March 16, 2017

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648), by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]



[see all the other installments of this multi-part debate on my James White web page: second section]


Mr. White’s words will be in blue; my former words in green.


Let’s Get the Word Games Out of the Way . . .

One of Mr. White’s ongoing criticisms of my writing is that there is too much of it, and that I seek to overwhelm opponents by sheer tonnage of words. Hence, in our last exchange, he wrote, on 12-29-04:

Now, of course, DA will respond with text files (liberally salted with URL’s) that will average 10x the word count of anything I have to say. That’s OK. I shall . . . let him take home the bragging rights to verbosity and bandwidth usage.

Since he wanted to make this charge, I was determined to write less than his total words in my responses throughout. I did indeed do this, so that at the end of those multiple exchanges, the tally was as follows:
White: 7962 words / Armstrong: 5110 words (or 64% as many as White’s words, or White outwriting Armstrong by a 1.56 to one margin — roughly three words for every two that I wrote)

My percentage of words over against White’s, compared to his “average” prediction: 6.0% (5110 actual, compared to a predicted 79,620 / 16 times less)Following up on this objective measure of what is actually occurring in these discussions, I thought it would be interesting to see what the tallies were for the present topic. It’s even more lopsided this time. The section in my book, The Catholic Verses, which was devoted to White’s argument, was 2,259 words. White’s eight-part response was 8,249 words, or 3.65 times longer than what he was responding to (whereas my last total response was only 64% as long as White’s material to which I replied). My argument from my book was, then, 27% as lengthy as White’s reply to it.

If I follow White’s “outwrite the other guy” method, I would produce roughly 30,109 words in the upcoming installments. It’s highly unlikely, however, that I will need nearly that many in order to refute his argument. I just wanted to prove that White too often practices what he preaches against. That said, I won’t feel constrained to write less words than him (that point having been proven), but I certainly won’t write 3.65 times more than his words.

I shall now respond to White’s paper: The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part I) (1-22-05):

This will be my final installment in response to Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses [italics added presently]. It is not that there are not many more passages that could be addressed, it is just that there is so very little actual exegesis in the book that the real essence of its self-enunciated claim to provide a defense of the Roman Catholic exegesis of the text of Scripture has already been refuted, repeatedly, and there is no reason to proverbially beat the dead horse.

As I pointed out many times in the earlier debates over my book (obviously to no avail, which is a rather annoying and frustrating characteristic of debates with White: he habitually ignores one’s clarifications and corrections, even of plain factual matters: this is virtually universally reported by Catholics who have debated him), the book is not, technically, about, or consisting of, exegesis per se. He has never grasped this. The fundamental purpose of the book is actually quite different. I explained in my Introduction:

I shall now proceed to offer a critique of common Protestant attempts to ignore, explain away, rationalize, wish away, over-polemicize, minimize, de-emphasize, evade clear consequences of, or special plead with regard to “the Catholic Verses”: ninety-five biblical passages that provide the foundation for Catholicism’s most distinctive doctrines. This is not a scholarly work, as I am no scholar in the first place, merely a lay Catholic apologist; but it is not “anti-scholarly,” and I will incorporate scholarship wherever necessary to substantiate the argument.

We see, then, what the purpose is. It is more of a logical critique of Protestant exegesis and particular tendencies and manifest biases in dealing with certain “Catholic-sounding” verses. It’s a somewhat subtle distinction, but a very important one, for our purposes. If White doesn’t even comprehend the fundamental nature and methodology of my book, then he can hardly offer a compelling refutation of any part of it with which he deals. One must first understand what one purports to refute. That’s rule number one in any debate, and I think White (as a frequent debater, who clearly prides himself on being very good at it) would readily agree with that general principle. I know what my own book is about (as the world’s greatest expert on my own book), and if White did also, then he would cease misrepresenting (inadvertently or not; I assume the former) what it was about.

He keeps harping on what he seems to think is the plain fact that I wouldn’t know how to do proper exegesis if my life depended on it. Well, that may or may not be true. Since I don’t claim to be a scholar who specializes in exegesis (or a scholar at all), and my arguments don’t depend on that fact, it is a rather moot point. The book is not a commentary. It is a reasoned critique of flaws in historic, mainstream orthodox Protestant commentary; especially those having to do with prior biases brought to the task of exegesis itself.

And one can do that — point out simple logical flaws and evasions — without having to be an expert on exegesis, or a Bible scholar (that would obviously help, but it’s not absolutely necessary for my particular purpose). One simple example will suffice in illustrating this point. I may not know the slightest thing about trigonometry or calculus. But if I, as an observer of a math professor, notice that there is a simple mathematical error in a complex equation or proof written out by the expert (say, 3 x 4 = 14), it is quite proper and not at all presumptuous for me to point that out, and “correct” the expert. I don’t have to know everything there is to know about trigonometry or calculus, or know as much as the expert knows, or even (in this instance) anything at all about it. All I have to know is that 3 x 4 = 12, not 14. Complex, systematic errors can be built upon the simplest of logical errors. And non-experts can point these out.

Likewise, when it comes to historic exegesis and commentary on Holy Scripture, I don’t have to be an expert on how to interpret such-and-such a Bible passage (with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and eight years of theology, New Testament, Old Testament, etc., etc.) in order to note that someone is ignoring a key aspect of it, or introducing extraneous concerns that have little to do with the verse, or using it to lodge yet another gratuitous and textually irrelevant “dig” at Rome, etc. I don’t need to be as brilliant as Calvin and Luther obviously were, in the neutral, non-polemical sense of loving and interpreting Scripture, and providing many true insights which we as Catholics would agree with. It simply doesn’t follow.

My book had to do with logical critiques and examinations of underlying assumptions which Protestants bring to the “table of exegesis,” and various techniques that are used to dismiss implications that are thought to be too “Catholic.” The book is filled with examples of this. It’s useless to present twenty of them. One would have to buy the book. But that is the methodology of it.

I think the central approach and thesis of the book is brilliant. I can say that because it wasn’t my initial idea at all. My publisher, Sophia Institute Press, came up with it, and asked me to write the book. I quickly “took” to the idea and became quite enthusiastic about it. It’s a unique approach and type of apologetic that no one else has yet tried, to my knowledge. But it’s not exegesis per se. It is about exegesis (meta-exegesis, if you will), not exegesis itself. It is much more about human bias, and the effect of prior theologies and predispositions upon exegesis, than about exegesis of texts (considered in isolation). In that way it is even somewhat of a psychological analysis, as it deals with our axioms and presuppositions, and how they affect our interpretations (sometimes leading to outright eisegesis). In any event, as long as White keeps falsely claiming that it is simply an exegetical work, he is grossly misrepresenting the book and making a massive straw man, which strikes me as quite odd, for one who is an author himself, of many books.

One would think that he could at least get the central purpose of the book right, before proceeding to critique it. But this ties into my point, too: White despises Catholicism as the purveyor of a “false gospel,” so in this instance he has distorted even the purpose and nature of a work which defends what he despises. His overwhelming bias disables him from providing a cogent critique. He feels he has to discredit the argument at all costs, even if he falsely portrays it (and myself) in so doing. This need not be deliberate (bias works quite well subconsciously), but it is a strong influence nonetheless, whether deliberate or not. Anti-Catholicism will do it’s dirty work, every time. And it becomes as easy as breathing, after years of practice.

White has issued endless remarks about how “ignorant” and clueless I am when it comes to the Bible (as we saw in my compilation of his potshots in the Introduction), so I thought it was important to deal with this misguided notion that he has, at some length, right at the beginning of my replies, so readers (especially those who haven’t read my book) will be under no delusions as to what my book is about; what it is actually dealing with, subject-wise.

For example, in the sections relevant to soteriology I would be more than happy for someone to compare the “exegesis” offered by Armstrong with the relevant sections of The God Who Justifies.

As the purposes were fundamentally different in both works (as explained above), the comparison would be completely irrelevant (and invalid). But several people have done Catholic counter-exegesis of soteriological verses, and White has simply ignored them. For example, Ben Douglass recently wrote an excellent paper along those lines, and White blew it off, on the grounds that Ben is a traditionalist (a variation of his timeworn theme that someone isn’t “important enough” to waste his valuable time on).

That has nothing to do with the merits of his exegetical argument. On the other hand, if White declines merely because Ben is in a category that he doesn’t like, and has had bad experiences with (which I could understand), then how is that different from my decision not to debate anti-Catholics (the present instance being excluded, under my “point-by-point loophole”)? Yet White has constantly chided me for my decision, implying that I am a coward, and that it is a rationalization. Very well, then, if I am a “coward”, then so is White, when he refuses to interact with someone who has done a great deal of work in an area where White claims to be an expert.

But I promised to address the one section Armstrong had sent to me prior to the publication of the book. He had even invited me to interact with him on the topic, but I declined, in light of the character of his presentation (which we will note below).

Yet I am mocked by White and taunted for generally declining to interact with anti-Catholics: the sort of people who have now constructed fake blogs, using my name, pretending to be me, in an attempt to claim that I am a completely-obsessed “narcissist” or “moron” or that I “hate” my theological opponents, etc. Eric Svendsen (a major anti-Catholic apologist and good friend of White’s) just called me a “lunatic” on his discussion board today. I’ve been called “filth” and “scum” and had my apologetics characterized as “foaming-at-the-mouth” and so forth. I’ve had people say I don’t have a “real job” because I am a Catholic apologist; real charitable stuff.

So (quite naturally and reasonably, I think) I decided that people who express themselves in those terms (including White himself, but to a considerably lesser extent than the bilge cited above) are not worth interacting with. But White sees that decision and claims that it is really motivated by my fear and inability, and the brilliance of my opponents’ arguments (even stating that my Lenten break this year was due to his unanswerable arguments!). It’s one of White’s many double standards. He can do the same thing I do, and that’s fine. He’ll condemn and make fun of my reasoning for doing the exact same thing that he does. He decides that certain people are unworthy to debate; so do I. But in this case, his opinion was unreasonable: Ben’s category of traditionalist or how well-known he might happen to be at present has nothing to do with his arguments. White has no problem debating Gerry Matatics, who is also a traditionalist (and quite a bit to the right of Ben Douglass).

I refer to his section on pp. 43-53 on Matthew 23 and “Moses’ Seat.” Like the section on Luke 1:28, clearly Armstrong is drawing from his many Internet articles, cobbling together the most serious attempt mounted in the work. If he does not succeed here, he truly succeeds nowhere in The Catholic Verses.

It’s true that I worked very hard on this section, because White’s argument provided me with plenty of opportunity to point out serious error. But if I were a reader, I wouldn’t put too much stock in White’s generalizations about my book, seeing that he doesn’t even understand its fundamental purpose.

Matthew 23:1-4 1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

Here White cites some unknown version of the Bible (he doesn’t tell us, and I don’t feel like rummaging through my 30 or so versions to find out). I thought it might be either the NASB or the NIV, but it was neither. In my book, I cited verses 1-3, in the RSV Bible:

Matthew 23:1-3: “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.’”

Here begins the longest sustained condemnation of the spirit and practice of Pharisaism in all of Scripture. Indeed, so strong, so compelling is the condemnation here that this passage was embarrassing to many Continental New Testament scholars in post World War II Europe. For most in less conservative circles this passage is considered a later polemic of the Christian church, reflecting a reality many decades removed from the ministry of Jesus. But in reality Matthew 23 “fits” perfectly right where it is. Its broad outlines have been seen throughout the Gospel in the conflict with the Jewish leadership, and it then forms the foundation of the judgment coming upon Jerusalem that appears in chapter 24. The section to which Mr. Armstrong refers begins a long litany of woes pronounced upon the hypocritical attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees. It is, in essence, the introduction to the blistering section that is Matthew 23.

I have no particular beef with this, other than to note that Jesus’ condemnations of the Pharisees were of a general nature (there were many corrupt Pharisees), not necessarily of the entire system of Pharisaism itself, considered apart from the behavioral and attitudinal corruptions of the time. Indeed, many aspects of early Christianity were adopted more-or-less wholesale from Pharisaical tradition (rather than from the Sadducees). But Christians of White’s general school and outlook, usually take a very dim view of the Pharisees altogether, and don’t acknowledge these historical and theological nuances. This is where the influx of Jewish scholarship into New Testament studies and exegesis in recent decades has been very helpful.

I had briefly commented on this passage in The Roman Catholic Controversy, and it is to the following that Armstrong responds in The Catholic Verses:


The final passage we will examine presents the idea of “Moses’ seat.” Some modern Roman Catholics present this passage as substantiation of the idea of a source of extra-biblical authority receiving the blessing of the Lord Jesus. It has been alleged that the concept of “Moses’ seat” is in fact a refutation of sola scriptura, for not only is this concept not found in the Old Testament, but seemingly Jesus gives His approbation to this extra-Scriptural tradition. But is this sound exegesis? Is this passage being properly understood?

First, we note that the passage has spawned a plethora of differing understandings amongst scholars. But a few items immediately remove the Roman apologist’s interpretation and application from consideration. First, “Moses’ seat” refers to a seat in the front of the synagogue on which the teacher of the law sat while reading from the Scriptures. Synagogue worship, of course, came into being long after Moses’ day, so those who attempt to make this an “oral tradition” going back to Moses are engaging in wishful thinking. Beyond this, we are here only speaking of a position that existed at this time in the synagogue worship of the day. Are we truly to believe that this position was divine in origin, and hence binding upon all who would worship God? It certainly doesn’t seem that the New Testament Church understood it that way.

We first note interpreters such as Jeremias and Carson view this passage as engaging in biting irony. The Jewish leaders have presumed to sit in Moses’ seat, as suggested by Merx, Moulton, and Zahn, focusing on the use of the aorist tense of the verb “to sit.” They sat themselves in this place, but improperly. Such an understanding is certainly in line with the biting attack that follows immediately in the rest of the chapter.

But I am more prone to accept Gundry’s understanding, in which he rejects the satirical interpretation and instead notes,

So long as sitting in Moses’ seat qualifies the speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, “all things whatever” does not include their interpretative traditions, but emphasizes the totality of the law. “Therefore” establishes the qualification. They do keep their traditions. But they do not practice what they speak while sitting on Moses’ seat. Hence their traditions are not in view. Though elsewhere Matthew is concerned to criticize the scribes’ and Pharisees’ interpretations of the law, here he is concerned to stress the necessity of keeping the law itself. As usual, his eye is on antinomians in the church. (Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 454-455.)Indeed, the Lord’s unwillingness to become an “ecclesiastical rebel” is in perfect harmony with the Scriptural teaching on the subject of authority in the church. There was nothing in the tradition of having someone read from the Scriptures while sitting on Moses’ seat that was in conflict with the Scriptures, and hence, unlike the corban rule which we saw earlier in Matthew 15, Jesus does not reject this traditional aspect of Jewish synagogue worship. He does not insist upon anarchy in worship in the synagogue anymore than His apostle Paul would allow for it in the worship of the church at Corinth. It is quite proper to listen to and obey the words of the one who reads from the Law or the Prophets, for one is not hearing a man speaking in such a situation, but is listening to the very words of God. Indeed, when Ezra read the law to the people in Nehemiah chapter 8, the people listened attentively, and cried “Amen! Amen!” at the hearing of God’s Word. And who can forget the result of Josiah’s discovery of the book of the covenant in 2 Chronicles 34? It is proper to have men in positions of authority in the synagogue, just as in the Church. But Jesus points out that the listener is still to exercise a critical eye, for he is not to imitate the evil behavior of those who have been entrusted even with the sacred duty of leading the people of God in worship.

To leap from Jesus’ refusal to overthrow the form of synagogue worship that was present in His day to a wholesale endorsement of extra-scriptural, oral traditions is to make a leap of monumental proportions. And in light of the passages we have already examined that refute the need for such an extra-scriptural rule of faith, I suggest that the use of this passage by Roman apologists is in error.


In our next section we will review Armstrong’s case on Matthew 23 and “Moses’ Seat.”

This is different from my copy of his book, dated 1996, so I assume that it is from a revision (or else White is cutting-and-pasting from a slightly different manuscript version of his own). In my copy, this (i.e., something similar to it) appears on pages 100-101. I’ve cited it in full in order to present his book remarks in their full context (and because I generally include all or almost all of my opponents’ words in dialogues, anyway). I won’t, however, respond at this point, since that is what I did in my book; I’ll wait till he makes his counter-argument, then I’ll cite my book as necessary.

March 16, 2017

Original title: “White House of Cards”: James White’s Critique of My Argument Concerning Moses’ Seat Shall Now be Thoroughly Answered

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648), by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]



[see all the other installments of this multi-part debate on my James White web page: second section]


As White is fond of saying: “gird up your loins”! Having had enough of White’s falsehoods and tauntings about my supposed cowardice in the face of his first complete, point-by-point response to me in the entire ten years since we’ve known each other, I’ve decided that I will issue a full response to his recent series, critiquing a portion of my latest book, The Catholic Verses.


Let me remind those who never read (and/or never understood) it, of the following passage, that I expressed in early 2005:

Lastly, in order to maintain my unbroken principle of defending anything I write (if critiqued properly), I will continue to operate according to the following rules (listed on my blog):

I am absolutely committed to answering amiable, comprehensive, point-by-point (not scattershot, pick-and-choose “whatever I find easy to answer”) critiques of any of my papers or blog posts. I have made myself available on this blog for all rational, fact-respecting critiques and will place such exchanges (at least the more informative and interesting ones) on my website as well. I’m willing to listen to and interact with the critique, to place my critics’ words on my website, unabridged, and to publicly retract any proven errors and modify or remove papers (and/or apologize, if persons are involved) where necessary. And I’ve done all this many times in the past. My record speaks for itself. A person can do no more in terms of willingness to accept criticism and to be corrected. I don’t run from criticism and ignore it. To me, this involves a matter and principle of intellectual integrity, honesty, duty, and of a crucial openness to other viewpoints, challenges, and critiques.

I do this because it is very important not to insulate oneself from all criticism . . . Either someone (including even anti-Catholics, under these strict conditions) responds point-by-point, or I will not counter-reply at all, per the above. I will only record personal insults, in my ongoing effort to document exactly how anti-Catholics usually “argue” their ludicrous case.

So this “clause” or “loophole” [bolded above] was there all along [in my resolution to avoid arguing theology with anti-Catholics]. Contrary to the White lies we have been hearing for more than four months now, my reason for not fully replying was never fear or inability, but rather (as, of course, I stated) , because I tired of White’s incivility and incessant insults (particularly his charge of “knowing deception” on my part). That’s why I ceased interacting with his critique. He is no more “amiable” and no less insulting now, so I would still have grounds, by my own stated criteria, to continue to avoid him, but under the circumstances, I have decided that the best thing to do is to reply to his argument, and so put an end to this particular stream of untruths (and, I believe, his argument, as well).

I’ve never had the slightest problem refuting him in the past; but he has had plenty of trouble counter-responding, since he never has after I issued a counter-reply to him; that has always been true, without exception, for ten years. Yet he sees no hypocrisy in making this accusation towards me, knowing that I made a resolution (notwithstanding the loophole) to not dialogue with anti-Catholics, and knowing that I ceased because of his behavior, not his intellectual prowess or my alleged lack thereof.

Frankly, I’m fed up with his innuendoes and snide insinuations, and since it doesn’t violate my resolution to reply, I have decided to do so. (I was looking for a big fat new writing project, so the timing is good). White has certainly made an extensive, point-by-point reply in this instance (as will be seen below), and has written many more words than the seven-and-a-half page section in my latest book [The Catholic Verses] (pp. 46-53), concerning Moses’ Seat, where I disposed of an argument of his, from his 1996 book, The Roman Catholic Controversy. That fulfills the criterion, then, for a reply from me: since he dealt with this argument comprehensively in depth, for a change.

Therefore, while I continue to reserve the right to ignore his “scattershot” arguments (which is the nature of most of his critique of my book as a whole, where he scarcely deals with what I wrote and argued at all), per my resolution, I have no principled objection to counter-replying to his argument against the portion of my book where I critiqued an argument from his book.

This is the argument he issued after I made my new resolution (three weeks afterward), even though I informed him of it even before my book was published (and received mostly mockery and insult back, in a private letter). That’s why I’ve been criticizing him for waiting until I said I would no longer debate anti-Catholics, for finally responding with due depth.

[Note: White made his own resolution in 2001 to completely avoid me. Hypocritically, he didn’t abide by his own words, whereas I am simply following a sensible exception “loophole” that I allowed myself]

For the interest of a re-cap of the record, let’s revisit the many James White potshots that have occurred since January (all implying that his argument is so unvanquishable that I must be fleeing in terror. No other explanation could ever possibly be true, because, well, White doesn’t want it to be true . . .). His words below will be in blue:

Armstrong simply doesn’t understand the process of scholarly examination of a text, and as a result, runs headlong into walls trying to act like he does.

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part II], 1-1-05)

This kind of utterly amazing mishandling of Scripture is sad to observe, let alone to realize it has appeared in publication. But to see how easily refuted it is should cause one to wonder at the power of tradition: . . . he doesn’t even seem to understand what would be necessary for him to establish such a claim, . . .

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part III], 1-2-05)

. . . in reality, Dave Armstrong does not understand the basics of how to respond to sound, simple scholarly observations regarding the subject.

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part IV], 1-3-05)

It is hard to find words to describe the response of Dave Armstrong to the review of his own published work. I mean, when you publish a book, do you expect that no one will respond to it, review it, check it for accuracy, examine it for apologetic coherence? . . . But I never dreamed that a total and complete melt-down would take place, resulting in Mr. Armstrong pulling the material off his blog and going into hiding! . . . We are asked to believe this was a “long time coming,” etc., but let’s face it: DA isn’t up to defending his published works. . . . DA can’t do meaningful exegesis, . . . fair-minded, serious folks can tell when you simply have given it your best and have failed at your task.

(James White: Meanest of the Mean, 1-3-05) [currently removed from his site; this is the archived version]

. . . yesterday, when Dave Armstrong first posted his “I’m done with critics” stuff . . .

(Desperation of Armstrong Fans: Patrick, 1-4-05)

. . . it is hard to take what Mr. Armstrong says seriously . . .

(The Catholic Verses: The Papacy, 1-4-05)

At the moment a fairly small group of folks are filling up the blogosphere with the constant assertion that I have engaged in ad hominem argumentation in my reviews of Armstrong’s book, mainly because I have concluded sections by noting Armstrong’s inability to seriously engage the topic at hand (i.e., provide meaningful exegesis). Now, Mr. Armstrong may not like that I have pointed this out. Evidently, it is not allowable in our society to point out when someone provides shallow, errant, and generally worthless argumentation in a written form . . . when he is forced to attempt to deal with specifically exegetical material, he is out of his depth. . . . To call this a “melt-down” is to engage inunderstatement to an absurd degree.

(Ad Hominem Argumentation, 1-4-05)

Quite honestly, I just don’t see that he follows an argument really well. . . . The man does not know how to do exegesis. It’s a fact. . . . there is a consistent pattern of eisegetical misunderstanding, and an inability to deal with the text . . . It’s fascinating to read the comments . . . basically, Mr. Armstrong melted down . . . . . . the reason that Dave Armstrong is doing this [ceasing discussion with anti-Catholics] is pretty much the same reason that Dave Hunt won’t debate me. He can’t. He can’t . . . the facts are not on Dave Armstrong’s side. He can’t respond! . . . Dave Armstrong has gone into hiding . . . because he can’t respond anymore . . . . . . the argumentation is so basic and so clearly fallacious . . . clear, obvious, logical errors. . . Armstrong could throw his hands up in the air and say, “look, I’m not a scholar; I have no scholarly training. I can’t read the original languages.” But he won’t do that. [No? That’s news to me. I did just that on 1-4-05, on my blog, and many times before. Bizarre claim . . .] . . . . . . . If Mr. Armstrong can’t defend his material, then so much the worse for Mr. Armstrong. Maybe he will move on to doing something else. Maybe he’ll recognize this isn’t something he should be doing. Maybe he’ll think twice before putting himself in that situation again.

(Dividing Line webcast, 1-4-05 [my transcript]; no longer available on his site, as far as I can tell)

. . . what we find in The Catholic Verses. No exegesis is offered. No argument from context appears . . . But nowhere does Armstrong do the one thing he must do to be taken seriously: he never exegetes the passage. He never makes the connections that would be absolutely necessary to prove his point. He just assumes his position, nothing more. . . . the “Catholic Verses” are, in fact, “Badly Chosen Catholic Prooftexts Devoid of Exegetical Meaning.” But we must be ready to explain why and hope and pray the Spirit will open hearts and minds that have been blinded by a false gospel and a false hope.

(The Catholic Verses: The Pillar and Foundation, 1-5-05)

. . . it seems Dave Armstrong is not up to providing a positive defense of his own published work, . . .

(An Open Invitation, 1-6-05)

If Armstrong is going to respond to some of the work, but then leave clear refutation of his own position untouched elsewhere, how can anyone take him seriously?

(An uber-brief response to the Crimson Catholic, 1-10-05)

If you want to see how to deal with Dave Armstrong, look back a few months to what happened when I invested the time to dig into his book. Response? Bluster, sputter, retreat, collapse, invisibility, Lent.

(Quick and Stupid Note, 5-4-05)

I think this one takes the cake: the man is so shameless and desperate that he even goes after my much-needed Lenten break, as if it was an excuse to avoid him. On the one hand, White and others have been mocking me for some time, about how much I write. But let me dare take a four-week break from my voluminous writing (and routine 70-80 hour work weeks, with ten days of vacation all year), and it has to be because I’m trying to avoid the man who had run from my arguments for ten years. Unbelievable . . .

I’m sorry, but anyone in DA’s position, who is constantly throwing stuff out there, is simply playing games if he then decides on some arbitrary standard as to who is an “anti-Catholic,” and then on that basis, says he will not interact with them (though, of course, he can make comments about them all he wants, he just doesn’t have to actually respond to refutations).

. . . As anyone can see by going back to the records, Armstrong made the most recent version of his “I will not respond to anti-Catholics” promise after and as a direct result of my critiquing his book. In fact, at first, he tried to respond to my articles. But it was painfully clear he was in way over his head, so he all of a sudden had a change of heart and issued his “don’t respond to anti-Catholics” decree. . . . his brilliant and awe-inspiring rebuttals, which, sadly, the world cannot now see because he is so consistent in keeping his oaths. Please! Someone fax over some reality to Mr. Armstrong.


So that’s the extraordinary ad hominem background. Now let’s get to substance and rational, biblical argument, and see how well White fares, when he is taking on an opponent who is actually engaging him and not under the constraints of his own biblically based resolution not to engage in vain discussion. White did at least provide a rare comprehensive response, so we’ll relax the “amiability” portion of the loophole and emphasize the “point-by-point” portion, so both the argumentative fallacies and condescending, mindless insults can be put to rest, once and for all. I think that’s more than enough cause and justification to relax a loophole in a resolution (which is different from an oath, for those who suffer from dictionaryphobia, as Eric Svendsen seemingly does).

Here are the papers I already wrote in response to White’s critique of my book, The Catholic Verses (with links):

James White Takes Up a Critical Review of My Book, The Catholic Verses (!!!)
James White’s Critique of My Book The Catholic Verses: Part I: The Binding Authority of Tradition
Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion
Part III: Massive Ad Hominem Tactics
Part IV: Shots at My Former Protestant Knowledge and Reading
Part V: White’s Befuddlement and My “Knowing Deception”
Part VI: Penance and Redemptive Suffering

Those papers of mine were in reply to the following papers of James White:

The Catholic Verses: Introit (12-29-05)
The Catholic Verses: 95 Reduced to 91 (12-30-05)
The Protestant Verses: Can Dave Armstrong Exegete This Passage? (12-30-05)
Interesting Replies (12-30-05) [currently removed from his site; this is the archived version]
The Catholic Verses: 91 Reduced to 87 (Part I) (12-30-05) [currently removed from his site; this is the archived version]
Quick Thought Regarding DA and Exegesis (12-31-05)
Armstrong’s Reading List (12-31-05)
The Catholic Verses: 91 Reduced to 87 (Part II) (12-31-05)
The Catholic Verses: 91 Reduced to 87 (Part III) (12-31-05)

And here are his papers regarding Moses’ Seat and the larger issue of Bible and Tradition / sola Scriptura that I will respond to, presently:

The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part I) (1-22-05)
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part II) (1-24-05)
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part III) (1-31-05)
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part IV) (2-8-05)
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part V) (2-10-05)
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part VI) (2-15-05)
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part VII) (2-17-05)

The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part VIII–Finale!) (2-18-05)

May the truth win out! That’s the only “victory” I’m interested in. If I am not fighting for the truth on this issue or any other, by all means, I ought to lose the debate, so that truth can be the victor, not me (or White or anyone else) at all costs, even at the expense of truth.

November 13, 2020

This is a reply to Matt Slick: Presbyterian pastor and head of the large and influential anti-Catholic Protestant CARM discussion forum. I am responding to his article, “Do Catholics Worship Mary?” (2-7-19). His words will be in blue.


Let’s define worship before we see if the Roman Catholic church advocates the worship of Mary. 

Worship: “in its most general sense is homage paid to a person or a thing. In this sense we may speak of hero-worship, worship of the emperor, of demons, of the angels, even of relics, and especially of the Cross.[“]

Pastor Slick cites The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Christian Worship”). But unfortunately he engages in a little sleight-of-hand, by selectively citing (out of context) only what he wants to, for his own polemical purposes. This was only “the most general sense.” The article then goes on to carefully differentiate worship / adoration from veneration. Because Pastor Slick apparently can’t grasp (or accept) these distinctions, he proceeds with false premises throughout his article. Here’s what he deliberately did not cite:

There are several degrees of this worship:

if it is addressed directly to God, it is superior, absolute, supreme worship, or worship of adoration, or, according to the consecrated theological term, a worship of latria. This sovereign worship is due to God alone; addressed to a creature it would become idolatry.

When worship is addressed only indirectly to God, that is, when its object is the veneration of martyrs, of angels, or of saints, it is a subordinate worship dependent on the first, and relative, in so far as it honours the creatures of God for their peculiar relations with Him; it is designated by theologians as the worship of dulia, a term denoting servitude, and implying, when used to signify our worship of distinguished servants of God, that their service to Him is their title to our veneration . . .

As the Blessed Virgin has a separate and absolutely supereminent rank among the saints, the worship paid to her is called hyperdulia . . .  [see also the articles on Dulia, LatriaImages, Saints, Relics, Adoration]

To be fair, Pastor Slick does cite some of this at the end of his paper, but it is chopped up and not presented in full, in context (the second and third paragraphs completely omitted). This will not do; it’s shoddy research and dishonest argumentation.

Honor and homage of created persons or angels is clearly taught in Scripture. For example:

1 Peter 2:17 (RSV) Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the [even the pagan, anti-Christian, persecuting] emperor.

For many more biblical examples of such honoring and veneration, see:

The Imitation of St. Paul & the Veneration of Saints [2004]

Bible on Veneration of Saints & Angels: John Calvin’s Antipathy to Veneration of Saints and Angels vs. Explicit Biblical Evidences of Same [10-1-12]

Biblical Evidence for Veneration of Saints [2013]

New (?) Analogical Biblical Argument for Veneration of the Saints and Angels from the Prohibition of Blasphemy of the Same  [8-8-15]

Bible on the Veneration of Angels & Men [9-10-15]

Veneration of Human Beings: Seven Biblical Examples (Apostles Paul and Silas, Kings David and Saul, Prophets Daniel and Samuel, Patriarch Joseph) [3-4-19]

Angel Gabriel’s “Hail” (Lk 1:28): Veneration of Mary? [3-8-19]

Catholics attribute to Mary both physical (altars, bowing down, feasts, locations )

We don’t sacrifice to Mary. This is what an “altar” has to do with: the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is making present the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the cross. As for feasts, Protestants also express great honor and homage to their founders: Martin Luther, John Calvin et al and many great Christian figures throughout history (like John Wesley and Billy Graham). They make a great deal over “Reformation Day” (October 31). I don’t see how these things are any fundamentally different from Catholic feast days (more on this aspect below).

and spiritual (adoration, devotion to, entrust to, glory due to, looking to, prayer to, worship of) aspects of worship. . . . 

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; . . . ” (1 Chron. 16:29).

The Catholic article Pastor Slick cited expressly denies (see above) that adoration and worship per se can be given to anyone but God, and states that if it is done, it’s idolatry (we totally agree with Protestants in this respect). Thus, Catholic doctrine is being deliberately misrepresented (a very common occurrence in anti-Catholic treatments of Mary). As for glory, the Bible repeatedly states that God shares it with His creatures.

The point is that Roman Catholics say they do not worship Mary, but they do the very things that are consistent with worship. In other words, they do everything consistent with the essence of worship while denying that they actually do it.

Only the most pathetically ignorant, nominal Catholic would ever do this (such uninformed people can be found in any and every Christian group). It’s a very basic teaching — constantly reiterated — that any Catholic who knows anything understands. Pastor Slick would certainly say that lying and bearing false witness is wrong: indeed, this is one of the Ten Commandments. Yet he shamelessly lies about Catholic teaching on Mary. It’s unconscionable. And he will one day stand and give account before God for this lying, if he and countless other anti-Catholics don’t repent of it. I warn him and others like him for their own good, in charity.

Pastor Slick shows photographs of several statues of Mary, and makes out that this is undeniably idolatry (that it couldn’t be otherwise). Yet a case from the Bible can be made for the use of statues and other religious images:

The Bronze Serpent: Example of Proper Use of Images [Feb. 2012]

“Graven Images”: Unbiblical Iconoclasm (vs. John Calvin) [Oct. 2012]

Biblical Idolatry: Authentic & Counterfeit Conceptions [2015]

How Protestant Nativity Scenes Proclaim Catholic Doctrine [12-15-13; expanded for publication at National Catholic Register: 12-17-17]

Newsflash!: Catholicism Utterly Opposes Idolatry, Too [1-18-17]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #9: Images & Relics [3-2-17]

Statues in Relation to Bowing, Prayer, & Worship in Scripture [12-26-17]

Biblical Evidence for Veneration of Saints and Images [National Catholic Register, 10-23-18]

Was Moses’ Bronze Serpent an Idolatrous “Graven Image?” [National Catholic Register, 2-17-20]

St. Newman vs. Inconsistent Protestant Iconoclasts [3-21-20]

“Turretinfan” Calls a Statue of Jesus Christ an “Idol” (While His Buddy Bishop James White Praises the Statues of “Reformers” Calvin, Farel, Beza, and Knox) [6-8-10; rev. 6-24-20]

Pastor Slick acts as if bowing before a statue must be idolatry. Yet the Bible presents an acceptable bowing before men and angels, as veneration and honor (a statue simply represents a person):

Venerating & Bowing Before Angels & Men: Biblical? [11-10-14]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #8: Veneration; Bowing to Creatures [3-2-17]

Pastor Slick cites 1 Corinthians 7:35 (“undistracted devotion to the Lord”) and makes out that no one can be devoted to anything but God. Yet the Bible states that King David was devoted to the temple:

1 Chronicles 29:3 Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God:

Twice in the very same book (one in the same chapter) St. Paul refers to devotions to things other than only God:

1 Corinthians 7:5 . . . that you may devote yourselves to prayer . . .

1 Corinthians 16:15 . . . they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints;

Jesus casually assumes that a person can be devoted to their master (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13). And there are other instances:

Acts 1:14 All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, . . .

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 6:4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

1 Timothy 4:12-15 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. [13] Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. [14] Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. [15] Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.

1 Timothy 5:10 and she must be well attested for her good deeds, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, relieved the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way

Isn’t it sad that a Presbyterian minister can be so ignorant of God’s Holy Word: the Bible? He didn’t have five minutes to do a search like this? In the very example he gives of supposedly illegitimate “devotion” (citing the Catechism), it’s made crystal clear:

This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit . . . (CCC #971)

Does he not have eyes to see? Is he unable to draw the most basic distinctions? But this is what anti-Catholicism does to an otherwise sound mind.

Pastor Slick cites 1 Peter 4:19, which says that we “entrust” our souls to God. Then he tries to make out that “entrusting ourselves to her prayer” (CCC #2677) is somehow contrary to this, even though (again!) the same passage — that he himself cites — states that “we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her.” The Bible says that mere men are entrusted with many things: “the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2), an apostolic “commission” (1 Cor 9:17; 2 Tim 1:12), “the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19), the “gospel” (Gal 2:7; 1 Thess 2:4; 1 Tim 1:11; Titus 1:3), the apostolic [oral] tradition or “commandment”  or “truth” (1 Tim 6:14, 20; 2 Tim 1:14; 2:2).

So we can’t “entrust” ourselves to prayers of the holiest woman who ever lived; the mother of God the Son: Second Person of the Trinity, according to James 5:16 (“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”)? St. Paul said that his followers could trust his teaching, too (1 Cor 7:25).

