Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #14

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #14 May 24, 2023

Canonicity; God’s Guidance; Ancient Contraception; Relics; Intercession of Saints

The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) apologist, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism a collection of articles from his site — has graciously been made available for free. On 9 September 2006, Hays was quite — almost extraordinarily — charitable towards me. He wrote then:

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel. . . . I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable. I also don’t dislike him. . . . I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind. In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent. For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind. 

Two-and-a-half years later, starting in April 2009 and up through December 2011 (in the following quotations) his opinion radically changed, and he claimed that I have “an evil character,” am “actually evil,” “ego-maniac, narcissist,” “idolater,” “self-idolater,” “hack who pretends to be a professional apologist,” given to “chicanery,” one who doesn’t “do any real research,” “a stalwart enemy of the faith . . .  no better than [the atheists] Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” with an intent to “destroy faith in God’s word,” “schizophrenic,” “emotionally unhinged,” one who “doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation,” “has no peace of mind,” “a bipolar solipsist,” “split-personality,” and a “bad” man. He wasn’t one to mince words! See more gory details.

I feel no need whatsoever to reciprocate these silly and sinful insults. I just wanted the record to be known. I’ve always maintained that Hays was a very intelligent man, but habitually a sophist in methodology; sincere and well-meaning, but tragically and systematically wrong and misguided regarding Catholicism. That’s what I’m addressing, not the state of his heart and soul (let alone his eternal destiny). It’s a theological discussion. This is one of many planned critiques of his book (see my reasons why I decided to do this). Rather than list them all here, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.


[Chapter 3: Competing Paradigms]

Why I’m still Protestant

Let’s begin with an admission. As a Protestant, it would be nice to have more theological clarity and certainty on some issues. [p. 106]

Yes it would. And if that is the case, then maybe, just maybe, and perhaps God intended for Christians to have more certainty on those topics? And to not have to wonder about so many things because of competing, contradictory denominational claims? For my part, I think the Bible plainly teaches that God intended a profound doctrinal and institutional unity. I lay out the case in my articles critiquing denominationalism (linked in #13).

[D]oes anyone seriously think that Tobit or Bel and the Dragon is the equal of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs? [p. 107]

More or less the entire early Church (minus a few dissenters like Jerome) thought they were part of the Deuterocanon.

The problem with asking “who decides” [the canon] is that it only pushes the same question back a step: Who decides “who decides”? You decide who decides! A convert to Catholicism decided to make the Magisterium the decider. So the convert is the ultimate decider. [p. 107]

This is the old “infallible regress” argument that I have already dealt with (I won’t keep repeating myself in these critiques). But here’s a few more articles I didn’t link to before:

The Protestant “Non-Quest” for Certainty [3-15-06; abridged and links added on 7-12-20]

Glorying in Uncertainty in Modern Protestantism (Dialogue with a Calvinist) [11-11-09]

Radically Unbiblical Protestant “Quest for Uncertainty” [2-12-14]

It’s a myth in the first place. Jesus decided to make Peter the head (“rock”) of His one “church.” That means central authority, and hierarchical authority (because the other disciples represented the authority of bishops, lesser than the popes, but working together with them). And the system perpetuates itself by apostolic succession (first seen in the disciples choosing Matthias to replace Judas). The individual Catholic isn’t arbitrarily deciding on anything. He or she simply bows to what was demonstrably true from the beginning of the Church, instituted by our Lord Jesus, and described in inspired Scripture in Matthew 16. The Jerusalem Council also demonstrates how this authority was intended to work. It was the early councils and popes — not atomistic individuals taking polls — that decided the extent of the biblical canon.

A charismatic expects that God will give us certainty, clarity, and evidence whenever we need it or ask for it. God will answer all our prayers. He will perform miracles upon request. He will give us a sign. So the charismatic goes the Catholic one better. [p. 108]

That is an uninformed charismatic; on the fringes. I attended charismatic churches as a Protestant and now as a Catholic I am a member of a charismatic parish. I critiqued charismatic excesses and errors as a Protestant early as 40 years ago, when I started doing serious apologetics. And I utilized research from other charismatics who were fighting distortions of the mainstream charismatic body of thought. Once again, it’s the notorious Hays “broad brush”: claiming to be an expert on things he knows little about.

[Chapter 4: Catholic Apologetics]

Why be Catholic?

1. I’m not going to rehash 1 Tim 3:15. I’ve discussed that here: [link] [p. 113]

Yeah, I’ve discussed it many times, too:

1 Timothy 3:15: Sola Scriptura or Visible Church Authority? [10-2-07]

1 Timothy 3:15 = Church Infallibility (vs. Steve Hays) [5-14-20]

I Timothy 3:15 vs. Sola Scriptura & Jason Engwer [10-4-21]

1 Timothy 3:15 = Infallible Church (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [6-3-22]

Turretin, 1 Timothy 3:15, Infallibility, & Eisegesis [8-24-22]

Church = Foundation of the Truth (1 Tim 3:15) (vs. L. Banzoli) [2-9-23]

And I’ll guarantee that Hays didn’t address several parts of my argument.

