an older patristic tradition.
Johann Joseph lgnaz von Dollinger, in his work The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1869), 74, asserted:
“Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the Gospels (Matt 16:18, John 21:17), not a single one applies them to the Roman bishops as Peter’s successors. How many Fathers have busied themselves with these texts, yet not one of them whose commentaries we posses — Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret, and those whose interpretations are collected in catenas — has dropped the faintest hint that the primacy of Rome is the consequence of the commission and promise to Peter! Not one of them has explained the rock or foundation on which Christ would build His Church of the office given to Peter to be transmitted to his successors, but they understood by it either Christ Himself, or Peter’s confession of faith in Christ; often both together. Or else they thought Peter was the foundation equally with all the other Apostles, the twelve being together the foundation-stones of the church (Apoc. xxi.1 4). The Fathers could the less recognize in the power of the keys, and the power of binding and loosing, any special prerogative or lordship of the Roman bishop, inasmuch a — what is obvious to any one at first sight — they did not regard the power first given to Peter, and afterwards conferred on all the Apostles, as any thing peculiar to him, or hereditary in the line of Roman bishops, and they held the symbol of the keys as meaning just the same as the figurative expression of binding and loosing.”
Karlfried Froehlich wrote,
“The earlier exegetical history of Matt. 16:18-19, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17 was largely out of step with the primatial interpretation of these passages. . . . The mainstream of exegesis followed an agenda set by patristic precedent, especially Augustine, but also other Western Fathers. . . . The understanding of these Petrine texts by biblical exegetes in the mainstream of the tradition was universally non-primatial before Innocent III . . . . It was the innovative exegetical argumentation of this imposing pope which began to change the picture.” (St. Peter, Papal Primacy and the Exegetical Tradition 1151-1350). Found in Christopher Ryan, ed., The Religious Role of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities 1150-1300 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute, 1989), 42, 4.)
One truly wonders about blanket statements regarding Protestant misuse of patristic sources, Dave.
As to point number seven, I would direct you especially to my discussion of the “development of doctrine” in the enclosed book, Answers to Catholic Claims, pp.63-73. I would also like to ask if you have read Salmon’s refutation of Newman in his work, The Infallibility of the Church?
Finally, do you really feel point number eight carries sufficient weight to establish anything?
You write that sola fide is not the gospel. Yet, it is the clear record of the NT that it is the gospel. Let’s say you are right that there wasn’t a gospel around for 1500 some odd years for the sake of argument. Would this be sufficient reason for you to reject the NT witness to that gospel, Dave? You are, of course, not right to say that there was no gospel for those 1500 years. Even if you were to ignore Wycliffe and Hus, and all those murdered by Rome in the intervening centuries, what do you do with Clement of Rome?
“They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Epistle of Clement of Rome, 32)
You then repeated some well-worn slogans regarding Luther along with the first canon of the Council of Trent on justification, and concluded, “This would seem to be sufficient to put the matter to rest. But blind prejudice and anti-Catholicism stubbornly persist.” The problem, Dave, is that you need to also quote canons 4, 5, 9, 12, 14, 1 5, 1 7, 24, 30, 32, and 33. I quote just a few of these:
Canon 24: If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.
Canon 32: If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.
Canon 33: If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema.
This kind of teaching has led Roman Catholic theologians to conclude:
“Man, for his part, in order to arrive at full sanctification, must cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit through faith, hope, love of God and neighbor, and prayer; but he must also perform other ‘works.’ It is a universally accepted dogma of the Catholic Church that man, in union with the grace of the Holy Spirit must merit heaven by his good works. These works are meritorious only when they are performed in the state of grace and with a good intention.” (Matthias Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity, p.262).
“We have shown that according to the Holy Scripture the Christian can actually merit heaven for himself by his good works. But we must realize that these works have to be performed in the state of grace and with a good intention.” (Ibid., p.263).
Again we find that having an allegedly “infallible guide” does not result in unanimity of opinion. The point that you seem to have missed as a “Protestant,” Dave, and now miss as a Roman Catholic, is that the Reformation was never about the necessity of grace. Did you ever read such monumental works as Calvin’s Institutio when you were a Protestant, or as you were seeking “answers” to the claims of Rome? If you had, you would know that no one has ever said that Rome teaches that grace is unnecessary. That is not the issue. The issue, Dave, is the sufficiency of God’s grace apart from man’s works. That, my friend, is the issue that you still have to face (see pp.36-37 of The Fatal Flaw).
Just today my seventh book came out, The King James Only Controversy. I will be quite busy for some time due to the release of the book. However, I may be making an East Coast swing to do some debates with KJV Only advocates, and I am always willing to engage Roman apologists as well. Would you be willing to defend the statements you made in your letter in public debate, Dave? Your letterhead included the phrase “Catholic Apologist” (I note in a font very reminiscent of that used by Catholic Answers). If that is the case, might you be interested in engaging in some very practical apologetics? I would be happy to debate sola scriptura, the Papacy, justification by faith, the Marian doctrines, etc. Shall we discuss the possibility?
I am sending this letter to you along with the noted materials in the US Mail. However, I am also going to fax it to you so that you will receive it quickly. I am also sending a copy to Eric Pement, should anyone contact him regarding your mailing to the individuals in the cult directory. In fact, I would be more than happy to make this letter available to anyone who wishes to see a brief response to the claims you made in your letter.
I have added your name to our mailing list. Our next Pros Apologian will be a full-length rebuttal of Patrick Madrid’s article, The White Man’s Burden, replete with a defense of the doctrine of sola scriptura. That edition has already been written, and is simply in the proof-reading stage.
I am sure, Dave, that you are quite happy right now in the bosom of Rome. There is a wonderful feeling, I’m sure, that accompanies being told with infallible certainty what to believe. But I simply hope, Dave, as I hope for those who have embraced the same kind of authoritarian claims from the Prophet in Salt Lake City or the Governing Body in Brooklyn, that you will realize that your decision to embrace that allegedly infallible authority was in and of itself not infallible. You might well be wrong. Think about that my friend.
Justified by faith and hence at peace,
Recte Ambulamus ad Veritatem Evangelii