I imagine Pastor Slick would then reply that we can’t ask dead people to pray for us, let alone “entrust” ourselves to them.  Why, then, does Jesus teach that it was fine to pray to a dead man (Abraham) and ask him to intercede (Luke 16)? Why is it that King Saul could talk to the dead prophet Samuel and ask him for requests? Samuel never said that he couldn’t do so; he simply refused to answer his petitionary request for a military victory (1 Sam 28:3-25). And how is it that dead men in heaven (Rev 5:8) and angels (Rev 8:3-4) somehow have possession of our prayers, to present to God, if we haven’t asked them to intercede for us?

Pastor Slick then argues that because there was a “feast to the Lord” (Ex 32:5), therefore there can’t be a feast to anyone else or anything. This is clearly false, and absurd as well. The Jews in New Testament celebrated many feasts, and Jesus and the disciples observed them (see Jn 4:45; 5:1; 12:20), and there is much biblical evidence for holy days. The apostles in Jerusalem celebrated Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Acts 2:1). This was when the tongues of fire came upon their heads and people spoke different languages. It didn’t celebrate God directly, but rather, the wheat harvest (Ex 34:22).

Jesus celebrated Sukkot (or the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths): see John 7:1–52. It celebrates the fall harvest and also the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. All feasts were ultimately in praise of the Lord, just as all veneration of saints and angels is praise of God their creator (praising a great painting is in effect praise of the painter of the painting). So what is the (biblical) problem with celebrating Mary the mother of Jesus, or any saint with a feast? There is none that I can see.

Pastor Slick notes the passage, “So our eyes look to the Lord our God, Until He shall be gracious to us,” (Psalm 123:2). Yes, of course. He applies the usual fallacious Protestant either/or reasoning: because we ultimately look to God, we can’t (so were told) look to anyone else. It’s not true, and it’s not biblical. The New Testament states twice that we can even look to ourselves (Gal 6:1; 2 Jn 1:8). We can look to ourselves but not to the magnificent example of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Pastor Slick cites the Catechism, #972 (what he cited is in blue):

After speaking of the Church, her origin, mission, and destiny, we can find no better way to conclude than by looking to Mary. In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own “pilgrimage of faith,” and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey.

How is this a whit different from looking to the heroes of the faith (all dead) in Hebrews 11?:

Hebrews 11:1-40 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

[2] For by it the men of old received divine approval.
[3] By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.
[4] By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking.

[5] By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God.
[6] And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
[7] By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.
[8] By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

[9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.
[10] For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
[11] By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.
[12] Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
[13] These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

[14] For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
[15] If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
[16] But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
[17] By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son,

[18] of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.”
[19] He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
[20] By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
[21] By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
[22] By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his burial.
[23] By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

[24] By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,
[25] choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
[26] He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward.
[27] By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
[28] By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the first-born might not touch them.
[29] By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land; but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

[30] By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
[31] By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.
[32] And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets —

[33] who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
[34] quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
[35] Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.
[36] Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment.
[37] They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated —
[38] of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
[39] And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised,

[40] since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

All this, and yet it is supposedly impermissible to “look” as an example of the godly Christian to Mary: the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ? It’s ludicrous.

“This twofold movement of prayer to Mary has found a privileged expression in the Ave Maria: Hail Mary [or Rejoice, Mary]: . . .” (CCC 2676)

Most of the Hail Mary is right from Scripture:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28 RSV, Catholic edition)

As to this translation, Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson stated:

“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 of the New Testament, II, 13)

So far, it is not a prayer, but praise, or veneration, from the angel Gabriel to Mary (right in Scripture).

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb [Jesus]!” (Luke 1:42: from Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; again it is veneration, not a prayer]

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”

Even now, it’s not a prayer, meaning that we are seeking answers directly from Mary rather than God. No, it’s asking her to intercede on our behalf (“pray for us” as opposed to “answer our prayer request yourself”), to God. None of this is “worship.” It’s not even prayer. As for asking a human being to pray (or in only a strictly limited sense, praying to [or through] them as a “conduit” to God), I already went through that above. Repetition is a fine teacher, so here it is again (worded slightly differently):

Jesus taught that it was fine to pray to a dead man (Abraham) and ask him to intercede (Luke 16). Saul talked to the dead prophet Samuel and asked him for requests. Samuel never said that he couldn’t do so; he simply refused to answer his request for a military victory (1 Sam 28:3-25). Dead men in heaven (Rev 5:8) and angels (Rev 8:3-4) somehow have possession of our prayers, to present to God: because (so it is reasonably surmised) we have asked them to intercede for us.

All that is the Bible, not me, or some Catholic dogma that is thought to be “anti-biblical” and not grounded in Holy Scripture. Pastor Slick and all Protestants have to grapple with it. They claim to be especially “biblical” Christians. Very well, then: I challenge them to get to work. I have provided tons of Scripture to ponder. It all has to be interpreted somehow by them.

As for “mother of God”: see the following biblical and Christian history argumentation:

Mary Mother of God: Protestant Founders Agree (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, and Lutheranism) [10-10-08]

“Mother of God”: Quick, Effective Biblical Proof [12-11-08]

John Calvin’s Objection to the Term, “Mother of God” [5-9-13]

Mary the Mother of God: Idolatry or Plainly Biblical? [10-8-15]

Martin Luther vs. Nestorius Regarding “Mother of God” [3-28-18]

How to Correct Some Misunderstandings About Mary (“Mother of God”) [National Catholic Register, 2-20-19]

On the Title “Mother of God” / Theotokos (vs. Steve Hays) [5-14-20]

Conclusion: Pastor Slick has failed to establish even a single one of his many points. Catholics do not teach the propriety or allowance of worshiping and adoring Mary as they worship and adore God alone. It’s simply a lie and an outrageous one (bearing false witness) to assert this. But it’s been happening these past five centuries and there is no indication that it will end (at least not in the tiny minority of Protestant anti-Catholics) anytime soon.

All we can do is educate such deluded people and speak truth to them, with a profuse use of Bible passages in order to achieve that end.


Photo credit: The Annunciation (1444), by Barthélemy d’Eyck (fl. 1444-1469) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]



September 19, 2020




VI. Back to New Testament Tradition (and a Rabbit Trail of “Absolute Assurance”)

VII. Zapping Church History and Bashing the Church Fathers

VIII. Paul, Pagans, Prophets, Plato, Patristics, and Protestant Pastors

IX. Pastor Bayack’s Word vs. the Word of God, Calvin, & Luther (Gospel and Baptism)

X. Parting Shots From Pastor Bayack

XI. Postscript: Why Pastor Bayack Decided to End This Debate

* * * * *
VI. Back to New Testament Tradition (and a Rabbit Trail of “Absolute Assurance”)
However, Stephen Ray remains undaunted. Catholic Tradition must survive and to prop it up he appeals to passages like 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6 where Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to keep the traditions that he gave them. It may seem as if he has found the support he needs. But are these verses part of the structure of Catholic Tradition or are they part of the explosion that brings it down? Let us look at each. In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is writing to this church to let them know that the day of the Lord has not yet come and that Jesus Christ has not yet returned for His bride (verses 1-2).
He then goes on to explain in verses 3-12 what must first happen before the Lord returns which includes the frightful revelation of the “man of lawlessness . . . the son of destruction” (verse 3) and all of the chilling activity that comes with his advent. And lest believers think that somehow they will be in peril because of these future events, Paul gives them a marvelous word of comfort in verses 13-14, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (italics added). Finally, in light of these word Paul gives his command in verse 15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”
What is the point? Simply this—Paul calls them to follow these traditions in light of their calling, election, and absolute certainty of their salvation, a teaching which is directly contradicted by Roman Catholic doctrine! This assurance is reinforced by what he said to them in his first letter, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). In other words, whatever these traditions were, they were in harmony with the doctrine of the believer’s assurance which Catholicism has long rejected. The traditions of this verse are in direct conflict with the Tradition of Rome.
First of all, this proves nothing at all with regard to the meaning of tradition because Pastor Bayack introduces a completely different subject matter. If he wishes to engage Catholics on the issues of soteriology, justification, assurance, etc., many of us Catholic apologists would be more than happy to oblige him, but to introduce that here is illogical and improper. Pastor Bayack’s burden is to show precisely what Paul means by his constant (not merely one-time) usage of tradition, and its being received and delivered.
I have shown, by much exegetical and linguistic biblical evidence, presented above (and directly below), that he and other New Testament writers mean by this the gospelthe word of God, the faith, etc. They are all the same entity. This can be clearly shown by a dozen of St. Paul’s statements to the Thessalonians alone:

1 Thessalonians 1:5 for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power . . .

1 Thessalonians 1:6 . . . you received the word in much affliction . . .

1 Thessalonians 2:2 . . . we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God . . .

1 Thessalonians 2:8 . . . ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves . . .

1 Thessalonians 2:9 . . . we preached to you the gospel of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . you received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . .

1 Thessalonians 4:1 . . . as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God . . .

2 Thessalonians 1:8 . . . vengeance upon . . . those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel . . .

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . hold to the traditions . . . taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 . . . pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph . . .

2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . the tradition that you received from us.

Paul uses the words and phrases gospeltradition, and word of the Lord interchangeably even in the space of just five verses (2 Thessalonians 2:14-3:1)!!! So it is quite biblical and Pauline to say, “we must proclaim the saving tradition,” since “tradition” and “gospel” and “word of God” are synonymous in Paul’s mind and that of the Apostles. Therefore, this broad application can’t be reduced to a single usage and limited in its meaning, as the good pastor foolishly tries to do here.

I’m sure Pastor Bayack would agree with me that a fundamental (characteristically Protestant) rule of hermeneutics, is to compare Scripture with Scripture. I have done that, where tradition (paradosis) is concerned, and quite comprehensively. Pastor Bayack has not. But if he wishes to do so now, I’d be absolutely delighted to interact with his response to my exegesis.
Secondly, the argument he gives concerning “absolute certainty of salvation” is clearly logically fallacious (I shall treat it in passing, even though we stray from our subject). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul writes that God chose you from the beginning to be saved . . . Well, sure: God chooses and elects who is saved. And it is “present” to God, not future, as He is outside of time. Welcome to Christian Theology 0101. This is Catholic doctrine, and we believe in predestination (of the saved, but not the damned) as well.
It is a binding dogma of the Church (for proof of this assertion, see related papers on my Salvation & Justification page). But Paul here does not teach that the believer himself is “absolutely” assured of his own salvation. The passage teaches nothing of the sort (only eisegesis forces it to); it merely states that God chooses his elect. God’s foreknowledge and omniscience are quite distinct from our fallible and sin-infected knowledge, as I’m sure Pastor Bayack would readily grant.
Thirdly, does Pastor Bayack wish to argue that every person in the Thessalonian church was amongst the elect, so that we should take this verse absolutely literally? That would hardly be a tenable position. This is a corporate address, and cannot be applied literally to each and every person in that church. Communities are always a mixed bag; we know this from Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Corinthians, and Jesus’ reprimands of the “seven churches” (note that He still regards them as “churches” despite most being pitiable examples of Christianity at best) in the book of Revelation (and any Christian’s own experience). If there are a few Christians to be found even in the lowly Catholic Church, according to our friend, then certainly there were a few reprobates who hung around the Thessalonian church . . .
Fourthly, the Apostle Paul himself possesses no such “absolute assurance” at all. Paul was not Luther, the one who was neurotically obsessed with figuring out whether God loved him or not. Paul is rather confident of God’s love, yet he never speaks of having already attained the prize of salvation:
1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Galatians 5:1, 4 . . . stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.
1 Timothy 5:15 For some have already strayed after Satan.
[See also 1 Samuel 11:6, 18:11-12, Ezekiel 18:24, 33:12-13, 18, Galatians 4:9, Colossians 1:23, Hebrews 3:12-14, 6:4-6, 11-12, 10:23, 26, 29, 36, 39, 12:15, 2 Peter 2:15, 20-21, Revelation 2:4-5]
Catholics believe that every person can have a moral assurance of salvation, provided we examine ourselves honestly and thoroughly to determine if we are in right relationship to God and not engaged in gravely sinful activities. We assert that this is the biblical view, seeing that it is often stated that “fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, liars, thieves,” etc. will not inherit the kingdom (salvation).
Fifth, even John Calvin does not hold that someone other than God (I say, even the Apostle Paul, especially since he wasn’t even absolutely sure of his own election) could know whether another person was amongst the elect (though indeed he taught that one could be personally sure of their own election):
[W]e are not bidden to distinguish between reprobate and elect – that is for God alone, not for us, to do . . . (Institutes of the Christian Religion [McNeill / Battles edition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960], IV. 1. 3.)
We must thus consider both God’s secret election and his inner call. For he alone “knows who are his” [II Tim. 2:19] . . . except that they bear his insignia by which they may be distinguished from the reprobate. But because a small and contemptible number are hidden in a huge multitude and a few grains of wheat are covered by a pile of chaff, we must leave to God alone the knowledge of his church, whose foundation is his secret election. It is not sufficient, indeed, for us to comprehend in mind and thought the multitude of the elect, unless we consider the unity of the church as that into which we are convinced we have been truly engrafted. (Ibid., IV.1. 2.)
Of those who openly wear his badge, his eyes alone see the ones who are unfeignedly holy and will persevere to the very end [Matt. 24:13] – the ultimate point of salvation. (Ibid., IV.1. 8.)
Sixth, right in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, in the immediate context of Pastor Bayack’s citation, Paul speaks of the traditions being passed by word of mouth; oral tradition, which is anathema to the Protestant position. So our friend will say that this was to cease when the Bible was completed. That’s a nice opinion, but that is all it is: Pastor Bayack’s own arbitrary opinion. It is nowhere stated in the Bible; therefore it must be dismissed as an extrabiblical notion; therefore contrary to sola Scriptura and certainly not an indisputable tenet of belief (even granting Protestant premises). So, indeed, the tradition referred to here is no Protestant tradition, as it includes authoritative oral proclamation, which is never regarded as temporary by the Apostles.
Seventh, if we wish to play this game of defining tradition by immediate context, rather than repeated usage, then Pastor Bayack’s argument will eventually backfire, simply by finding a context which goes against (much) Protestant teaching. For instance:
1 Corinthians 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
Following our friend’s method, let us see what the very next verse states (and how it will “define” this tradition):
1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband . . .
Now, any evangelical Protestant who takes any sociological note at all of what is going on in his own theological circles knows full well that feminism and unisexism is launching an all-out assault and infiltrating evangelical circles left and right. And no biblical doctrine is more despised by a certain “enlightened” feminist outlook as outdated, “patriarchal,” and oppressive, than the headship of the husband. The point is that, once again (as always), Protestantism (even at official denominational levels) is caving into the zeitgeist and fads of our time.
Apart from the ongoing ecclesiological and doctrinal chaos that has always typified Protestantism, there is certainly no present-day agreement about the meaning of this teaching of Paul, even in supposedly “orthodox” conservative evangelical circles. Yet (again, using Pastor Bayack’s own methodology against us), this is part and parcel of New Testament tradition! Paraphrasing our friend, and turning the tables:
    Are these verses part of the structure of Protestant tradition [substitute the more accepted word “doctrine” for the faint of heart] or are they part of the explosion that brings it down?
If the example of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and its context “brings down” Catholic Tradition, then by the same token, 1 Corinthians 11:2-3 must bring down all the liberalized, compromised, secularized, “feminized” churches which are present by the thousands even in the evangelical Protestant milieu. There is no denying the problem. Francis Schaeffer (whom I greatly admire; and whom Steve Ray once studied with, at L’Abri in Switzerland) was “prophetically” writing about it for several years before his death, which was in 1984.
The same argument can be made concerning acceptance of divorce, abortion, premarital sex, female clergy, even homosexuality and euthanasia, in many evangelical circles today (not to mention contraception, which Luther and Calvin regarded as murder, and which all Christians opposed as gravely immoral before 1930). It is obvious that official, unchanging Catholic teaching on these and many other ethical, gender, sexual, and life issues, is far more in line with New Testament teaching than any particular brand of Protestantism is.
Thus, I submit that it is Pastor Bayack’s argument (and by extension, his theological/ecclesiological system) which is “brought down” by an “explosion” of New Testament (and even internal Protestant) logic. Not that incoherence or moral and doctrinal relativism in Protestant thought and theology is a rare thing . . . But let’s go on and see what else he attempts to come up with in his ongoing mission to “explode” the Catholic acceptance of the tradition of the New Testament and the Apostles.
Catholicism fares no better with a proper understanding of 2 Thessalonians 3:6. In that verse, Paul states, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition that you received from us.” He then goes on to explain beginning in verse 7 how he, Silas, and Timothy all led disciplined lives and worked for their own bread. The tradition that Paul speaks of here deals with the work ethic that “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (verse 10), and has nothing to do with things like the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, etc.
The Christian, apostolic, biblical tradition obviously includes ethical and behavioral elements. Does that mean, therefore, that it excludes various doctrinal elements (setting aside for the moment what exactly they might be)? This is an astonishingly weak and absurd and utterly irrelevant argument, especially coming from a trained minister of the gospel and student of the Bible. We obviously determine the complete extent of New Testament tradition by studying it as a whole. What Paul and Jesus teach in the New Testament books constitutes the tradition and gospel and word of the Lord. It is comprehensive; hence Jesus commands His followers, shortly before His Ascension, to baptize and make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . . ” (Matthew 28:20).
But beyond that, we also look to the early Church to determine what the gospel and tradition and “deposit of faith” was. The Apostles and other early Christians went out to preach to the world, and they didn’t simply stand and read Scripture to the crowds (though they certainly used it). What the early Church and early Fathers believed gives us a clue as to the whole extent of this New Testament tradition. They didn’t forget everything (at that early stage, they even had firsthand memory of what Jesus or His disciples had told them) as soon as the Bible was complete, c. 100. And memory was much better in that culture. It was an oral culture, where memory was cultivated from an early age. This has been documented time and again.
And of course we find virtually all the Catholic distinctives present from the beginning (episcopal church government – bishops – , a literal Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, a priesthood, infused — not imputed — justification, apostolic succession, adherence to Tradition as well as Scripture, penance, prayers for the dead, the papacy, the communion of saints, Mary as the ever-virgin, Mother of God, and New Eve, a visible Church with councils {Jerusalem Council of Acts 15}, etc.). Doctrines develop, but they are present in kernel or fuller form from the beginning, whereas dozens of Protestant distinctives are nowhere to be found until more than 1400 years later (which scarcely suggests that they were apostolic).
Three Protestant Bible Dictionaries agree with my basic contentions with regard to the nature of biblical tradition:
Apostolic teaching – which included facts about Christ, their theological importance, and their ethical implications for Christian living – was described as tradition (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15). It had divine sanction (1 Cor 11:23; Gal 1:11-16) . . . Jesus rejected tradition, but only in the sense of human accretion lacking divine sanction (Mk 7:3-9). (J. D. Douglas, editor, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, revised edition, 1978, pp. 981-982)
Appeals to authoritative Church tradition are found already in the earliest New Testament writings, the letters of Paul. Occasionally explicit reference is made to some material as traditional, including a particular set of ethical instructions (2 Thess 3:6), a set eucharistic formula (1 Cor 11:23-6), and a standardized recital of the death, burial, resurrection, and postresurrection appearances of Christ (1 Cor 15:3-7). Also recorded are more generalized references to Church traditions (1 Cor 11:2; Phil 4:9; 2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rom 6:17; Gal 1:9). . .. . The New Testament writings were first valued not as inspired Scripture but as deposits of apostolic tradition in fixed written form, to be interpreted authoritatively by the bishops and according to the rule of faith . . .
Jesus did not totally reject the oral tradition . . . His own interpretation of the Torah in the Sermon on the Mount employs the scribal principle of ‘building a fence about the Torah’ – not simply by restricting external behavior more than the written law, but by pointing out that sinful interior urgings in themselves violate what the Torah seeks to control (Matt 5:21-2,27-8, 38-9). (Allen C. Myers, editor, Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1987; [English revision of Bijbelse Encyclopedie, edited by W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands: J.H. Kok, revised edition, 1975], translated by Raymond C. Togtman & Ralph W. Vunderink, pp. 1014-1015)
Christian tradition in the New Testament therefore consists of the following three elements: a) the facts of Christ (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3; Lk 1:2 . . . ); b) the theological interpretation of those facts; see, e.g., the whole argument of 1 Cor 15; c) the manner of life which flows from them (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6-7). In Jude 3 the ‘faith . . . once for all delivered’ (RSV) covers all three elements (cf. Rom 6:17). Christ was made known by the apostolic testimony to Him; the apostles therefore claimed that their tradition was to be received as authoritative (1 Cor 15:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). . . This combination of eyewitness testimony and Spirit-guided witness produced a ‘tradition’ that was a true and valid complement to the Old Testament Scriptures. So 1 Tim 5:18 and 2 Pet 3:16 place apostolic tradition alongside Scripture and describe it as such. (J. D. Douglas, editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962, p. 1291)
The context of these verses deals a crippling blow—not a support—to official Catholic Tradition. However, Stephen Ray conveniently ignores the context of these verses as he must.
The above arguments show how ludicrous these contentions are, I think (especially the gratuitous “must”). If anyone is “ignoring context” (and proper exegesis), Pastor Bayack is. I’ve given at least ten times more biblical support for our view than he has given for his (if he wishes to counter-reply, then great). Even Protestant biblical scholars and commentators would not accept such a simplistic understanding of New Testament tradition, as just seen.
They are far more in accord with my viewpoint than Pastor Bayack’s (i.e., concerning what tradition is, not, of course, with regard to its particulars, or our claims that it contains what are now “Catholic disctinctives”). But here we are discussing tradition generally, or generically. What it includes in all its particulars is another entire discussion. That requires biblical examination of each and every doctrine, and I do just that on my website, which is called Biblical Evidence for Catholicism.

VII. Zapping Church History and Bashing the Church Fathers
Just about anything can be proven when Scripture is taken out of context and the old saying, “a text without a context is a pretext” applies very well to him. In fact, he is quite adept at ignoring the context of Scripture if an allegorical interpretation supports his point. When I challenged him about using extensive allegory, especially in reference to the Old Testament, he stated, “I have often used Old Testament passages in the same ‘patristic’ manner as the earliest Church Fathers” (11) and “If you mean by allegory that I interpret them patristically, I plead guilty” (11).
I agree totally about the supreme importance of context. But I would contend that Pastor Bayack, too, is guilty of neglecting this (whether or not Steve Ray is). I’ve now spent many hours refuting his false claims, utilizing tons of Scripture in the process (and I have enjoyed it immensely, because I always love studying Holy Scripture). Let the reader judge who is being more “biblical” in their analyses and exegesis. General hermeneutical principles and the place of allegory are beyond my purview here. I refer Pastor Bayack and readers to my paper: Dialogue: Clearness (Perspicuity) of Scripture and the Formal Sufficiency of Scripture (with Carmen Bryant). That dialogue deals with hermeneutical issues (including the history of same).
In this paper, one learns, for example, that the early heretics tended to believe in a hyper-literal interpretation of Scripture, to the exclusion of allegory, whereas the orthodox Catholic Chalcedonian trinitarians accepted allegory (though not denying a primacy of the literal interpretation). So this is yet another instance of Protestantism being analogous to the heresies in their theological method (just as in the case of sola Scriptura and in the tendency to reject apostolic succession and the crucial, indispensable function of history in Christianity).
The Gnostics, for example, rejected the Incarnation (the Apostle John was already refuting them in John 1), so it was entirely predictable and logically consistent that they would reject Church history as well, since the Church is the embodiment of Christ and the continuation of His mission in time and space. Christianity is not a disembodied, ethereal religion. It takes in the physical world as well. In the Christian view, the body is good, sensory pleasure is good, and hence the Church and history are good, and sacraments bring together spiritual graces and physical means, just as God took on flesh and became man, thus raising human flesh and mankind to previously unknown sublime levels. This is the incarnational principle.
Statements like this reveal another crutch that Stephen Ray must lean upon to support Catholic Tradition—the Church Fathers.
Indeed, as any legitimate Christian system should, because Christianity is intrinsically historical. Many Protestants seem to take this dim view of Church history and the Fathers. But Christianity is historical at its very core, as Judaism before it was. It was confirmed by eyewitness testimony of miracles, and Jesus’ Resurrection; very much historical criteria of proof, credibility, and plausibility.
What Pastor Bayack calls a “crutch” is absolutely essential to self-consistent Christianity, even in terms of getting the Bible itself into the good pastor’s hands. Without the Catholic Church and Tradition and Fathers we would not have the Bible we have today. Canonization (just like the authorship of the Bible) was a very human process. But the history of the Church is a continuation of Jesus’ Incarnation. God took on flesh and became man. After our Lord’s Ascension, the Body of Christ, the Church, continued the physical presence of Jesus on the earth, in a sense. God works with men; men are physical; the Church they belong to is physical in many ways (this gets into sacramentalism as well: another huge discussion, but see the many biblical proofs in my paper: Heartfelt Sacramentalism (Not Mere Charms).
In my review I stated that he quotes them as though they were infallible and that nowhere in his book does he consider that they may contract Scripture to which the humble Mr. Ray responds, “With all due respect the above comment is nothing but stupid. Come on Mr. Bayack, of course some of the Fathers contradict Scripture some of the time” (16).
I assumed that you believed as much, Mr. Ray, but that is not what I said, if indeed you truly read my review. I said that you treat them as though they are infallible, not that you believe them to be infallible. He continues, “Do I have to attach a disclaimer for each citation?” (11). No. But where do you give any disclaimer, even one, that the Church Fathers were prone to error? Judging by the way you so authoritatively referenced them, how is a simple mind like mine to conclude otherwise? 
It is common knowledge (with the slightest study on the subject) that in Catholic, and Orthodox theology, the Fathers are not regarded as individually infallible. Even popes are infallible only when they authoritatively proclaim, not always. So I must agree that even the question and the distinction without a difference drawn betrays yet another lamentable instance of Protestant ignorance, which is never surprising to those of us who deal in Protestant misconceptions all the time, in the course of defending the Catholic Church. And, admittedly, it can get irritating and frustrating to us, so that we may not always respond as charitably as we should.
I’m not sure if Steve makes a precise statement in either of his two books of exactly how patristic authority is regarded in the Catholic Church. I couldn’t locate one myself. If he doesn’t, I think it was an unfortunate omission, given the multitude of patristic citations in each book. He has, however, written an article which I have had on my Church Fathers page for some time (and it is available on his website): Unanimous Consent of the Fathers. In this paper (included in the Catholic Dictionary of Apologetics and Evangelism — Ignatius Press) Steve states (emphasis added):
The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers (unanimem consensum Patrum) refers to the morally unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers on certain doctrines as revealed by God and interpretations of Scripture as received by the universal Church. The individual Fathers are not personally infallible, and a discrepancy by a few patristic witnesses does not harm the collective patristic testimony. The word “unanimous” comes from two Latin words: únus, one + animus, mind. “Consent” in Latin means agreement, accord, and harmony; being of the same mind or opinion. Where the Fathers speak in harmony, with one mind overall – not necessarily each and every one agreeing on every detail but by consensus and general agreement – we have “unanimous consent.” The teachings of the Fathers provide us with an authentic witness to the apostolic tradition. . . .
A fine definition of Unanimous Consent, based on the Church Councils, is provided in the Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary,
When the Fathers of the Church are morally unanimous in their teaching that a certain doctrine is a part of revelation, or is received by the universal Church, or that the opposite of a doctrine is heretical, then their united testimony is a certain criterion of divine tradition. As the Fathers are not personally infallible, the counter-testimony of one or two would not be destructive of the value of the collective testimony; so a moral unanimity only is required. (Wilkes-Barre, Penn.: Dimension Books, 1965, pg. 153)

VIII. Paul, Pagans, Prophets, Plato, Patristics, and Protestant Pastors
Anyone who yokes his interpretation of Scripture together with the Church Fathers is often building on a perforated foundation—its appearance belies its strength. If Stephen Ray truly believes the Church Fathers to be fallible, then he should examine them as the Bereans did Paul in Acts 17:11 (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 also). If the great apostle’s teaching was subject to examination, then that of lesser men should be as well. What most people fail to realize about the Church Fathers is that many of them often embraced a syncretistic approach seeking to harmonize Greek
philosophy and Biblical truth.
“It was argued by some Christian apologists that the best doctrines of philosophy were due to the inworking in the world of the same Divine Word who had become incarnate in Jesus Christ. ‘The teachings of Plato,’ says Justin Martyr, ‘are not alien to those of Christ, though not in all respects similar. . . . For all the writers (of antiquity) were able to have a dim vision of realities by means of the indwelling seed of the implanted Word.” (Edwin Hatch, The Influences of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church [London: Williams and Norgate, 1895; repr., Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson, 1995], 126-27, parenthesis in original)
The intent was to make Christianity appeal to the Greek mind. However, this approach is fatally flawed. Worldly wisdom is “earthly, natural, [and] demonic” as we read in James 3:15 and is directly at odds with divine wisdom as we read in 1 Corinthians 2. The carnal mind will never believe due to intellectual reasoning alone. He will not accept the things of God until the Lord opens his eyes and draws him to believe (cf. John 6:44). Thus the oil-and-water mix pursued by many of the Fathers often yielded hazardous interpretations of the Word of God. Poison plus water
equals poison.
This is another huge subject, and Pastor Bayack is now revealing the common, most regrettable and unbiblical evangelical Protestant distrust of the mind and reason, and of selective truths which may have been (and often were) present in the nobler pagan minds such as that of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. He wishes to contend that this “syncretistic” attitude is foreign to Christianity and the New Testament. It is not. Elsewhere I have written:
We observe the Apostle Paul “incorporating paganism” in a sense when he dialogues with the Greek intellectuals and philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17). He compliments their religiosity (17:22), and comments on a pagan “altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ ” (17:23). He then goes on to preach that this “unknown god” is indeed Yahweh, the God of the OT and of the Jews (17:23-24). Then he expands upon the understanding of the true God as opposed to “shrines made by human hands” (17:24-25), and God as Sovereign and Sustaining Creator (17:26-28). In doing so he cites two pagan poets and/or philosophers: Epimenides of Crete (whom he also cites in Titus 1:12) and Aratus of Cilicia (17:28) and expands upon their understanding as well (17:29).
This is basically the same thing that the Church does with regard to pagan feasts and customs: it takes whatever is not sinful and Christianizes it. To me, this is great practical wisdom and a profound understanding of human nature. The frequent Protestant assumption that this is a wholesale adoption of paganism per se, and an evil and diabolical mixture of idolatry and paganism with Christianity is way off the mark . . . After all, the Apostle Paul is clearly guilty of mixing paganism and Christianity also. :-) Remember, it was Paul who stated:
To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:22; NRSV; read the context of 9:19-21)
In my opinion, the Church’s practice concerning Easter, Christmas, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, etc. is a straightforward application of Paul’s own “evangelistic strategy,” if you will. That puts all this in quite a different light, when it is backed up explicitly from Scripture. The early Church merely followed Paul’s lead. Furthermore, skeptics of Christianity trace the Trinity itself to Babylonian three-headed gods and suchlike, and the Resurrection of Christ to Mithraism or other pagan religious beliefs, but that doesn’t stop Protestants from believing in the Triune God or the Resurrection. So this whole critique eventually backfires on those who give it. (Is Catholicism Half-Pagan?)
Let us continue. Stephen Ray is not finished in his support of Catholic Tradition. In his section “Questions for ‘Bible Christians’” on page 26, he draws upon Jude 9, 14-15 as support for oral Tradition being authoritative and even treating it as God’s Word. Is it?
Jude 9 discusses the dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over the body of Moses. While this event is not found in the Old Testament, it is found in the apocryphal book The Assumption of Moses. Verses 14-15 discuss a prophecy of Enoch which is also not found in the Old Testament but is found in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Do these references support oral Tradition as being authoritative or that the Catholic Apocrypha is also part of the inspired Word of God?
No, they do not. God at times allows His writers to quote truths from non-inspired sources to make a point. For example, Paul quotes ancient poets three times in inspired writings. In Acts 17:28 he quotes Aratus’ poem Phaenomena when he says, “Even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’” Does this mean that Phaenomena is inspired or that the oral tradition which transmitted it is the Word of God?
Is the same true of Menander and Epimenides because he quotes them in 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Titus 1:12 respectively? Man in his pursuit of knowledge occasionally intersects God’s truth. After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
But didn’t Pastor Bayack just say, above: “Worldly wisdom is ‘earthly, natural, [and] demonic’ as we read in James 3:15 and is directly at odds with divine wisdom as we read in 1 Corinthians 2.” ? Is this not contradictory to his present (true) point that pagans and other non-Christians may possess snippets of truth, even “God’s truth”? Perhaps he can return and inform us as to which of his two contradictory opinions he prefers. No one is saying that to merely quote some source makes it inspired per se, but it would seem to imply a considerable authority and trustworthiness of the source. Catholic apologist David Palm elaborates:
Jude relates an altercation between Michael and Satan:
When the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’ (Jude 9).
As H. Willmering says in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,
This incident is not mentioned in Scripture, but may have been a Jewish oral tradition, which is well known to the readers of this epistle.
Some versions of the story circulating in ancient Judaism depict Satan trying to intervene as Michael buries the body. Several of the Church Fathers know of another version in which Moses’ body is assumed into heaven after his death. Jude draws on this oral Tradition to highlight the incredible arrogance of the heretics he opposes; even Michael the archangel did not take it on himself to rebuke Satan, and yet these men have no scruples in reviling celestial beings.This text provides another example of a New Testament author tapping oral Tradition to expound Christian doctrine—in this case an issue of behavior. In addition, this text relates well to a Catholic dogma that troubles many non-Catholics—the bodily Assumption of Mary. There is no explicit biblical evidence for Mary’s Assumption (although see Rev. 12:1-6), but Jude not only provides us with a third biblical example of the bodily assumption of one of God’s special servants (see also Gen. 5:24, 2 Kgs. 2:11), he shows that oral Tradition can be the ground on which belief in such a dogma may be based. (“Oral Tradition in the New Testament”)
In my extensive and very enjoyable dialogue with a Baptist (who henceforth was never to be heard from again): Sola Scriptura, the Old Testament, and Ancient Jewish Practice, I drew the following conclusions from my numerous analogical and biblical arguments, which have some relevance to our present discussion. My friend was contending that the Old Testament Jews believed in sola Scriptura (i.e., their views on formal principles of authority were more consistent with Protestantism). I denied this (with many arguments), and maintained that they were much more similar to the Catholic “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Church, and Tradition.
The same is true of events and quotations that God uses from apocryphal sources even if these sources were not inspired. (By the way, if Catholicism appeals to these verses in Jude as support for apocryphal inspiration, then why is neither The Book of Enoch nor The Assumption of Moses found in the Catholic Apocrypha?
Because it’s an argument from analogy and methodology, not exact equivalence. The important and relevant point here is that there are many thinly-veiled references to the so-called “apocryphal” books which are in the Catholic OT canon in the New Testament, yet Protestants never think that suggests canonicity of those books; all the while they state over and over that when any of the 39 Old Testament books accepted by Protestants are cited, that this suggests their canonicity. Here are three examples of clear (though not technically “direct”) references to the “Apocrypha” in the New Testament:
Revelation 1:4 Grace to you . . . from the seven spirits who are before his throne. (cf. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6)
Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. (cf. 5:8)
Tobit 12:15 I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.
St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:29, seems to have 2 Maccabees 12:44 in mind. This saying of Paul is one of the most difficult in the New Testament for Protestants to interpret, given their theology:
1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
2 Maccabees 12:44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
This passage of St. Paul shows that it was the custom of the early Church to watch, pray and fast for the souls of the deceased. In Scripture, to be baptized is often a metaphor for affliction or (in the Catholic understanding) penance (for example, Matthew 3:11, Mark 10:38-39, Luke 3:16, 12:50). Since those in heaven have no need of prayer, and those in hell can’t benefit from it, these practices, sanctioned by St. Paul, must be directed towards those in purgatory. Otherwise, prayers and penances for the dead make no sense, and this seems to be largely what Paul is trying to bring out. The “penance interpretation” is contextually supported by the next three verses, where St. Paul speaks of Why am I in peril every hour? . . . I die every day, and so forth.
And Hebrews 11:35 mirrors the thought of 2 Maccabees 7:29:
Hebrews 11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.
2 Maccabees 7:29 Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers. [a mother speaking to her son: see 7:25-26]
How is it that these non-inspired books could support Apocryphal inspiration?)
The Catholic argument here is not so much to support the Deuterocanonical books, as it is to support the normative nature of an authoritative, non-canonical oral Tradition. We say that the “Apocrypha” is Scripture because it was declared so at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (393, 397), along with the other books which Protestants accept. Our friends have the inconsistent principle, once again. The seven books they dispute were arbitrarily ditched in the 16th century because they contained clear proofs of doctrines (such as purgatory) which Luther rejected. But who gave Luther the authority to determine by himself what constituted Sacred Scripture? Who anointed him as God’s Holy Prophet or some sort of “pseudo-Moses”?
Furthermore, in verse 14 Jude writes “Enoch . . . prophesied”. By contrast, notice how Matthew referred to the prophecy of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:5, “For so it has been written by the prophet.” Enoch’s quote is inspired while Micah’s writings are inspired. Never is it said, “It is written” concerning The Book of Enoch nor any other apocryphal writing. Jude references Enoch’s prophecy, not the book. Neither the document nor its word-of-mouth transmission have the same authority as Scripture.
See the above arguments and links. This paper is long enough. One can’t conquer the world in a single paper. Now we are engaged in extensive arguments about the biblical canon . . .
And neither does Roman Catholic Tradition.
I agree. The Catholic Church is the Guardian and Custodian of the Bible and Tradition. It is not equal to it, nor does it have any right or power to change God’s Tradition, the Gospel, or the Bible. Protestants, on the other hand, thought nothing of overturning doctrines which had been continuously believed and passed-down for 1500 years. This is indeed the usurpation of Scripture and harmonious Apostolic Tradition, so I suggest that Pastor Bayack examine his own Protestant house (all the hundreds of rooms in it).

