Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #15

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #15 May 25, 2023

Eucharist & Sacrifice; Baptism; Salvation of Non-Christians(?); Confession; Theological Liberals (& Pope Francis); Ordination; Church Indefectibility 

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 4: Catholic Apologetics]

The counsel of Trent, part 2.

The NT sometimes uses sacrificial language for the eucharist because the eucharist is the new covenantal counterpart to the Passover. That doesn’t imply that the eucharist is sacrificial. Rather, that draws attention to the fact that Passover prefigures the eucharist. The eucharist replaces the Passover. [p. 120]

Let me try to follow this: if the NT language for the Eucharist uses sacrificial language, it proves that it’s not sacrificial, because it is the NT counterpart for the sacrificial Passover? Huh? If it didn’t have sacrificial language, then Hays would no doubt argue, “see! It’s not sacrificial!” But if it does use such language, Hays argues, “see! It’s not sacrificial!” Makes perfect sense, right? See my book chapter, The Sacrifice of the Mass: A Lamb . . . Slain [3-8-92; rev. May 1996]. St. Paul is quite clear:

1 Corinthians 10:16-21 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? [17] Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. [18] Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? [19] What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? [20] No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. [21] You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, [24] and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” [25] In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” [26] For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. [27] Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. [28] Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. [29] For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. [30] That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Protestants (as with John 6) try to undermine and ignore the obvious realism of these passages, but they fail. It’s too obvious.

Moreover, Scripture makes metaphorical usage of sacrificial imagery. For instance, Paul uses sacrificial language in Rom 12:1, but that’s figurative rather than literal. He’s not advocating that Christians commit self-immolation. [p. 120]

But that’s a different use of the word “sacrifice” altogether, and so is irrelevant to this discussion. It’s similar to Hebrews 13:16: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words defines the latter instance as “doing good to others and communicating with their needs.”

Jn 6 foreshadows the crucifixion (Jn 19) rather than the eucharist. Jesus is forecasting his death on the cross. [p. 120]

How does eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood relate to the crucifixion? Hays is really straining at gnats here. Jesus in John 6 compares Himself to the manna in the wilderness:

John 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [50] This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Jn 6 can’t refer to communion because Jesus says eating-drinking/believing-coming terminates hunger and thirst (v35). But communion doesn’t put an end to physical appetite. [p. 120]

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

Jesus is obviously talking about spiritual things: whoever comes to Him (believes in Him, partakes in the Eucharist) won’t have spiritual thirst and hunger any longer. Hays, in his woodenly literal, fundamentalist-type “exegesis” completely misses this. Compare:

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 7:37 . . . Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.”

So it must have reference to figurative consumption, which is permanently quenched and satiated. It other words: a metaphor for eternal life. [p. 120]

This is closer to the truth. Yes, those who come to and believe in Jesus will have eternal life. But they also obtain it through the Holy Eucharist; not merely belief in one’s head:

John 6:51 . . . if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

John 6:53-54 . . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; [54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life . . .

John 6:56-58 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. [57] As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. [58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

For that matter, Catholics don’t think one-time communion is spiritually sufficient. Rather, Catholics are supposed to attend Mass at least once a week. It doesn’t put an end to spiritual hunger and thirst. [p. 121]

Jesus didn’t say it was a one-time thing. He was saying that this was a means to eternal life: partaking of His flesh, made present again at the Sacrifice of the Mass. Hays again employs a silly wooden literalism.  Jesus and Paul talked of partaking in the Eucharist “often” (1 Cor 11:25-26, above). And it’s done in “remembrance” of Jesus, which also strongly implies a regular observance (1 Cor 11:24-25, see above).

[M]odern Catholicism doesn’t regard baptism as essential to salvation. [p. 121]

Nonsense. Nothing has changed, as usual. Only in Hays’ head has the Catholic Church supposedly evolved into totally different belief-systems. It’s a fantasy of his own making. The Church has always held to baptismal regeneration and its being essential to salvation because it’s clearly and repeatedly taught in the Bible. See also the Catholic Catechism on baptism. At the same time the Church has always also recognized rare exceptions to the rule, and baptism of desire, etc.

Indeed, in modern Catholicism, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists can be saved. [p. 121]

Indeed, in the Bible, Paul alludes to the possibility of salvation for non-Christians:

Romans 2:13-16 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

There are many other “ecumenical” motifs in the Bible, such as Jesus and the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-12 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

We also have the story of Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10. He is described as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God” (10:2), and it’s recorded that an “angel of God” spoke to him (10:3, 7, 30-32), saying, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (10:4). The Holy Spirit Himself told Peter that He had sent Cornelius’ three friends to him (10:17-20), and indeed the Holy Spirit “fell on” Cornelius and his friends (10:44-46). All of this was before he was baptized (10:47-48). Peter testifies: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35).

So none of this is “new” (supposedly only after Vatican II) at all. It’s right in the Bible. The Church fathers (especially Augustine) wrote about it, and so did St. Thomas Aquinas (13th c.). If Hays had actually taken time to study these matters, he would have known this. But here I am correcting him, and educating those who have only learned about Catholicism from Hays or other anti-Catholics. Hays knows the truth now.

There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century. This fact does not mean that it did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. Many replace the historical silence by appeal to theological or sociological considerations. [p. 121]

I don’t know who’s agreeing to that, seeing that infant baptism is taught in the Bible (a strong deduction, but still, I contend, taught).

[P]ublic confession . . . [is] hardly equivalent to confessing your sins to a priest in private. [p. 122]

As so often, Hays can’t see the forest for the trees. The essence of confession is declaring sins and repentance to a clergyman. Whether it is public or private is secondary and not of the essence. So public confession is a legitimate evidence for confession. For the true-blue Protestant (with some exceptions), any confession to men at all is senseless, unnecessary, and anathema; all must confess to God only. But the Bible teaches the former, so they have to grapple with it somehow.