Regarding the Johannine verses [14:26; 16:13]:

i) The promise is made to the Eleven, not to “the Church”.

A Catholic might counter that the promise extends to the successors of the Eleven. If the papacy/Roman episcopate is an extension of the Apostolate, then the promise extends to the papacy/Roman episcope.

ii) Problem is, there’s nothing in these verses, or John’s Gospel generally, or 1-3 John, to warrant that extension. [p. 113]

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 20:21 . . . As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. [the next two verses have Jesus granting them the Holy Spirit and the power to absolve sins]

To my knowledge, early Christian opposition to contraception was inseparable from opposition to abortion because, before modern medical science, it was impossible in principle or practice to separate the two. So that’s obsolete. [p. 114]

To the contrary, the ancients were well aware of the distinction between the two (though many — like Luther and Calvin centuries later — regarded both as “murder”):

There was no lack of birth control in the ancient world. I don’t think that there is any type of contraception known today that was not known in the ancient world: pharmacological, barrier (both chemical and mechanical), coitus interruptus, sodomy, sterilization, etc. For a brief introduction to the subject by the foremost historian of the subject, see John M. Riddle, et al., “Ever Since Eve . . .: Birth Control in the Ancient World”, Archaeology, March/April 1994, pp. 29-35. We really do underestimate the ingenuity of our ancestors. While in the past these were far from always effective or reliable, people kept trying. See John M. Riddle: Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance (1992), and Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West (1997).

For centuries, historians paid no attention to ancient accounts that claimed certain plants provided an effective means of birth control. . . . Modern laboratory analysis of various plants [including silphium, asafoetida, seeds of Queen Anne’s lace, pennyroyal, willow, date palm, pomegranate, inter al.], however, gives us reason to believe that the classical potions were effective, and that women in antiquity had more control over their reproductive lives than previously thought. (Riddle, op. cit., p. 30)

There is a consensus in the Catholic Church. The Orthodox churches not in communion with Rome are outside of this consensus:

The propositions constituting a condemnation of contraception are, it will be seen, recurrent. Since the first clear mention of contraception by a Christian theologian, when a harsh third-century moralist accused a pope of encouraging it, the articulated judgment has been the same. In the world of the late Empire known to St. Jerome and St. Augustine, in the Ostrogothic Arles of Bishop Caesarius and the Suevian Braga of Bishop Martin, in the Paris of St. Albert and St. Thomas, in the Renaissance Rome of Sixtus V and the Renaissance Milan of St. Charles Borromeo, in the Naples of St. Alphonsus Liguori and Liege of Charles Billuart, in the Philadelphia of Bishop Kenrick, and in the Bombay of Cardinal Gracias, the teachers of the Church have taught without hestitation or variation that certain acts preventing procreation are gravely sinful. No Catholic theologian has ever taught, ‘Contraception is a good act.’ The teaching on contraception is clear and apparently fixed forever. (John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists [1965], p. 6)

The use of contraception was condemned by church fathers. (Contraception: Early Church Teaching, by William Klimon; see much more in this article)

I think the NT does allow for divorce (for desertion and infidelity). [p. 114]

It does not:

Biblical Evidence for the Prohibition of Divorce [2004]

Nor did the early Church allow it along with remarriage:

Divorce: Early Church Teaching [Oct. 1998]

The counsel of Trent, part 2

[Hays tackles prooftexts for relics (2 Kgs 13:21; Acts 5:15; 19:11-12)]

God can assign a supernatural effect to a natural object. If you tampered with sacred furniture in the tabernacle, there were catastrophic consequences. That, however, creates no presumption that natural objects produce supernatural effects. To the contrary, that’s very rare. [p. 118]

They would only do that if God intervened and wanted them to. And according to the Bible, He certainly does. 2 Kings 13:21 describes a dead man being raised by mere contact with the prophet Elisha’s bones. Acts 5:15 strongly implies that Peter’s shadow could heal people. And Acts 19:11-12 teaches that “handkerchiefs or aprons” that touched Paul’s body healed the sick and caused demons to depart the possessed. If all of these are not proofs of the truthfulness of the Catholic belief in relics, I don’t know what is. Hays can’t defeat them with one of his irrelevant, sophistical faux-distinctions.

None of [these] prooftexts involve a divine command or apostolic command. In the passages in Acts, people take the initiative. They take it upon themselves to do this. [p. 118]

The command aspect is perfectly irrelevant. The fact remains that these inanimate objects connected to holy men and saints and apostles caused miracles to occur. If God didn’t want such an outcome, then the miracles would have been condemned as sorcery or what-not in the passage (or would have never occurred in the first place). But they are not. There is not the slightest hint that these events are unsavory or impermissible. In the Old Testament we see a physical item very similar to a relic, and it’s by God’s command: the bronze serpent:

Numbers 21:8-9 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

So, command or no, God heals through objects. Here’s another example where oil is an instrument of healing:

James 5:14-15 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; [15] and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

Their attitude reflects folk theology. Superstitious belief in sympathetic magic. That things that come in contact with a wonder-worker store magic energy. [p. 118]

Exactly as I anticipated, Hays pulls out the silly “sorcery” card. Again, if these things were examples of that, then the text itself (and/or the apostles) would have condemned it, just as Simon’s desire for what he thought was mere magic powers (by purchasing them!) was roundly condemned (Acts 8:9-24). So Hays’ desperate attempt to evade the obvious falls flat. Readers, decide who has the better case from Scripture!