IX. Pastor Bayack’s Word vs. the Word of God, Calvin, & Luther (Gospel and Baptism)
ii. The Word of God
Stephen Ray’s ability to handle the Word of God has also been weighed in the balance and found wanting. He is as obligated to follow Rome’s handling of Scripture as he is her Tradition, even if it means throwing himself into a vortex of error.
But what does the Protestant do in this regard? Well, Joe Q. Protestant is an atomistic individual who (when all’s said and done) follows his own theological inclination wherever it may lead. There are plenty of “vortex’s of error” in Protestant ranks. There must be, because the mere existence of contradiction and competing theologies and Christianities logically requires that someone is in error. At least individual Catholics such as Steve Ray and myself consciously acknowledge and submit to an entity and Tradition far greater than one frail and fallible human being. At least Catholics acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has been talking to a lot of holy men and women for 2000 years (not just “me”), and that they may have learned a few things, a little bit in all that time that we can spiritually benefit from.
G. K. Chesterton stated that “tradition is the democracy of the dead.” Protestantism, on the other hand, is more like the “dictatorship of the individual.” The wheel (theoretically, following the principles of private judgment and sola Scriptura) could be re-invented with every Protestant. Every Protestant is his own pope, and assumes more authority for himself than any pope ever dreamt of in his wildest dreams.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Ray views this as a badge of honor. “Ignorant people like to claim Catholicism contradicts the Bible, but it was actually the great fidelity of the Catholic Church to Scripture and the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that eventually caused me to convert to the Catholic Church” (7). “One of the nice things about being a Catholic is that there are no longer any verses that don’t fit or make sense, such as 1 Peter 3:31, John 20:23, Colossians 1:24, John 3:5, etc.” (11). He holds to the same line that I was taught in fourth-grade Parochial school, namely, that
since Roman Catholicism is supposedly an infallible Church, she possesses an infallible interpretation of Scripture.
If this is so, then where is the official, infallible set of commentaries whereby I might look up the meaning of any and every verse? Surely a simple mind like mine would benefit from that. Yet none exists. Wouldn’t such a set be the invincible fortress which no heresy could assault? Why does Rome not give us the authoritative, once-for-all, verse-by-verse exposition of the Word of God which would forever silence her critics?
Because the Church is concerned with guarding the apostolic deposit in its entirety, not requiring its members to believe a certain way about particular Bible verses. The Church declares infallible doctrines, not infallible interpretations of individual verses. Another case of the Catholic not being able to win, where its more vehement critics are concerned . . . We observe Pastor Bayack’s impassioned complaint and mocking tone above. Yet we can be sure that if there did exist a Catholic document giving a binding, dogmatic opinion on every verse in the entire Bible, that this would be considered the most tyrannical, oppressive, dictatorial phenomenon ever seen in world history.
We should not hope for such a commentary anytime soon. And if Stephen Ray’s capability with the Bible reflects that of his Church, it is understandable why such a commentary will never exist. For example, he states, “Paul taught the churches many things . . . [including] how to ordain priests” (10). I am want to find such a passage! If Stephen Ray had any proficiency in Greek, he would know that the word for “priest” is the word hiereus (or archiereus for “chief/ruling priest”) and nowhere does Paul ever ordain a hiereus or teach a church to do the same. He did appoint elders in some churches (e.g. Acts 14:23) but the Greek word for “elder” is presbuteros from which we get our word “presbytery”. Never is the New Testament church office of presbuteros ever equated with hiereus.
I will defer to a link (Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church), as I am rapidly tiring (after now more than 15 hours) of answering this paper, and its multitude of errors:
Yet Mr. Ray’s exegetical skid does not stop there. When I made some remarks about the issue of baptism, he stated, “Paul’s converts were all baptized immediately upon belief in Christ (e.g. Acts 16:31) as he was himself (Acts 9:17-18)” (12).
Apparently he has never read Acts 13:12, 13:48, 17:4, 17:12, and 17:34 which make no mention of baptism accompanying belief among Paul’s converts. No doubt these believers were eventually baptized but contrary to Stephen Ray there is nothing in the text to suggest that it immediately followed belief. Several other passages also show us that not all converts were immediately baptized such as Acts 4:4, 6:7, 9:35, 9:42, and 11:21.
But these are not the only blunders he makes regarding baptism. As I mentioned earlier he devotes over ninety pages of his book to supposedly prove baptismal regeneration, pages which include attempts to rebut Evangelical arguments opposing it. I pointed out that nowhere does he address 1 Corinthians 1:17 where Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” To this he responded, “I really don’t see what the above verse has to do with anything” (12).
I am amazed at this statement! Surely Mr. Ray would realize that simple minds like mine would latch on to verses like this. And if my argument is so easy to refute, then doing so in his book would only strengthen his. Yet he ignores this verse, as he must, since it is one of the most potent against his position. If baptism was necessary for salvation, then Paul erred grievously by not baptizing everyone immediately upon belief. Why would he leave his listeners in eternal peril if they merely believed but had to wait for someone else to come along and finish the evangelistic job? What surgeon would shut down the operating room half way through a heart transplant?
In 1 Corinthians 1:17 where Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” the Greek word for “but” is not the simple conjunction de but the adversative particle alla which is the plural of allos, meaning “another”. Anyone with even basic competence with Greek knows that alla denotes a sharp contrast. Paul’s distinction between baptism and the gospel could not be clearer.
Again, since this is another major discussion, I will defer to my many papers on the topic on my Baptism and Sacramentalism page.
Speaking now of the gospel, Stephen Ray continues his Biblical and theological ambiguity as he writes, “I am thankful to be part of the Church that has consistently taught the true Gospel from the very beginning. She has gone neither to the right nor to the left but stayed the course so that two thousand years later the Gospel is still proclaimed with truth and accuracy” (18).
What is the gospel according to Rome, Mr. Ray? Interestingly enough, for your boast about the Catholic Church preserving the true gospel, you give no definition of it. Is it, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” as Paul told the Philippians jailer in Acts 16:31? Is it the same definition that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which I remind you again contains no mention of baptism or communion, the two sacraments your book so frantically tries to prove are essential to saving faith?
The core and essence of the gospel is the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf, as our Redeemer and Savior. This is a biblical definition, as explicated in the papers:
Many anti-Catholic Protestants, however (strangely enough), wish to go beyond the Bible’s own definition of “gospel” and define it in terms of the peculiar and exclusivistic Protestant sense of sola fide and imputed, extrinsic, external justification and instant assurance of salvation. In so doing, they deny that Catholicism possesses a true gospel.
It cannot be this simple as Rome’s gospel is much more complex. It goes something like this, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and be baptized and receive communion, together with receiving as many of the other five sacraments as possible (in addition to praying to Mary and the saints for extra intercession), in the hope that you might go to heaven after you spend an indefinite period of time in that half-way hell of Purgatory.”
Well yes, as shown above, since Tradition and Gospel seem to be synonymous in Paul’s mind, and since he seems to include all of Christian teaching in the category of tradition, and since Jesus commanded His disciples to teach all that He taught them, there is a sense in which “gospel” and “tradition” are all-encompassing, taking in the whole of Christianity. Words are often used in more than one sense in Scripture, as Pastor Bayack well knows.
Now I am not passing judgment on individuals nor am I making a blanket statement that all Catholics are going to hell. “The Father . . . has given all judgment to the Son” as Jesus said in John 5:22 and we all do well to leave it with Him. However, we are to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and nowhere is this more crucial than the gospel.
Indeed. Then how can so many Protestants get the biblical definition so wrong, and in so doing, read one billion Catholics out of the Christian faith because they supposedly lack the simple gospel?
These irreconcilable differences in understanding the gospel mean that Stephen Ray and I cannot be on the same team (as he well knows) in spite of his statement, “It is sad when I have to lock horns with someone who claims the name of my Savior Jesus Christ—one with whom we should lock arms in love to take a united stand for Christ in the midst of a pagan culture” (1, italics in original).  
So Martin Luther, because he believed in baptismal regeneration, is on a different team than Pastor Bayack (a non-Christian team?) and all the Protestants who take a different view of baptism? After all, Luther (always the great super-hero and Protestant champion whenever he disagrees with the Catholic Church) wrote:
Little children . . . are free in every way, secure and saved solely through the glory of their baptism . . . Through the prayer of the believing church which presents it, . . . the infant is changed, cleansed, and renewed by inpoured faith. Nor should I doubt that even a godless adult could be changed, in any of the sacraments, if the same church prayed for and presented him, as we read of the paralytic in the Gospel, who was healed through the faith of others (Mark 2:3-12). I should be ready to admit that in this sense the sacraments of the New Law are efficacious in conferring grace, not only to those who do not, but even to those who do most obstinately present an obstacle. (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520, from the translation of A. T. W. Steinhauser, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, revised edition, 1970, p. 197)
Likewise, in his Large Catechism (1529), Luther stated:
    Expressed in the simplest form, the power, the effect, the benefit, the fruit and the purpose of baptism is to save. No one is baptized that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare [of Mark 16:16], that he may be saved. But to be saved, we know very well, is to be delivered from sin, death, and Satan, and to enter Christ’s kingdom and live forever with him . . . Through the Word, baptism receives the power to become the washing of regeneration, as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3:5 . . . Faith clings to the water and believes it to be baptism which effects pure salvation and life . . .When sin and conscience oppress us . . . you may say: It is a fact that I am baptized, but, being baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and obtain eternal life for both soul and body . . . Hence, no greater jewel can adorn our body or soul than baptism; for through it perfect holiness and salvation become accessible to us . . . (Edition by Augsburg Publishing House [Minneapolis], 1935, sections 223-224, 230, pp. 162, 165)
Even John Calvin, though he denied baptismal regeneration, believed in a host of extraordinary effects from baptism. He certainly wouldn’t wish to minimize it at all (or the larger concept of sacramentalism itself), like Pastor Bayack does. He also accepted the validity of Catholic baptism, so that all he describes below applies to all baptized Catholics. Calvin stated in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.15.16 (McNeill / Battles edition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), that:
    Such today are our Catabaptists, who deny that we have been duly baptized because we were baptized by impious and idolatrous men under the papal government . . . baptism is accordingly not of man but of God, no matter who administers it. Ignorant or even contemptuous as those who baptized us were of God and all piety, they did not baptize us into the fellowship of either their ignorance or sacrilege, but into faith in Jesus Christ, because it was not their own name but God’s that they invoked, and they baptized us into no other name. But if it was the baptism of God, it surely had, enclosed in itself, the promise of forgiveness of sins, mortification of the flesh, spiritual vivification, and participation in Christ.
Calvin’s biographer Francois Wendel writes (probably referring to this very passage):
The Anabaptists repudiated the baptism that they had received at the hands of Roman Catholic priests, on the ground that the latter were unworthy and unable to confer true baptism. Calvin replies that what matters is that we should have been baptized in Christ, and that notwithstanding any errors or unworthiness in him who administers baptism the divine promise is fulfilled towards us. (Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, translated by Philip Mairet, New York: Harper & Row, 1963 [originally 1950 in French], pp. 322-323)
So (according to John Calvin) all Catholics are indeed brothers in Christ, and Christians. He states, e.g., in Institutes IV.15. 1:
    Baptism is the sign of initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.
And in IV.15. 3:
    But we must realize that at whatever time we are baptized, we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life . . . we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins . . . For Christ’s purity has been offered us in it [baptism]; his purity ever flourishes; it is defiled by no spots, but buries and cleanses away all our defilements.
To nail this point down (like Luther and his 95 Theses), I again summarize what Calvin writes about the effects of all Catholic baptisms, as well as Protestant ones:
    1. “forgiveness of sins”2. “mortification of the flesh”3. “spiritual vivification”4. “participation in Christ”5. “received into the society of the church”6. “engrafted in Christ”7. “reckoned among God’s children”8. “washed and purged for our whole life”9. “sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins”10.”Christ’s purity has been offered us in it [baptism]”11.”his purity ever flourishes; it is defiled by no spots, but buries and cleanses away all our defilements”
Therefore, utilizing the reasons of Luther and Calvin themselves, I assert that Pastor Bayack and all Protestants (whether temperamentally anti-Catholic or no) ought to accept Catholics as Christians and brothers in Christ, and to not place them in an inherently inferior spiritual category. Argue points of theology, yes, but exclude from the Body of Christ? May it never be . . .
Did Paul “lock arms” with the Judaizers who infested the churches of Galatia? Think of all the beliefs they shared. Both were Monotheists. Both believed the same Old Testament Scriptures. Both had a similar morality and were repulsed by the rank paganism around them. Both esteemed the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. They had many important, fundamental beliefs in common. But there was one difference in belief which would never be bridged—the nature of justification.
Paul embraced justification on the basis of faith alone but the Judaizers also believed that keeping the Law was necessary. Imagine how they could have appealed to Paul: “Paul, our differences aren’t so great. Look at all that we have in common. We really just disagree in this one area. You believe in justification by faith alone, and we believe in faith plus keeping the Law and the traditions practiced by our fathers and their
successors and are still proclaimed nearly fifteen hundred years later with truth and accuracy. Let’s pull together that we might fight as one.”
But how did Paul react to the Judaizers? “We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Galatians 2:5). Regardless of whatever beliefs they may have had in common, their differences on this one vital issue would keep them forever apart.
How, then, can both Calvin and Luther accept Catholic baptism? Furthermore, we know Luther allowed those who still believed in Transubstantiation to join his party in 1543, only three years before he died (Letter to the Evangelicals at Venice, June 13, 1543). Writing about the Elevation of the Host in 1544, Luther stated:
“If Christ is truly present in the Bread, why should He not be treated with the utmost respect and even be adored?” Joachim, a friend, added: “We saw how Luther bowed low at the Elevation with great devotion and reverently worshiped Christ.” (Mathesius, Table Talk, Leipzig, 1903, p. 341)
In 1545 Luther described the Eucharist as the “adorable Sacrament,” which caused Calvin to accuse him of “raising up an idol in God’s temple,” and of being “half-papist.” Hadn’t the Founder of Protestantism, restorer of the “gospel,” co-originator (with Calvin) of sola fide and sola Scriptura read about Paul and the Judaizers?! Why didn’t he know what Pastor Bayack knows?!
And what are we simple-minded folk to believe, with such confusion and counter-claims swirling all around us, courtesy of our ever-competing, ever-dividing, mutually-anathematizing Protestant friends? I think now — at any rate — I can sympathize with Pastor Bayack’s plea, as a simple-minded pilgrim; a somewhat tortured and tormented soul, trying so hard to comprehend all this. It took 15 hours, but I am here, and we now have that in common, if little else.
So it is forevermore with those who embrace the gospel of faith alone and those who embrace faith plus works of any kind.
The biblical doctrine is grace alone through faith, with inevitable good works resulting, as part and parcel of the nature of saving faith. See my web page: Salvation and Justification for many biblical proofs. Another very long discussion . . .

X. Parting Shots From Pastor Bayack
My opinion about Crossing the Tiber remains the same—it is a masterpiece of tangled, selective scholarship which will only widen the path of many on the already broad road to destruction. It’s that simple.
So Steve Ray is in effect leading people to hell as a deluded “Pied Piper” himself. What a monstrous and unfounded thing to say. I think Pastor Bayack should think very seriously about his own words, in light of our Lord Jesus’ warning:
Matthew 5:22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.
I need not say anything more. Mr. Ray, though, is sure to say plenty more and I concede the last word to him, as I must. When it comes to who can shout the loudest, I’m no match for him. He is sure to have the last word that he might triumph over every critic. Yet Scripture will have the ultimate last word and will triumph over every error that threatens the gospel of grace by which we are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Note that Pastor Bayack conveniently bows out of the dialogue with a gratuitous parting shot (as opposed to a legitimate biblical rebuke); most unseemly, coming from a man of the cloth. This means I won’t — sadly and disappointingly — expect him to respond to my paper (an outcome not altogether unexpected, though). If he does I will be delighted and pleasantly surprised, but I won’t hold my breath. The good pastor says that Scripture will have the last word. Indeed it will, and it has — I think — in this paper. I haven’t “shouted” to the best of my knowledge, but I have offered an awful lot of Scripture. I apologize upfront for any excess of language or undue judgment or rashness.
If my esteemed Protestant brother truly respects that Scripture which he expounds upon every week from his pulpit (to much good effect, no doubt – and I mean that sincerely), then surely he will return and interact with this massive presentation of it, and not disappear like so many others I have dialogued with, under the pretense and empty excuse that his Catholic opponents can only special plead, eisegete, make personal attacks, and offer no cogent biblical arguments. I will be anxiously awaiting Pastor Bayack’s decision.
Praise God for sending His Son to fully pay the price for my sin. Praise God because salvation is a totally free gift which we merely receive. And praise God for a gospel so simple that a mind like mine can understand it.
Amen! Would that Pastor Bayack could understand that Steve Ray and I both wholeheartedly concur with him in this particular statement, and so does the Catholic Church. What he intended to be a stark dividing line between us instead turns out to be a refreshing area of agreement (if only he knew that).
May Stephen Ray “become foolish that he may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18).
He is an extraordinary fool for Christ, I can assure anyone, having known him for 17 years and having observed his many labors for the gospel and the kingdom, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic. No doubt Pastor Bayack accomplishes much good as well in his ministry. We hope and pray that he can remove the present slanders and misunderstandings of the Catholic Church from his thoughts and writings, so as to foster more unity and respect among fellow Christians.
And no, I have not as of yet observed Pastor Bayack being convinced by the least jot or tittle of any of Steve’s arguments, so I don’t need to modify an earlier statement I made tentatively, in which I noted a certain (and possibly hypocritical) double standard in the pastor’s numerous stern personal judgments of Steve Ray, and highly doubted whether Rev. Bayack would do any better with regard to the sort of behavior for which he indignantly excoriated Steve. My suspicions in that regard have now been wholly confirmed and unchallenged, having reached the end of Pastor Bayack’s critique.

James 3:1, 6, 9-10 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with a greater strictness . . .

    . . . And the tongue is a fire . . . With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.

XI. Postscript: Why Pastor Bayack Decided to End This Debate 
The following is my response: “Rev. Bayack Bows Out of Debate With Steve Ray & I, But Why?” (22 August 2000) to the posted letter of Pastor Bayack (21 August 2000) on Steve Ray’s Catholic Convert Message Board. As his letter was public, so is mine. His response follows. His words will again be in blue:
Dave Armstrong informed me of his response and I appreciate him doing so.
You’re welcome. I will send this counter-reply directly to you also.
Just as I mentioned in my second article, I have neither the time nor need to address every point that Stephen Ray made concerning my initial review.
Then why did you write a second lengthy reply, if time was an issue? You could have easily bowed out then, for ostensibly the same reasons you are giving now. I would hope that such dialogues are not based on a “need” to engage in them, but rather, on truth (on both sides). The latter is my motivation, pure and simple.
You accused Steve of leading people down the path of destruction. As a pastor and one who is so opposed to Catholicism as a false, counterfeit version of Christianity, isn’t it incumbent upon you to refute its errors, so as to save multitudes from hell? Here is your opportunity to appear on my website, to reveal truth to all those caught in the clutches of darkness, and this is the reason you give to bow out of the discussion now?
The same is true with Mr. Armstrong’s response.
I figured there would be no answer. I’m well-used to that routine. It seems that anti-Catholic Protestants love to “dialogue” with Catholics who are ignorant of their faith, because that serves their purposes. But as soon as one offers a vigorous challenge back, then suddenly time becomes an issue, and even “family,” as we see below.
You brought up a number of new issues in the portion of your reply I dealt with, including the perpetual virginity of Mary. Don’t you think it is a matter of intellectual honesty that you now deal with the counter-arguments I gave (including many citations from Luther and Calvin)? Aren’t you even interested in doing so, apart from whether or not you have the time?
I conceded the last word to them and plan no further website writings regarding Crossing the Tiber.
Why are you doing this, since you started the exchange in the first place? Why do you not want to follow through with the discussion until some real progress towards the attainment of truth is made in either a concession on either side, or at least an increased understanding? Isn’t that one of the purposes of such discussion and the seeking of truth?
Or were you simply seeking a “mutual monologue” scenario and a chance to preach to the choir on the “Proclaiming the Gospel” website? Having gotten to some real “meat” and legitimate, worthwhile issues, now it is all over? Then send someone else along who does have time to defend your propositions against a lowly Catholic critique. Surely any first-year Protestant seminary student could run rings around a Catholic, right?
This happens so often that it reminds me of Jehovah’s Witnesses who grace all our doorsteps (invariably in the middle of some pleasant or necessary activity). I have witnessed to hundreds of these people. They are very interested in discussion as long as they have a person willing to gullibly accept all that they say as gospel truth. But as soon as one raises a few objections, or mentions the contradictions of their past history (as I do, having studied them), then all of a sudden they start glancing at their watch and remember that they were supposed to be somewhere 10 minutes ago.
Likewise, I cannot guarantee individual responses to those who seek to contact me.
I understand that, and do it myself, but a dialogue that you started and promulgated on a public website is something else again, I think. I think that if you were truly confident of your position, that you would not stop the discussion once some hard questions are asked of you.
Jesus Christ, the Man who had more to say than anyone else who ever lived, actually said very little in terms of recorded content. Truth does not require a voluminous defense. Error does.
The history of opposition to all the heresies and errors in history would mitigate strongly against this ludicrous opinion. It was always the case that when the Church Fathers were challenged by the heretics, that they developed their thought and it became more complex. Arianism brought us the Nicaean formulations of the Trinity; likewise, Monophysitism brought us the Chalcedonian formulations, etc. Furthermore, if you were correct, why, then, are there scores of anti-Catholic websites and ministries and books, making quite a voluminous defense (and attack on us) indeed? Why do they not simply proclaim the simple gospel?
While the differences between Stephen Ray/Dave Armstrong and me are of eternal significance, I nevertheless respect their time as family men and do not wish to detract further from their legitimate time demands. It was never my intention to provoke an endless debate over Crossing the Tiber.
This illustrates the rampant contradictions in your stated reasons for ceasing debate. If these issues are of “eternal significance,” and since you started the dialogue by your critique, then should you not follow through and refute all our errors, for the sake of the lost?
Why would you pass up the golden opportunity, e.g., of refuting me on my own website? I will upload each and every word you write, along with my response, just as I did with my reply. This is a mystery to me. It’s one thing to say Steve and I are simply fools who don’t deserve a reply in the first place, but having decided Steve was at least worthy of a reply, now you bow out, just as it gets truly interesting.
As for family matters, this is a moot point as well. Obviously, Steve’s lovely wife Janet approves of what he does, and he spends many, many hours devoting himself to this sort of thing. True, he asked me to help, but that doesn’t get you off the hook. My beautiful wife Judy is equally willing to let me spend all the time I need for the sake of defending Christian truth and the Catholic Church: the one Jesus founded. This is a non-issue. No doubt your wife (I’m assuming you are married; I don’t know) is well-used to you having many duties in the course of your pastorate. If not, then you should have remained single, no?
Even my very spiritually-aware 7- and 9-year-old sons would happily allow me to answer a man who tells lies about the Church they love to attend every Sunday. My 3-year-old recently came to understand that he ought to love God more than me. So if I told him that a man was attacking the Church that God set up for the purpose of helping us follow Jesus and get to heaven to be with Him eternally, even he would understand to some extent that this was important work.
Again, I say that if time and respect for Steve’s family responsibilities (and now mine) were an issue, you should have never responded the second time. You speak in these very cordial and respectful terms now, but you weren’t very kind to Steve in your last response. Here (to refresh your memory) is how you described the reason for your bowing out, even before I entered into this thing:
My opinion about Crossing the Tiber remains the same—it is a masterpiece of tangled, selective scholarship which will only widen the path of many on the already broad road to destruction. It’s that simple. I need not say anything more. Mr. Ray, though, is sure to say plenty more and I concede the last word to him, as I must. When it comes to who can shout the loudest, I’m no match for him. He is sure to have the last word that he might triumph over every critic. Yet Scripture will have the ultimate last word and will triumph over every error that threatens the gospel of grace by which we are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
How quickly opinions change! First, it was because Scripture is able to defend itself, with no need for anyone else to fight error, that you decided to stop the dialogue. Then it was out of respect for Steve Ray’s and my family (which is no issue of concern at all for us). But above we see what I believe is the real reason: more personal attacks against Steve Ray, which typified your entire letter. For those who haven’t seen your reply, this is the sort of rhetoric which appears in it:
It is amazing how everyone (e.g. William Webster, James White, myself, etc.) who crosses him is an arrogant mental midget, his spiritual inferior and intellectual doormat. Mr. Ray deals with them only as one is forced to deal with a pesky gnat since he considers them to be about as potent and intelligent. Quite naturally he makes no concessions to me, simpleton that I am.
If you now regret such statements, then I hope you have the decency and honesty to say so. Meanwhile, I haven’t forgotten the type of language you used against Steve, and I’m sure he hasn’t. He doesn’t regard it as a matter of personal “woundedness” or sensitivity any more than I do. For both of us, it is a matter of Christian ethics, charity, and an unfortunate straying from the serious subjects to be discussed.
I challenge you to find someone else to finish your own counter-reply to Steve for you, if you are unable or unwilling to do it (for whatever reason). We will not sit idly by as our Church and the Ancient Faith is attacked with falsehoods, half-truths, revisionist history, double standards, etc., peppered with all sorts of personal attacks on those of us who believe with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind that Catholicism is the fullness of apostolic Christianity and spiritual truth.
But there is a big difference between Steve and I, and you. When we talk to our children about you, we will respect you as a sincere Christian, follower of Jesus, and brother in Christ. We won’t say that you are leading people to hell, or special pleading, etc., etc. At worst we would say that you hold to some erroneous views, yet that you still had much more in common with us than not.
What would you tell your children about us, or Catholics in general? That is a major difference here. But also, that Steve and I will not run from an attack on those truths which we believe and hold dear. We will defend them as long as we have opportunity, or else concede the argument and change our own opinion (as we both did when we converted). Steve’s website is aptly named.
You, however, will defend your views only until they are seriously counter-challenged from Scripture, history, and Tradition, at which point you will appeal to the Bible’s ability to withstand all error without human aid, and family and time considerations, even though you state outright that the issues involved are of “eternal significance.”
I don’t mean to pile on you, personally. Part of my frustration and passion, no doubt, is due to seeing this same sort of pattern over and over again. I get tired of it, and so some of that shows. But I stand by what I say, and I will always defend any of my papers against all critiques, or else concede when my opinions have been overthrown in a debate.
Since your words and this reply were both posted on a public bulletin board, I will add this to the end of my critique, along with any further comments you wish to make.
May God bless you and your ministry,
Dave Armstrong
It must have taken you a couple of hours to draft this post. Perhaps not. At least it would have taken me that long and it is time that I simply do not have. You may be able to devote several hours per day to Catholic/Protestant polemics but I am not.
In case you didn’t notice, Stephen Ray had his initial response to my book review posted for nearly two-and-a-half years before I posted my second article. Sure I was guilty of procrastination and indecision whether or not to respond, but once I got started with my response, it took me over two months to complete, not two hours. And to be perfectly honest, I haven’t even finished reading your response. I’ve only scanned it and don’t know when I will read it entirely, if ever. I don’t know what you do for a living but my main ministry is being the Pastor of a small church which requires more time than I can give. And as passionately as I feel about these issues, they remain a secondary ministry for me, at least for now. As I stated previously, should I make any changes to my articles, I will inform you and Stephen Ray.
I am neither apologetic of my beliefs nor unable to defend them. However, I have found that no matter whatever exegesis I may offer, it is met with the most egregious eisegesis imaginable. If this is to be the nature of debate, then it is not worth the time of either of us. I must focus my time on those who are interested in truth.
I express my appreciation to Stephen Ray for acknowledging the gracious nature of my e-mails to him, even though we are both very direct in our writings. His e-mails to me are typically the same. I wished that I could say the same about your post.
And I am eternally grateful to men like James White, James McCarthy, Mike Gendron, et al., who are able to give their full-time efforts to the gospel of grace through faith alone. (How blessed to understand the precious truth of “you have been saved” [Gk. “sesasmenoi”, Ephesians 2:8].) It is an honor to be counted among them and to share in the insults they receive, of which there will be plenty.
Praise God that He chose me from eternity past to be among His elect! Praise God for delivering me from self-righteousness! Praise God for the free gift of eternal life! Praise God that I have been justified by the work of Christ alone! Praise God that salvation is totally of faith and nothing of works! Praise God for the assurance that I will go to heaven when I die! “How blessed is the one whom Thou dost choose, and bring near to Thee, to dwell in thy courts.” (Psalm 65:4)
Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus,
Chris Bayack
Nothing needs to be said in reply to this. I think it speaks for itself, and virtually affirms my stated opinions.



(originally posted on 22 August 2000)

Photo credit: official portrait of Catholic apologist, author, and tour guide Stephen K. Ray, from his website [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


September 18, 2020

Chris Bayack (12 days older than I am) was pastor of the independent Copperfield Bible Church in Houston from 1994 to 2002. He graduated with an M. Div. from The Master’s Seminary. Pastor Bayack was raised as a Catholic and left the Church at age 17.


Pastor Chris Bayack’s posted response is called “Book Review: Crossing the Tiber (+ Pt. II)” and is still available online at the Proclaiming the Gospel website.[original introduction] Steve has asked me if I could assist him with his reply to this critique, in which Pastor Bayack responded to his counter-reply. Pastor Bayack seems to me a worthy and able opponent, so I am happy to do so. Steve Ray is a good friend of mine (we go back to 1983, long before we both converted). I have worked with Steve in such projects before, most notably with regard to my paper: William Webster’s Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine [2000]. Pastor Bayack’s words will be in blue.


I. Opening Shots From Pastor Bayack

II. Church (and) Tradition and Sola Scriptura

III. Weak and Insubstantial Alleged Biblical “Proofs” for Sola Scriptura

IV. Tradition II

V. Recurring Ad Hominem Attacks and Charges of Special Pleading

PART II [Link]

VI. Back to New Testament Tradition (and a Rabbit Trail of “Absolute Assurance”)

VII. Zapping Church History and Bashing the Church Fathers

VIII. Paul, Pagans, Prophets, Plato, Patristics, and Protestant Pastors

IX. Pastor Bayack’s Word vs. the Word of God, Calvin, & Luther (Gospel and Baptism)

X. Parting Shots From Pastor Bayack

XI. Postscript: Why Pastor Bayack Decided to End This Debate

* * * * *

I. Opening Shots from Pastor Bayack

Crossing the Tiber is Stephen Ray’s experience into Roman Catholicism and it is largely an experience in search of a text.
I think this is a silly, groundless comment, which implies that Steve Ray puts experience above biblical text and reason. He most certainly does not (though I have personally known many Protestants who do just that), as anyone who reads his thoroughly-footnoted books or articles can readily observe. This is the familiar charge of special pleading, as if Catholics (and particularly converts — thus I am well-acquainted with it as well) couldn’t possibly have adequate reasons for their change of heart and mind; therefore they go out and find biblical texts which they think prove what they already espouse on irrational, experiential grounds.
But this is itself a circular argument. Pastor Bayack simply assumes that the Bible couldn’t possibly support Catholicism, so he conveniently concludes that anyone who believes it does must be special pleading and rationalizing; engaging in eisegesis (i.e., reading into the Bible one’s own prior assumptions or theological systems).
Furthermore, this charge could just as easily be levied against any number of Protestant sects, since they can’t manage to agree with each other (strange, if Scripture is so self-evidently clear, as they all claim). That might be due to poor scholarship or special pleading on their part as well (or any number of possible additional reasons). So in the end, charges like these become meaningless; both sides must present their biblical and historical arguments in favor of their own positions, which is precisely what both Steve and Pastor Chris have done. It isn’t necessary to second-guess motives and to charge that a person is in effect dishonest (as professional anti-Catholic James White has in fact asserted about Steve Ray — without grounds, of course; I have received the same unethical treatment from the man).
Thus, Pastor Bayack, fresh from two sections detailing what he feels to be Steve’s ad hominem attacks, lobs one of his own in his very first sentence. Sure it may have been subtle, but Steve and I know full well what he is referring to, as experience vs. biblical grounding is a longstanding discussion within the evangelical community itself (particularly concerning charismatics). Steve (like myself) has always chosen the Bible as the standard of experience (not vice versa), both as an evangelical and as a Catholic. This is a non-issue.
He must justify Catholic doctrine if he is to justify his conversion as evidenced by his own words, “Roman Catholic tradition does not contradict Scripture or frankly, I wouldn’t be a Roman Catholic” (7, italics in original),
All adherents of a Christian view who attempt to defend it utilize Scripture in that regard. I don’t find that this is some sort of novel or objectionable practice. Such assertions don’t move the discussion along at all. They are merely showy rhetoric, and thus, unworthy of true dialogue. For someone might object in turn: “okay, then, for what reason do you think Steve Ray is eisegeting Scripture?” And then we get right back to the biblical arguments, which should have been the starting-point of discussion in the first place, as both parties reverence Holy Scripture and accept its inspiration and unquestioned authority.
The Catholic can’t win, no matter what he says or does, in the eyes of an anti-Catholic. I have long experience of this myself. If he doesn’t cite Scripture to support his opinions (or change of heart, in the case of a convert), then it is said that Catholics hate the Scripture to such an extent (or are so ignorant of it) that they don’t even cite it as evidence for their side, etc., and that the person is obviously a pawn and slave of this hideous, anti-biblical and tyrannical system; the Beast, the Whore of Babylon, blah blah blah. Then it is maintained that the Catholic Church has always suppressed the Bible and vernacular translations, etc. (false charges also, as I document on my Bible and Tradition page).
But if a Catholic holds to the infallibility of Scripture (as they should, since their Church teaches this), and believes that the Bible is entirely consistent with Catholic doctrine (as all Christians who value Scripture believe about their own views), then we hear this gratuitous and vapid charge of eisegesis and special pleading, because (when it comes right down to it), the anti-Catholic knows (and assumes that everyone else “knows”) that Scripture doesn’t support Catholicism!
But what does that prove, anyway? Exactly nothing. It is a form of the “your dad’s uglier than mine” tactic of schoolchildren. It is obvious that the discussion boils down to competing interpretations of Scripture. Protestants ought to respect such a biblical and hermeneutic discussion, given that they are perpetually arguing amongst themselves over that very thing (and sinfully splitting into further factions when they can’t agree). So why pick on Catholics who hold to a different interpretation of various biblical passages, as if they are especially prone to eisegesis and an alleged “tortured hermeneutic”?
I suppose Pastor Bayack could reply that he does in fact try to show the faults of Steve’s exegesis subsequently in his paper. Fair enough. But it is still unnecessary to take the pot shot right at the beginning of his arguments. It cheapens the debate and takes away much of the enjoyment and chance to learn and understand (for both parties).
and to do so he is often forced to employ a tortured hermeneutic. He must also depend on the other leg of authority—Church Tradition—for the same reason, regardless of how much it may contradict Scripture. I will deal briefly with each.
Whether it is “tortured” will be determined as the discussion proceeds below. I would submit that the standard Protestant views involve much more biblical difficulty and contradiction, and I will support that in no uncertain terms as we go along. As for Catholics depending on Church Tradition; well, of course we do; it is part of our system (and the Bible’s outlook — so we would argue — far from contradicting it). But we are consistent in our own views, whereas Protestants supposedly eschew all “tradition” and stick to the Bible Alone, all the while accepting (consciously or not) all sorts of strictly man-made traditions handed down to them by their fathers Luther or Calvin or the Anabaptist Founders.
Scripture Alone and Faith Alone themselves fall into this category. There is nothing more “merely traditional” or arbitrary or less apostolic than beliefs which spring into existence 1500 years after Christ, whose exponents have the chutzpah to describe as “apostolic” and “biblical” viewpoints and doctrines, even though it can’t be documented that anyone of note believed them for those intervening 1500 years. This forces many Protestants to assert the quasi-Mormon notion of a very early and widespread – almost completely victorious – apostasy or “falling away” or “radical corruption” of Christendom, until such time as Herr Luther broke through the darkness and brought the glorious gospel back again.

