Karl Keating Botches Cyprian “Infallibility Citation”

Karl Keating Botches Cyprian “Infallibility Citation” October 27, 2021

Elitist (not pop!) apologist Scott Eric Alt-Left has made a good point about Keating apparently botching a citation purported to be stated by the Church father St. Cyprian (c. 210-258), and he complains:

[A]n entirely bogus quotation attributed to St. Cyprian of Carthage, . . .  gets quoted and requoted across Catholic apologetics cyberspace — apparently without anyone bothering to check out the citation. . . .  This fake quotation is meant to prove that St. Cyprian taught papal infallibility:

Alt-Left notes that none of five separate patristic sources that he checked contains these words as Keating “cited” them. Perhaps he became aware of this deficiency in Keating’s book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (1988) from a forum page on OrthodoxChristianity.Net (dated 2-2-09). Someone cited the “Keating version” and “Irish Hermit” pontificated:

Unfortunately this is one of those mangled and made up quotes which the Orthodox have spent years on Catholic Answers Forum trying to correct.  Saint Cyprian never said that.  Some modern Catholic apologists have made it up.  It is not an honest way of discussing things with the Orthodox -I don’t mean you but I mean the original people who made up the quote. . . .

As someone says on the thread:  “If a college student did this on a paper, he could be EXPELLED.”  And they blame Karl Keating for it, although I am not sure just who is guilty.  Keating may have picked it up from someone else.

Keating cited St. Cyprian in his book as follows:

Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, asked: “Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” [footnote: Cyprian, Epistulae 59 (55), 14] (p. 217)

Oddly, the notation of “59 (55), 14” occurs in Vol. I of The Faith of the Early Fathers (1970, p. 232), by William A. Jurgens, but Keating didn’t follow Jurgens’ version of the letter in question. Jason Evert repeated the same error in a 2002 article for Catholic Answers.

[later note from 11-3-21: the folks at Catholic Answers read this article. Two staff members contacted me and said that they would be removing four references to this “citation” that were found on their site (including the above one, which is no longer there). Moreover, they will be sending a note to Ignatius Press: publisher of Keating’s book where this error seems to have originated in more recent times. Everyone makes mistakes. What is more important is how we deal with them. Catholic Answers doesn’t deserve the derision that Alt-Left and other “elitist cynics” have been pouring upon them]

Alt-Left then indignantly (?) opines:

Evidently someone — we’ll never know who — deliberately altered Cyprian’s wording so as to create a proof-text for papal infallibility. Mr. Keating did not verify it, his book started a movement, and a fake quotation spread through the apologetics subculture like a coronavirus. . . .

All this is one more reason why I say caveat emptor when it comes to pop apologists. A lot of dubious quotations get circulated and few people try to trace them back to a primary source. They are repeated on faith (and also, to be honest, out of laziness). And they acquire the pseudo authority that comes from repetition.

But this is a lesson that apologists need to start acting more like careful scholars than like robotic regurgitators who mindlessly reshare fake quote memes on Facebook.

Alt-Left had written (with derisive exaggeration) at the beginning of the article: “Its addiction to fake quotations is an indictment on pop apologetics.”

Just for the record (since Alt-Left has recently made a scathing attack on my work), I searched for this version of Cyprian’s words (or alleged ones) on my blog, and my books, Catholic Church Fathers: Patristic and Scholarly Proofs (2007) — in which I cited the Schaff ANF version, pp. 257-258 — and Biblical Proofs for an Infallible Church and Papacy (2012), and it wasn’t to be found.

In the very next paragraph, Keating cites — as he often has throughout the years — the three-volume Radio Replies by Fr. Leslie Rumble and Fr. Charles M. Carty (Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books, 1979; originally from 1938, 1940, and 1942). In fact, it appears this is where Keating (or someone doing research for him) obtained his “citation.” In volume 1, question 429 (unknown page), Rumble and Carty wrote:

St. Cyprian, about 256, wrote of the See of Rome, “Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come.” [no question mark in original]

I vigorously searched Google Books, where many 19th century books can be found and wholly or partially accessed and could find no earlier reference to the “Keating citation” before Rumble and Carty. I would guess that they got it from somewhere else (some more obscure patristic collection or Catholic apologetics work); I sure hope that they didn’t merely mold it to their liking: which would be dishonest. We simply don’t know.

But it’s exceedingly likely that they are the source that Keating used. He trusted them, but didn’t double-check, and so unfortunately included in his book what can only be viewed as shoddy and unsubstantiated patristic research. If I were him, I would rectify the mistake and address it publicly: because many others are citing it, as I discovered while searching for the alleged quotation. Unfortunately, it can’t be changed until such time as another edition of his book is published.


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Photo credit: [Amazon]


Summary: Karl Keating offered a citation of St. Cyprian that can’t be verified from standard patristic collections. He likely got it from 1940s radio priests Rumble & Carty.

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