Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #7

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #7 May 17, 2023

Bogus Charges of Catholic Eisegesis; Biblical Types & Symbols; Mystical Church; “Full of Grace”; Protestant False Dichotomies

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, knowing full well my history of being condemned and vilified by other anti-Catholics (and his buddies) like James White, Eric Svendsen, and James Swan, 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. . . . The term “apostasy” carries with it a heavy presumption that the apostate is a hell-bound reprobate. I think it’s unwarranted to assume that all Catholics or converts to Catholicism are damned.

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 2: Exposition]

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Fantasia

In this post I’ll comment on some representative passages in Robert Barron’s Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (2011). [p. 59]

I won’t get into defending Bp. Barron’s words (that’s for him to do), but I’ll comment on some of Hays’ rejoinders.

. . . theological vacuum in the hierarchy. So few bishops seem to be believers, even by Catholic standards. [p. 59]

Really? What’s his evidence for that? Hays wrongheadedly claimed that I wasn’t a bona fide orthodox Catholic, either, but rather, a weird, artificial “hybrid” of evangelicalism + Catholicism. This was one of his most annoying claims sent my way. So I’m not inclined at all to accept his report, prima facie, about “few bishops” being good Catholics. Of course, his burden would be to demonstrate this, and — almost needless to say —  he didn’t. That wasn’t part of the game, the way he played it.

Barron is an eloquent, seductive mythmaker. [p. 59]

That’s “anti-Catholic-speak” for “he makes good arguments, that I can’t answer, so I’ll immediately start in with the ad hominem name-calling and poisoning of the well.”

His biblical prooftexts for Catholicism detach the text from the original meaning, and reattachment it to “development”. [p. 59]

This is the usual boogeyman of development of doctrine, that anti-Catholics, virtually to a person, can’t bring themselves to understand. They invariably claim that it’s a rationalization, after the fact, of “distinctive Catholic” doctrines.

Once theology is cut off from the sacred text, it takes on a life of its own, in ever-bolder flights of fantasy. . . . No longer constrained by the reality of revelation, it goes wherever imagination takes it. [p. 59]

I couldn’t agree more; but I think this is rampant among Protestants, not Catholics. These are the folks whose two “pillars” of belief are sola Scriptura and sola fide: neither of which is taught in the Bible at all. The more honest among them are now openly admitting, particularly, that sola Scriptura isn’t taught in the Bible, but that it doesn’t matter; they will accept it anyway as one of their primary premises. In other words, it’s one of many extrabiblical Protestant traditions of men. So for Hays to project this shortcoming onto Bp. Barron and Catholics generally, is the height of irony.

The exercise has a snowball effect, as seminal errors accumulate and magnify. [p. 59]

Indeed it does, and this sort of effect is one of the reasons that Protestants keep dividing and forming yet more denominations, into the many thousands. Catholics have a magisterium and system of authority that makes it clear what the Catholic Church believes, and what every Catholic is duty-bound to accept.

In some ways, Barron’s book is a throwback to Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianity. An apologetic heavy on aesthetics. Catholicism is too pretty not to be true! [p. 59]

A clever demeaning insult . . .

“Icon” is a loaded word that’s acquired connotations it didn’t have in Pauline usage. So Barron’s rendering is anachronistic. [p. 60]

It simply means “image.” Hays himself had written a little bit before: “St. Paul referred to Jesus as “the icon of the invisible God.” That’s Colossians 1:15. Most translations render the Greek eikon there as “image.”

“Sacramental” is another loaded word that’s foreign to Paul’s statement. [p. 61]

Not at all. The broadest meaning of “sacrament” is “grace conveyed by matter.” The incarnation is clearly a means of that. God in becoming flesh brought about the possibility of salvation for all men. The physicality of that is sacramental. Protestants themselves talk about being “saved by His blood,” etc. That’s profoundly sacramental: akin to talking about His sacred heart or the immaculate heart of Mary. The New Testament refers to “an expiation by his blood” (Rom 3:25), “justified by his blood” (Rom 5:9), “redemption through his blood, . . . according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7), and “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev 1:5). That’s sacramentalism, folks.