II. Church (and) Tradition and Sola Scriptura
i. Church Tradition
Stephen Ray appears to be as infallible as his Church as he hardly concedes even the least point to those who challenge him.
Oh, so Pastor Bayack does concede points — minor or no — to the Catholic (or to Steve’s) position? I will be watching closely to see whether he does or not. If not, then this is a clear example of what I call “log-in-the-eye disease.” If he does, I will come back and concede this point myself, and change this particular answer. So if this section doesn’t read as it does now, the reader will know that I stand corrected, and that Pastor Bayack’s charge was not immediately hypocritical.
It is amazing how everyone (e.g. William Webster, James White, myself, etc.) who crosses him is an arrogant mental midget, his spiritual inferior and intellectual doormat.
I think this is a grossly unfair and inaccurate characterization of Steve’s remarks. Perhaps he “crossed the line” of ad hominem-type comments a time or two (as virtually all of us do in the heat of substantive discussion, Pastor Bayack included). But to this extent? I think not. This is a sweeping judgment of Steve’s inner attitudes and opinions which is absolutely unwarranted. Pastor Bayack greatly minimizes the rhetorical effect of his own criticism against personal attacks by making statements such as these.
James White (since he was mentioned) has recently accused Steve Ray of deliberate misrepresentation (not merely inaccuracy or botched facts), with regard to a certain famous statement of St. Augustine’s. That is a personal attack if there ever was one – getting right to motives and honesty and overall character. I haven’t seen Steve doing that at all (and if he did I myself would rebuke him for it). At worst he is perhaps excessively sarcastic and harsh at times. That, too, can be a fine line for all of us. There is a biblical form of ethical sarcasm, which both Jesus and Paul utilized. I think William Webster is much more diplomatic and cordial (he was with me, though he never answered my paper against his, cited above), but in any event, I vigorously object to this portrayal.
Mr. Ray deals with them only as one is forced to deal with a pesky gnat since he considers them to be about as potent and intelligent. Quite naturally he makes no concessions to me, simpleton that I am.
This is a clear example of the sort of unconstructive, unethical sarcasm and judgment which Pastor Bayack purports to be rebuking Steve Ray for. As such, it requires no further comment. But I am still looking for our pastor friend’s own “concessions,” since he makes such an issue of this. Or is there some sort of double standard from the get-go, which Steve is subjected to, but not Pastor Bayack?
Nevertheless, I seek to contend for the truth which God has revealed exclusively in His Word for everyone who has ears to hear. How liberating for me to hear the clear voice of God through His Word alone! How blessed I am to understand and embrace the precious doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Mr. Ray, of course, has no choice but to reject this. According to him, “Sola Scriptura is never taught or even alluded to in the Bible itself; in fact, it itself is unbiblical” (5, italics in original).
Again, this remains to be proven. We deny it. I understand the propriety of summary statements, but if they are found wanting due to the dearth of evidences justifying them, they ought to be removed. As for “Mr. Ray’s . . . choice,” well, it is a very biblical choice, since the Bible in fact does not teach sola Scriptura. Pastor Bayack claims that it does indirectly, as indeed is the case with the Holy Trinity, but I think his case is exceedingly weak, as I will attempt to demonstrate in due course.
Sola Scriptura is unbiblical? Sola Scriptura is no more unbiblical than the Trinity. Where does the Bible teach that God is a triune Being?
Well, we agree that the biblical argument for the Trinity is largely an indirect, deductive one. That is clear in the very structure of my extensive paper on the subject (largely written in 1982, as an evangelical): Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]. At least it is stated in a cursory way in Matthew 28:19 (not a disputed passage in terms of manuscripts, as far as I know):

(NRSV) Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

But when it comes to sola Scriptura, no similarly descriptive verse can be found – not even anywhere close. I think the equivalent (if it in fact existed) would read something like:

Do not take heed of any written or oral traditions, as sufficient for the purposes of doctrine or action, since the written word of God in Holy Scripture is your ultimate and final authority, above any church or tradition.

No such verse even remotely approaching this can be found (and many directly contradicting it, can be cited). Why would such a direct statement not be in the Bible, if this principle is so supremely important? Verses simply reiterating the trustworthiness and goodness of Scripture are not enough to prove this case. They are only compelling in a logically circular way: they harmonize with a sola Scriptura outlook, but they do not establish it or provide any evidence in favor of it, for they are just as harmonious with the Catholic view also. Instead, Scripture informs us (RSV; emphases added):
1 Corinthians 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the  traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth, or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition  that you received from us.
Tradition in the Bible may be either written or oral. It implies that the writer (in the above instances St. Paul) is not expressing his own peculiar viewpoints, but is delivering a message received from someone else (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:23). The importance of the tradition does not rest in its form but in its content.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . when you received the word of God which you heard  from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God . . .
1 Timothy 3:15 . . . the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
Other Bible translations render bulwark alternately as groundfoundation, or support. In his two letters to Timothy, St. Paul makes some fascinating remarks about the importance of oral tradition:
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard  from me . . . guard the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard  from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
St. Paul says that Timothy is not only to receive and follow the pattern of his oral teaching, in addition to his written instruction, but to teach others the same. The Catholic Church seeks to do this with regard to the entire “Deposit of faith” (or, the apostles’ teaching – Acts 2:42), in accordance with St. Paul.
Furthermore, the concepts of traditiongospel, and word of God (as well as other terms) are essentially synonymous. All are predominantly oral, and all are referred to as being delivered and received:
1 Corinthians 11:2 . . . maintain the traditions . . . even as I have delivered them to you.
2 Thessalonians 2:15  . . . hold to the traditions . . . taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . the tradition that you received from us.
1 Corinthians 15:1 . . . the gospel, which you received . . .
Galatians 1:9 . . . the gospel . . . which you received.
1 Thessalonians 2:9  . . . we preached to you the gospel of God.
Acts 8:14 . . . Samaria had received the word of God . . .
1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . you received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . .
2 Peter 2:21 . . . the holy commandment delivered to them.
Jude 3 . . . the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
In St. Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians alone we see that three of the above terms are used interchangeably. Clearly then, tradition is not a dirty word in the Bible, particularly for St. Paul. If, on the other hand, one wants to maintain that it is, then gospel and word of God are also bad words! Thus, the commonly-asserted dichotomy between the gospel and tradition, or between the Bible and tradition is unbiblical itself and must be discarded by the truly biblically-minded person as (quite ironically) a corrupt tradition of men.
All of this seems to be very difficult to get across to our esteemed Protestant brethren (I’ve engaged in many online debates about these alleged proof texts, and they never go more than one round). Protestants are so entrenched in their sola Scriptura presupposition (like a fish in water) that they oftentimes cannot — literally – grasp any critique of it. Yet it is logically elementary. The Bible simply does not pit itself against either Church or Apostolic Tradition.
All are clearly of a piece, as unarguably seen above. Everyone must try to step outside their own premises momentarily, if they are to hope to understand an opposition viewpoint. That is just as true of Catholics as it is of Protestants or any other view, religious or otherwise. It may be painful and difficult, but this is the necessary requirement of logical, constructive discourse, including biblical discussion.
(Even the Catholic Jerusalem Bible is forced to admit that the expanded version of 1 John 5:7 is “not in any of the early Greek MSS, or any of the early translations, or in the best MSS of the [Latin] Vulg. itself” and is “probably a gloss that has crept into the text” [The Jerusalem Bible, s.v. 1 John 5:7 notes].) It is taught all throughout the Bible even though we don’t find the Trinitarian definition in one isolated verse. We understand the doctrine of the Trinity based on the deductive teaching of Scripture as a whole.
I agree with this (and Catholic Church authority in the Councils was what finalized the Trinity for all Christians henceforth, just as was the case with the canon of Scripture), but Matthew 28:19 is at least as explicit in a trinitarian sense as 1 John 5:7, so the textual argument is neither here nor there, for the purposes of this discussion. We deny that sola Scriptura is taught even indirectly, analogously to the Trinity, as I will demonstrate (and as I already have in about 25 papers and dialogues on this topic on my Bible and Tradition page).

III. Weak and Insubstantial Alleged Biblical “Proofs” for Sola Scriptura
So it is with Sola Scriptura. God has promised, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Indeed it does, but this passage does not say that it stands alone, in alleged dichotomy against Church and Apostolic Tradition. That is the hidden assumption which makes Protestants think such verses are compelling for their viewpoint. They are not. I could state that “the Washington Monument stands forever.” Would that mean that there are no other monuments or edifices? I could say that “the [United States] Constitution stands forever [as an American legal document].” Would that therefore mean that there would be no Congress to enact new laws in accordance with it, or President to preside over the executive branch of government, or a Supreme Court to interpret whether such laws are harmonious with the Constitution? Of course not.
Likewise, Scripture does not rule out a Church and Tradition, by which it is interpreted as well. That’s why the Church Fathers always appealed not solely to Holy Scripture, but to the history of doctrine and apostolic succession, which for them was the clincher and coup de grace, in arguments against the heretics. Groups such as the Arians, on the other hand, believed in Scripture Alone, precisely because they couldn’t trace their late-arriving doctrines back past Arius (d.c. 336). So if there is an analogy here it is as follows:
Arians ——–> Protestants
Fathers ——-> Catholic Church
Reasoning such as this (his own, in fact, having previously written a book about the Arians) was what led John Henry Cardinal Newman to accept the Catholic Church as the Church established by Christ, because its formal, authoritative principle had never changed, whereas Protestantism involved a radical, a-historical change of principle, which he deemed a “corruption” rather than a legitimate development. And reading his book Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was what led me (and many, many others) to the Catholic Church as well.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
This is clearly fallacious in terms of sola Scriptura, because Jesus’ words are not confined to Scripture, according to that same Scripture, and — I would say — common sense itself. Jesus was not a “talking Bible machine” (verses: RSV):
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.John 21:25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Acts 1:2-3 . . . the apostles . . . To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (see also Luke 24:15-16, 25-27)
Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Again, there is no disagreement from us that Scripture is inspired. That is a non sequitur in Catholic-Protestant discussions (except where theologically liberal parties are concerned, on both sides). The official Catholic record in upholding that truth is far better than the Protestant one, I dare say. It was liberal Protestantism which gave us the legacy of Higher Criticism and scholars mercilessly tearing down the Bible (now even to the extent of asserting that it sanctions sodomy, abortion, etc.). This verse proves nothing whatsoever in terms of sola Scriptura, as I have noted in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholism (verses: RSV here and throughout in my response unless noted otherwise):
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

This is the most often-used supposed proof text for sola Scriptura –– yet a strong argument can be put forth that it teaches no such thing. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), the brilliant English convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, shows the fallacy of such reasoning:

It is quite evident that this passage furnishes no argument whatever that the sacred Scripture, without Tradition, is the sole rule of faith; for although Sacred Scripture is profitable for these ends, still it is not said to be sufficient. The Apostle requires the aid of Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Moreover, the Apostle here refers to the Scriptures which Timothy was taught in his infancy. Now, a good part of the New Testament was not written in his boyhood: some of the Catholic Epistles were not written even when St. Paul wrote this, and none of the books of the New Testament were then placed on the canon of the Scripture books. He refers, then, to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and if the argument from this passage proved anything, it would prove too much, viz., that the Scriptures of the New  Testament were not necessary for a rule of faith. It is hardy necessary to remark that this passage furnishes no proof of the inspiration of the several books of Sacred Scripture, even of those admitted to be such . . . For we are not told . . . what the Books or portions of inspired Scripture are. (“Essay on Inspiration in its Relation to Revelation,” London: 1884, Essay 1, section 29. Emphasis in original. In Newman, On the Inspiration of Scripture, edited by J. Derek Holmes and Robert Murray, Washington, D.C., Corpus Books, 1967, p. 131)

In addition to these logical and historical arguments, one can also differ with the Protestant interpretation of this passage on contextual, analogical, and exegetical grounds. In 2 Timothy alone (context), St. Paul makes reference to oral Tradition three times (1:13-14, 2:2, 3:14). In the latter instance, St. Paul says of the tradition, knowing from whom you learned it. 

The personal reference proves he is not talking about Scripture, but himself as the Tradition-bearer, so to speak. Elsewhere (exegesis), St. Paul frequently espouses oral Tradition (Romans 6:17, 1 Corinthians 11:2,23, 15:1-3, Galatians 1:9,12, Colossians 2:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6). The “exclusivist” or “dichotomous” form of reasoning employed by Protestant apologists here is fundamentally flawed. For example, to reason by analogy, let’s examine a very similar passage, Ephesians 4:11-15:

Ephesians 4:11-15 And his gifts were that some should be apostle, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are able to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

If the Greek artios (RSV, complete / KJV, perfect) proves the sole sufficiency of Scripture in 2 Timothy, then teleios (RSV, mature manhood / KJV, perfect) in Ephesians would likewise prove the sufficiency of pastorsteachers and so forth for the attainment of Christian perfection. Note that in Ephesians 4:11-15 the Christian believer is equippedbuilt up, brought into unity and mature manhoodknowledge  of Jesus, the fulness of Christ, and even preserved from doctrinal confusion by means of the teaching function of the Church. This is a far stronger statement of the perfecting of the saints than 2 Timothy 3:16-17, yet it doesn’t even mention Scripture.

Therefore, the Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves too much, since if all non-scriptural elements are excluded in 2 Timothy, then, by analogy, Scripture would logically have to be excluded in Ephesians. It is far more reasonable to synthesize the two passages in an inclusive, complementary fashion, by recognizing that the mere absence of one or more elements in one passage does not mean that they are nonexistent. Thus, the Church and Scripture are both equally necessary and important for teaching. This is precisely the Catholic view. Neither passage is intended in a exclusive sense.

These are but the tip of countless verses that support the unique nature of Scripture as God’s enduring and only authoritative revelation.
These “countless” verses are of the sort that prove absolutely nothing with regard to sola Scriptura, as seen from the examples Pastor Bayack thought so compelling above. The reader may or may not be familiar with these “countless” verses, but I have seen a great many brought forth myself, and refuted them (with little difficulty, as they almost always involved the same elementary logical fallacy) when they were used to allegedly “bolster” the self-contradictory position of sola Scriptura. The Bible certainly is a unique revelation — again, no argument from us there — but it is not the only authority for the Christian.
It guides the Church and Tradition, which in turn preserve it, but they are all harmonious, and do not contradict each other (as is plainly evident in reading Fathers such as St. Augustine or St. Irenaeus). Christian truth and authority is a three-legged stool; take any one leg away and it falls over. Apostolic Tradition is true and biblical precisely because it is protected from error by God just as Holy Scripture itself is. The Protestant believes, in faith (and quite rightly) that Scripture is inspired; God-breathed, and therefore preserved from error by God, even though he used fallible, sinful men to write it.
The Catholic agrees, but also asserts and believes that God can protect His Church from error as well, even though he uses fallible, sinful men for that purpose also. And if sinful men such as David and Peter could write inspired Scripture: the very words of God, then it is utterly plausible that God could grant the gift of infallibility (far lesser in degree and kind than inspiration) to men in certain well-defined situations. The second scenario is easier to believe than the first. Yet somehow Protestants have no problem adhering to the first, while vehemently denying the second proposition as “impossible,” “implausible,” “unbiblical,” etc. But papal, conciliar, and ecclesiological infallibility is another discussion altogether. The reader can consult my Church and Papacy pages (or Steve Ray’s book Upon This Rock) for discussion on those closely related, yet distinct topics.

IV. Tradition II
If Church Tradition supposedly shares the same authoritative attribute as Scripture then we should expect it to share other common attributes. Yet where does God ever say that Tradition stands forever or that it will not pass away or that it is God-breathed? How is it that Tradition can presumably possess one unique attribute with the Word of God and not the rest?
In effect, it is presented as immutable (in the sense that all truth is immutable) since it is spoken of as delivered “once and for all” to the saints (Jude 3). Likewise, 2 + 2 = 4 stands forever, does it not? Or a = a, or the theory of gravity (as long as this present universe exists)? Every created soul, for that matter, “stands forever,” as they will never cease being. The preached gospel stood forever as truth before it was ever encapsulated in Scriptural form. As I have shown, “tradition,” “word of God,” and “gospel” are synonymous in Paul’s mind.
It is foolish and unbiblical to even try to separate them. Yes, we have the magnificent, extraordinary Bible and it is written down, and uniquely inspired, and has been maintained in its textual purity (so we know from evidences like the Dead Sea Scrolls), yet its interpretation in a doctrinal sense is obviously an ongoing process, as indicated by verses such as John 16:13a: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth . . .”
And Jesus has promised that His Church will always prevail, and will not defect from the truth (Matthew 16:18), and Paul has stated that it is the “pillar and bulwark of truth” (I Timothy 3:15). That ought to be sufficient to establish our contentions, but since Protestants can’t even agree as to what the Church is, let alone which variant amongst themselves (if any) can lay claim to being the Church, they must — of necessity — downplay the notion of the (visible) Church, because it only condemns their own lack of unity and true ecclesiastical authority.
Therefore, they adopt Scripture Alone (for what other choice do they have, given their internal chaos?), and the unbiblical notion of a merely invisible church of the elect and regenerate. That might be fine and dandy if these were scriptural concepts to begin with, but since they are not, then Protestants — ironically — have adopted unbiblical man-made traditions as their guiding principles. The pathetically weak and groundless nature of their “proof texts” for sola Scriptura bears this out more than a thousand essays like this ever could.
While God undoubtedly used oral tradition to initially disseminate truth, the nature of human frailty demanded that such truth inevitably be captured in a written, inspired form.
We did need the written form, but we also need the authoritative interpreter, just as all written documents require. The self-evident “clearness” of Scripture is a myth. Nothing illustrates this better than the 24,000 + Protestant sects. That same “frailty” Pastor Bayack refers to is what necessitates a real, binding teaching authority. Yet Protestants still insist on proving this claim that the self-evidently “clear” Scripture can serve as this supposedly sufficient “authority.” I have engaged in many debates on this (important and crucial) sub-topic as well.
Errant men cannot be trusted to indefinitely pass on inerrant truth via word-of-mouth.
It was not strictly word-of-mouth because inspired, revelational Holy Scripture was there from the onset of Christianity (though its exact parameters were disputed for 350 years) as the Guide. All things worked together. The Fathers appealed to Scripture (just as all Protestants do) but also (and finally) to the apostolic Tradition (as Catholics do), since all the heretics appealed to Scripture too. The deciding factor was the history of Christian doctrine, since history and Tradition had always been a central element of both Judaism and Christianity (this was nothing new).
But on the other hand, “errant” and sinful men certainly could pass on inerrant truth, if indeed that was God’s intention (He being all-powerful and Sovereign over His creation), just as sinful and errant men managed to write an inspired, inerrant Bible, as God’s “agents,” as it were. Protestants just don’t have enough faith that God can preserve anything beyond His Bible. When it comes to a collective and ongoing body of men (the Church), the average Protestant balks and in effect accepts the absurd notion that God couldn’t preserve and protect that, simply because sinful men are involved. Yet they accept that very premise (sinful men being involved) concerning the Bible. So the self-contradictions multiply . . .
Respected Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer states this very well:
May not the inerrant truth of God be handed down from mouth to mouth through successive generations? Yes, indeed, it may be, and undoubtedly portions of the Bible were preserved in this way for a good many years before finding their authoritative, written form. But oral tradition is necessarily fluid in character and in constant danger of corruption because of the subjective factor—the uncertain memory of the custodian of that tradition. . . . While it was of course true that the words which Moses, the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and the apostles spoke were divinely authoritative from the moment they were uttered, yet there was no other way of accurately preserving them except by inscripturation (i.e., recording them in writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit). (Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [Chicago: Moody Press, second edition, 1974], 21-22, parentheses in original)
God knew the obvious need to preserve His truth in a clear, objective, and unchanging manner and thus He gave us His written Word.
But that is not at issue here; we agree with that. We simply deny that Scripture is exclusive of Church and Tradition, because it itself denies this, as shown above! The Bible needs to be interpreted. So the Catholic accepts in faith Catholic dogmatic pronouncements from popes and Councils. Now how is that essentially different from the role of Creeds and Confessions in Protestantism? The Calvinist, e.g., accepts the Westminster Confession as an extremely authoritative document, which possesses a practical infallibility, if not in a strict sense. Calvinists still refer to it (along with Calvin’s Institutes) in a magisterial. almost reverential fashion, and I don’t see them disputing it’s authority. Likewise with the Lutherans and the Augsburg Confession and Book of Concord, etc.
Now, how is this intrinsically different in principle (or at least in practical outcome, at the very least, which is more what I am referring to) from the Catholic’s adherence to Trent and Vatican I and II? All Christians have their authoritative traditions and a lens through which they view Scripture. It is foolish to deny this. We are up-front about our first principles. Many Protestants, however, seem to want to play epistemological and hermeneutical games, as if no one else can see the evident logical fallacies and lack of biblical support involved in their so doing.
As for oral tradition, and tradition generally, I must refer the reader to more of my papers. Each sub-topic here is a complete discussion in and of itself, and one can’t deal with all subjects in any one essay. Hence the beauty and utility of websites and links. Catholic answers (whatever one may think of them) are there to be had, only the click of a mouse away.
However, this simple truth prompts another question altogether—if Roman Catholic Tradition is an infallible safeguard of God’s revelation, then why the need for the New Testament at all?
This is absolutely classic in what it reveals about Pastor Bayack’s prior assumptions, since it presupposes in the first place a Protestant fallacious premise: viz., that Tradition and the Bible are inherently opposed to each other, so that if one exists, the other is unnecessary and disposable (one of many many Protestant false and unbiblical dichotomies). In other words, the Protestant axiomatically assumes the (false) premise that the Bible precludes Tradition. Therefore, they reason that in the opposite scenario of Tradition being present and authoritative, the Bible therefore necessarily becomes unnecessary.
But that is no more true or biblical than its logical opposite. We crush this false dilemma by asserting that the Bible itself presupposes both Tradition and the written revelation (as well as the Church) as normative at all times, and not in any way, shape, or form opposed to each other at all. I believe that I have shown this above, in more than sufficient detail – allowing Holy Scripture to speak for itself. And it does so, in this instance, very loudly!
It is now the burden of Pastor Bayack to stop his proverbial and fallacious, timeworn, garden-variety Protestant rhetoric and deal with the very Scripture he places in an exclusive position. Let him show how we have misinterpreted the Scripture’s teachings above. Let him render an alternative interpretation to every instance of the Bible mentioning “tradition.” It’s all biblical material, after all, and that is supposedly the “Protestant’s territory.” So I assume there is some answer (however insubstantial and insufficient in our eyes).
My Protestant dialogical opponents have never stuck around long enough to give me their counter-replies to my arguments in this regard (and many others) — so often they seem to have more important things to do –; therefore, I have no choice but to retain my present views, as any honest inquirer after truth is bound to do. I can hardly adopt an alternate view if my opponents fail to offer me any answer to my proof texts, let alone an ostensibly superior interpretation, can I? Steve Ray (or any Catholic) can do no differently, as a matter of principle and intellectual honesty or duty. So we both anxiously await Pastor Bayack’s rebuttal of this argument.
Oral tradition existed before the New Testament and if the Catholic Church is the repository of God’s truth as she boasts per 1 Timothy 3:15, then her Tradition should be sufficient to protect and communicate all future divine revelation.
I’m not sure what this means, but at any rate, we believe that public revelation ceased with the apostolic age and the completion of the Bible. We claim that the Catholic Church is the Guardian and Custodian of the apostolic tradition, or apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42), passed down ever since, through apostolic succession. The Church has no power to change this Tradition, only to teach it and to “oversee” its development (not evolution).
Why not “Sola Traditio”?
Because that is not a biblical doctrine (any more than sola Scriptura is), and we desire to follow the biblical teaching, and its apostolic interpretation, as passed down faithfully for now 1900 years; preserved most fully in the Catholic Church (and incompletely to various degrees elsewhere).
The New Testament, therefore, would be redundant.
Only for one accepting Pastor Bayack’s false premises, as just shown above. They are not our premises, so this is a non sequitur. His argument and attempt to trap us in the horns of a logical dilemma doesn’t succeed because (as far as I can see; with all due respect) he comprehends neither our view nor its thoroughly biblical basis in the first place. The first prerequisite in order to refute an opposing view is to understand it. Don Quixote is considered a tragi-comic figure in literature, since he engaged in similarly futile and foolish endeavors. But it was oral tradition that became redundant for the reasons Archer states above. Just as Jewish tradition could not sustain God’s initial revelation, neither could that of the early church sustain God’s later revelation.
Apart from the biblical arguments I have already presented, I must refer the readers to the papers and links above, concerning oral tradition, particularly in this regard one which deals with the Jewish perspective on authority: Sola Scriptura, the Old Testament, and Ancient Jewish Practice [1999]. St. Paul did not indicate anywhere that either oral or written tradition were to cease, and – again – it was a simple-enough matter to underline if he had wished to emphasize such a teaching, supposedly so central and crucial for every Christian to understand, so as to avoid the “pitfalls” or Rome and “Romanism,” etc.
The problems with Tradition do not end here. If Tradition is presumably of equal authority with Scripture, then whose do we accept? The Eastern Orthodox can supposedly make the argument for apostolic succession with the same credibility as Roman Catholicism, however, each does not fully agree with the other’s Tradition. Which is correct? Why must Catholic Tradition supplant that of the Orthodox? How can both make an equally “legitimate” claim to be authoritative and yet be contradictory?
This is a fair enough question. Briefly, we accept the sacraments and ordination of Orthodoxy because it followed the same line of apostolic succession as the Western Church for the first 1000 years, then separated ecclesiologically (yet retained far more of the previous doctrines than the Protestants did when they split off). Therefore it can trace itself back to the common early Church heritage, just as feuding cousins can trace themselves back to the same grandparents, or great-grandparents, as the case may be (i.e., common ancestry). Catholics have immense respect for our Orthodox brethren. Many of them reciprocate; some (so-called “traditionalists” and more exclusivistic jurisdictions) do not.
The difference is papal authority and the history in Rome of spotless orthodoxy through the centuries, over against all the heresies, which was not the case in the East, even before the split. Readers can peruse our arguments for the papacy if they so choose. But validity of apostolic succession through validly ordained priests and the presence of valid sacraments is a different question from who possesses the fullness of the apostolic deposit. Each side claims that they do, of course. I have plenty of dialogues with Orthodox and Catholic arguments on my Eastern Orthodoxy web page.
This is a brief support for Sola Scriptura and far more can be said in its defense and has been by those more capable than me.
Granted, it was a brief treatment, but in the course of my own apologetic endeavors I have dealt with all the biblical arguments that have been thrown my way – not ignoring a single one -, in many debates (see the links above), and I can testify that I have yet to see a single compelling biblical argument for sola Scriptura. Most were immediately and easily answerable, as they involved a simple logical fallacy or were part of a circular argument which was really no argument at all.
Perhaps that is my Catholic bias (I sincerely acknowledge that possibility because I think all people have biases and presuppositions: both “good” and “bad” ones), but it is my heartfelt and firm opinion nonetheless. So I am not overly impressed by this so-called “abundance” of biblical support for this position. And — as stated previously — there are many biblical arguments against sola Scriptura which (in my humble opinion) are far more compelling than the “proofs” set forth in favor of this strange, peculiarly Protestant and a-historical idea.

V. Recurring Ad Hominem Attacks and Charges of Special Pleading
Yet no amount of truth will persuade Stephen Ray. An infallible Church cannot repent and he will dutifully follow even if it means marching behind the Pied Piper. For example, when I stated that he never addressed the problem of Catholic Tradition contradicting Scripture he patently replied, “The Catholic Church does not contradict the Bible so there was nothing I needed to address” (7).
Here we go again with this subtle ad hominem implication that Steve Ray is special pleading and ignoring contrary evidence: sticking his head in the sand, whereas (again, by implication), Pastor Bayack is not (I still look in vain for any hint that Pastor Bayack is persuaded by any of Steve’s arguments). I was discussing with my wife as I took a break from writing this response how humorous it is for a Protestant to be lecturing a convert to Catholicism like Steve Ray or myself that we are so unwilling to change our minds! We are converts, for heaven’s sake! By definition, that means that we changed our mind in the most profound ways, dealing with many of the most heartfelt beliefs a person can have. And it was not easy, I assure everyone, and I’m sure Steve would agree.
So the very charge of some sort of profound closed-mindedness and reactionary resistance to change in our cases (wholly apart from the subject matter involved) is absolutely ludicrous. And I have gone on record many times saying I am fully willing to convert again, to Orthodoxy, or back to Protestantism, if the facts of history and the biblical evidences warrant it (I think both intellectual honesty and open-mindedness demand this). Yet I have been convinced over and over of the strength of our case in so many ways, as I attempt to defend it against all comers. This is the blessing of being an apologist — provided one is defending the true belief. The mountainous rock of truth can easily withstand all the pebbles of untruth flung against it.
It is fundamentally silly to make this charge, as if it couldn’t be asserted with equal vigor against the one making it (though I wouldn’t do so), since we all naturally believe strongly in our own Christian views, and think them to be the most biblical. This is par for the course. Why then, must Pastor Bayack single Steve Ray out, as a Catholic, and imply that he is special pleading (insinuating, I think, an intellectual dishonesty and disregard for the Bible)?
Again, I speculate (not assert) that it arises out of his prior anti-Catholicism, whereby it is so revolting and offensive to him spiritually and intellectually for a former committed Protestant to actually espouse Catholicism as the more biblical view, that he must somehow explain it in terms of psychology, experience, and some ulterior motive (“smells and bells,” a love of Gothic architecture, a mindless predisposition to submit oneself to arbitrary ecclesial authority in order to attain an ersatz, illusory “certainty,” etc.) which causes such a one to embrace such a “ludicrous” concept (anything but Scripture and reason, which were Steve’s real criteria).
Otherwise, the double standard and hypocrisy of the charge is so obvious that I don’t know how anyone could make it, but for their blinders and the “certainty” that they assume about their own position, thus making their charges ridiculous, as they espouse the same idea (a certainty of belief and unwillingness to change one’s mind) that they supposedly see and despise in their opponent.
Mr. Ray must state this even if it requires turning the Bible inside out.
Sigh. Is there no end to this silliness, obviously borne of anti-Catholic intolerance of non-Catholic views? At least Pastor Bayack makes his case against Mary’s perpetual virginity in some detail below, unlike his abridged, failed, and admittedly “brief” treatment of sola Scriptura. But we shall see that it, too, is profoundly flawed, even out of step with the very “Reformers” from whom all Protestants historically derive (whether they acknowledge this or not).


(originally posted on 22 August 2000)

Photo credit: official portrait of Catholic apologist, author, and tour guide Stephen K. Ray, from his website [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


August 25, 2020

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) — and some of Book III — of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


III, 5:2-5; 8:1 


But since very many who see the vile imposture, theft, and rapine (with which the dealers in indulgences have hitherto deluded and sported with us), are not aware of the true source of the impiety, it may be proper to show not only what indulgences truly are, but also that they are polluted in every part. They give the name of treasury of the Church to the merits of Christ, the holy Apostles and Martyrs. They pretend, as I have said, that the radical custody of the granary has been delivered to the Roman bishop, to whom the dispensation of these great blessings belongs in such a sense, that he can both exercise it by himself, and delegate the power of exercising it to others. Hence we have from the Pope at one time plenary indulgences, at another for certain years; from the cardinals for a hundred days, and from the bishops for forty. These, to describe them truly, are a profanation of the blood of Christ, and a delusion of Satan, by which the Christian people are led away from the grace of God and the life which is in Christ, and turned aside from the true way of salvation. For how could the blood of Christ be more shamefully profaned than by denying its sufficiency for the remission of sins, for reconciliation and satisfaction, unless its defects, as if it were dried up and exhausted, are supplemented from some other quarter? (III, 5:2)

Catholics believe no such blasphemy. We fully agree with Calvin and Protestants that Christ’s merits are super-sufficient (a trillion times sufficient and efficient) to accomplish any task. At the same time, God chooses to involve creatures in His distribution of grace and salvation: in applying what Christ won on the cross.

That’s what prayer is about, and what redemptive suffering on behalf of others is all about; it’s what participating in the redemptive saving power of Christ (in an entirely secondary, derivative sense) by means of our own suffering is about (the last two things having been documented from Scripture earlier in this chapter).

Peter’s words are: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” (Acts 10:43); but indulgences bestow the remission of sins through Peter, Paul, and the Martyrs. “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” says John (1 John 1:7). Indulgences make the blood of the martyrs an ablution of sins. “He has made him to be sin (i.e. a satisfaction for sin) for us who knew no sin,” says Paul (2 Cor. 5:21), “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Indulgences make the satisfaction of sin to depend on the blood of the martyrs. Paul exclaimed and testified to the Corinthians, that Christ alone was crucified, and died for them (1 Cor. 1:13). Indulgences declare that Paul and others died for us. Paul elsewhere says that Christ purchased the Church with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Indulgences assign another purchase to the blood of martyrs. “By one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” says the Apostle (Heb. 10:14). Indulgences, on the other hand, insist that sanctification, which would otherwise be insufficient, is perfected by martyrs. John says that all the saints “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” (Rev. 7:14). Indulgences tell us to wash our robes in the blood of saints. (III, 5:2)

This is sheer sophistry: classic repeated examples of Calvin’s “either/or” reasoning: the creation of false dichotomies. The Bible takes a “both/and” approach. It is God who ultimately does all these things, but He utilizes His creatures to help apply it. That overcomes Calvin’s relentless false dichotomies.

Calvin wants to argue that human beings never have anything whatever, by their God-produced merits, to do with salvation. This is quite curious, since the Bible so often contradicts him. Here are many such passages that Calvin, oddly enough, somehow completely overlooked, with additional notes of how Calvin’s own unfinished “either/or version” of Scripture (the “EOV”) translated the passages:

Romans 11:13-14 . . . I magnify my ministry  [14] in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.  [EOV: “I magnify God, in order that . . . He may save some of them.”]

Romans 15:17-18 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. [18] For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, [EOV: “I have no reason to be proud of my work for God . . . what Christ has wrought through no one else to win obedience from the Gentiles”]

1 Corinthians 1:21 . . . it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [EOV: “it pleased God without the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”]

1 Corinthians 7:14, 16 For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. . . . [16] Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? [EOV: “how do you know whether God will save your husband? . . . whether God will save your wife?]

1 Corinthians 9:19-22 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. [20] To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. [21] To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law. [22] To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.   [EOV: “that God, not I, might win the more. . . . that God, not I, might by all means save some.”]

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [EOV: “and gave no one else the ministry of reconciliation”]

Ephesians 3:2 . . . the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, [EOV: “God’s grace that could not be and was not given to me for you”]

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory. [EOV: “I endure nothing for the sake of the elect, that would help them obtain salvation“]

James 5:20 . . . whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death . . . [EOV: “When God brings back a sinner from the error of his way He will save his soul”]

1 Peter 3:1 . . . some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, [EOV: “may be won without a word by the behavior of Jesus”]

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: [EOV: “God employs it for others, as a good steward of His varied grace”]

There is an admirable passage in opposition to their blasphemies in Leo, a Roman Bishop (ad Palæstinos, Ep. 81). “Although the death of many saints was precious in the sight of the Lord (Ps. 116:15), yet no innocent man’s slaughter was the propitiation of the world. The just received crowns did not give them; and the fortitude of believers produced examples of patience, not gifts of righteousness: for their deaths were for themselves; and none by his final end paid the debt of another, except Christ our Lord, in whom alone all are crucified—all dead, buried, and raised up.” This sentiment, as it was of a memorable nature, he has elsewhere repeated (Epist. 95). Certainly one could not desire a clearer confutation of this impious dogma. Augustine introduces the same sentiment not less appositely: “Although brethren die for brethren, yet no martyr’s blood is shed for the remission of sins: this Christ did for us, and in this conferred upon us not what we should imitate, but what should make us grateful,” (August. Tract. in Joann. 84). (III, 5:3)

No one is saying otherwise, so this is a perfectly moot, and useless point. Calvin continues to war against a straw man that he seems to think is Catholic teaching. Of course, as always, Augustine and Leo: two of the greatest teachers in the early Catholic Church –, have expressed what we continue to hold today. Nothing has changed.

If Calvin were so utterly confident that the Catholic Church taught such “blasphemies,” surely he could muster up one quotation (but this seems to be quite the novelty for him) from a Catholic dogmatic source? But he doesn’t do so, and there is a very good reason for that: it doesn’t exist.