You just pick a parish with a sympathetic priest or bishop. That’s easy to find. Lots of liberal priests and bishops to choose from. [p. 123]

See how Hays always has to highlight the liberal dissidents (that every group is blessed with)? Why is it he never seems to say, “lots of orthodox, faithful priests and bishops to choose from”? If I were recommending a Protestant denomination to someone intent to remain Protestant, I would tell him to avoid liberal denominations like the plague, and I’d direct him to one that is honest and actually follows its own stated beliefs; that is, one that is serious about the Christian faith and not just playing games. But for Hays, when he thought of “Catholic” all he could see in his head — for whatever inexplicable reason — was “liberals / heterodox / dissidents.” It’s like shopping for tomatoes at the grocery store and always picking out the squishy, blemished, half-rotten ones, and saying “those represent what tomatoes are supposed to be! They’re the real tomatoes.”

He [Trent Horn] tries to prooftext holy orders from 1 Tim 4:14. But that inference is complicated by alternative explanations: [p. 123]

The passage talks about the “gift” that Timothy had, which “was given” to him “by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon” him. Sounds like it could be ordination to me. But if Hays wants to discount it, then we have “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). Those offices are called “gifts” as well, and “ministry” and working for the Church is present in context. Did Hays wish to argue that no one is ordained; that there are no pastors, elders, etc.?

One sinking ship–or many lifeboats?

Protestants were hellbound. And that’s the position Rome used to take regarding everybody who wasn’t in communion with Rome. [p. 127]

That’s a lie, as already explained.

But nowadays, the Magisterium is flirting with hopeful universalism. [p. 127]

That’s a lie, too. There is no universalism taught in Catholicism. Universal atonement, however, is taught (the possibility of any individual to obtain salvation, given certain conditions).

Another problem with his [some Catholic real or alleged apologist’s] tweets is bigotry. To judge by what he said, it seems highly unlikely that he’s had many, if any, conversations, with evangelical philosophers, theologians, Bible scholars, and church historians. His uninformed comments are a textbook case of prejudice. In addition, he’s like a man standing in front of a burning house, which happens to be his own house, while he lectures the neighbors on how their house is an eyesore. We watch him stand there, scolding us, while right behind him we see his own house in flames. [p. 127]

Another problem with Steve Hays’ critiques of Catholicism is bigotry. To judge by what he said, it seems highly unlikely that he’s had many, if any, conversations, with Catholic philosophers, theologians, Bible scholars, apologists, or church historians. His uninformed comments are a textbook case of prejudice. In addition, he’s like a man standing in front of a collection of burning houses, which happens to be his own neighborhood, while he lectures the neighbors on how their house is an eyesore. We watch him stand there, scolding us, while right behind him we see his own row of houses in flames.

Pope Francis is an aggressive modernist . . . [Catholicism] is on fire, and the sitting pope is the arsonist. . . . Francis is unweaving the Catholicism of Benedict XVI and John-Paul II. [pp. 127-128]

He’s not a “modernist” at all, which is, I guess, the reason that Hays doesn’t document this beyond all doubt. It’s what he wishes to be the case, and so he believes it in the face of the facts. First Hays asserts that post-Vatican II Catholicism is already modernist, universalistic, etc. Now he does an about-face and makes out that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were orthodox and traditional, while Francis is a flaming liberal revolutionary. Whatever works! Facts be damned! Consistency: what’s that?

Hays cited a Catholic claiming that Protestants did not have a valid Eucharist, but that the Orthodox did, and asked, “Is that the position of post-Vatican II theology?” [p. 129] Yes it is. That’s why Protestants are not allowed to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass, because they have a different view and don’t agree with the Catholic view.

By the way, why does the Eucharist require a Catholic priest to be valid, but baptism does not? What’s the principle? Or is the distinction ad hoc? [p. 129]

Because the priest represents Jesus at the Last Supper (in persona Christi / alter Christus), and then presides over transubstantiation and the eucharistic sacrifice, whereby the one redeeming, sacrifice on the cross is supernatural made present. Baptism, on the other hand, was done by people other than Jesus from the beginning (“Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples”: Jn 4:2).

“Ecclesial deism”

[N]on-Catholics don’t believe God protects his denomination [Catholicism] from heresy or apostasy. [p. 131]

Non-Catholics don’t believe God protects any denomination or Christian communion from heresy or apostasy. This is a big problem, because the Bible teaches that the one true Church is indefectible.

We don’t believe Christ founded the Roman Catholic church in the first place. [p. 131]

What “church” did He found, then, since we know that He did so, by the words, “I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). All in one fell swoop, then, we know that there is such a thing as a “church” and it is Jesus’ own, and that it is indefectible. And we know that its first leader was Peter (the early part of the same verse).If the Catholic Church isn’t the one that Jesus is, which claimant is that? Hays could hardly deny that Jesus established a Church, when the text is so clear. The problem then becomes figuring out how the powers of death can’t touch the true Church, when Hays and Protestants deny that any Protestant denomination is infallible or indefectible (which is part and parcel of the definition of sola Scriptura). Quite the conundrum!

Protestants like me don’t believe that God withdrew his protection of his people from apostasy. To the contrary, God preserves the elect from apostasy. [p. 132]

That’s a meaningless abstract notion, since we don’t know for sure who the elect are, and those who think they are in the elect can’t agree on all doctrines anyway. So any sense of observable non-apostasy is nonsensical apart from a claimed denomination that “has it all right.” And that’s exactly what most Protestants will refuse to identify, because their own presuppositions disallow it.


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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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