Bp. Barron wrote eloquently (and quite biblically) about the Annunciation. Hays shot back:

Instead of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, we now have The Heroine with a Thousand Faces. Why not go full Hindu and declare Mary the White Goddess with multiple avatars? Why not throw in Tinker Bell and Glenda the Good Witch while he’s at it? [p. 60]

This is too ridiculous and asinine to reply to at all. But it’s classic Hays mockery and deliberate straw-manning and caricature. It’s also blasphemous, which can apply to persons and things beside God. Hays doesn’t address the points that Bp. Barron makes. He simply dismisses them with a smirk and a deluded anti-Catholicism that is relentlessly and willfully blind. This was, sad to say, a constant feature of his anti-Catholic apologetics or unreasonable facsimile thereof, as I will note throughout this series.

As long as he’s going to indulge in unbridged allegory, why stop there? What about the six stone water pots? Let’s tease out their numerological import. And the composition of the water pots. The stone must have some emblematic significance. And the third day. [p. 61]

There are all sorts of symbolism and non-literal multiple meanings in Holy Scripture. Protestants hold to this just as Catholics do; they simply ignore or underemphasize it when it applies to Mary. The Protestant Meyer’s NT Commentary, for example, noted:

Not stated as explanatory of the Jewish custom, but as vividly describing the exact circumstances, yet not with any symbolic significance (six, Lange thinks, was the number of poverty and labour).

Maybe Hays would mock that observation (were he here to respond and willing to do so)? Is that indulging in “unbridled allegory” and outrageously “cut off from the sacred text” too? Ian Paul, adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, noted that “many readers interpret the six stone water jars symbolically.” These included St. Augustine, whom he cites, observing, “Now the six water-pots signify the six ages, which were not without prophecy. And those six periods, divided and separated as it were by joints, would be as empty vessels unless they were filled by Christ. Why did I say, the periods which would run fruitlessly on, unless the Lord Jesus were preached in them? Prophecies are fulfilled, the water-pots are full; but that the water may be turned into wine, Christ must be understood in that whole prophecy” (Tractates on John 9.6).

The 1939 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has an article on “Type”, which states:

The Bible furnishes abundant evidence of the presence of types and of typical instruction in the Sacred Word. The New Testament attests this fact. It takes up a large number of persons and things and events of former dispensations, and it treats them as adumbrations and prophecies of the future.

The article cited the Dutch Reformed theologian Jan Jacob van Oosterzee (1817 – 1882):

That the Old Testament is rich in types, or rather forms in its totality one type, of the New Testament, follows necessarily from the entirely unique position which belongs to Christ as the center of the history of the world and of revelation. As we constantly see the principle embodied in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, that the higher species are already typified in a lower stage of development, so do we find, in the domain of saving revelation, the highest not only prepared for, but also shadowed forth, by that which precedes in the lower spheres.

Of course, the reason Barron resorts to allegory, absent any textual clues, is because there’s not nearly enough at the “literal level” of the Gospels to justify Catholic Mariology. [p. 61]

So he claims; but he does not argue and demonstrate, per his usual modus operandi. I provide tons of biblical arguments for Catholic Mariology. And I wrote a book that gave a hundred biblical arguments illustrating the utter absence of sola Scriptura in the Bible. Hays was aware of my apologetics work, but he couldn’t trouble himself to try to systematically refute it. He only had time for caricaturing my Catholic belief and then launching a hundred childish personal attacks my way.