Indeed, as their whole doctrine is a patchwork of sacrilege and blasphemy, this is the most blasphemous of the whole. (III, 5:3)

It would be if only we believed it, as Calvin vainly imagines and fantasizes. But it’s great copy to sell books and whip up suspicions and hostilities, . . .

Let them acknowledge whether or not they hold the following dogmas: That the martyrs, by their death, performed more to God, and merited more than was necessary for themselves, and that they have a large surplus of merits which may be applied to others; that in order that this great good may not prove superfluous, their blood is mingled with the blood of Christ, and out of both is formed the treasury of the Church, for the forgiveness and satisfaction of sins; and that in this sense we must understand the words of Paul: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the Church,” (Col. 1:24). What is this but merely to leave the name of Christ, and at the same time make him a vulgar saintling, who can scarcely be distinguished in the crowd? He alone ought to be preached, alone held forth, alone named, alone looked to, whenever the subject considered is the obtaining of the forgiveness of sins, expiation, and sanctification. (III, 5:3)

We believe in a treasury of merits, because it is plainly described in Scripture, in concept, as shown not far above in no less than eleven explicit passages. Rightly understood, these merits and graces are always derived from, only come ultimately from Him. But they are real, and they help others to be saved and to obtain more grace (just as prayer does: perhaps that will be Calvin’s target, too?).

Calvin’s mistake in caricaturing Catholic teaching is to imply that we see or draw no distinction whatever between the redemptive suffering and martyrdom and blood of a saint, compared to the passion of Christ, and His crucifixion, and His blood.

Once again, with his fallacious “either/or” mindset, he fails to make necessary and crucial distinctions and casually assumes that because God did all, in terms of the origins and cause of grace and salvation, therefore man can do nothing at all, even in a cooperative or “secondary vessel” sense (by God’s design). This is not what the Bible teaches, as I have shown repeatedly and will continue to demonstrate.

They acknowledge no fruit if Christ is the only propitiation, if he alone died for our sins, if he alone was offered for our redemption. Nevertheless, they say, Peter and Paul would have gained the crown of victory though they had died in their beds a natural death. (III, 5:3)

Really? This is Straw Man x 1000, and not worthy of the dignity of a rational response.

How maliciously they wrest the passage in which Paul says, that he supplies in his body that which was lacking in the sufferings of Christ! (Col. 1:24). That defect or supplement refers not to the work of redemption, satisfaction, or expiation, but to those afflictions with which the members of Christ, in other words, all believers, behave to be exercised, so long as they are in the flesh. He says, therefore, that part of the sufferings of Christ still remains—viz. that what he suffered in himself he daily suffers in his members. Christ so honors us as to regard and count our afflictions as his own. (III, 5:4)

Calvin actually concedes an important part of the discussion at hand here (whether he is aware of it or not): in his last sentence. Our afflictions are Christ’s. Conversely, His afflictions are, in some mystical sense that we’ll never fully understand, our own, too, and if we are part of that, then in a particular, limited sense, we play a role (always infinitely inferior to that of Christ) in the redemption of others as well.

This has already been shown previously in this chapter, in many scriptural passages. Our sufferings can literally help others to be saved, or redeemed; therefore in that lesser sense, we have participated in the redemption of their souls: a thing that always ultimately goes back to Christ, but in which we participate in a more remote fashion. This is not novel Catholic teaching, but explicit biblical teaching:

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; . . .

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation . . .

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.

Calvin wrote about two of these verses, as follows:

As he elsewhere says, “I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). He also writes to the Corinthians: “Whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer,” (2 Cor. 1:6). In the same place he immediately explains his meaning by adding, that he was made a minister of the Church, not for redemption, but according to the dispensation which he received to preach the gospel of Christ. (III, 5:4)

But this doesn’t eliminate the apparent meaning of 1:24:

Colossians 1:24-25 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, [25] of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

Verse 25 is a different clause and topic: Paul’s preaching function, as an apostle (expanded upon in verses 26-29), rather than an explanation of his meaning in verse 24, as Calvin claims. Therefore it doesn’t at all rule out a connection with redemption in 1:24. It’s merely more “either/or” reasoning; but in this instance it’s more like a moot point, by appealing to Colossians 1:25 in order to dismiss a “Catholic” interpretation.

Other passages (most already produced above), refer to a mystical “togetherness” in some fashion between Christ’s suffering and ours, united to his: 

Romans 6:8 . . . we have died with Christ, . . . 

Romans 8:17 . . . fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

1 Corinthians 12:26-27 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. [27] Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus . . .

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; . . .

Galatians 6:17 . . . I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Philippians 3:10 that I may . . . share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

2 Timothy 2:11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him

That’s a lot of material on the same theme (and all from St. Paul). Calvin can’t possibly dismiss all of it. In fact, he writes eloquently about Philippians 3:10:

How powerfully should it soften the bitterness of the cross, to think that the more we are afflicted with adversity, the surer we are made of our fellowship with Christ; by communion with whom our sufferings are not only blessed to us, but tend greatly to the furtherance of our salvation. (III, 8:1)

But usually his passages of this sort tend to contra-Catholic rhetoric:

Far be it from us to imagine that Paul thought any thing was wanting to the sufferings of Christ in regard to the complete fulness of righteousness, salvation, and life, or that he wished to make any addition to it, after showing so clearly and eloquently that the grace of Christ was poured out in such rich abundance as far to exceed all the power of sin (Rom. 5:15). (III, 5:4)

Of course, Paul didn’t think anything was (strictly speaking) lacking in the sufferings of Christ, because he was thinking in a “both/and” mode. He doesn’t see any contradiction between what he says and the sufferings of Christ on our behalf. For Paul it is a “primary” and “secondary / derivative:” scenario, without the latter contradicting the former in the slightest.

But for Calvin and his dichotomous thinking, the latter would contradict the former. In order to avoid what he falsely thinks is a contradiction, he seeks to vainly explain the passage away and then express outrage at the straw man of the Catholic Church supposedly disparaging the work and merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t have a solid argument, so he caricatures and rails against his opponent, referring to “monstrous dogmas,” etc.

Moreover, to say nothing of these abominations, who taught the Pope to enclose the grace of Jesus Christ in lead and parchment, grace which the Lord is pleased to dispense by the word of the Gospel? Undoubtedly either the Gospel of God or indulgences must be false. . . . indulgences, bringing forth some portion of the grace of God from the armory of the Pope, fix it to lead, parchment, and a particular place, but dissever it from the word of God. When we inquire into the origin of this abuse, it appears to have arisen from this, that when in old times the satisfactions imposed on penitents were too severe to be borne, those who felt themselves burdened beyond measure by the penance imposed, petitioned the Church for relaxation. The remission so given was called indulgence. But as they transferred satisfactions to God, and called them compensations by which men redeem themselves from the justice of God, they in the same way transferred indulgences, representing them as expiatory remedies which free us from merited punishment. The blasphemies to which we have referred have been feigned with so much effrontery that there is not the least pretext for them. (III, 5:5)

Indulgences, in Catholic teaching, are simply the remission of temporal penalties for sin, imposed by the Church. This is all a rather straightforward application of clear Scripture, stemming from the prerogative of the Church to “bind and loose”: that is, to impose penance, and to grant absolution, or free someone from a penalty:

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:17-18 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [18] Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

The biblical meaning of “binding and loosing” is explained by a standard Protestant reference dictionary as follows:

These are technical terms describing things forbidden or permitted by decisions of the scribes. . . . The terms are used in Mt. xviii. 18 in a context which defines the Church’s power to excommunicate and reconcile the sinner. . . . Power to remit and retain sins is vested in the whole Spirit-filled community in Jn. xx. 23. (“Binding and Loosing,” in The New Bible Dictionary, edited by J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, 153-154)

The binding aspect, should be uncontroversial, for anyone familiar with the Bible. Penance is merely an example of a category of imposed penalties: the most serious of which are explicitly noted in the Bible:  excommunication, or separation of a person from the church community (Rom 16:17; 2 Thess 3:6; 1 Tim 1:20; Tutus 3:10) and anathemas, or curses — not damnation to hell – (1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8-9). Indulgences are summed up in two Pauline passages. In the first, the Apostle “binds” or imposes a penance, or temporal punishment:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. [2] And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. [3] For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment [4] in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, [5] you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Later, St. Paul “looses” or grants what is identical conceptually to an indulgence: taking away a temporal penalty that he himself imposed. He forgives the person, and asks the Corinthian church to do so also, even though the offense was not committed against either party. He acts as God’s representative:

2 Corinthians 2:5-11 But if any one has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure –not to put it too severely — to you all. [6] For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; [7] so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. [8] So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. [9] For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. [10] Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, [11] to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Ironically, Calvin himself, in part of his commentary on this passage (2:6), essentially agrees with Catholics; even using the word “indulgence” (in a general way):

He now extends kindness even to the man who had sinned more grievously than the others, and on whose account his anger had been kindled against them all, inasmuch as they had connived at his crime. In his showing indulgence even to one who was deserving of severer punishment, the Corinthians have a striking instance to convince them, how much he disliked excessive harshness. . . .

He refers to the man who had defiled himself by an incestuous marriage with his mother-in-law. As the iniquity was not to be tolerated, Paul had given orders, that the man should be excommunicated. He had, also, severely reproved the Corinthians, because they had so long given encouragement to that enormity by their dissimulation and patient endurance. It appears from this passage, that he had been brought to repentance, after having been admonished by the Church. Hence Paul gives orders, that he be forgiven, and that he be also supported by consolation. (Calvin’s Commentaries, Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846-1851)


(originally 2012)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


August 20, 2020

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) — and some of Book III — of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


III, 4:28 / 14:10 / 18:10


Here they take refuge in the absurd distinction that some sins are venial and others mortal; that for the latter a weighty satisfaction is due, but that the former are purged by easier remedies; by the Lord’s Prayer, the sprinkling of holy water, and the absolution of the Mass. Thus they insult and trifle with God. And yet, though they have the terms venial and mortal sin continually in their mouth, they have not yet been able to distinguish the one from the other, except by making impiety and impurity of heart to be venial sin. We, on the contrary, taught by the Scripture standard of righteousness and unrighteousness, declare that “the wages of sin is death;” and that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die,” (Rom. 6:23; Ezek. 18:20). The sins of believers are venial, not because they do not merit death, but because by the mercy of God there is “now no condemnation to those which are in Christ Jesus” their sin being not imputed, but effaced by pardon. I know how unjustly they calumniate this our doctrine; for they say it is the paradox of the Stoics concerning the equality of sins: but we shall easily convict them out of their own mouths. I ask them whether, among those sins which they hold to be mortal, they acknowledge a greater and a less? If so, it cannot follow, as a matter of course, that all sins which are mortal are equal. Since Scripture declares that the wages of sin is death,—that obedience to the law is the way to life,—the transgression of it the way to death,—they cannot evade this conclusion. In such a mass of sins, therefore, how will they find an end to their satisfactions? If the satisfaction for one sin requires one day, while preparing it they involve themselves in more sins; since no man, however righteous, passes one day without falling repeatedly. While they prepare themselves for their satisfactions, number, or rather numbers without number, will be added. Confidence in satisfaction being thus destroyed, what more would they have? How do they still dare to think of satisfying? (III, 4:28)

John Calvin apparently read a different Bible, or else his had many passages edited out of it – such as the ones I shall now present for consideration. What he thinks is “absurd” is quite matter-of-fact and casually assumed in Holy Scripture. It just depends where one looks. He produces a few passages that he thinks obliterate these distinctions, but they do not. Here are the most directly obvious and relevant passages in this regard:

James 1:14-15 but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. 

1 John 5:16-17 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. [17] All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

The Bible often indicates a difference in the degree or seriousness of various sins: precisely the basis that underlies the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins:

Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. [48] But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” . . .

John 9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

John 19:11 . . . he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.

1 Timothy 1:13 . . . I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

Secondly, the Bible frequently refers to (mortal or deadly) sins that will exclude a person from heaven if he or she doesn’t repent and stop committing them. Again, this is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches: some sins are sufficiently serious enough to separate one from God, to cause a lack of grace provided by Him, and, ultimately, with no change, apostasy and possibly damnation.

Other sins won’t cause all that, but it’s still good to repent of them and reform one’s ways, because no sin of any degree of seriousness is good for the soul:

Matthew 10:33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 

Matthew 25:41-46 Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; [42] for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ [44] Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ [45] Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ [46] And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, [21] envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-6 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. [4] Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. [5] Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.

Revelation 22:14-15 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. [15] Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.  

Even were it possible for us to perform works absolutely pure, yet one sin is sufficient to efface and extinguish all remembrance of former righteousness, as the prophet says (Ezek. 18:24). With this James agrees, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all,” (James 2:10). And since this mortal life is never entirely free from the taint of sin, whatever righteousness we could acquire would ever and anon be corrupted, overwhelmed, and destroyed, by subsequent sins, so that it could not stand the scrutiny of God, or be imputed to us for righteousness. (III, 14:10)

But the rule with regard to unrighteousness is very different. The adulterer or the thief is by one act guilty of death, because he offends against the majesty of God. The blunder of these arguers of ours lies here: they attend not to the words of James, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill,” &c. (James 2:10, 11). Therefore, it should not seem absurd when we say that death is the just recompense of every sin, because each sin merits the just indignation and vengeance of God. (III, 18:10)

Calvin engages in his usual “take it to the extreme” / “either/or” exegesis, when it comes to disagreeing with traditional Catholic Christianity, passed down for nearly 1500 years up to his time. It’s quite easy in context to see that he makes this mistake with regard to Ezekiel 18. He states his interpretation of Ezekiel 18:24 as, “yet one sin is sufficient to efface and extinguish all remembrance of former righteousness.”

No, the prophet does not say any such thing! He is speaking generally and broadly of the sinners’ life vs. the life of the redeemed, righteous man. The verse (first part) states: “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live?”

Notice that the sins are plural: not one little sin that supposedly undoes everything, as in Calvin’s schema. Ezekiel is teaching, in effect: “if you live in sin as the wicked and evil people do, you will [spiritually] die.” This is referring to people who give themselves totally over to sin (including mortal sins). These are what separate a person from God, not one white lie or lustful thought or stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.

Context makes this interpretation rather clear and obvious:

Ezekiel 18:5-13 “If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right — [6] if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of impurity, [7] does not oppress any one, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, [8] does not lend at interest or take any increase, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between man and man, [9] walks in my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances — he is righteous, he shall surely live, says the Lord GOD. [10] “If he begets a son who is a robber, a shedder of blood, [11] who does none of these duties, but eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, [12] oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, [13] lends at interest, and takes increase; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

The prophet continues in the same vein in 18:14-23. This is not Calvin’s “one sin”; it’s a host of sins, a lifestyle: a life given over to wanton wickedness and unrighteousness. Then in 18:26 he reiterates: “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die.” If that weren’t clear enough, he refers again to “all the transgressions” (18:28, 31) and “all your transgressions” (18:30).

Again, he is plainly not talking about merely one sin, however small, but rather, a commitment to give oneself over to sin. We know this from the context, because the meaning is spelled out very clearly, in the greatest detail. But it’s easy to jerk one verse out of context and pretend that it means something different. Calvin literally abuses Scripture in order to bolster up a false tenet in his partially novel, heretical theology.

He does the same with James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” The fallacy here is the equation of keeping the law with all attempts to be moral and righteous whatever. The two are not identical. If they were, Paul would not have contrasted the law and grace, as he often does (e.g., Rom 5:20; 6:14-15; Gal 2:21; 5:4; cf. Jn 1:17). Calvin understands this distinction full well and teaches it himself. It’s elementary New Testament soteriology. Yet when it suits his purpose, all of that knowledge gets tossed out the window, and he engages in sophistry and eisegetes one verse to try to prove a false doctrine. This won’t do. One must be both consistent and honest in the interpretation of the Bible

In any event, James proves in the same letter that he himself recognizes qualitative differences or degrees of sin: “we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). He also teaches that “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16). This mans that there are people who are relatively more righteous, and that God honors this by making their prayers more powerful and efficacious (James offers the example of the prophet Elijah: 5:17-18).

If there is a lesser and greater righteousness, in this way, then by the same token there are lesser (venial) and greater (mortal) sins also, since to be less righteous is to be more sinful, and vice versa.


(originally 2012)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


August 12, 2020

vs. Anti-Catholic Protestant Apologist Jason Engwer

Jason wrote an article (late 90s) entitled, “A Response to Passages of Scripture Often Cited in Opposition to Salvation Through Faith Alone and Eternal Security.” In it he critiques the passages from theological opponents that (in our opinion) prove eternal security to be a false doctrine. E for effort and a certain sort of sophistical cleverness, but ultimately his reasoning fails, as always, when he attempts to war against Catholicism. This is my counter-reply. His words will be in blue. I will post the entire Bible passages (not included in his article) in black, indented (RSV).


Matthew 7:21-23 – These people were never saved. Jesus says that He never knew them. They couldn’t have lost a salvation they didn’t have.

“Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

The main point is that those who claim the name of Christ but don’t follow His commands (i.e., do good works) — combined with faith by His grace — are not and cannot be saved. He condemns falsely claimed works but at the same time affirms good works (“does the will of my Father”); i.e., doing as well as merely saying words. There are indeed certain folks that He never knew, that were never saved or in His good graces at any time (just as in the parable of the sower). But this doesn’t (logically or theologically) rule out another category of those who were in such a good state and forsook it.

The context provides further insight. In 7:15-20, Jesus warns against false prophets. How do we know they are false? “By their fruits” (7:16, 20): again, good works as the manifestation of genuine faith. In 7:24-27 He makes the analogy of building a house on a foundation of rock rather than sand. “House” in this analogy is salvation. The house built on rock stands; i.e., the salvation is genuine and permanent. But the house built on sand “fell; and great was the fall of it” (7:27). It seems clear to me that the house falling, by analogy, refers to falling away from salvation. The man once “had” the house, then he no longer did.  Therefore, Jesus refutes eternal security.

Matthew 25:31-46 – Jesus doesn’t say that these people were saved through works. The works of the sheep reflect a regenerated heart (2 Corinthians 5:17), and are the result of salvation (Ephesians 2:10), but they aren’t the means of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The sheep became sheep through faith (Acts 15:9), then behaved as sheep. There are lost people who feed the hungry, visit people in prison, etc. And there are saved people who don’t do any of that (Luke 23:39-43, 1 Corinthians 3:15). What Jesus is addressing in Matthew 25 is the general contrast between the lives of the regenerate and the lives of the unregenerate at the time of His second coming. He’s not teaching salvation through works.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, [33] and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. [34] Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; [35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ [37] Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? [38] And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? [39] And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ [40] And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ [41] Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; [42] for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ [44] Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ [45] Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ [46] And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We agree that He’s not teaching salvation by works, which is the heresy of Pelagianism.  But He is teaching salvation that cannot be obtained without good works (enabled and wrought always in His grace). The ultimate means of salvation are, of course, Jesus’ death on the cross and God’s grace, sufficient to reconcile us with Him. We agree again with our Protestant brethren about that. The passage is remarkable in that it never mentions faith in Jesus as the sole (?) key to salvation. And that’s because the strict (almost or sometimes actually antinomian) “faith alone” position is not biblical at all.

The key to interpreting the above passage is the word “for” in both verses 35 and 42. Jesus is saying, in effect, “you are saved and will go to heaven [or hell], for you did these good works: x, y, z [or did not do them].” He makes it a directly causal relationship. “For” can only plausibly be interpreted, I submit, by giving it the meaning of “because.” In other words, in the overall context of biblical soteriology, it means, “you proved that you have a genuine faith by your good works; therefore you are rewarded with eternal life.”

Luke 18:18-25 – Jesus had just taught salvation apart from works (Luke 18:10-14). He doesn’t contradict Himself in the conversation that follows with the rich young ruler. To the contrary, the conversation is a further illustration of what Jesus had taught in verses 10-14. The rich young ruler, like the Pharisee mentioned a few verses earlier, expected to be saved through works. He thought he had kept all of God’s commandments throughout his life (Luke 18:21), though he obviously hadn’t (Romans 3:9-23). As Jesus told him, only God is good (Luke 18:19). Since this man thought that he was good enough to attain eternal life through works, however, Jesus revealed the man’s imperfection by commanding him to do a work that he then refused to do (Luke 18:22-23). The disciples asked who, then, could be saved (Luke 18:26). If the rich young ruler couldn’t be saved, despite claiming to have kept all of God’s commandments throughout his life, how could anybody be saved? Jesus explains that what’s impossible with men is possible with God (Luke 18:27). He was reaffirming what He had taught in verses 10-14. God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5-6). A tax collector who relies only on the mercy of God is saved, while a Pharisee and a rich young ruler who try to attain eternal life through works are lost (Romans 9:30-10:4). Rather than supporting salvation through works, the conversation with the rich young ruler is more evidence of the hopelessness of trying to be saved through works. To be saved through works, a person would have to perfectly fulfill God’s laws for all of his life (Galatians 3:10, James 2:10), and nobody does that (Romans 3:9-23, Galatians 3:22, James 3:2). Only Christ perfectly obeyed God throughout His life. Only Christ is good (Luke 18:19). Only His righteousness, accepted as a free gift through faith, apart from works (Romans 3:21-24, 4:5-6, 5:16-17), can justify.

[rich young ruler story] And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” [19] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. [20] You know the commandments: `Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” [21] And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” [22] And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [23] But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. [24] Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! [25] For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I love this example, because it totally goes against Protestant soteriology, as I have written about (in fact, two times). Jesus wasn’t condemning works per se in 18:10-14, but rather, pride in works or self-righteousness, which was the Pharisees’ main fault. Jason simply reads that into it (eisegesis), because it’s what he wants to see, according to his mistaken theology in this respect. Jesus didn’t run down good works (“commandments”) at all. He was directly asked how one obtains eternal life. So what does He mention first? Faith alone? Nope: He inquires as to whether he kept the commandments. Jesus’ answer is more straightforward and explicit in the version in Matthew (“If you would enter life, keep the commandments”: 19:17). That was His first answer as to how a human being can be saved. 

Jason contradicts himself by saying, “Since this man thought that he was good enough to attain eternal life through works, however, Jesus revealed the man’s imperfection by commanding him to do a work . . .” If the ruler thought that works saved him, why didn’t Jesus start talking about faith, rather than another work? It makes no sense. The whole passage only makes sense within a Catholic or Orthodox paradigm. This particular person (not all rich people) idolized his riches; therefore it was necessary for him not just to have faith, but additionally to yield up his idolatry and to give up his riches.

No one denies that we can’t save ourselves (contra Pelagianism again). Jesus, in saying, “”What is impossible with men is possible with God” (18:27) is simply noting that God’s grace can make all kinds of “impossible” things possible. That’s not running down works, but rather, asserting God’s providence and power. Jesus didn’t saya Pharisee and a rich young ruler who try to attain eternal life through works are lost”. That’s putting words in His mouth. To the contrary, Jesus asserted that if the ruler sold all he had, he would ” have treasure in heaven” (meaning that he would be saved, which is proven by his being in heaven at all). And remember, the original question was, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer was, 1) keep the commandments, and 2) sell all that you have (two instances of good works). The word “faith” is never mentioned.

Moreover, Jesus again emphasizes the necessity of good works in the following passage: “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (18:29-30). They did stuff and received eternal life because they did it. Again, I think grace and faith are implied and are present in the whole equation, based on many other passages, but the works clearly play a key and indispensable role, too. It’s not “salvation by works” but rather, “salvation by grace and faith, which inevitably manifests itself through required good works.” That is the biblical, Pauline, and Catholic position (summarized).

Romans 2:7 – Those who perfectly fulfill God’s laws will live eternally, as Paul explains. However, he goes on in chapter 3 to explain that nobody lives up to that standard. Everybody falls short (Romans 3:9-23). As he writes in Galatians 3:22, all men have been shut up under sin. God’s laws are meant to be a tutor to lead us to salvation through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:21-25). Those who try to attain eternal life by following all of God’s laws will fail, and they’ll be rejecting the perfect righteousness of Christ in favor of their own imperfect righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6, Romans 9:30-10:4, Philippians 3:9). As Paul explains in Romans 2:12, everybody who sins is lost. And nobody is without sin. This is why those who are saved must be saved by grace (Romans 4:4, 4:16) as a free gift (Romans 3:24, 5:16-17, 6:23), not as a reward attained through works. Anybody who is so deceived as to think that he’s living up to the standards of Romans 2 should go on to chapter 3 to be undeceived.

to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

Once again, “well-doing” is directly tied to “eternal life.” How could it be any more clear than that: that faith alone is nonsense, and manifestly unbiblical? I have found no less than fifty biblical instances of this same dynamic. As fully expected, Jason skips over 2:13: ” For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified,” and 2:6: “For he will render to every man according to his works:” because they don’t fit very well at all into Protestant theology and false traditions. 2:8 notes that “there will be wrath and fury” for those who “do not obey the truth” (not just refuse to believe it in their head). 2:9 tells us that “every human being who does evil” will suffer (perhaps implied damnation?), while God honors “every one who does good” (2:10).

It’s works works works all through the passage. Jason blithely ignores and passes over this, which is his classic methodology: simply ignore what you can’t explain as if it wasn’t there. But it is there, and it’s there for a reason. All he can do is play “Bible hopscotch” and bring in many other passages (“pet” Protestant verses), rather than honestly address the one passage before him at the moment. When he does make arguments, it’s a non sequitur, because we already agree with him that works alone salvation is every bit as false as faith alone salvation.

Romans 11:22 – The context is a discussion of Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God. Paul isn’t saying that individual Christians can lose their salvation. That would contradict what Paul says repeatedly elsewhere, including in Romans (Romans 5:9, 8:30). Paul is referring to the Gentiles as a group. They could fall out of God’s favor, just as the Jews had.

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.

I agree that he is talking primarily about groups (Jews and Gentiles) and “communal salvation,” so to speak, and that this is by no means a strong argument against eternal security of individuals. That said, it’s still, nonetheless, the same general notion that groups (like individuals) can possess salvation and then lose it (“those who have fallen” / “cut off”). It’s not instant (as shown by the words, “provided you continue . . .”). The passage is also reminiscent of Jesus’ sayings about individuals who will be “cut down” and damned if they fail to produce “fruit”:

Matthew 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (cf. Lk 3:9, exactly the same)

Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Paul is discussing rewards and setting an example for others to follow. He’s not discussing how to attain eternal life. As he explained earlier in the epistle (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), how a Christian lives his life will determine rewards in Heaven, but not entrance to Heaven. Paul was sure of his own future in Heaven (Romans 5:9, 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Philippians 1:21-23, 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, 2 Timothy 4:18), and he was also sure that the Corinthian believers would always be saved (1 Corinthians 1:8). To assume that Paul is referring to attaining eternal life in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is speculative, and is contrary to other passages of scripture.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. [25] Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; [27] but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Jason claims, “He’s not discussing how to attain eternal life.” This is untrue. He refers to an “imperishable” wreath. That’s eternal life, that never ends, or at the very least, eternal rewards that come as a result of having been saved. Being “disqualified” is a rather obvious reference to possible loss of salvation, if we don’t persevere. Salvation is also evident in context, with references to winning men (i.e., playing an instrumental role in helping them to become saved: five times in 9:19-22). He refers to preaching the “gospel” (9:14, 16, 18, 23). That has to do with salvation, folks. No Protestant can deny it. And he writes, “that I might by all means save some” (9:22). It’s all salvation. And it can be lost: so teaches St. Paul: the greatest evangelist of all time.

Romans 5:9 and its surrounding context is a general statement about salvation, as opposed to being about Paul’s own salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 is of a similar nature. And the context includes reference to altogether necessary works (as always in Paul): “we make it our aim to please him” (5:9), “so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (5:10). Paul writes in Philippians 1:20: “it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed . . .” That’s not absolute assurance. The word “hope” is about things not yet surely or certainly attained. If I say that “I hope to get a ten-speed for Christmas” I don’t have absolute assurance that I will. See Paul’s many other uses of the word “hope.”

Philippians 3:20-21 is another general soteriological statement, not a personal one only about Paul, as is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. 2 Timothy 4:18 is about as good a proof as the eternal security proponent can submit, but I would say that it’s written by Paul just before the end of his life, so he can be fairly assured that he will be saved, as an apostle. That’s a lot different from a 20-year-old claiming that he will always persevere and never ever fall away from the faith. He or she simply can’t say that because they don’t know the future. An apostle near the end of his life is a whole different ballgame. 1 Corinthians 1:8 is another general statement about an entire church, not each and every individual in it. It has to be understood in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 10:12, about individuals: “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 

Galatians 5:19-21 – Paul is addressing the general differences between the unregenerate life and the regenerate life. Not all unbelievers bear all of the fruit of the flesh that Paul mentions, and not all believers bear all of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions. Paul is addressing lifestyles, not individual actions that would cause a Christian to lose salvation. The same is true of similar passages (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5-6). Paul is describing the lifestyle of the unregenerate, and is telling believers not to partake of that fruit of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:7). The unregenerate who practice such things as a lifestyle are proving that they’re lost. Paul isn’t saying that a Christian who sometimes commits some of those sins will lose his salvation. To the contrary, the list in Galatians 5, for example, includes just about every sin that can be committed, if not every sin. If Galatians 5 was teaching that Christians would lose their salvation by committing those sins, then salvation would be lost every time a sin is committed. But Christians can sin, yet still be saved. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, for example, tells us that the Corinthians were committing some of the sins listed in Galatians 5, yet they were still saved. They were “babes in Christ”, but were in Christ nonetheless.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, [21] envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Why warn them about the possibility of not “inherit[ing] the kingdom of God” if they are in no danger whatsoever of losing it? That makes no  sense. I do agree that this is addressing lifestyles in general terms. But then, why does Paul use the word “warn” if it didn’t also apply to real potential danger in the spiritual lives of his Galatian recipients? The early part of the chapter makes it crystal clear that a Christian can fall away from the faith:

Galatians 5:1-2, 4 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. . . . [3] I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. [4] You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

How does Jason deal with that data? Well, true to form, he doesn’t. He simply ignores it and plays Bible hopscotch again. But in order to be honest with the text, he can’t run from it and only pick and choose what he likes. He brings up Ephesians 5:5-6:

Ephesians 5:5-6 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Yeah, I agree that it is a “general” observation. But (precisely as in Gal 5:19-21), Paul makes also a direct connection to the Ephesians, whom he addresses collectively as “the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1):

Ephesians 5:3 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints.

In other words, he says that [habitual / “lifestyle”] fornication can lead one to hell (general statement), but he also warns the Ephesian Christians not to fall into the sin. If they do — the implication is clear — they put themselves in danger of damnation. I don’t see how all of this data taken together can have any other plausible interpretation. Jason remarks, “If Galatians 5 was teaching that Christians would lose their salvation by committing those sins, then salvation would be lost every time a sin is committed.”

But that’s not the point. The point is that even Christians can fall and descend into habitual / lifestyle sin (we’re not talking about momentary lapses; repented of), and that if they do, they are in just as much danger of hell as the ones who never were Christians; maybe more so, on the biblical principle of “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk 12:48).

Philippians 2:12 – The context is about trials in the Christian life, so Paul may not even be referring to salvation of the soul. Even if he is referring to the attaining of eternal life, Paul tells the Philippians to work out their salvation, not to work for their salvation. Works are the fruit of salvation (Ephesians 2:10), not the means of attaining it (Ephesians 2:8-9). Why does Paul refer to fear and trembling, then? Even for those who are already saved, standing before God is a fearful thing (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). Works aren’t a means of salvation, but we are accountable to God for the works we do after salvation (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Quite obviously, salvation is a persevering process, involving our cooperation with God’s grace and possible loss. Jason can try to spin and obfuscate the clear meaning all he likes, but he won’t succeed. He plays the sophist by Clintonian-like parsing words (“out” and “for”), but how could, for example, St. Peter say, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40), or write elsewhere, “so that some [husbands], though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Pet 3:1)? There is obviously profound human cooperation with God and good works in all these instances.

Paul isn’t talking about merely standing before God and being understandably awed and scared, but about “salvation,” which is why he used the word. Duh! This ain’t rocket science.

Philippians 3:10-12 – Paul is referring to persevering in the Christian life. He just explained that he was relying on the righteousness of Christ given through faith (Philippians 3:9), not a righteousness of his own. He goes on to refer to his and his readers’ future in Heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). He commented earlier that he would go to be with Christ when he died (Philippians 1:21-23). It’s untenable to argue that, in the midst of all of this, Paul was teaching salvation through works in Philippians 3:10-12. That would be a contradiction of what he had just written about being justified by a righteousness not his own. It would be a contradiction of his repeated references to being sure of his future in Heaven. The resurrection he speaks of attaining in verse 11 probably is a reference to Christ’s resurrection power, as mentioned in verse 10. He can’t be referring to attaining eternal life through works, since he explains in 1:21-23 and 3:20-21 that he’s already sure of his future in Heaven. In other words, Paul seems to be referring in 3:11 to living as victoriously as Christ had lived. It’s a continuation of what he referred to in verse 10. The resurrection was the crowning achievement of Christ’s life, and Paul hadn’t yet attained to that perfection (Philippians 3:12). What Paul was working for was the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Paul is addressing sanctification in Philippians 3:10-12, not justification. He’s addressing perseverance in the Christian life, not how to attain salvation.

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

How can it be merely “persevering in the Christian life” when Paul makes reference to becoming like Jesus in “death” and “the resurrection from the dead”? Jason becomes flat-out desperate to vainly explain away clear meanings. Yes, of course salvation is through “faith” and not the “law” (3:9). Once again, Jason wars against straw men, but it’s par for the course in these discussions (to the endless frustration of the Catholic participant, including myself). On the other hand, works are fully in view as part of the whole package (“I have suffered the loss of all things, . . . in order that I may gain Christ”: 3:8 / “straining forward”: 3:13 / “I press on toward the goal”: 3:14 / “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do”: 4:9). The word “faith” (as opposed to “the faith”: which means doctrines: see 1:5), appears only four times in Paul’s entire epistle.

As I wrote above,Philippians 3:20-21 is another general soteriological statement, not a personal one only about Paul.” It’s true (and I freely grant it) that 1:21-23 does indeed sound very assured (and there are several other passages like that), but the thing is, we can’t just collect Bible passages that “sound” like one thing and ignore others that are of a different nature. We have to incorporate all of them into a harmonious whole. I think Catholic theology (with its “both/and” outlook) quite adequately does that, whereas Protestant theology (more “either/or” in nature and filled with false dichotomies) is incoherent and full of holes, due largely to its tendency to deliberately (almost cynically) avoid large portions of Scripture: “pegs” that don’t fit into the Protestant “hole.”

Once again, Jason special pleads at the end. Paul is simply not talking about sanctification, but rather, eschatological salvation, because the words “death” and “the resurrection from the dead” can only refer to that and have nothing to do with earthly sanctification. To make it even more obvious, what he is talking about, so that no one can misunderstand it, Paul ends the chapter by writing, “. . . our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body . . .” (3:20-21). How this somehow only refers to sanctification on earth, as opposed to salvation in heaven, Jason would have to explain, and he’s not likely to ever reply to this paper. One can only stretch things so far without becoming absurd.

Hebrews 6:4-6 – If salvation could be lost, if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to atone for all sins, there would be no possibility of being saved a second time (Hebrews 6:6). Some people were considering a return to the animal sacrifices of the old covenant, but if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to atone for all sins, no other sacrifice would be enough either. Rather than contradicting eternal security, Hebrews 6:4-6 affirms it. Christ’s work is sufficient to atone for all sins. People cannot be repeatedly lost and saved. They’re either saved once and forever or they aren’t saved at all. In verse 9, not falling away is described as a “thing that accompanies salvation”, once again affirming eternal security. “Though we thus speak” in verse 9 is a reference to verses 4-6 having been hypothetical. Nobody actually loses salvation. The point is that if salvation wasn’t secure in Christ, it wouldn’t be secure anywhere. Looking for salvation in a return to animal sacrifices is hopeless, as is looking for salvation through works.

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, [5] and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, [6] if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

Now we’re onto some of the very best texts against eternal security, in Hebrews. Jason starts out with Protestant platitudes. This passage is referring to (as I see it, anyway), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is indeed unforgivable; but that doesn’t cover all cases of apostasy. Other cases may involve a person returning to the faith. Jason tries to pretend that the passage is merely rhetorical or hypothetical. I don’t see that it reads that way at all. It’s talking about real people: “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” and it refers to them literally committing what we are saying is a real and distinct (and terrifying) potentiality: “they then commit apostasy.”