Problem is, these prooftexts are a double-edged sword. How often are ailing people healed when they make a pilgrimage to a Catholic reliquary? When was the last time a dead person was revived by contact with the relic of a Catholic saint? How often are people healed when the pope’s shadow falls on their sickbed? Why doesn’t the pope empty the Gemelli of patients by paying a visit every so often to cast his healing shadow on the patients? [pp. 118-119]

This is the old David Hume-like trick or sophistry that “reasons” as follows: “if a supernatural event is very rare, we ought not to believe that it can ever happen, or ever be in God’s will.” Rarity doesn’t disprove the possibility and actuality of miracles. Frequency is another topic altogether.

[H]e [Trent Horn] justifies the intercession of the saints by asserting the possibility that the saints are aware of what’s happening to us. But there are basic problems with that appeal:

i) It’s possible that an anonymous benefactor will bail me out if I go into debt. Indeed, anonymous benefactors actually exist. Would it therefore be prudent for me to go into debt, in the expectation that an anonymous benefactor will cover my expenses? It’s possible that if I forego cancer therapy, my cancer will undergo spontaneous remission. Indeed, that happens every so often. Would it therefore be prudent for me to forego cancer therapy in the expectation that my cancer will undergo spontaneous remission?

The fact that we can’t eliminate a possibility isn’t justification to count on that possibility being a reality or probability. That’s dangerous make-believe and wishful thinking. [p. 119]

I think Trent made a much weaker argument than he could have in this instance. It’s not just a guess. We know they are aware of earthly events, and we do from inspired revelation: Hebrews 12:1. Here is what I wrote about that passage in my 2004 book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (pp. 141-142):

Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,”

Catholics believe that the saints in heaven are aware of happenings on the earth. They are not isolated and removed from earthly realities, but intimately involved in them, as Hebrews 12:1 strongly suggests. Witnesses is the Greek word martus, from which is derived the English word martyr. The reputable Protestant Greek scholars Marvin Vincent and A. T. Robertson comment on this verse as follows:

[T]he idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer’s picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith . . . watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, IV, 536).

“Cloud of witnesses” (nephos marturon) . . . The metaphor refers to the great amphitheatre with the arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud. The martures here are not mere spectators (theatai), but testifiers (witnesses) who testify from their own experience (11:2, 4-5, 33, 39) to God’s fulfilling promises as shown in chapter 11 (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, V, 432).

This completely defeats Hays’ reply because his premise is wrong (so was Trent’s, for that matter).

While it’s possible for God to reveal my situation to a “saint”, there are built-in limitations to what a saint can know. To be a creature is to be finite. Even an omnipotent God is restricted by the medium if he works through a natural medium. That’s a self-imposed limitation. God can often circumvent a natural medium. But if God is working through human beings, then there are things that an omnipotent being can’t do via that medium. [p. 119]

I’ve already addressed how God can cause saints to be out of time when they are in heaven; no problem at all. Even in the natural world, people can be in different time-frames if one travels at the speed of light for a while (Einstein’s theory of relativity). 1 John 1:3 states that “we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him . . .” “Like” God? One way we could be more like Him is for God to give us the ability to be aware of the earth after we die, due in large part to being outside of time, as He is.

There’s no reason to think the Virgin Mary can simultaneously process millions of prayers in hundreds of foreign languages. That’s inhumane. [p. 119]

Yeah? How so? God can make us learn different languages or understand languages we don’t know. He did that with the gift of tongues in the book of Acts.

Invoking divine omnipotence doesn’t solve the problem, since there’s an upper limit on what it means to be human. [p. 119]

Being outside of time is within the range of possibilities for humans. It doesn’t involve us being omniscient or omnipotent; just outside of time!

Assuming the departed can intercede for us, [p. 119]

That’s not even much of an assumption. If they have a “lively interest and sympathy” in us, and lend “heavenly aid”: as Presbyterian linguist Marvin Vincent has stated, then that directly ties into the possibility of praying for us.

the obvious candidate wouldn’t be a Christian who lived and died long before we were born, but a dead relative who knows who we are. [p. 119]

That doesn’t follow if the saints in heaven are much increased in knowledge as well as charity. Hays thinks in purely human terms, but we’re talking about heaven, and how saints will be transformed there:

1 Corinthians 2:9, 11 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,” . . . [11] . . . So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

By contrast, the efficacy of evangelical intercessory prayer isn’t based on the merit of the prayer partners. The only merit is the merit of Christ. [p. 120]

That’s not biblical teaching. The most obvious example of merit affecting prayer is James 5:16-18:

. . . The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. [17] Eli’jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. [18] Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.

But there is much, much more than that. I compiled as much as I could find in these papers of mine: Bible on Praying Straight to God (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [9-21-22] and Why the Bible Says the Prayers of Holy People Are More Powerful [National Catholic Register, 3-19-19].


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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.

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