Throughout the book he says the church is the “mystical” body of Christ. What does that mean? Where does he get that from Scripture–or does he? [p. 61]

It comes from the Scriptural use of “Body of Christ”: “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:27), “He is the head of the body, the church” (Col 1:18), “the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23), “the church, his body” (Eph 5:23), “we are members of his body” (Eph 5:30), “his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). That’s a mystery, or non-literal, or mystical, if you will. “Mystical” isn’t a biblical word, but it comes from the same root as “mystery,” which is a biblical word, mysterion (Strong’s word #3466). It appears 27 times in the NT. Catholics, by the way, regard Protestants as part of this Body of Christ, by virtue of their regeneration in the sacrament of baptism. That’s not just ne saying this, or Vatican II. The Council of Trent taught it in the 16th century.

Even if we wish to play along with the maternal metaphor, children outgrow their parents, so “in a very real sense,” the church should outgrow Mary. [p. 61]

Right. By the same token,  God is called our Father, so are we supposed to outgrow Him, too (following the paternal metaphor?).

Once again, notice the wild leaps of logic. Does kecharitomene actually mean “full of grace”? or is that reading the Vulgate back into the Greek? This is substituting tradition for what the text actually says. [p. 61]

The great Baptist Greek scholar A.T. Robertson thought it did:

“Highly favoured” (kecharitomene). Perfect passive participle of charitoo and means endowed with grace (charis), enriched with grace as in Ephesians. 1:6, . . . The Vulgate gratiae plena “is right, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast received‘; wrong, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast to bestow‘” (Plummer). (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. II, 13)

Kecharitomene has to do with God’s grace, as it is derived from the Greek root, charis (literally, “grace”). Thus, in the KJV, charis is translated “grace” 129 out of the 150 times that it appears. Greek scholar Marvin Vincent noted that even Wycliffe and Tyndale (no enthusiastic supporters of the Catholic Church) both rendered kecharitomene in Luke 1:28 as “full of grace” and that the literal meaning was “endued with grace” (Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. I, 259).

Likewise, well-known Protestant linguist W.E. Vine, defines it as “to endue with Divine favour or grace” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol., II, 171). Even a severe critic of Catholicism like James White can’t avoid the fact that kecharitomene (however translated) cannot be divorced from the notion of grace, and stated that the term referred to “divine favor, that is, God’s grace” (The Roman Catholic Controversy [1996], 201).

In context, Mary is favored by God to be messiah’s mother. Gabriel can’t refer to someone as the object of divine favor unless they were immaculately conceived? Because Catholic Mariology is so underdetermined by Scripture, Catholic theologians must inflate the few references to Mary in the NT. [p. 61]

Here is the relevant biblical argument:

For St. Paul, grace (charis) is the antithesis and “conqueror” of sin (emphases added in the following verses):

Romans 6:14: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (cf. Rom 5:17, 20-21; 2 Cor 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:9)

We are saved by grace, and grace alone:

Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24; 11:5; Eph 2:5; Titus 2:11; 3:7; 1 Pet 1:10)

Thus, the biblical argument outlined above proceeds as follows:

1. Grace saves us.

2. Grace gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin.

Therefore, for a person to be full of grace is both to be saved and to be completely, exceptionally holy. It’s a “zero-sum game”: the more grace one has, the less sin. One might look at grace as water, and sin as the air in an empty glass (us). When you pour in the water (grace), the sin (air) is displaced. A full glass of water, therefore, contains no air (see also, similar zero-sum game concepts in 1 John 1:7, 9; 3:6, 9; 5:18). To be full of grace is to be devoid of sin. Thus we might re-apply the above two propositions:

1. To be full of the grace that saves is surely to be saved.

2. To be full of the grace that gives us the power to be holy, righteous, and without sin is to be fully without sin, by that same grace.

A deductive, biblical argument for the Immaculate Conception, with premises derived directly from Scripture, might look like this:

1. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace.

2. To be “full of” God’s grace, then, is to be saved.

3. Therefore, Mary is saved (Luke 1:28).

4. The Bible teaches that we need God’s grace to live a holy life, free from sin.

5. To be “full of” God’s grace is thus to be so holy that one is sinless.

6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.

7. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is sinlessness.

8. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception, in its essence, can be directly deduced from Scripture.

The only way out of the logic would be to deny one of the two premises, and hold either that grace does not save or that grace is not that power which enables one to be sinless and holy. It is highly unlikely that any evangelical Protestant would take such a position, so the argument is a very strong one, because it proceeds upon their own premises.

In this fashion, the essence of the Immaculate Conception (i.e., the sinlessness of Mary) is proven from biblical principles and doctrines accepted by every orthodox Protestant. Certainly all mainstream Christians agree that grace is required both for salvation and to overcome sin. So in a sense my argument is only one of degree, deduced (almost by common sense, I would say) from notions that all Christians hold in common.

The Bible never says Mary is the ark of the covenant. That’s another example of Catholics building on a false premise. [p. 62]

It does, in effect, through several analogies.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the true temple. But in Catholic Mariology, Mary replaces Jesus. [p. 62]

She does no such thing, according to our teaching. This is simply Hays’ emotional anti-Marianism and unbiblical “either/or” dichotomies. Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid wrote, against this false notion:

Jesus shares his other unique roles in lesser ways with Christians.

1) Jesus is the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3, Col 1:16-17, Heb 1:1-2), yet when it comes to creating human life Jesus shares this role with men and women, mediating his creatorship through us via sexual intercourse . . . [making] his role as Creator dependent in a way on human action.

2) Jesus is the shepherd of his flock the Church (Jn 10:16), yet he shares his shepherdhood in a subordinate way with others, beginning with Peter (Jn 21:15-17) and extending it later to others (Eph 4:11) . . . Jesus says he’s the only shepherd (Jn 10:11-16), yet this seemingly exclusive statement doesn’t conflict with him making Peter shepherd . . . or with his calling others to be shepherds as well (Eph 4:11). Peter emphasizes that Jesus shares his role as shepherd with others by calling Jesus the chief shepherd . . . (1 Pet 5:4). Note also that the Greek construction of John 10:16 . . . is the same as 1 Timothy 2:5 (. . . one mediator . . .). The apostles and their successors the bishops, are truly shepherds also.

3) Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant . . . (Heb 3:1, 4:14-15, 5:5-10, 7:15-26, 8:1, 9:11). But the Bible also says Christians are called to share in Christ’s priesthood (1 Pet 2:5-9; Rev 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

4) Jesus is the supreme judge (Jn 5:27, 9:39; Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1), yet Christians are called to share in Christ’s judgeship. They will be judges in heaven, even judging the angels (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:30; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 20:4).

5) Jesus is the sovereign king of the universe (Mk 15:32; 1 Tim 6:15; Rev 15:3, 17:14, 19:16), but he shares his kingship with all Christians, who in heaven will wear crowns, sit on thrones, and reign as kings alongside Jesus – but always subordinate to him . . . (see also Matt 19:23; Lk 22:30; Rev 1:6, 3:21, 5:10).

6) Jesus forgives our sins and reconciles us to the Father (2 Cor 5:18-21), but he calls us to share in various ways in his ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation (Matt 9:5-8, 18:18; Jn 20:21-2; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor 5:18-20; James 5:14-15) . . .

Each Christian is called to share in these roles in subordinate ways. The principle of sharing in Christ’s roles extends, in the form of intercessory prayer, to Christ’s mediatorship as well.” (“Any Friend of God’s is a Friend of Mine”, This Rock [now Catholic Answers Magazine], Sep. 1992, 7-13; quote from 10-12; numbers added)

This is true even regarding salvation and distribution of grace, according to many biblical passages: particularly from St. Paul. Mary can help distribute God’s grace and salvation? No problem at all, teaches Paul in many passages. Paul conveys not the slightest inkling or hint that any of this usurps God’s sole prerogatives.


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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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