There is occasionally hypothetical rhetoric in Scripture. Perhaps the most famous example is the following passage from St. Paul:

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [13] But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; [14] if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [15] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [16] For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. [17] If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. [20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Note that the logical structure is of this form:

“If x isn’t true, neither is y; if y is untrue, then so is z.” (15:13-14 and repeated in 15:16-17)

“If x is untrue, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (15:19)

“But in fact, x is true, and therefore, so are y and z.” (15:20)

Paul makes very clear (leaving no doubt) what he is doing, by saying “if there is . . . ” and using the word “if” over and over, signifying a hypothetical word-picture. But then he counters that by saying “in fact” in verse 20. Hebrews 6:4-6 is not at all like that. It has neither the required structure nor all the “ifs” to suggest that it is merely hypothetical. Jason is special pleading once again. He’s trying his best, but as the old saying would have it: “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

To top it off, the writer once again shows that works and perseverance (as opposed to instant assurance) are always part of the overall picture:

Hebrews 6:10-12 For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. [11] And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, [12] so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 10:26-31 – God disciplines His children (1 Corinthians 11:29-32, Hebrews 12:6-7). Despite what some people assume when reading this passage, the people being addressed are not people who lost their salvation, but rather they’re God’s people (Hebrews 10:30). Hebrews 10:39, like Hebrews 6:9, once again suggests that not falling away is a thing that accompanies salvation. Those who are saved remain saved (1 John 2:19). Those who are justified are also glorified (Romans 8:30). Nobody is justified, then goes to Hell. Hebrews 10:26-31 may be only a hypothetical, like Hebrews 6:4-6, but even if not, verse 30 explains that the passage is about God’s people being disciplined, not a lost sinner going to Hell.

Hebrews 10:26-31 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. [28] A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? [30] For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” [31] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Jason engages in the worst kind of eisegesis: almost utterly ignoring the plain intent of the text itself. He pretends that it is about mere discipline of children who can never lose their salvation. That’s certainly not how it reads. It refers to a “fury of fire” and people who havespurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace”. Somehow all is fine and they are still saved after all that. Failing any plausible, feasible eternal security interpretation of the text, Jason, as is his wont, wanders off into many other passages, thinking that this gives him the appearance of strength of argument, where there is none. Each one has to be examined on its own, as in his other uses of this technique above.

Context reveals that it is not as Jason makes out. A “full assurance of faith” is referred to in 10:22, but then in the next verse we are told that we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” Again, if wavering or falling is impossible from the outset and poses no danger, then why is it mentioned at all? Works are urged in 10:24: “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,”. The same indications of possible falling away occur after our passage above:

Hebrews 10:35-36, 38-39 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. [36] For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. . . . ” . . . [38] but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” [39] But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.

One doesn’t talk about a group of people who commit terrible sins and lose the faith, if indeed it’s not possible in the first place.  It would be like saying, “We are not of those who can swim from Boston to the coast of Spain . . . ” If something is utterly impossible, it makes no sense to mention it.

1 John 2:19 (“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us . . .”) is merely declaring that folks who leave a Christian group are not “of” it: which is common sense and a truism. It has no direct bearing on the eternal security debate. Romans 8:30 is about the predestination of the elect, which Catholics fully agree with, so it’s a moot point, not having to do with the question at hand.

James 2:14-26 – As James explains in 2:8-12, people would have to live perfectly, obeying all of God’s laws (James 2:10), in order to be saved through works. Instead of trusting in a law of works, we have to trust in a law of liberty (James 2:12). Does James go on to contradict himself later in the chapter? No, he doesn’t. He’s addressing the evidence of saving faith (James 2:14) and justification before men (James 2:18). Faith without works is dead in the sense that true faith results in works. James can’t be saying that faith without works is dead in the sense that people aren’t saved until after working. If he was saying that, he would be contradicting what he wrote in 2:8-12, and he would be contradicting Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:10-14, and other passages in which people are saved through faith alone. Abraham was justified before God when he believed (Romans 4:10-11), not when he later did works as a result of his faith (Romans 4:2). However, Abraham was justified before men (James 2:18) not through faith alone, but through works (James 2:21-24). Paul and James aren’t addressing the same issue. Paul is saying that we’re justified before God through faith alone. James is saying that saving faith is evidenced by works, which justify us in the sense that they prove that our faith is true. James agrees with Paul that people are saved through faith, not works, but James is addressing the contrast between true faith and false faith. That’s why he asks in verse 14, “Can that faith save him?” The question assumes that people are saved through faith. James wouldn’t be addressing the type of faith that saves if faith didn’t save. People are saved through faith while ungodly and not working (Romans 4:5-6), then they produce fruit as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). The fruit justifies the believer before men (James 2:18), just as wisdom is justified by her children (Luke 7:35).

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? [15] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, [16] and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? [17] So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. [18] But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. [19] You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. [20] Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, [23] and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. [24] You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25] And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

Jason starts out with the usual straw man canard about his opponents supposedly being advocates of salvation by works. He just doesn’t get it (poor fellow). His bondage to Protestant hyper-rationalistic and very unbiblical “either/or” reasoning causes him to be out to sea in these matters. He is unable to comprehend the biblical / Hebraic paradoxical and “both/and” approach. As this paper is already very long (more than 7000 words), I’ll refer the reader to my exposition of the passage elsewhere:

Justification in James: Dialogue [5-8-02]

Justification: Not by Faith Alone, & Ongoing (Romans 4, James 2, and Abraham’s Multiple Justifications) [10-15-11]

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies [10-9-13]

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans [11-18-15]

2 Peter 2:20 – In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter refers to true knowledge of Christ. The knowledge of the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:20 apparently isn’t a saving knowledge. These people were dogs and pigs all along, and they proved it by returning to the vomit and mire (2 Peter 2:22). They were headed for Hell all along (2 Peter 2:3, 2:9).

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

This is one of the very best indications of Catholic soteriology and the possibility of apostasy. Jason utilizes the time-honored technique of redefining words, in order to bolster his erroneous views. “knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is not a saving knowledge, you see. It’s just head knowledge. The problem with that is the preceding clause: “they have escaped the defilements of the world through . . . ” Only God’s grace offers such an escape. So they were indeed in God’s graces (as Catholics would say), or “saved” (as Protestants would describe it).

Moreover, 2 Peter 1:3, that he brings up, uses the same word “knowledge” (the same Greek word, epignosis) in (undeniably) the sense of saving knowledge (thus Jason futilely tries to draw a distinction without a difference). St. Peter uses this Greek word repeatedly in this sense:

2 Peter 1:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1:8 For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The same word is used four times, yet in one instance, Jason arbitrarily redefines it because it doesn’t fit his preconceived false theology. It’s classic, notorious eisegesis. St. Paul also uses the same word, epignosis, in the same sense, 13 times (Rom 10:2; Eph 1:17; 4:13; Phil 1:9; Col 1:9-10; 2:2; 3:10; 1 Tim 2:4; 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; Philem 6), and never for mere head (non-saving) knowledge. Jason’s case here is nonexistent and utterly untenable.

He also gives us circular reasoning: because they returned (returned?) to the mire, they never were saved. In other words, he assumes what he needs to prove. He appeals to 2 Peter 2:22 (“The dog turns back to his own vomit”), thinking that this proves they always were outside regeneration and salvation, but it’s contradicted by the verse right before it, that Jason (what a surprise!) ignores: “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

1 John 5:16-17 – Since John recommends praying for the life of those who commit a sin not leading to death, he must be referring to physical life and death, not spiritual life and death. Otherwise, why pray for the life of a person whose sin doesn’t lead to death? Apparently, John is referring to people who are ill. If they’re dying as a result of a sin, then don’t pray for them. God sometimes disciplines Christians with death (Acts 5:1-10, 1 Corinthians 11:29-32). If their illness is not a result of their sin, however, then pray for them to recover.

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. [17] All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

This where Catholics derive the notion of mortal and venial sins. It wasn’t pulled out of a hat by some pope in AD 865. “Life” can be used to refer to both physical and spiritual life in the Bible. It’s obviously the latter in this passage since the guy’s walking around and committing a venial sin and someone prays and God gives him “life.” He already has physical life, so it must mean more grace in the spiritual life. But somehow (don’t ask me how) Jason manages to get it backwards. The context (1 Jn 5:11-13) refers to “life” in Jesus  three times and “eternal life” twice. It couldn’t be more clear than it is.

Then he goes into a rabbit trail of the passage supposedly referring to illness, when there is no such indication. It’s yet another desperate, failed attempt to explain away a clear text that supports Catholic positions and refutes Protestant ones.

Revelation 20:13 – This is the judgment of the unregenerate. While Christians are not under any law of works (Romans 6:14, Galatians 3:21-25, James 2:12), unbelievers are judged according to the laws of God. They’re all condemned, and are sent to Hell (Revelation 20:14). John goes on to repeatedly refer to eternal life as a free gift, not something that’s worked for (Revelation 21:6, 22:17). Revelation 20:13 is about the condemnation of the unregenerate, who didn’t accept eternal life in Christ as a free gift. They’re judged by a law of works, while Christians are under grace (Romans 6:14) and are judged by a law of liberty (James 2:12).

And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

Works again! I refer the reader again to my compilation of 50 biblical passages where works are presented as central in the area of the final judgment and who is saved and who is condemned. The passage doesn’t say that only unbelievers and the damned are judged this way. That is simply Jason superimposing his false tradition onto it. The text says that “all were judged by what they had done.” Hades contained both good and evil people, as we learn from Luke 16: Jesus’ tale (not parable) of Lazarus and the rich man. This is what Ephesians 4:8-10 refers to: Jesus went to Sheol / Hades in “the lower parts of the earth” and “led a host of captives”. That can’t refer to the damned. So Jason’s view is decisively refuted twice. The passage means what it says: “all” were judged, and once again, as so often, the central criterion (though not excluding faith) was good works.

Case closed.


Photo credit: Abraham’s Parting from the Family of Lot, by Jan Victors (1619-1676) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


June 12, 2020

vs. James Swan

I joined William Possidento, the primary author, in a critique of James White’s book above. Protestant Reformed anti-Catholic polemicist James Swan then offered criticisms of our critique. His words will be in blue.; words of James White in green.


[originally posted on 3-15-04 and 9-7-05]


You assert that Irenaeus believed Mary to be co-redemptrix? (that is, you via “William Possidento”).

In a primitive, relatively undeveloped sense, yes. This was seen in his words, “Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy” and in the general idea of Mary as the New Eve or Second Eve. Elsewhere (Mary Mediatrix: Patristic, Medieval, & Early Orthodox Evidence). St. Irenaeus (130-202), in his famous Against Heresies (bet. 180-199) wrote:

[S]o also Mary . . . being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.” (3,22,4; from Jurgens, W.A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 1, p. 93, #224)

[F]or in no other way can that which is tied be untied unless the very windings of the knot are gone through in reverse: so that the first joints are loosed through the second, and the second in turn free the first . . . Thus, then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary.” (Against Heresies, III, 22,4; from Most, William G., Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954, 25)

William Most comments:

Mary, says St. Irenaeus, undoes the work of Eve. Now it was not just in a remote way that Eve had been involved in original sin: she shared in the very ruinous act itself. Similarly, it would seem, Mary ought to share in the very act by which the knot is untied — that is, in Calvary itself. (in Most, ibid., 25)

Just as the human race was bound over to death through a virgin, so was it saved through a virgin: the scale was balanced — a virgin’s disobedience by a virgin’s obedience. (Against Heresies, V, 19, 1; cited in Most, ibid., 274)

Swan acts as if this is extraordinary special pleading to see in remarks such as these a kernel of the notion of mediatrix or the always vastly-misunderstood term, “co-redemptrix”. Funny, then, that the well-known Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly doesn’t think so (he precisely agrees with me):

The real contribution of these early centuries, however, was more positively theological, and consisted in representing Mary as the antithesis of Eve and drawing out the implications of this. Justin was the pioneer, although the way he introduced the theme suggests that he was not innovating . . . Tertullian and Irenaeus were quick to develop these ideas. The latter, in particular, argued [Against Heresies, 3, 22, 4; cf. 5, 19, 1] that Eve, while still a virgin, had proved disobedient and so became the cause of death both for herself and for all mankind, but Mary, also a virgin, obeyed and became the cause of salvation both for herself and for all mankind. “Thus, as the human race was bound fast to death through a virgin, so through a virgin it was saved.” Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing [Ibid, 4, 33, 1] her womb as “that pure womb which regenerates men to God.” (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition of 1978, 493-494, emphases added)

So we see that William Possidento and myself were merely citing most of the same passages that Kelly cites, and interpreting them in precisely the same way. Even Mr. White is not a Church historian, so if it comes down to a conflict of historical fact between White and Kelly, it is obvious who has the advantage and who can be trusted for the facts. And that is not all one can find by way of Protestant historians. How about Philip Schaff? He writes:

The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century in an allegorical interpretation of the history of the fall, and in the assumption of an antithetic relation of Eve and Mary, according to which the mother of Christ occupies the same position in the history of redemption as the wife of Adam in the history of sin and death [Rom 5:12 ff., 1 Cor 15:22] . . . Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a “mother of all living” in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, as Eve by her disobedience was the fountain of sin and death. [Footnote: “Even St. Augustine carries this parallel between the first and second Eve as far as any of the fathers . . . “] (History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974; reproduction of fifth edition of 1910, 414-415, emphases added. This work is available in its entirety online, too)

But James White makes the following profoundly ignorant historical summation, that James Swan cited from the original paper:

James White did not bring most of these ECF’s [early Church Fathers] up. DA has, in order to disprove White’s assertion that “the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.” [pp. 75-76 of White’s book]

This being the case, I have the utmost sympathy and compassion for James Swan in his effort to defend such a ridiculously wrongheaded point of view. The old wise proverb says that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” but maybe Swan can somehow pretend that these notions were absent from history, per White, when they clearly were not, according to Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (two of the very best and most-cited, at that). Best wishes! I don’t envy you. And I think we can already see one reason why Mr. White won’t come out from behind his word-processor and defend his own historical absurdities from his book.

Furthermore, Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan (who converted to Orthodoxy after the following was written), observed the true focus of patristic and Catholic Mariology, during St. Irenaeus’ time:

[A]s Christian piety and reflection sought to probe the deeper meaning of salvation, the parallel between Christ and Adam found its counterpart in the picture of Mary as the Second Eve . . . in is fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.

For it mattered a great deal for christology whether or not one had the right to call Mary Theotokos [Mother of God] . . . an apt formula for their belief that in the incarnation deity and humanity were united so closely . . . It was a way of speaking about Christ at least as much as a way of speaking about Mary. (The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), University of Chicago Press, 1971, 242-243)


1. Which line from Irenaeus above actually says this?

The concept (in early development) was there, as seen in the quotes themselves and in the summary of Irenaeus’ teaching by Kelly and Schaff, where they actually relate it to “redemption” and “salvation” and use words like “mediate” and “instrumental” with regard to Mary’s place in the economy of redemption. The word no more has to be present than the word “Trinity” has to be in the Bible, in order to think that the teaching is there.

2. I direct your attention to Giovanni Miegge’s explanation of the passage from Irenaeus in question:

If we pass from the New Testament to the patristic field there is equal silence. Irenaeus’ famous parallel of Eve and Mary alludes only to the motherhood of Mary who gives the Redeemer to the world with her faith in the divine annunciation. The title “advocate” refers to the restoration of Eve and could be extended at most to the idea of a ministry of intercession which, however, is not explicitly contained in the term. All those who in various ways look for this parallel in the first century connect it with Mary’s motherhood. Mary is not associated with the redemptive sufferings of Christ: ‘if anyone is it is the martyrs, but in a quite indirect form as imitators of Christ, as members of His body, as witnesses of Him. In that sense the apostle Paul speaks of his part in the sufferings of Christ, with an ardent figure of speech, “to fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1 : 24, R.V.); but he attributes no co-redemptive significance to this thought. But Mary did not know martyrdom.

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 163-164)

That does not agree with Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan, and (frankly) they carry a lot more weight than Miegge does. Why don’t you tell us more about him? What are his credentials?

3. Where does Jaroslav Pelikan say that Irenaeus believed Mary was co-[re]demptrix?

It is implicit in the concept of Second Eve, by its very nature, as shown above.

I couldn’t find it in the quote from your paper.

That’s because you are looking for a word, rather than a concept.

Is your use of Pelican [sic] simply arguing for development of doctrine,

It’s not just development (though that is a crucial component of this discussion), but the fact that the concept of New Eve was already in full force at this early stage (as early as Justin Martyr, who died in 165 — and Kelly says it looks like he was just passing on what he received).

. . . in which case, the reader has to accept the faith claim of the “acorn and the oak tree”? If this is so, your critique of James White should spell this out clearly, with a statement like this: “Dave Armstrong’s interpretation of the history of Mariology demands the Roman Catholic notion of development of doctrine. Without this, James White’s book, Mary Another Redeemer makes historical sense.”

It’s not necessary to have a “Roman Catholic notion of development of doctrine” in order to accept this development, but to have whatever kind of development Schaff and Pelikan and Kelly accept (since they are not Catholics). This is the whole point. It’s not a “Catholic thing”; it is an “historical thing.” Schaff detests the very doctrines he is describing, and makes no bones about it, but he is also (invariably) an honest historian who presents the facts — whatever he thinks of them.

White detests the doctrines, too, but then tries to vainly pretend that they were absent from patristic history. This is the difference, and this is one of a multitude of reasons why I have long maintained that White is a sophist and special pleader.

In my portion of the book review I made elaborate and involved arguments showing that White himself accepts development in one area but denies it in another, and his criteria for doing so are completely arbitrary, self-contradictory, and instances of glaring double standards. So this has already been thoroughly dealt with.

Development of Mariology is no different than development of any other doctrine. One may quibble with it because it is supposedly so “unbiblical,” but then one would have to also toss out the canon of Scripture, which is absolutely unbiblical. Etc. I’ve made all the arguments.


As far as I am concerned, so far, not one thing I have contended has been overthrown or refuted. It was claimed (by White and his defenders) that St. Irenaeus taught not a thing about Mary Mediatrix. I responded with Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (and a bit indirectly), Pelikan, who thought quite otherwise. It was claimed that I was demanding people to accept a presupposed Catholic version of development of doctrine. I showed how that was not the case, and my extensive reasoning for why I think that, in the review itself, needs to be dealt with. So we don’t have much substance so far. Let’s see how much can be produced . . .

I would like to work through all of DA’s Irenaeus quotes, slowly, as time allows.

It would be nice if you would counter-respond to my first lengthy response, since I raised, I think, several important issues that you need to deal with for your case to succeed. I cited three very reputable Protestant historians. But I guess that would be too much like a dialogue . . . I’ll take what I can get. But I will always note that you left something unresponded-to, so readers don’t miss that “detail.”

I would like to look first at this comment from DA’s paper:

St. Irenaeus wrote, for example, of Christ as the pure one opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God (Against Heresies IV,33,11) – words with which Irenaeus credited the Virgin’s womb and assigns to her a universal motherhood. Writing of the economy, that is, the plan of salvation, St. Irenaeus remarked ..without Joseph’s action, Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy… (Against Heresies III, 21,5, in Miravalle, p. 178). Contemplate that. St. Irenaeus gave, with those words, a second century statement of belief that Mary had a unique role in the plan of salvation.

DA’s comments about Irenaeus

Actually, William Possidento’s at this point (just to clarify). My arguments in the review were mostly analogical ones dealing mostly with development of doctrine, whereas his were textual ones from the Fathers and James White’s own book.

overlook something rather important: the context in which they were written.

Context does not nullify our points at all (as I will show). You only think it does when you apply the typically Reformed “either/or” dichotomous mindset to the passage in order to maintain that one must be doing only one thing and could not possibly be doing more than one (killing two birds with one stone).

Note above, the book written by Irenaeus is called Against Heresies. The intent of Irenaeus was not to write a Bible dictionary, so when he got to the letter “M” he wrote out his thoughts on Mary. Hardly.

In fighting heresy, one may express points of Mariology, just as he might express various aspects of christology, soteriology, anthropology, theology proper, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If you are fighting heretical theology, you have to give orthodox theology to counter it (in fact, fighting error is often the occasion for some of the most elaborate expositions of orthodox theology, as a counterpoint; for example, St. Augustine’s reactions to the Manichees and Donatists and Pelagians).

And if Mary is mentioned in any “theological” way, that is Mariology, pure and simple. It may be very primitive and undeveloped (of course it is, in the second century (Irenaeus’ era), though it is remarkably and surprisingly well-developed, given Protestant hostile assumptions about how little it should be by this time), but it remains Mariology because it offers some theology and interpretation of Mary.

Against Heresies is concerned with, you guessed it, heresy.

Very good; a refreshing note of agreement . . .

As Giovanni Miegge explains,

The gnostic teachers in the imposing cycle of their cosmogony brought in the Saviour Jesus at a certain point, one who came down into the material world to free the souls that had fallen. But, spiritualists to excess, they maintained that the purest “eon” could not really have incarnated himself in a man. They thought that the Christ had temporarily united himself to the man Jesus from his baptism to the crucifixion only, or that he manifested himself with a seeming body without true material substance (docetism, from dokei, seems). This second conception had the advantage also of not requiring a real maternity in the physical sense on the part of Mary, whom the eon Christ simply passed through as water passes through a conduit. The virginity of Mary in the bringing forth was the legitimate consequence of these speculations, although it was not one in the strict sense.

The Church reacted decisively to the gnostic docetism that denied the real humanity of the Lord and transferred salvation to a mythical plane away from the historical and human. The traces of this reaction are plain to be seen, first in the later writings of the New Testament, then through the references and confutations of the anti-heretical writers, and also in the elaboration of the oldest symbols of the faith.” The so-called Apostles’ Creed has an anti-docetic tone that is quite recognizable in the emphasis of its affirmation of the real humanity of the Lord and His historical life, “Begotten {gennethenta) by the Holy Spirit and by Mary”, “qui natus est de Spiritu Sancto et Maria Virgine“, as the Roman Apostles’ Creed affirms. Or “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”, “conceptum de Spiritu Sancto, natum ex Maria Virgine“, according to the more accurate rendering of the definitive Gallican wording. The Creed expresses the same insistence on the humanity and historicity of Christ in its particularizing of the Passion: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried”.The Church did it directly again with the stress these expressions receive from Ignatius of Antioch: “Jesus Christ of the progeny of David by Mary, who was truly begotten, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the presence of beings celestial, terrestrial and subterrestrial, who was truly brought to life from the dead, His Father raising Him up.” Mary and Pilate! The two pillars on which stands the affirmation of the real historicity of Christ, truly born in a human body at a definite point in history, and truly crucified in that body at an equally definite point in time. Mary and Pilate, the two witnesses of the humanity of the Saviour, that is of the reality of the incarnation. Mary owes her inclusion in the Creed—as does Pilate—to this her function of witnessing, but she assumes, besides, the other function of testifying to His divinity by the adjective that describes her, the Virgin Mary. This function she shares with the affirmation of the resurrection and ascension of Christ which ends the central article of the Creed, Vere homo et vere Deus, according to the concise formula of Irenaeus.

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 36-37.

Yes, of course. I have no problem with this. Catholics have always stated that Mariology is christocentric, and that this was its primary purpose. It was to safeguard the deity and incarnation of Jesus. You guys are the ones who try to make out that we are somehow separating Mary from her Son Jesus, as some sort of ridiculous rival “goddess.” So now we have to be accused of the caricature that you try to make out is our belief, that we always deny, and you see this as some “debating point”? :-)

This is precisely why I cited Jaroslav Pelikan, in agreement with Catholic theology and perspective: “. . . in its fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.”

But somehow you miss that “detail” because (apparently) you are so uninterested in my first response that you repeat things already dealt with in it, and agreed to. Weird . . . but this is common in the Protestant response to Catholic apologetics. It’s almost as if we are talking but the words don’t register. Many times in debates like this, I find myself repeating the argument I just made, because my opponent acts as if I never made it, in the very structure and thrust of his “response.” It’s very frustrating, and a bit insulting, I must say. In effect, you are forcing us to “believe” only what you want us to believe (i.e., the polemical caricature of “Catholicism”), no matter what we say; no matter how many times we clarify, till we’re blue in the face. Even when we fully agree with you, you don’t want to believe it.

So, the statements about Mary found in Irenaeus are not intended to present the “kernel” of the non-defined “co-mediatrix” dogma, but are rather intended to safeguard correct doctrine about Jesus Christ.

The negation you assert doesn’t follow, and is illogical. First of all, you haven’t proven that to argue about Christ necessarily excludes discussion of Mary, as if the two are like oil and water or two magnetic poles. In fact, the long citation you just provided puts the lie to this. Mariology was (and is) a subset of christology. This is how Irenaeus approaches it, and how the Catholic Church does, as well.

Secondly, when people are presenting a primitive, undeveloped form of a doctrine, they don’t themselves know how far it will be developed in the future, by definition. If they did, there would be no development! But there is development, of every doctrine. The canon of Scripture developed; so did original sin, and the Hypostatic Union, and trinitarianism, and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and Mariology, and sacramentology, and the doctrine of the atonement, and eucharistic theology. Irenaeus would have been incapable of presenting, for example, the full intricate doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, which was fully developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

So basically, you have argued nothing whatsoever in your last statement. That’s all it is: a bald statement. You state what you assume. This is not argument. It is an assumption. To the extent that you think it is an argument, it is merely logically circular. But you have some more reasoning to go, so I will desist.

The quote offered by DA:

St. Irenaeus wrote, for example, of Christ as the pure one opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God (Against Heresies IV,33,11) – words with which Irenaeus credited the Virgin’s womb and assigns to her a universal motherhood.

First of all, this is not just Catholic “special pleading” and “anachronistically reading our ‘papist’ views back into the 2nd century. Here we go repeating the argument we already gave, again, because you have ignored it and act as if it never happened (the only good thing about that is that repetition is a helpful learning tool). I cited J. N. D. Kelly arriving at the same exact same conclusion about this very passage: “Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing her womb as ‘that pure womb which regenerates men to God.'”

So how is it that I am somehow the unreasonable one even though I can cite one of the leading Protestant patristic experts in exact agreement with my interpretation of Irenaeus, while you are reasonable when you ignore that and keep citing this Miegge — whom you won’t tell us a thing about (per my request)? Do you actually believe that Miegge is a better scholar than Kelly and Schaff, and to be believed over them in the event that they disagree? If so, why? But I don’t expect you to answer this, since you ignored my entire first reply. This gets old. But I’ll pray for patience and keep refuting what you write as long as I can stand your utter ignoring of my arguments.

Schaff (repeat, REPEAT) also asserts a “universal motherhood” as an early patristic belief:

Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a ‘mother of all living’ in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, . . .

Now, lets look at IV, 33, 11, in its context:

Sure, let’s. And I show you the courtesy of actually replying to your arguments. That’s kind of nice, isn’t it?

11. For some of them, beholding Him in glory, saw His glorious life (conversationem) at the Father’s right hand;(3) others beheld Him coming on the clouds as the Son of man;(4) and those who declared regarding Him, “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced,”(5) indicated His (second) advent, concerning which He Himself says, “Thinkest thou that when the Son of man cometh, He shall find faith on the earth?”(6) Paul also refers to this event when he says, “If, however, it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you that are troubled rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with His mighty angels, and in a flame of fire.”(7) Others again, speaking of Him as a judge, and , as if it were a burning furnace, (to) the day of the Lord, who “gathers the wheat into His barn, but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,”(8) were accustomed to threaten those who were unbelieving, concerning whom also the Lord Himself declares, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which my Father has prepared for the devil and his angels.”(9) And the apostle in like manner says (of them), “Who shall be punished with everlasting death from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in those who believe in Him.”(10) There are also some (of them) who declare, “Thou art fairer than the children of men;”(11) and, “God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows;”(12) and, “Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, with Thy beauty and Thy fairness, and go forward and proceed prosperously; and rule Thou because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness.”(13) And whatever other things of a like nature are spoken regarding Him, these indicated that beauty and splendour which exist in His kingdom, along with the transcendent and pre-eminent exaltation (belonging) to all who are under His sway, that those who hear might desire to be found there, doing such things as are pleasing to God. Again, there are those who say, “He is a man, and who shall know him?”(14) and, “I came unto the prophetess, and she bare a son, and His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God;”(15) and those (of them) who proclaimed Him as Immanuel, of the Virgin, exhibited the union of the Word of God with His own workmanship, (declaring) that the Word should become flesh, and the Son of God the Son of man (the pure One opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God, and which He Himself made pure); and having become this which we also are, He (nevertheless) is the Mighty God, and possesses a generation which cannot be declared. And there are also some of them who say, “The Lord hath spoken in Zion, and uttered His voice from Jerusalem;”(16) and, “In Judah is God known;”(17)—these indicated His advent which took place in Judea. Those, again, who declare that “God comes from the south, and from a mountain thick with foliage,”(18) announced His advent at Bethlehem, as I have pointed out in the preceding book.(19) From that place, also, He who rules, and who feeds the people of His Father, has come. Those, again, who declare that at His coming “the lame man shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall (speak) plainly, and the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear,”(1) and that “the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, shall be strengthened,”(2) and that “the dead which are in the grave shall arise,”(3) and that He Himself” shall take our weaknesses, and bear our sorrows,”(4)—(all these) proclaimed those works of healing which were accomplished by Him.

Now is Irenaeus “assigning to Mary a universal motherhood”?

According to Kelly and Schaff, he is. Why do they think that? Because of an incorrigible “papal propagandistic” bias?

and expressing Mary’s role in suffering with Christ as Coredemptrix? No.

That’s a later development, and I agree that it is improper to read into Irenaeus’ statements.

Irenaeus is protecting Christian doctrine against heretics.

That’s right, but no one is arguing that he isn’t. How does that preclude this particular interpretation of his words about Mary?

DA further offers:

Writing of the economy, that is, the plan of salvation, St. Irenaeus remarked ..without Joseph’s action, Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy… (Against Heresies III, 21,5, in Miravalle, p. 178). Contemplate that. St. Irenaeus gave, with those words, a second century statement of belief that Mary had a unique role in the plan of salvation.

Yes, indeed, let’s contemplate it. Here is III, 21, 5:

5. And when He says, “Hear, O house of David,”(9) He performed the part of one indicating that He whom God promised David that He would raise up from the fruit of his belly (ventris) an eternal King, is the same who was born of the Virgin, herself of the lineage of David. For on this account also, He promised that the King should be “of the fruit of his belly,” which was the appropriate (term to use with respect) to a virgin conceiving, and not “of the fruit of his loins,” nor “of the fruit of his reins,” which expression is appropriate to a generating man, and a woman conceiving by a man. In this promise, therefore, the Scripture excluded all virile influence; yet it certainly is not mentioned that He who was born was not from the will of man. But it has fixed and established “the fruit of the belly,” that it might declare the generation of Him who should be (born) from the Virgin, as Elisabeth testified when filled with the Holy Ghost, saying to Mary, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy belly;”(1) the Holy Ghost pointing out to those willing to hear, that the promise which God had made, of raising up a King from the fruit of (David’s) belly, was fulfilled in the birth from the Virgin, that is, from Mary. Let those, therefore, who alter the passage of Isaiah thus, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive,” and who will have Him to be Joseph’s son, also alter the form of the promise which was given to David, when God promised him to raise up, from the fruit of his belly, the horn of Christ the King. But they did not understand, otherwise they would have presumed to alter even this passage also.

As DA’s paper admonishes to “contemplate” that “ Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy” , I can’t quite see where I’m supposed to find the seed of co-redemption in the above quote. I’d rather simply read what Irenaeus said, and agree with this ancient author that Christ was not the biological son of Joseph.

The passage is actually from III, 21, 7, as Miravelle indicated in his notes. Here is the whole passage (emphasis added):

7. On this account also, Daniel, foreseeing His advent, said that a stone, cut out without hands, came into this world. For this is what “without hands” means, that His coming into this world was not by the operation of human hands, that is, of those men who are accustomed to stone-cutting; that is, Joseph taking no part with regard to it, but Mary alone co-operating with the pre-arranged plan. For this stone from the earth derives existence from both the power and the wisdom of God. Wherefore also Isaiah says: “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I deposit in the foundations of Zion a stone, precious, elect, the chief, the corner-one, to be had in honour.” So, then, we understand that His advent in human nature was not by the will of a man, but by the will of God.

Miravalle gives the Latin of the relevant phrase: sola Maria cooperante dispositioni.

Beware of reading history with the glasses of modern Roman Catholic Mariology.

Again (for the tenth) time, it is not just “Catholic-tinted glasses” but the informed historical opinions of Kelly and Schaff. James White claims that mediation and co-redemption are “completely absent” from “the early Church.” But Kelly, writing about Irenaeus’ Mariology, uses descriptive words like “cause of salvation,” “through a virgin it was saved,” “universal motherhood,” “cooperation in Christ’s saving work,” and “[her womb] regenerates men.” Schaff uses words like “The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century,” “redemption,” ‘mother of all living’,” and “mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race.” What more does one need?

Furthermore, a few centuries later, these concepts became extremely explicit in some of the Fathers (precisely as we would expect from the nature of development itself). So. for example, St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) wrote:

Mary was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her. She was alone when she saved the world — operata est mundi salutem – and when she conceived the redemption of all — concepit redemptionem universorum. (in Miravelle, Mark I., editor, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations, Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing, 1995, p. 14; from Epist. 49,2; ML 16, 1154)


She engendered redemption for humanity, she was carrying, in her womb, the remission of sins. (in Miravelle, ibid., p. 14; from De Mysteriis III, 13; ML 16,393; De instit. Virginis 13,81; ML 16,325)

St. Ephraem of Syria (c. 306-373) called Mary the “dispensatrix of all goods.” (in William G. Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1963, 48)

Basil of Seleucia (died c. 458) referred to her as the “Mediatrix of God and men.” (in Most, ibid., 48)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) wrote:

Hail, Mary, Mother of God, by whom all faithful souls are saved [sozetai]. (in Miravelle, ibid., p. 13; from MG 77,992, and 1033; from the Council of Ephesus in 431)

The expression Mediatrix or Mediatress was found in two 5th-century eastern writers, Basil of Seleucia (In SS. Deiparae Annuntiationem, PG 85, 444AB) and Antipater of Bostra (In S. Joannem Bapt., PG 85 1772C. The theory developed in the work of John of Damascus (d.c. 749; see Homilia I in Dormitionem, PG 96 713A) and Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d.c.733; see Homilia II in Dormitionem, PG 98 321, 352-353). [see Miravelle, ibid., 134-135]

The Protestant reference Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross, 2nd edirtion, Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, p. 561), states concerning Patriarch Germanus:

Mary’s incomparable purity, foreshadowing the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and her universal mediation in the distribution of supernatural blessings, are his two frequently recurring themes.

St. Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) referred to Mary as the “Mediatrix of the law and grace” and also stated that “she is the mediation between the sublimity of God and the abjection of the flesh.” (Nativ. Mariæ, Serm. 1 and Serm. 4, PG 97, 808, 865; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

St. John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 749) spoke of Mary fulfilling the “office of Mediatrix.” (Hom. S. Mariæ in Zonam, PG 98, 377; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

But remember, James White has informed us on pp. 75-76 and 137 of his book:

In fact, not only is the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.

[T]he push to define Mary as Coredemptrix flows out of the piety seen so plainly in Alphonsus Ligouri [sic] and Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. It does not come to us from Scripture, nor does it come from history.

White consistently misspells Liguori as “Ligouri”. That saint lived from 1696-1787. White appears to date this theological development to him, but he is more than 1200 years off the mark, since, as shown, the very terms mediatrix or mediatress were being used in the 5th century by at least two writers, and the concept in kernel can be traced as far back as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. So much for Mr. White’s historiographical abilities . . . they are almost as deficient as his theological methodologies and conclusions.

Of course, he might want to argue that the 5th century (when St. Augustine and St. Jerome and St. Cyril of Alexandria lived) was not the time of the “early Church.” It wouldn’t be the oddest thing he has argued.

Contrarily, Read the Ancient Church Fathers in their contexts. I assume that anyone looking for Mary in the Roman Catholic sense will find any statement about Mary in ancient church history and find some way to apply it to their own paradigm.

You are merely assuming what you are trying to prove, by offering either no arguments at all, or circular ones (as I think I have shown).

Which leads me to ask the question: Does a Roman Catholic need an infallible interpreter to interpret history also? It seems they do.

No, we only need good, competent Protestant historians like Kelly and Schaff. But we need to avoid amateur historians like James White (and James Swan) who are clearly in over their head when trying to discuss early Mariology. I’m no historian, either, but it is very easy for me to find substantiation from the best Protestant historians of Church history and the history of doctrine, for my point of view.

I suggest as a friend that you give up this fight, before you dig yourself deeper into self-contradiction and futile opposition to plain historical facts. Let James White defend himself! Why should you have to take the fall for him?

James Swan further responds (on the CARM board):

I posted the following quote from Giovanni Miegge giving an explanation of the passage from Irenaeus put forth by Dave Armstrong:

If we pass from the New Testament to the patristic field there is equal silence. Irenaeus’ famous parallel of Eve and Mary alludes only to the motherhood of Mary who gives the Redeemer to the world with her faith in the divine annunciation. The title “advocate” refers to the restoration of Eve and could be extended at most to the idea of a ministry of intercession which, however, is not explicitly contained in the term. All those who in various ways look for this parallel in the first century connect it with Mary’s motherhood. Mary is not associated with the redemptive sufferings of Christ: ‘if anyone is it is the martyrs, but in a quite indirect form as imitators of Christ, as members of His body, as witnesses of Him. In that sense the apostle Paul speaks of his part in the sufferings of Christ, with an ardent figure of speech, “to fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1 : 24, R.V.); but he attributes no co-redemptive significance to this thought. But Mary did not know martyrdom.

Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 163-164)

It should be pointed out that Dave simply dismissed the quote rather than interact with the quote. It’s the old, “my scholar is better than your scholar” technique, of which I can also be guilty of utilizing at times. The technique is useful since it dismisses the content of the quote without ever interacting with the content of the quote.

This is not an accurate description of what I did, and I’ll explain why. First of all, roughly the second half of Miegge’s citation has nothing to do with Irenaeus in the first place, and his Mariology was the subject at hand, and so that portion can be dismissed for the time being.

Secondly, no argument that I can see is presented here, with regard to Irenaeus; there are only bald declarative statements:

“[in the] patristic field there is equal silence . . . ”

[this is, of course, demonstrably untrue, just as White’s summary of supposed patristic silence or “absence” is]

“Irenaeus’ famous parallel of Eve and Mary alludes only to . . . ”

“The title ‘advocate’ refers to . . . ”

“Mary is not associated with the redemptive sufferings of Christ:”

These are not arguments, but mere statements. There is a difference.

Thirdly, this being the case, it becomes basically an appeal to authority on both our parts. We’re all reading the same texts and drawing conclusions from them: the professionals (Miegge, Schaff, Kelly, and Pelikan) and the amateurs (me and you). Professionals hold more weight in these matters than amateurs do, because they are familiar with the whole body of a Church Father’s work, and with his thought, just as a Bible scholar can interpret the Bible with much more knowledge because they know much more about background, language, culture, exegesis, hermeneutics, etc.

Fourthly, if it is simply one scholars’ word against the other, I stand by my opinion that Kelly and Schaff are more to be trusted than Miegge. How does the layman decide when there are differences of opinions among scholars? In this case, I am citing all Protestant scholars, rather than Catholic partisans who already agree with me (as a foregone conclusion).

And I am citing some of the most well-known and reputable historians of Christian doctrine. I need not argue that. I don’t believe you would deny it. You, on the other hand, cite a relatively unknown scholar, who looks to be an anti-Catholic and a fellow Reformed. You’re citing your own guy. This carries less weight in disputes such as this, because you are obviously biased towards the person in your own camp (just as I am, and everyone is), and will tend to agree with most (if not everything) of what he says.

Schaff speaks of “Mariolatry” too, but he doesn’t deny that these ideas were present in Irenaeus (unlike Miegge and White). That is the difference. At best, you can only establish that either of our positions are equally tenable, based on which historian we go with. But Miegge’s and White’s assertions about “absence” and “silence” in the Fathers on these issues are able to be demonstrated as false, and I have already done so. That is something solid and factual to refute (it’s falsifiable), and since they have been shown to be in error on the facts, their judgment in matters of interpretation is not quite so credible as it was before we exposed their serious errors of fact.

You say that I dismissed the quote. I did insofar as no argument was presented in it. If he gives no argument, I am not obliged to refute what he says. In fact, I cannot, because there is nothing to refute if no argument from the texts is presented. He gives his dogmatic interpretation. I simply said that Kelly and Schaff disagree with his interpretation and that they carry more weight. As a layman, I yield to their judgment. And I can’t be accused of simply “choosing my own guy” because none of them are Catholics. You choose your one guy, though (and no one else thus far) and that doesn’t strike one as particularly “objective.”

Dave then asked, “Why don’t you tell us more about him? What are his credentials?”

Giovanni Miegge, was Professor of Church History in the Waldensian Faculty of Theology at Rome. He published a book on Rudolf Bultmann for which he is better known for.

Thank you. With all due respect to you and Dr. Miegge, this hardly puts him in league with giants in the field like Kelly, Pelikan, and Schaff. I look in vain to try to find this guy in any bibliographies of Mariological works (neither Pelikan nor Kelly list him, nor does Protestant Max Thurian, in his book on Mary). Can you give me any bibliographies that he is listed in? If you type his name in at Google, you find very little (at least not in English).

Therefore, it’s not a case of “my professor’s better than yers; nya nya nya nya naaaaa nya,” but a clear-cut case of some of the most eminent and widely cited Church historians vs. a relatively unknown one. So it is quite reasonable to side with the former in cases of disagreement.

Is this all you can come up with? You’ll simply keep quoting Miegge as if he is the last word on the subject, and blithely dismiss the fact that three major Protestant historians agree with my position almost exactly?

You haven’t acknowledged that all these things developed. To me it is self-evident. One cannot believe otherwise. It is simply the history of doctrine.

Is the following part of “primitive, undeveloped form of a doctrine” found in Irenaeus?

In his book titled, Irenaeus of Lyons, Grant wrote:

In Irenaeus’ judgment the Ephesian church, founded by Paul and preserved by John, is a reliable witness to the tradition of the apostles (Against Heresies, 3.3.4) though his exegesis of John 8:57 (“you are not yet 50 years old”) leaves much to be desired. He is convinced that Luke cannot have meant to say that Jesus was baptized in his thirtieth year, because unless he reached “the most necessary and honorable period of his life” he could not have had disciples. John certifies that he was over 40 but under 50. “All the presbyters of Asia who were with John the Lord’s disciple testify that John delivered the same tradition to them, for he remained with them until the reign of Trajan” (Against Heresies, 2.22.4-5). Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation assured him that in order to save men of all ages Jesus had to “recapitulate” the life of humanity and pass in five stages from infant to child to adolescent to manhood and finally advanced age. His analysis of ages is like what we find in Hippocrates, for whom each of the ages mentioned by Irenaeus occupies some multiple of seven years. One is a child from 1 to the loss of teeth at 7, a boy to puberty at 14, a lad till the trace of a beard comes at 21, a young man until the whole body is grown at 28, then a man from 29 to 49; an elderly man lasts only until 56, and after that becomes an old man. Jesus could not have become really mature before reaching 49. Since Irenaeus explicitly dated the birth of Jesus around the forty-first year of Augustus, he cannot have had in mind the real beginning of that emperor’s reign in January 27 BC, but must have backdated it to the death of Julius Caesar in 44. If then Jesus was born in about 3 BC he would have reached 49 during the reign of Claudius (41-54), and that is where Irenaeus set his death in his later Demonstration.

See Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 33.

He was clearly wrong in this respect, so no, this was not part of legitimate apostolic tradition that developed over time. It is simply an error.

I’m not trying to misdirect the issue here, only to focus on a crucial point in this discussion- If Irenaeus was the pupil of Polycarp (who was the pupil of John), why has this important aspect of Christology not been “handed down” and developed?

Because individual Fathers are not infallible. They can be mistaken in many things. We believe that popes can be, too, but that they are specially-protected with the gift of infallibility under certain carefully-defined circumstances. You need to learn a lot about how Catholic authority and epistemology works. I don’t mean that as a put-down, but a simple observation.

It’s funny how, whenever I write about Luther and point out some unsavory (and to Protestants, shocking) things (such as his advocacy of death for peaceful Anabaptists or his early position that the damned should cheerfully accept their fate), I am always told (what I already know, of course, and believed as a Protestant) that he was not infallible, nor the rule of faith himself, for Protestants. All Catholics do is apply that same outlook to the Church Fathers. Individually, they make plenty of mistakes. But when we look at the consensus of what they taught, we see the mind of the Church and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Yet you think you have found (if I gather correctly what you are trying to do here) a “difficulty” in my position by pointing out gaffes in Irenaeus, as if this negatively affects in the slightest way the argument I have made. The current dispute proper isn’t over whether Irenaeus was correct in his Mariology, but whether he held to any notion of co-redemption or Mediatrix at all. White and Miegge deny (as a factual matter) that he did. Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan assert that he did, and take a position virtually identical to my own.

Now apply this to Mariology. Who determines what was in fact the Marian “kernal” [sic] that bloomed into a fully developed doctrine? Who reads the ECF’s and declares what is the “kernal” [sic]?

The Church decides that in the process of centuries of reflection, in its corporate gatherings called councils, just as it decided the proper Christology regarding the deity of Christ and the Incarnation (451 at Chalcedon) and the canon of Scripture (397). What’s so difficult to understand about this?

You RC folks read almost anything on Mary in the ECF’s and pick and choose what is, and what is not correct doctrine.

Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan are not “RC folks.” Schaff is even nearly an anti-Catholic, who calls some of these beliefs “Mariolatry” and traces them back to “the second century.” You “Protestant folks” accept the verdict of a Catholic council almost 400 years after Christ’s death as to what books are in the Bible and which aren’t. Why do you allow them to “pick and choose”? Why do you fully accept this Church authority at that one crucial point, but turn around and deride it and caricature it at other points?

Our development is entirely self-consistent, but Protestantism literally reversed many doctrines which had been taught for centuries and from the beginning in primitive form. That is the truly important question here (how that can be justified), not some groundless claim of arbitrary “RC” choosing of one doctrine or another. We had councils made up of hundreds of bishops to decide these important things. You guys have lone, self-anointed individuals who claim some quasi-prophetic power and super-infallibility (Luther, Calvin). How is that scenario preferable to ours, I ask?

Jason Engwer pointed out some very interesting facts from Irenaeus’s Mariology. After reading through these (Dave, there no need to respond to every jot and tittle), note that certain aspects of Irenaeus’s Mariology have not been handed down:

This is uncontroversial. But it is part and parcel of the flawed premises and futile exercises of Jason Engwer in his tunnel-vision interpretation of the Fathers.

Roman Catholic apologists often claim that the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament is a type of Mary. They then use that typological speculation as an argument for doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. But Irenaeus saw something else in the ark:

so is that ark declared a type of the body of Christ, which is both pure and immaculate. For as that ark was gilded with pure gold both within and without, so also is the body of Christ pure and resplendent, being adorned within by the Word, and shielded on the outside by the Spirit, in order that from both materials the splendour of the natures might be exhibited together.” (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 48)

The analogy was widespread, so the fact that Irenaeus didn’t hold to it has little relevance to its validity. So what?

Irenaeus refers to Mary giving birth to Jesus when she was “as yet a virgin” (Against Heresies, 3:21:10). The implication is that she didn’t remain a virgin. Irenaeus compares Mary’s being a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth to the ground being “as yet virgin” before it was tilled by mankind. The ground thereafter ceased to be virgin, according to Irenaeus, when it was tilled. The implication is that Mary also ceased to be a virgin. Elsewhere, Irenaeus writes:

To this effect they testify, saying, that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, ‘she was found with child of the Holy Ghost;’ (Against Heresies, 3:21:4)

Irenaeus seems to associate “come together” with sexual intercourse. The implication is that Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations after Jesus was born.

As far as I know, Irenaeus held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. If you are claiming otherwise, prove it. This was not a point of contention. That came mostly after the Enlightenment and liberal Bible scholarship. Even virtually all of the “Reformers” held to this doctrine.

Many people don’t realize the extent of the RCC’s claims about Mary. For example, while many people are aware of doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, it seems that relatively few are aware of claims such as the following:

By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity….This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 967, 969)

According to the RCC, Mary completely adhered to the Father’s will, following every prompting of the Holy Spirit. She was the spiritual mother of us all uninterruptedly, from the annunciation onward.

She was without sin (YAWN). This is some big revelation and news to you guys, that we believe that (as did Martin Luther)?

One wonders how such things could be true in light of the fact that Mary didn’t even understand a simple statement Jesus made about His own identity after living with Mary for twelve years (Luke 2:49-50). Apparently, she was following all of the Father’s will and every prompting of the Spirit, while she was the spiritual mother of all believers, yet, at the same time, she didn’t even understand what Jesus said in Luke 2:49.
She also was among the kinsmen who thought Jesus was insane (Mark 3:20-35), and she didn’t honor Jesus as He should have been honored (Mark 6:3-4).

I have dealt with these silly, groundless objections:

Mary’s Knowledge About Jesus’ Divinity

Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers”? (Jason also claims that “Mary believed in Jesus,” but wavered, and had a “sort of inconsistent faith”) (vs. Jason Engwer) [5-27-20]

On Whether Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers” [National Catholic Register, 6-11-20]

The church father Irenaeus doesn’t seem to have agreed with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Instead of seeing Mary as following all of the Father’s will and every prompting of the Spirit, he sees Mary as being rebuked by Jesus in John 2:4, since she was ignorant of what He was doing and was interfering with the Father’s will:

With Him is nothing incomplete or out of due season, just as with the Father there is nothing incongruous. For all these things were foreknown by the Father; but the Son works them out at the proper time in perfect order and sequence. This was the reason why, when Mary was urging Him on to perform the wonderful miracle of the wine, and was desirous before the time to partake of the cup of emblematic significance, the Lord, checking her untimely haste, said, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come’ -waiting for that hour which was foreknown by the Father. (Against Heresies, 3:16:7)

He was wrong on that, too. So what? What did you expect me to say? That Irenaeus was omniscient? How silly is this whole conversation?
I thought you understood Catholicism much better than this.

The question then is:

-who determines what the tradition is? We could go through a bunch of the ECF’s on Mariology and find all sorts of things that have not been synthesized into Marian doctrine.

The Church.

It’s [sic] seems the way RC’s operate is they have a Marian doctrine, and then they go back into history and find “kernals” [sic] and toss out those other bits that don’t fit their paradigm- This was demonstrated quite clearly with your citations of Irenaeus.

Oh, so we hired contra-Catholic Schaff as one of our secret agents, and J. N. D. Kelly has somehow been hoodwinked and brainwashed into accepting and applying this stupid methodology (which is a gross caricature of what we do, anyway)? When will you ever deal with them? My patience wears extremely thin. As soon as you guys are nailed on some point, you immediately start a bunch of side issues so no one will notice what has happened, and see that you have no cogent reply to the really important stuff. This is a classic case. Shame on you! You can do far better than this.


Since James Swan continues to ignore the troubling implications of the strong disagreement with J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff with James White’s position on the supposed “complete absence” of Mary Mediatrix and co-redemption in the early Church, I thought it would be fun to search James White’s site in order to find out what he thinks of the scholarly abilities of Kelly and Schaff. This is what I found:

1) Article: “Exegetica: Roman Catholic Apologists Practice Eisegesis in Scripture and Patristics” (3-4-02):

White cites “Protestant church historian” Kelly once with regard to whether Rome had a single bishop or a group of bishops in the second century (the same era as Irenaeus).

2) Article: “Did The Early Church Believe In the LDS Doctrine of God?” (7-27-00):

White, arguing against Mormonism, cites Kelly at length, introducing him as “One of the greatest patristic scholars”. And he is the only historian White cites, in an article about the “early Church”.

3) Article: “The Pre-existence of Christ In Scripture, Patristics and Creed” (7-27-00):

Again, in an article dealing in part with patristics, White cites only Kelly as a scholar in his section “Patristic Interpretation.” And then in the following footnotes, look who he mentions:

“25) For the text of the Nicene Creed, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: Longman Inc., 1981), pp.215-216 and Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985) vol. 1:27-28.

26) Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1:30.”

4) Article: “A Test of Scholarship” (7-26-00):

Again, Kelly is proclaimed as “One of the greatest patristic scholars” and White notes after a very long citation from Kelly: “I am appending a selection of quotations from the early Fathers that substantiates the conclusions of . . . Kelly quoted above.” White writes later:

“. . . J.N.D. Kelly’s fine work, Early Christian Doctrines (1978), a work that occupies a space close to my desk (for frequent reference).”

Jaroslav Pelikan’s comments on the notion of theosis in the early Church are also cited at length.

5) Article: “How Reliable Is Roman Catholic History?: An Example in a Recent Edition of This Rock Magazine” (7-25-00):

Kelly is cited three times as an expert on early Church ecclesiology. It stands to reason, that if Kelly can be used in an effort to show that Catholic Answers’ history on a certain disputed point is inaccurate, he can also be used in such a fashion against James White. After all, Kelly is obviously White’s favorite patristics scholar and historian of the early Church.

6) Article: “A Debate Between Professor James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Brother John Mary, Representing the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (7-24-00):

Kelly is cited as an expert about the very Church Father under consideration:

“I note that J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Ireneaus, Tertullian, and Origen all felt Mary had sinned and doubted Christ (Early Christian Doctrines, 493).”

Note: Kelly sees no contradiction between Irenaeus’ belief in a non-sinless Mary and a Mary who is involved in co-redemption. He asserts that Irenaeus believed both things about Mary. So this is no disproof of the question at hand, but rather, a strong proof, since Kelly is obviously not an advocate of specifically “Catholic” dogma.

Philip Schaff is also cited pertaining to the question of whether Pope Sylvester called the Council of Nicaea.

7) Article: “The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology” (7-21-00):

White cites “noted patristic authority J.N.D. Kelly”.

Philip Schaff is mentioned even more times on White’s site (29 compared to 11 for Kelly):

8) “An In Channel Debate on Purgatory” (2-21-02):

White cites Schaff twice with regard to the views of Pope Gregory the Great.

9) “Catholic Legends And How They Get Started: An Example” (6-11-01):

Schaff is cited interpreting a letter from Pope Zosimus.

10) “Failure to Document: Catholic Answers Glosses Over History” (10-25-00):

Schaff is mentioned twice with regard of the history of the proceedings of Vatican I.

11) “Whitewashing the History of the Church” (8-31-00):

Schaff is cited with regard to Cyril’s views and the Council of Florence. This provides us with more delightful irony (never lacking when one deals with the illustrious Dr. White), since if Schaff can be cited as a “witness” to alleged Catholic “whitewashing” of history, he can be utilized to show Mr. White engaging in this practice (with Mr. White’s full consent!).

12) “Truths of the Bible or Untruths of Roman Tradition? James White Responds to Tim Staples’ Article, “How to Explain the Eucharist” in the September, 1997 issue of Catholic Digest (7-25-00):

Schaff is cited twice with regard to historical debates on transubstantiation.

13) “The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology” (7-21-00):

Schaff is cited with regard to the Council of Chalcedon and Christology, and his work is recommended for further reading on the Council.


Photo credit: Cover of James White’s book, from its Amazon page.


June 12, 2020

Whitewashing History: By William Possidento and Dave Armstrong 

[originally posted on 3-12-04; slight revisions and revised links: 6-12-20]


James R. White
Mary — Another Redeemer?
Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998.

Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White’s words will be in blue; William Possidento’s and mine will be in black. The beginning and ending sections (before and after the ten asterisks) are my own writing. My abridgment of Mr. Possidento’s review is in-between the two sets of ten asterisks. For source information, see the bibliography at the end. Authors and page numbers only will be cited in the text.


Before we begin, let’s look at a few semi-amusing comments made by Protestants about the alleged inability or unwillingness of Catholics to reply to this book. “Bonnie,” the wife of a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and a moderator on the large CARM Catholic Discussion board, had this to say:

Mar-04-04 05:33 PM
#127536, “Hey, TertiumQuid!”

A word with you, if you please. Remember my thread about books on the rise of Mariolatry? You said you had read them all, and critiqued them. I can’t remember, but did you say you read James White’s Book MARY-ANOTHER REDEEMER? If so, what did you think of it?

I checked Amazon, and it got bad ratings–from Catholics. They try to refute it, by quoting Bible verses taken out of context. They sound almost desperate. A non-Catholic reviewed it, quite dispassionately, and rightly said that Catholics aren’t going to like it, but doubted if any of them would be able to refute it.

“Tertium Quid” (James Swan), and also a moderator at CARM, responded:

Mar-04-04 08:47 PM
#127724, “RE: James White’s book on, POST edited per request of TQ”

I have never read any substantial criticism of it. If any of our Catholic friends here at CARM have a specific complaint about the book, I’d be interested in hearing it . . . The problem is,our Catholic friends really really really really really really dislike James White.

I responded, “Really?” and determined that I would reply to this book after chapter four (about the Immaculate Conception) was posted on the CARM Catholic board. Likewise, Robin Savage’s review of the book on (“A look into the ultra-Marian sect”— 8-30-03) exhibits the usual anti-Catholic deluded triumphalism:

James White is hated amongst Roman Catholics because of his extensive Protestant Apologetics ministry. All of his books have been spammed by RC’s because they do not like him . . . Lots of Roman Catholics have disdain for White’s opinions; but I truely [sic] wonder how many of them can refute him.

“A reader from Boston” chimes in with further sublime observations in his (her?) review, “The Mary of Roman Catholicism: Not the Mary of the Bible” (2-27-00):

If you are a Roman Catholic, you will not like this book. You will be critical of its contents and its author. After all, the Roman Catholic mantra is: We do not worship Mary. She is not Divine. But is this true?

Kerry Gilliard’s “Well Balanced and Written” (12-7-99) shows that he is a true White devotee, oblivious to the numerous shortcomings in his scholarship, as will be demonstrated below.

James White has always been an excellent author since I’ve been reading his work and this book is no exception . . .  James White shows the origins of the doctrine, how several past Popes [and] church fathers have condemned the teaching as heretical and gives a proper biblical answer to the issue.

. . . Concerned Protestants and those Catholics who are concerned about truth should read this book . . . The level of scholarship in the book is second to none . . .

Another reviewer (11-5-98) claims that White “Documents the facts about Catholic beliefs extremely well”.

In doing some preliminary research for this paper I was excited to discover an extraordinary, copiously researched review of the book [link now defunct] by Catholic William Possidento (described as “81 pages” — and the most extensive critique of a particular example of White’s work that I have ever seen), which is no longer even online. But I found it anyway (!), by means of the Internet Archive (which allows access to older papers once on the Internet).

Rather than duplicate work which has already been accomplished more than ably and comprehensively by Mr. Possidento, I’ve decided to simply abridge his review, in order to make it more accessible to the average reader (not many will wade through an 81-page book review), and to concentrate mostly on the Immaculate Conception (and secondarily, on the doctrine of Mary Mediatrix. I have also concentrated on White’s historical arguments (rather than the biblical disputes). The many glaring errors, misrepresentations, and inadequately supported false assertions of Mr. White will be abundantly apparent, in reading this review.

I won’t be using ellipses throughout (. . .) — excepting citations within the review (they are presented in their entirety: any ellipses therein were in the original quotation). Again, this is an abridgment, and I have made format changes, such as indentation, moving of some material around, etc. Readers can consult the original at the above URL, linked above.

William Possidento’s review (especially in my abridgment) deals largely with factual errors and White’s misrepresentations of doctrinal history and development of doctrine. My portion will build a complementary argument from analogy, based upon White’s incessant use of double standards and his internal inconsistency: how he continually applies one standard to the Catholic Church and another to Protestantism (usually by ignoring the latter, so that no one will notice his clever “sleight-of-hand”).

He is very good at this sort of sophistry and selective (one might say, “cynical”) presentation of facts, but it horribly backfires on him, when he is confronted by someone who knows a bit more about comparative theology and Church history than the average reader of his papers and books. This is a classic example of his pseudo-scholarly methodology being relentlessly “exposed” for what it is. The results are (if I do say so) rather devastating with regard to Mr. White’s objectivity as a scholar and his seeming inability to grasp logical contradiction in his own positions. It is also a quintessential (sadly common) example of a profound anti-Catholic bias getting the better of a person who is otherwise is a fairly sharp and knowledgeable thinker.

* * * * * * * * * *
On 1 February 2000, James R. White e-mailed me his rejoinder, his (electronic) digital signature included, to a version of my review of his Mary-Another Redeemer? Still more, on his Alpha and Omega Ministries Web site, he described my customer comment as an incredibly poor review”, edited portions of which were amazingly” published on p. 40 of the February 2000 issue of This Rock, a magazine which Catholic Answers publishes.

Mr. White wrote on pp. 75-76 as follows:

In fact, not only is the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.

Mr. White eventually (p. 137) did report, the falsity of which I believe I will demonstrate, that:

[T]he push to define Mary as Coredemptrix flows out of the piety seen so plainly in Alphonsus Ligouri [sic] and Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. It does not come to us from Scripture, nor does it come from history.

Mr. White, in denying the existence of such belief, even waxing emphatic with the wordscompletely absent”, will be shown to have steered his pilgrim readers into a slough of despond.

St. Irenaeus wrote, for example, of Christ as the pure one opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God (Against Heresies IV,33,11) – words with which Irenaeus credited the Virgin’s womb and assigns to her a universal motherhood. Writing of the economy, that is, the plan of salvation, St. Irenaeus remarked …without Joseph’s action, Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy… (Against Heresies III, 21,5,7 [quote from 7] in Miravalle, p. 178). Contemplate that. St. Irenaeus gave, with those words, a second century statement of belief that Mary had a unique role in the plan of salvation.

St. Irenaeus wrote of Mary c.190-200, in Proof of the Apostolic Preaching:

Adam had to be recapitulated in Christ, so that death might be swallowed up in immortality, and Eve [had to be recapitulated] in Mary, so that the Virgin, having become another virgin’s advocate, might destroy and abolish one virgin’s disobedience by the obedience of another virgin. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33, Sources Chrétiennes 62 [Paris, 1941-], pp. 83-86, in Gambero, p. 54, brackets in Gambero, boldface mine)

Jaroslav Pelikan, (then) a Lutheran (he converted to the Orthodox Church in 1999), after quoting a slightly longer version of the passage immediately above from Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33, wrote:

When it is suggested that for the development of the doctrine of Mary, such Christian writers as Irenaeus in a passage like this “are important witnesses for the state of the tradition in the late second century, if not earlier,” that raises the interesting question of whether Irenaeus had invented the concept of Mary as the Second Eve here or was drawing on a deposit of tradition that had come to him from “earlier.” It is difficult, in reading his Against Heresies and especially his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, to avoid the impression that he cited the parallelism of Eve and Mary so matter-of-factly without arguing or having to defend the point because he could assume that his readers would willingly go along with it, or even that they were already familiar with it. One reason that this could be so might have been that, on this issue as on so many others, Irenaeus regarded himself as the guardian and the transmitter of a body of belief that had come to him from earlier generations, from the very apostles. A modern reader does need to consider the possibility, perhaps even to concede the possibility, that in so regarding himself Irenaeus may just have been right and that therefore it may already have become natural in the second half of the second century to look at Eve, the “mother of all living,” and Mary, the mother of Christ, together, understanding and interpreting each of the two most important women in human history on the basis of each other. With such moderns in mind, the parallelism was dramatically set forth by the German sculptor Toni Zanz in the metal door created in 1958 for the rebuilding of the Church of Sankt Alban in Cologne, which had been destroyed during World War II: in the lower left are Adam and Eve at the moment of the fall, in the upper right the Second Adam and the Second Eve at the moment of the crucifixion and redemption. (Pelikan, pp. 43-44, his italics)

[the citation from Pelikan by William Possidento had a typo: an added “not” which was pointed out and has now been removed. As the extraneous “not” weakened the case Pelikan was making — from a Catholic perspective — , clearly it was an inadvertent mistake, not a deliberate, dishonest addition]

Where is, and perhaps I mint a phrase here, at least with respect to capitalization, Mr. White’s anti-Irenicon? That is, where is his polemic against St. Irenaeus? More important, where is Mr. White’s anti-irenicon against the very early Church that did not rebuke St. Irenaeus but instead received and even recommended him as orthodox?

St. Irenaeus was not the earliest author to explicitly join a counterpart to St. Paul’s Adam-Christ parallel and antithesis: St. Justin Martyr was earlier and may have been the first writer to explicate the Eve-Mary parallel and antithesis, though it is strongly implicit in the Bible. His Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, c.155, preceded St. Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (180-199) and The Preaching of the Apostles (c.190-200) by several decades.

Christ became man by the virgin in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent’s might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the Angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her, that the spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the highest would overshadow her; wherefore the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word’. And by her has he been born, to whom we have proved so many scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him. (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, in Quasten, Patrology, Vol. I, pp. 211-212, brackets mine)

Thus this very early martyr compared and contrasted Eve and Mary. According to St. Justin’s first sentence above, the redemption did not merely correct the fall but reversed, that is, recapitulated, it. I re-emphasize that St. Justin wrote the passage above about 155.

Tertullian was born in Carthage between 155-160. The following passage is from The Flesh of Christ, written between 208-212:

If, then, the first Adam was introduced in this way, all the more reason that the second Adam, as the apostle said, had to come forth from a virgin earth, that is, from a body not yet violated by generation, by God’s action, so that he might become the spirit who gives life. However, lest my introduction of Adam’s name appear meaningless, why did the apostle call Christ “Adam” (cf. 1 Cor 15:45), if his humanity did not have an earthly origin? But here, too, reason comes to our aid: through a contrary operation, God recovered his image and likeness, which had been stolen by the devil.

For just as the death-creating word of the devil had penetrated Eve, who was still a virgin, analogously the life-building Word of God had to enter into a Virgin, so that he who had fallen into perdition because of a woman might be led back to salvation by means of the same sex. Eve believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. The fault that Eve introduced by believing, Mary, by believing, erased. (The Flesh of Christ, 17, 4-5, in Patrologiae cursus completus 2, 827-828, Series Latina [Paris: Migne, 1841-1864], in Gambero, p. 67)

Strong word erased. Some translations have blotted out in its place, another forcible expression. Observe that Tertullian also identified the idea of recapitulation. Cardinal Newman, in the nineteenth century, remarked that St. Justin, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian remind the reader of St. Paul’s antithetical sentences in tracing the analogy between Adam’s work and our Lord’s work (Newman, in Sr. E. Breen, ed., Mary-The Second Eve, p. 5). Not only do St. Justin, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian testify to the presence in the Church of the second and third centuries of belief of the Virgin Mary’s active role in the redemption, but in representing many localities in Asia, Europe and Africa, they also indicate the universality of that belief.

St. Ephrem (also spelled Ephraem) (c.306-373), wrote in Syrian of the Virgin Mary according to a prayer ascribed to him: After the Mediator thou art the mediatrix of the whole world (Oratio IV ad Deiparam, 4th Lesson of the Office of the Feast, in Ott, p. 211). In another prayer attributed to him, we read of Mary as the dispensatrix of all goods (in Most, p. 34). On the similarities and contrasts of Eve and Mary, he wrote: Mary and Eve, two people without guilt, two simple people, were identical. Later, however, one became the cause of our death, the other the cause of our life (Op. syr. II, 327, in Ott, p. 201).

St. Ambrose (c.337-397) viewed Mary’s role in redemption in the context of the Incarnation:

She was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. She was alone and she wrought the salvation of the world and conceived the redemption of all. (Ep. 49, 2, Patrologia Latina [Migne] 16, 1154, in O’Carroll, p. 20)

St. Augustine composed, from 391 until his death in 430, perhaps thousands of sermons. This one bore the idea of recapitulation:

Both the sexes should recognize their own dignity, and both should confess their sins and hope to be saved. Through woman, poison was poured upon man, in order to deceive him, but salvation was poured out upon man from a woman, that he might be reborn in grace. The woman, having become the Mother of Christ, will repair the sin she committed in deceiving the man. (Sermo, 51, 3; Patrologia Latina 38, 334-335, in Gambero, p. 230)

Each century of the first five testifies against Mr. White’s expansive claim and powerfully in favor of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role as Co-Redeemer or Mediatrix. Mr. White also wrote (p. 142):

[A]nd any Mary who is said to be Coredemptrix on any level speaks with a voice that the sheep of Christ simply will not hear.

St. Augustine wrote:

Having excepted the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins, – for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her who merited to conceive and bear Him in whom there was no sin? (Nature and Grace, 36,42, in Jurgens, III, p. 111).

Scholars agree that St. Augustine certainly believed in Mary’s exemption from personal sin. Some also see in this famous passage his belief in Mary’s exemption from original sin. Theirs may be a minority opinion among Augustinian scholars, but it would make St. Augustine a forerunner of God’s Immaculate Conception of Mary. Anyway, he did not teach very clearly against the Immaculate Conception. And did St. Augustine overlook the immaculate conceptions of Adam and Eve, as does Mr. White?

[T]he total overcoming of sin suggests that St. Augustine comprehended both original sin and personal sin in this passage. An extensive bibliography exists, however, on the controversy surrounding St. Augustine’s belief regarding the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Fr. Gambero in a footnote on this dispute cited only recent (since 1931) works, yet among them are documents in Latin, German, French, Spanish and Italian (Gambero,  p. 226). These included, for just two examples, the following titles: La Controverse sur l’opinion de Saint Augustin touchant la conception de la Vierge (which I translate as The Controversy on the opinion of Saint Augustine concerning the conception of the Virgin) and Augustinus amicus an adversarius Immaculatae Conceptionis? (which I very roughly render as Augustine – friend or foe of the Immaculate Conception?). Despite this dispute, Mr. White wrote (p. 40) “Augustine had taught very clearly that only Christ was [immaculately] conceived….”

Note something else fascinating. Mr. White failed to explain both in his book and, despite the prompting I made in the review, in his rejoinder, what he implicitly claimed as a teaching of St. Augustine. Why did Mr. White decline to respond to my question about Adam and Eve? In asserting that St. Augustine taught that only Christ was immaculately conceived, Mr. White seems to have implied or assented to the implication that Adam and Eve were not immaculately conceived. Yet if Adam and Eve were not immaculately conceived, and here I refer to their passive conceptions, that is, the infusion of their souls into their bodies, then how did they fall from grace?

God did not create Adam and Eve with original sin. If He did, they would not be described, among other things, as having fallen. And if not fallen, then they and their descendants would have need for neither redemption nor a redeemer. Mr. White, in his zeal to sully the Catholic dogma of God’s Immaculate Conception of Mary, implicitly denied God’s immaculate conceptions of Adam and Eve, and thus carelessly painted Jesus as the Redeemer of no one, an enormous irony. Mr. White’s assertion that only Christ was immaculately conceived is thus reduced to an absurdity.

Mr. White identifies (pp. 40-42) [St.] Thomas Aquinas among many theologians who disbelieved in the Immaculate Conception. He neglects that Aquinas believed that original sin touched Mary only an instant, placing him extremely close to the belief, and that Aquinas believed in her personal sinlessness.

St. Thomas at first pronounced in favour of the doctrine in his treatise on the Sentences (in I. Sent. c. 44, q. I ad 3), yet in his Summa Theologica he concluded against it. Much discussion has arisen as to whether St. Thomas did or did not deny that the Blessed Virgin was immaculate at the instant of her animation, and learned books have been written to vindicate him from actually having drawn the negative conclusion. Yet it is hard to say that St. Thomas did not require an instant at least, after the animation of Mary, before her sanctification. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, Online Edition, 1999, under “Immaculate Conception”)

Aquinas accepted Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, based on the close parallelism between the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56) and the transportation of the Ark (2 Samuel 6:1-14), and on the convergence of the Ark (Revelation 11:19) with the woman of Revelation 12. Mr. White omits that Aquinas believed in her Assumption, a belief that is particularly striking because it is usually a consequence of belief in the Immaculate Conception.

The Blessed John Duns Scotus (c.1266-1308) reconciled Mary’s purity with her need for redemption. Scotus enabled reclassification of the Virgin Mary apart from St. John the Baptist but with Adam, Eve and Jesus, all of whom were conceived immaculately.  Scotus showed in 1300 how Mary could have a Savior yet always have been immune from the stain of original sin. Rather than purifying Mary of original sin, God preserved her from it with the most perfect, the most blessed redemption, a preventive redemption – the Immaculate Conception. Mr. White acknowledged the theoretical possibility of such an immunization (pp. 36-37). Although a few expressed otherwise, most of the Fathers believed in Mary’s personal sinlessness, that is, her freedom from actual sin.

I find the absence of actual sin in Mary at least as fascinating as her Immaculate Conception, that is, the absence in her of original sin. To me, Mary’s personal sinlessness seems impossible without her immunity from original sin. I realize, however, that Aquinas, for one, seems to have felt differently than I. Whatever Aquinas felt about Mary’s status regarding original sin, he believed that Mary was personally sinless.

Mr. White (p. 40) cited p. 203 of Dr. Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma to remark that some of the individual Greek Fathers, including Origen, taught that Mary had venial personal faults. Mr. White neglected that in the very same paragraph he cited, Dr. Ott noted that Latin Patristic authors unanimously teach the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary (Ott, p. 203).

Thomistic and Neo-Thomistic philosophers and Dominicans affirm that St. Thomas Aquinas would have assented to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary had he encountered Scotus’s preventive redemption solution. Their lives overlapped, but Scotus was about eight when Aquinas died. Dr. Pelikan noted that by the sixteenth century even the heirs of Aquinas resorted to Scotus’s explanation to substantiate the Immaculate Conception (Pelikan, p. 198). Aquinas’s view on the Immaculate Conception which emerged from the Summa Theologica, and not the view which he expressed in Sentences, differed from the Catholic Church’s dogmatic view by as little as an instant. But he lived before the definition of the dogma and no Catholic of his time was required to believe it.

Mr. White named St. Bernard of Clairvaux (pp. 41-42) as an opponent of the institution of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception [“Bernard of Clairvaux contended that she was conceived with original sin, but purified before birth”]. St. Bernard believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary was sanctified before her birth. But St. Bernard opposed the idea of a special conception of Mary according to which, he thought, Mary herself would have been conceived virginally. The Venerable [John Henry Cardinal] Newman noted that St. Bernard understood the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception with reference to Mary’s mother, whereas we understand it to refer to Mary. By ignoring the distinction between the active and passive conceptions in the thought of the great Cistercian abbot, Mr. White again misrepresented the teaching of a most influential Catholic.

Mr. White questioned on p. 41 when the idea of the Immaculate Conception first came into play. He then answered with a passage from p. 201 in Ott to indicate the beginning of the twelfth century. But Dr. Ott on that very page indicated that the Fathers, both Greek and Latin, implicitly taught the Immaculate Conception in two fundamental notions: 1) Mary’s most perfect purity and holiness; and 2) The similarity and contrast between Mary and Eve (Ott, p. 201).

Though Mr. White pointed to Dr. Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma to report a twelfth century emergence of the idea, Dr. Ott quoted a fourth century passage of St. Ephrem to indicate belief in the Immaculate Conception in the patristic age (a passage I reported earlier). Around 370 in the Nisibene Hymns, Ephrem wrote: Thou and thy mother are the only ones who are totally beautiful in every respect; for in thee, O Lord, there is no spot, and in thy Mother no stain (Hymn 27, v. 8, in Ott).  St. Ambrose was Bishop of Milan when between 387 and 388 he strikingly described Mary as a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin (Jurgens, II, p. 166).

Separately I mention St. Sophronius (died 638), Patriarch of Jerusalem, one of the last of the Fathers and one of the greatest exponents of Mary’s primacy of excellence. He almost stated the Immaculate Conception in western terms:

Others before you have flourished with outstanding holiness. But to none as to you has the fullness of grace been given. None has been endowed with happiness as you, none adorned with holiness like yours, none brought to such great magnificence as yours; no one was ever possessed beforehand by purifying grace as were you . . . And this deservedly, for no one came as close to God as you did; no one was enriched with God’s gifts as you were; no one shared God’s grace as you did. (St. Sophronius, In SS Deip. Annunt. 22 Patrologia Latina 87c, 3248, in O’Carroll, p. 329, his italics and ellipsis)

Mr. White posed two questions on p. 38, the first of which was: But why did it take more than 1,800 years to define this teaching as dogma, if, in fact, it is true?” Part of the answer consists in this: the Catholic Church did not rush to define it. Although the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not proclaimed a revealed doctrine until 8 December 1854, the Immaculate Conception had been declared a pious doctrine in the fifteenth century, only 139 years after Scotus’s breakthrough. Mr. White did not inform his readers of the Council of Basel (Basle is an older name). Dr. Pelikan again:

The thirty-sixth session of the Council of Basel, on 18 December 1439, decreed that the immaculate conception was “a pious doctrine, in conformity with the worship of the church, the Catholic faith, right reason, and Holy Scripture.” It prescribed that the doctrine “be approved, held, and professed by all Catholics,” and it forbade any preaching or teaching contrary to it. That might have seemed to settle the matter, and was probably intended to do just that – except that by the time of this session Basel was itself under a cloud because of its statements and actions on the relation of the authority of the pope to that of a general council, which were subsequently condemned and which therefore made these later sessions of the Council of Basel invalid and not entitled to the designation of “ecumenical council.” Therefore the decree on the immaculate conception was not canonically binding. (Pelikan, p. 198)

According to Mr. White (p. 41), however, S. Lewis Johnson summarized it well” (recall the discussions of Aquinas, Scotus and Bernard and read the next few paragraphs through the discussion of Trent and ask yourself just what Mr. White thought Dr. Johnson summarized well):

Anselm held that Mary was born with original sin. Bernard of Clairvaux contended that she was conceived with original sin, but purified before birth. Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans held this view, but Duns Scotus popularized the view that Mary was conceived without original sin, and his view eventually prevailed, although Pope Sixtus VI in 1485 and the Council of Trent in 1546 left the issue of the Immaculate Conception unresolved. (S. Lewis Johnson, “Mary, the Saints, and Sacerdotalism” in John Armstrong, ed., Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us, Chicago, Moody Press, 1994, p. 121, italics in original and White)

Several errors exist here. Mary-Another Redeemer? transmitted an error of Dr. Johnson and added one of its own: the Bishop of Rome in 1485 was not Pope Sixtus VI (read sixth) but Pope Innocent VIII (pope 1484-1492). Further, although there was a Pope Sixtus V (read fifth) (pope 1585-1590), there has not yet been a Pope Sixtus VI (read sixth) (no wonder he left the issue unresolved). Dr. Johnson had identified a Pope Sixtus IV (read fourth), but gave 1485 – he died in 1484 – as the year in which he left the issue unresolved. Mary-Another Redeemer? then misidentified Sixtus IV (read fourth) as Sixtus VI (sixth). Got that? But momentarily we shall see there is more as Pope Sixtus IV (pope 1471-1484) really did have considerable say about the Immaculate Conception. Note that the reversal of IV and VI does not adequately account for these mistakes as 1485 came one year after the end of the papacy of Pope Sixtus IV.

Moreover, Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, approved Offices and Masses in honor of the Immaculate Conception, and by the Constitution Grave nimis (1482), which he repeated in 1483, declared that the Holy Roman Church publicly and solemnly celebrates the feast of the Conception of the Immaculate and ever Virgin Mary (O’Carroll, p. 327). He also forbade charges of heresy, under the penalty of excommunication, against anyone on either side of the debate, for example, by the maculists against the immaculists, or by the immaculists against the maculists (ibid.). Thus Pope Sixtus IV resolved quite a lot.

Mr. White cannot dismiss these as mere typographic errors as he transmitted not only a mistaken date and a false name but also, more important, the wrong substance of the history. I have already discussed St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominicans and the Blessed John Duns Scotus. It is true that St. Anselm (1033-1109), the archbishop of Canterbury, believed Mary was born with original sin. But he, too, lived before Scotus’s insight and stated [i]t was fitting that this Virgin should shine with a purity than which under God no greater can be understood… (O’Carroll, p. 33).

Regarding the Council of Trent, directly concerning the Immaculate Conception, the most agreed upon was:

This holy Synod declares, nevertheless, that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God… (O’Carroll, Theotokos, p. 345)

Only a very few of the Fathers of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) opposed a decree that would have prohibited anyone from holding a position contrary to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which had long been celebrated and honoured by a solemn rite in nearly all Churches. Perhaps I can speak of an entire council holding to inopportunism: the vast majority of the Council Fathers believed in the Immaculate Conception but thought a dogmatic definition should await a different moment.

The Council of Trent did affirm Mary’s personal sinlessness:

[If anyone holds] that throughout his whole life he can avoid all sins, even venial sins, except by a special privilege of God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin: let him be anathema. (Enchiridion Symbolorum, Denziger-Bannwart, ed. 33, A. Schonmetzer, S.J., 1573, in O’Carroll, p. 345, his brackets)

While assailing the flowery, poetic, expressions of Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), Mr. White (I think it unlikely that an editor would have changed the proper spelling) misspelled the saint’s name, rendering it Ligouri” throughout Mary-Another Redeemer? (for example, pp. 60, 61, 66, 71, 82, 87, 96, 109, 112, 128, 131, 134, 137, 154 and 156). Why did the misspelling elude the book’s editor? This is a small but fluorescent error highlighting Mr. White’s inattentiveness to detail.

Mr. White committed another error betraying his disregard for detail. In endnote 4 on p. 155, he (I think it doubtful that an editor would have corrupted the proper title) incorrectly identified a work (which I have cited frequently in this counter-reply) of Fr. O’Carroll as Mariology: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary” whereas the correct title is Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is another small error, orders of magnitude smaller than the implicit claim that Adam and Eve were not immaculately conceived (again the reference is to their passive conceptions). Tiny, too, compared with the sweeping assertion about the complete absence from the Bible and the early Church of the idea of Mary as Co-Redeemer or Mediatrix.

As seen earlier – and although Mr. White reported the idea “completely absent” – St. Ephrem of Syria in the fourth century and Antipater of Bostra in the fifth, for two examples of early Churchmen noted for their orthodoxy, used Mediatress. Again, as noted earlier, St. Ephrem, in the fourth century, is also believed to have called Mary the dispensatrix of all goods; Theodotus of Ancyra in the first half of the fifth century called the Virgin Mary the dispensatrix of good things.

And replying to Catholic commentators that the Virgin Mary uniquely mediated between Jesus and mankind at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), Mr. White objected (p. 103) that “[c]ertainly one searches in vain in the Scriptures or the early church for such an understanding of the text.” Oh? Observe that Mr. White not only denied such belief in the Scriptures or the early Church but again waxed emphatic with [c]ertainly. Mr. White went far beyond saying that some in the early Church testified against belief in Mary’s mediation at the wedding at Cana. Mr. White, instead, insisted upon the vanity of searching for belief in the Fathers that Mary mediated at the wedding.

I found the passage below of St. John Chrysostom, written c.391, that rebuts Mr. White’s vain statement:

Why then after He had said, Mine hour is not yet come, and given her a denial, did He what His mother desired? Chiefly it was, that they who opposed Him, and thought that He was subject to the hour, might have sufficient proof that He was subject to no hour; for had He been so, how could He, before the proper hour was come, have done what He did? And in the next place, He did it to honor His mother, that He might not seem entirely to contradict and shame her that bare Him in the presence of so many; and also, that He might not be thought to want power, for she brought the servants to Him. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel According to St. John, Homily XXII)

Chrysostom wrote not only that Mary had desired the miracle from her Son, but also that she brought the servants to Him. Thus the golden mouthed saint indicated his belief that Mary not only prompted the miracle of her Son, but also mediated between the servants and her Son at the wedding.

Mary-Another Redeemer? is a pathetic survey, with gross errors in research and logic, of “Marian” teachings. I am hopeful that Mr. White will recognize and publicly acknowledge his many errors and very significant omissions, perhaps during his many presentations against Catholicism or his many debates against Catholic apologists, though some may find such hope ludicrous. Many non-Christians could summon themselves to express regret for their errors and omissions; perhaps Mr. White could find such redeeming qualities in himself.

Mary-Another Redeemer? was not so much written as it was filled in with a number two pencil so that the optical scanner (that is, the book’s reader) was programmed to accept as correct answers what the pencil-wielding Mr. White had already determined. We saw that St. Thomas Aquinas pronounced both for and against the Immaculate Conception (and perhaps for the doctrine again about one year before his death). Yet Mr. White asked only a true or false question, whether St. Thomas denied the Immaculate Conception, and would accept only the answer indicating St. Thomas’s denial of the doctrine.

In the case of St. Bernard and the Immaculate Conception, Mr. White posed the wrong question. Instead of asking if St. Bernard opposed belief in some kind of virginal conception by Mary’s mother, Mr. White asked if St. Bernard opposed the Immaculate Conception, and would accept only an answer in the affirmative. In the question of whether the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix exists in the Bible or was held by the early Church, though the answer is overwhelmingly attested to, Mr. White, the test administrator cum test-taker on our behalf, filled in the wrong bubble. And so on. Mary-Another Redeemer? was not nearly so much written by an expositor of the truth as it was by an advocate of poorly informed and fiercely, even defiantly, maintained viewpoints.

Mr. White, in his rejoinder, misinformed his readers when he asserted that modern promoters of the possible dogma of Mary as Co-Redeemer do not even attempt to directly link the possible dogma to the passage from St. Irenaeus [“. . . even the promoters of the dogma do not attempt to make the direct connection of the passage of Irenaeus, so clearly is the idea of ‘co-redemptrix’ absent from any semi-unbiased reading of the text”].But Pope John Paul II, widely believed to be promoting the possible dogma, did see in those very words of Irenaeus a direct statement of Mary’s role as Co-Redeemer:

At the end of the second century, St. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, already pointed out Mary’s contribution to the work of salvation. He understood the value of Mary’s consent at the time of the Annunciation, recognizing in the Virgin of Nazareth’s obedience to and faith in the angel’s message the perfect antithesis of Eve’s disobedience and disbelief, with a beneficial effect on humanity’s destiny. In fact, just as Eve caused death, so Mary, with her “yes,” became “a cause of salvation” for herself and for all mankind (cf. Adv. Haer., III, 22, 4; SC 211, 441). (Pope John Paul II in L’Osservatore Romano, 26 October 1995, p. 4, in  Miravalle, p. 129, italics in Miravalle but not in L’Osservatore Romano)

Regarding John 19:26-27, Mr. White, in an endnote on p. 155 about Mary as the “Mother of the Church,” remarked that the passage “in its original context, does not begin to suggest such a far-reaching concept.” Origen (c.185-253/254) and St. Ambrose (c.337-397), however, did so interpret the words of the dying Christ. In a commentary on John’s Gospel written starting in 226, Origen wrote:

The first-fruits of all the Scriptures are the Gospels, and the first-fruit of the Gospels is the Gospel that John has given us. No one can understand the meaning of this Gospel unless he has rested upon the breast of Jesus and from Jesus has received Mary as his mother. (Origen, In Johannis Evangelium, praef. 6; Patrologia Graeca 14:34ab, in Laurentin, pp. 72-73, italics mine)

St. Ambrose wrote:

May the Christ from the height of the cross say also to each of you: There is your mother. May he say also to the Church: There is your son. Then we will begin to be children of the Church when we see the Christ triumphant on the cross. (St. Ambrose, In Lucam VII, 5 (Patrologia Latina 15, 1787), in de la Potterie,  p. 260, his italics)

Further, Mr. White failed to relate in his endnote (and I believe anywhere else except obliquely in endnote 3 on pp. 154-155 in the quotation from Irenaeus) that the Fathers emphasized the view of Mary as the New Eve.

If Mr. White argued in his rejoinder that, in the famously controverted passage from St. Augustine’s Nature and Grace, 36,42, Augustine meant that Mary was not immaculately conceived, that is, that she was tinged with original sin, then Mr. White’s argument is an example of ignoratio elenchi – arguing for one thing (that Augustine did not imply that Mary was immaculately conceived) as if it proved another (that Augustine implied that Mary was not immaculately conceived).

St. Augustine’s belief in the mode of the transmission of original sin has been long abandoned, but it did impede for centuries the development of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. His opinion on the Immaculate Conception, whatever it was, was based on this mistaken understanding. Thus his opinion on the Immaculate Conception is largely beside the point. Mr. White told nothing of this to his readers, however.

Mr. White left many indications that he himself had not understood St. Bernard’s concerns. Mr. White appears to have not availed himself of the many references that indicated that St. Bernard was opposed to the idea that Mary’s mother had a virginal conception of Mary but was unopposed to the idea of an immaculate infusion of Mary’s soul into the bodily matter formed from the sexual union of her parents.

Mr. White (p. 41) quoted Dr. Johnson to report that the Council of Trent in 1546 also left the issue of the Immaculate Conception unresolved. While it is true that the Council of Trent did not dogmatize the Immaculate Conception, Dr. Johnson and Mr. White omitted at least three significant points: i) the Council of Trent specifically exempted the Virgin Mary from its declarations on original sin; ii) the vast majority of the Council Fathers believed in the Immaculate Conception but thought a dogmatic definition inopportune, that is, that such definition should await a different moment; and iii) the Council of Trent affirmed Mary’s personal sinlessness.

Whether Mary gave birth to other children is an issue emblematic of Mr. White’s lopsided methodology. As a Reformed Baptist whose theology is under the sway of the Reformers in general and Jean Calvin in particular, Mr. White, who argued (pp. 29-34) that Mary gave birth to other children after Jesus, did not explain how his faith came to reverse the unanimous belief of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, and the nearly unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers, regarding belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Yet Mr. White took pains, though not enough judging from the gaffes in his presentations, to contrast the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bernard and others with subsequent teachings of the Catholic Church. Mr. White did not examine his own teachings the way he scrutinized, albeit very sloppily, Catholic teachings.

* * * * * * * * * *
Mr. White devoted many pages to St. Alphonsus Liguori’s (constantly spelled “Ligouri”) book, The Glories of Mary. I thoroughly refuted a similar example of gross misinterpretation and selective citation of that book: St. Alphonsus de Liguori: Mary-Worshiper & Idolater? Needless to say, no counter-reply was ever offered. This person, who originally approached me with his challenges, seemingly vanished from the face of the earth after my paper was published. But (let’s be charitable) maybe he is doing tons of research and preparing a comprehensive refutation . . .

White wrote, in his chapter four (where all the quotes in this section come from), devoted to the Immaculate Conception:

But just how serious this dogma is can be seen from what came immediately after the definition:

Hence, if anyone shall dare—which God forbid!—to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

Here, with infallible and binding authority, the Pope forbids anyone from even thinking otherwise than he has defined concerning the Immaculate Conception. If you are led to a different conclusion by the study of the Bible, or the study of history, you are to submit your mind and your heart to the ultimate authority of the Papacy, and reject even those conclusions derived from the Word itself.

Mr. White acts as if this were the most novel and outrageous thing in the world: to require some tenet of faith to be held by the faithful, as if Protestants don’t do this, too. Of course, they do (all the time). Passing over the multitude of statements from Luther and Calvin, anathematizing all who disagree (fellow Protestants and Catholics alike) with their own judgments (on entirely arbitrary grounds), we will examine a few of the Reformed creeds and confessions and discover that they take  exactly the same stance. The good Calvinist has to submit his “mind and heart to the ultimate authority of the creeds and confessions of Calvinism.” I don’t see how this state of affairs is all that different, in terms of being bound to some authority which offers an interpretation of the Bible and Christian doctrine.

Mr. White is a Calvinist (Reformed Baptist). One of the classic expositions of Calvinism was that set out by the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). We find statements from that synod such as the following, directed towards those who don’t accept the five points of Calvinism, or “TULIP” (which acronym derives from this very synod):

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance of the Saints

Article 6: God’s Eternal Decision

The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen . . . This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God’s Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, . . .

In it’s “Conclusion: Rejection of False Accusations,” the Synod declares, against Protestant Arminian Christians:

. . . the Synod earnestly warns the false accusers themselves to consider how heavy a judgment of God awaits those who give false testimony against so many churches and their confessions, trouble the consciences of the weak, and seek to prejudice the minds of many against the fellowship of true believers.

Note that this is entirely a dispute amongst Protestants. The great majority of Protestants today are Arminian, not Calvinist. They are all condemned by the rhetoric at Dort, and essentially read out of the Christian faith. I have dealt with this inconsistency and hidden assumption in Mr. White’s work in great detail, and shown how — by his own stated assumptions — people like Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, and John Wesley were not, and could not be Christians. That is what his logic entails. Catholics, of course, do not deny that Protestants are Christians, or that they can be saved.

So Catholic dogmatic authority asserts that a person who rejects the Immaculate Conception has been “condemned by his own judgment” and has “suffered shipwreck in the faith.” Calvinist dogmatic authority asserts that people who reject predestination to hell of the reprobate and other tenets of five-point Calvinism (which multiple millions of Protestants reject — including even Martin Luther himself), are “wicked, impure, and unstable” and do so “to their own ruin.” They are “false accusers” who will be subject to a “heavy judgment of God” if they continue in their ways. What’s the difference? In both cases, a teaching which is disagreed with by many many different kinds of Christians is made obligatory on followers of the professed faith, under penalty of the shipwreck of their faith or souls.

That’s not all. We have the habitual “anathematizing” treatment of the Catholic Church in other Protestant creeds and confessions, reading those who adhere to its doctrine out of the faith. For example, the Westminster Confession of 1646:

CHAPTER XXV. Of the Church

VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.

Likewise, the Second Helvetic Confession (1566):

CHAPTER XVII  Of The Catholic and Holy Church of God,
and of The One Only Head of The Church

. . . The Roman head does indeed preserve his tyranny and the corruption that has been brought into the Church, and meanwhile he hinders, resists, and with all the strength he can muster cuts off the proper reformation of the Church.

And the Belgic Confession (1561):

Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

. . . As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry. These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

So how are these two stances all that different, authority-wise? The Catholic position was that if someone didn’t follow the pope’s teaching with regard to the Immaculate Conception, they were in big spiritual trouble. The anti-Catholic Calvinist position (thankfully, not all Calvinists are anti-Catholic, by any means) is that if someone follows any of the pope’s teachings, or those of the Catholic Church, he is following antichrist, a man who “hinders” and “resists” all proper reformation of the Church, denigrating the Bible, not subjecting himself to Christ, follows men more than Christ, is an idolater, etc.

If he doesn’t accept a doctrine like double predestination (where the damned, or reprobate, never had any choice but to be damned from eternity), he is “wicked” and “impure” and under a heavy “judgment of God.” How is one worse than the other? But of course Mr. White will never point this out. His goal is to make the Catholic Church look utterly unreasonable, arrogant, and outrageous, while the Protestant sects who make exactly the same kind of statements — about doctrines which are highly-controversial — get a pass.

Coming up to our present time, and the ecumenical joint statement, Evangelicals and Catholics Together(ECT), we again find a vigorous anti-Catholic opposition. For example, prominent anti-Catholic Michael Horton (chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California), in his critical review of ECT [link defunct], writes (and surely Mr. White would agree):

If Rome continues to uphold the Decrees and Canons of the Council of Trent, all individual members of that body who follow those decrees (which, in Roman Catholic ecclesiology must include every faithful son or daughter) continue to stand in opposition to the unchanging Gospel of Christ. If they stray from the official teaching of Rome, either from ignorance or in opposition to those statements, they may be regarded as brothers and sisters in Christ.

. . . the Roman See persists in its denial of the message that makes the church’s existence both possible and necessary.

. . . We deny that this catholic consensus is sufficient for recognizing the Roman church as a true visible expression of Christ’s body.

. . . We affirm that individual Roman Catholics, who for various reasons do not self-consciously give their assent to the precise definitions of the Roman Magisterium regarding justification, the sole mediation of Christ, the monergistic character of the new birth, and similar evangelical issues, are our brothers and sisters despite Rome’s official position.

[again, this is the condescending notion that a Catholic has to be a lousy, disobedient, dissenting Catholic in order to be a Christian]

Mr. James White makes many similar utterances, too numerous to recount. Here is one of the more striking ones:

The issue isn’t the Pope, the issue is the system he represents. The question, at the bottom of the issue, is, “Does Rome promote, or stand against, Christ’s work in this world?” The answer, in light of the “gospel” taught by Rome, is clear in my mind: she stands against the work of Christ. Hence, if we wish to use the term “antichrist,” it is the system that partakes of that spirit due to her opposition to the free grace of Christ. (statement on his own sola Scriptura Internet list: 8-16-96)

Now, again, I ask: why is it unacceptable for the Catholic Church to require its members to believe in the Immaculate Conception (where other Christians vigorously disagree), and give stern warnings for failure to do so, but it is perfectly acceptable for anti-Catholic to make far more extreme statements denigrating the Catholic Church altogether and some one billion Catholics? In each case, others who disagree and the relative state of their souls or “correct belief” are discussed, but the anti-Catholic statements are infinitely more sweeping and condescending. Therefore, what Mr. White proves, when this further relevant examination is brought to the table, is the existence of his own glaring double standards (as so often in his anti-Catholic polemics). His rhetoric backfires on him.

This double standard and historical / theological obfuscation is continued by Mr. White when he states:

But why did it take more than 1,800 years to define this teaching as dogma, if, in fact, it is true?

The doctrine developed, just as all doctrines do. This was shown in William Possidento’s review. In this way, it is little different from all other doctrines. It just developed a bit more slowly. Its essence — Mary’s sinlessness –, appeared very early on and became the consensus of the Fathers. That’s much more than can be said for many doctrines that Mr. White accepts (and here we are deep into “double standard” ground once again). White’s lack of consistency and historical fairness and objectivity can be analyzed on many levels:

1. With regard to doctrines that are utterly unknown in Scripture, and which required nearly four centuries to be resolved by the Church and Tradition (canon of Scripture: finalized in 397)

2. With regard to doctrines which Protestants and Catholics both accept, but which took many centuries (often four or more) to develop fully (the Two Natures of Christ and fine points of trinitarianism — Chalcedon in 451, original sin).

3. With regard to doctrines which were virtually nonexistent throughout all previous Christian history, but nevertheless were adopted (as novelties, or corruptions) by early Protestants as not only dogma, but indeed, “pillars” of their faith, and the basis upon much Protestant theology and epistemology is based (sola fide — including the notion of imputed or extrinsic justification — and sola Scriptura).

4. With regard to doctrines that developed very rapidly and were virtually unanimous in the Fathers, which were retained by some early Protestants (Luther) but rejected by others, such as Calvin and Zwingli (real presence in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration).

5. With regard to doctrines that developed rapidly and were retained by all the Protestant “Reformers” but denied by most Protestants today (perpetual virginity of Mary).

6. With regard to doctrines that developed slowly and were retained by some Protestant “Reformers” but denied by virtually all Protestants today (Immaculate Conception, which Luther accepted, and the Assumption, which Bullinger accepted).

All of these factors embroil Mr. White in internal incoherence, inconsistency, and self-contradiction, insofar as he wishes to talk about the alleged outrageousness of a development taking 1800 years, while ignoring all these anomalies in the Protestant position(s), historically considered, and treated in the same fashion as White treats Catholicism. I shall explain each very briefly (as I have written about all of these things elsewhere):

The doctrinal development of Christology and trinitarianism is well-known, and not a matter of controversy, so I will pass over that for the sake of space. The history of the doctrine of original sin, however, is much less well-known. John Henry Cardinal Newman noted that the doctrine of original sin had far less warrant in the Fathers than purgatory did. I wrote in a paper about development of doctrine:

[Newman] Some notion of suffering, or disadvantage, or punishment after this life, in the case of the faithful departed, or other vague forms of the doctrine of Purgatory, has in its favour almost a consensus of the first four ages of the Church.

Newman then recounts no less than sixteen Fathers who hold the view in some form. But in comparing this consensus to the doctrine of original sin, we find a disjunction:

No one will say that there is a testimony of the Fathers, equally strong, for the doctrine of Original Sin.

In spite of the forcible teaching of St. Paul on the subject, the doctrine of Original Sin appears neither in the Apostles’ nor the Nicene Creed.

(Newman, 21-23)

This is a crucial distinction. It is a serious problem for Protestantism that it by and large inconsistently rejects doctrines which have a consensus in the early Church, such as purgatory, the (still developing) papacy, bishops, the Real Presence, regenerative infant baptism, apostolic succession, and intercession of the saints, while accepting others with far less explicit early sanction, such as original sin.

2. The utter absence of the two Protestant “pillars”: sola fide and sola Scriptura, prior to the 16th century, seems not to trouble Mr. White at all (all the while, he complains against the “late” arrival of the Immaculate Conception). Respected Anglican scholar and Church historian Alister McGrath holds that imputed justification (a bedrock Reformed doctrine) indeed began with Martin Luther. He calls it a “theological novum” and states that it “marks a complete break with the tradition up to this point” and that the Protestants had  introduced a “notional distinction” between justification and sanctification which was brand new (see McGrath, II, 2 ff., cf. I, 182 ff.).

Protestant apologist Norman Geisler concurs with this general historical judgment:

. . . these valuable insights into the doctrine of justification had been largely lost throughout much of Christian history, and it was the Reformers who recovered this biblical truth . . .

During the patristic, and especially the later medieval periods, forensic justification was largely lost . . .

. . . one can be saved without believing that imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) is an essential part of the true gospel. Otherwise, few people were saved between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation, since scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) during that period! (Geisler and Mackenzie, 247-248, 503)

The newness of the sola Scriptura is very well-known. Statements of reputable Protestant historians which deny an understanding of sola Scriptura in the Fathers are numerous. For example, patristics expert J. N. D. Kelly:

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness. (Kelly, 47-48)

3. As for the real presence in the Eucharist and baptismal regeneration, both doctrines which were virtually unanimously held by the Fathers, and by Martin Luther, but rejected by John Calvin and James White, the scholarly consensus is equally clear:

The doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist was not a subject of theological controversy . . . . till the time of Paschasius Radbert, in the ninth century . . .

In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim. (Schaff, III, 492, 500)

For further documentation, seePatristic Eucharistic Doctrine: Nine Protestant Scholars.

J. N. D. Kelly wrote about the view on baptism in the Church in the first two centuries:

It was always held to convey the remission of sins . . . the theory that it mediated the Holy Spirit was fairly general . . . The early view, therefore, like the Pauline, would seem to be that baptism itself is the vehicle for conveying the Spirit to believers; in all this period we nowhere come across any clear pointers to the existence of a separate rite, such as unction or the laying on of hands, appropriated to this purpose. (Kelly, 194-195)

4. The first Protestant leaders and forerunners of the movement (aka “Reformers”) unanimously held to the perpetual virginity of Mary

5. Martin Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception in a slightly revised form. This is the opinion of many Protestant and Lutheran scholars, including contributors to the 55-volume set of Luther’s Works.

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), successor to Zwingli and author of the Second Helvetic Confession, wrote:

Elijah was transported body and soul in a chariot of fire; he was not buried in any Church bearing his name, but mounted up to heaven, so that . . .we might know what immortality and recompense God prepares for his faithful prophets and for his most outstanding and incomparable creatures . . . It is for this reason, we believe, that the pure and immaculate embodiment of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that is to say her saintly body, was carried up to heaven by the angels. (De origine erroris, 16, written in 1568; in Thurian, 197-198)

Zurich during Zwingli’s tenure continued to observe the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th (Acts of the Council in March 1526 and March 1530; see Thurian, 186). So this belief was not unknown in early Protestantism, either. Luther still accepted it in a non-dogmatic fashion, as late as 15 August 1522 (on which date he preached a sermon about Mary’s Assumption), but later seems to have discarded belief in it. The point is that many early Protestants accepted Marian beliefs which Mr. White cavalierly assumes are completely unbiblical and even absent in history.

White asks in his book, concerning the Immaculate Conception:

Is there anything in Scripture that even remotely suggests this concept?

Well, yes, there is more evidence than there is for the canon of Scripture (absolutely none) — which all Protestants accept — and for sola Scriptura (arguably none at all). I’ve offered plenty of biblical support:

Blessed Virgin Mary & God’s Special Presence in Scripture [1994; from first draft of A Biblical Defense of Catholicism]

“All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary? [1996; revised and posted at National Catholic Register on 12-11-17]

Luke 1:28 (“Full of Grace”) & Immaculate Conception [2004]

The Bible: Mary Was Without Sin [4-1-09]

Mary: Ark of the New Covenant (Biblical Evidences) [7-9-09]

Mary’s Immaculate Conception: A Biblical Argument [2010]

Annunciation: Was Mary Already Sublimely Graced? [10-8-11]

Scripture, Through an Angel, Reveals That Mary Was Sinless [National Catholic Register, 4-30-17]

White writes:

Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott faces reality when addressing this topic: “The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not explicitly revealed in Scripture.”

As we have seen, neither is the canon of the Bible. It can’t be found in Scripture by any conceivable argument or exegesis. Does White “face” that “reality”? And does he see that this argument from doctrines thought to be actually or allegedly “non-biblical” or “non-explicitly-biblical” will backfire on him? Sola Scriptura itself is arguably completely absent. Even many advocates of it will admit that it is, at least, not explicitly taught in Scripture, and needs to be deduced and arrived at through a bit of work and cross-referencing.

Ott likewise cites the main passage used in defense of nearly every Marian doctrine: Luke 1:28. All Roman Catholic theologians and apologists must press this verse into service at this point. But as we have seen, the passage does not even begin to bear the massive weight placed upon it by Roman dogma. The greeting of an angel that emphasizes the blessedness of Gods gracious choice of Mary as the mother of the Messiah is hardly sufficient basis for everything Rome wishes to pile upon it. And one thing is for certain: the early Fathers likewise failed to see the significance in the passage assigned by later centuries.

Why, then, does Martin Luther use this very verse for the same reason, in a sermon of 1527?:

. . . as the rest of mankind are, both in soul and in body, conceived in sin, whilst Christ is conceived without sin, as well in body as in soul, so the Virgin Mary was conceived, according to the body, indeed without grace, but according to the soul, full of grace. This is signified by those words which the angel Gabriel said to her, ‘Blessed art thou amongst women’ [Luke 1:28]. For it could not be said to her, ‘Blessed art thou,’ if at any time she had been obnoxious to the curse. Again, it was just and meet that that person should be preserved from original sin from whom Christ received the flesh by which He overcame all sins. And that, indeed, is properly called blessed which is endowed with divine grace, that is, which is free from sin. (from Martini Lutheri PostillaeIn die Conceptionis Mariae Matris Dei, pp. 360-361. Argentorati: apud Georgium Ulricum Adlanum, anno xxx, in Ullathorne, 132-134)

White trips himself up once again, in asserting that he is “certain” that the Fathers didn’t see any particular  significance for Mariology in Luke 1:28. Now, of course they did not see the complete, fully-developed doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. But at least three saw a sinless Mary (and/or Mary as the New Eve) in this verse:

“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). This is she who was prefigured by Eve and who symbolically received the title of mother of the living (cf. Gen. 3:20).

. . . Eve became for men the cause of death, because through her death entered into the world. Mary, however, was the cause of life, because life has come to us through her. (St. Epiphanius [d. 403], Adversus haereses, 78, 17-19; PG 42, 728 B – 729 C; in Gambero, 128-129)

No wonder that the angel said to her, “Rejoice, O full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). With these words he took from her the burden of that sorrow which, from the beginning of creation, had been imposed on birth because of sin. (St. Gregory of Nyssa [d.c. 395], On the Song of Songs 13; PG 44, 1052 D – 1053 B; in Gambero, 159)

“Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you, you are blessed” (Lk 1:28), O most beautiful and most noble among women. The Lord is with you, O all-holy one, glorious and good. The Lord is with you, O worthy of praise, O incomparable, O more than glorious, all splendor, worthy of God, worthy of all blessedness . . . spouse of God, divinely nourished treasure. To you I announce neither a conception in wickedness nor a birth in sin; instead, I bring the joy that puts an end to Eve’s sorrow . . . Through you, Eve’s odious condition is ended; through you, abjection has been destroyed; through you, error is dissolved; through you, sorrow is abolished; through you, condemnation has been erased. Through you, Eve has been redeemed. (Theodotus of Ancyra [d.c. 445], On the Mother of God and the Nativity; PO 19, 330-31′ in Gambero, 271)

I disproved this claim by walking across my own library to get one single book. Note that all these men died before the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ, or the Hypostatic Union, was defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. St. Gregory died even before the canon of Scripture was finalized. If Christology and the canon of Scripture can take that long to develop, why not Mariology? But we see how developed it was, even at this early stage.

And again, Mr. White makes a false claim:

Leo I, the great bishop of Rome from 440 to 461 A.D., rejected the idea that anyone but Christ was sinless.

How, then, will Mr. White can explain the following thought from this eminent saint?:

For the uncorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself . . . (Sermon XXII: On the Feast of the Nativity, Part II; emphasis added)

It seems that Mr. White has failed to do his proper homework once again. 

Bibliography of Books Referred To
Breen, Eileen, editor, Mary-The Second Eve: from the Writings of John Henry Newman, Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1982.


Gambero, Luigi, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, translated by Thomas Buffer, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.

Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1970.

Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978 edition.

Laurentin, René, A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary, Washington, New Jersey: AMI Press, 1991.

McGrath, Alister, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Two volumes, Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Miravalle, Mark I., editor, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate – Theological Foundations, Towards a Papal Definition?, Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing, 1995.

Most, William G., Mary in Our Life, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1954.

Newman, John Henry, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine;  edition published by the University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, from the 1878 edition of the original work of 1845.

O’Carroll, Michael, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wilmington, DE: M. Glazier, 1982.

Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., fourth edition, 1974.

Pelikan, Jaroslav, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1996.

de la Potterie, Ignace, S.J., Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1992.

Quasten, Johannes, Patrology, four volumes, Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, 1949.

Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A.D. 311-600, revised 5th edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted in 1974, originally 1910.

Thurian, Max, Mary: Mother  of  all  Christians,  translated by Neville B. Cryer, New York: Herder & Herder, 1963.

Ullathorne, William, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, revised by Canon Iles, Westminster: Art & Book Co., 1905.


Photo credit: Cover of James White’s book, from its Amazon page.


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