May 15, 2020

Steve Hays of Tribalblogue is an anti-Catholic polemicist and sophist. I’ll be responding to the relevant portions of Steve’s article, “Ten objections to sola scriptura-1” (4-22-04, Tribalblogue). His words will be in blue.


Over the years, Catholic apologetics has raised a number of objections to sola Scriptura. Let’s run through the major objections and rebut them one by one.

And let’s decisively refute his supposed rebuttals . . .

1. It’s a recipe for chaos:

Catholic apologists often point to the proliferation of Protestant denominations as proof that the right of private judgment is infeasible (cf. Vatican I, preamble).

This is self-evident. The New Testament everywhere casually assumes one institutionally and doctrinally united and visible Church: not thousands of competing and endlessly contradicting denominations: in effect, theological relativism and ecclesiological chaos.

This objection rests on two or three related assumptions: (i) this is an intolerable state of affairs which God would not allow to go unchecked;

Not without recourse: which there is in Catholicism.

(ii) God has made provision for some instrumentality that would guard against such disunity,

It’s called the Catholic Church.

and (iii) the Roman Church does not suffer from this internal strife since it is the repository of this unifying instrumentality. That is perhaps the major objection to the right of private judgment, and therefore calls for the most detailed reply:

It doesn’t suffer such strife in its actual theology “on the books” (magisterium: compiled in Denzinger and on a more popular level, Ludwig Ott and in the Catholic Catechism) but it does among renegades within the fold who are self-aware dissidents / heterodox / theological liberals, who care little about the dogmas and doctrines already there, which bind the Catholic faithful. Therefore, institutionally it is unified in a way that cannot be said of any other Christian communion. And in the end that is all we can sensibly go by in comparing competing Christian views.

(a) The Catholic apologist is taking his own denomination as the standard of comparison, and then pointing as accusing finger at the “schismatics.” While this is a natural starting-point for him, it assumes the very claim at issue. I, as a Protestant, do not regard the Roman Church as the yardstick. Otherwise I would be Catholic! Rather, I regard the Roman Church as just one more denomination, and hardly the best.

Not at all. We are examining what the Bible says (it teaches one unified set of doctrinal truths and one body, the Church) and looking around to see which institution out there best harmonizes with the biblical description. It’s no contest. To even claim that any Protestant denomination fits this bill is to utter something that is a laughable farce as soon as it is suggested. Nor does the merely “invisible / mystical Church” canard work for a second.

(b) God put up with a wide diversity of sects and schools of thought in 1C Judaism. We read of Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Essenes, Zealots, Therapeutae, Jewish Gnostics, Jewish Platonists, Qumranic separatists, as well as the Rabbinical parties of Hillel and Shamai. Doubtless there were many additional groups that our partial and partisan sources have failed to preserve for posterity. Yet God never saw fit to install an infallible Jewish Magisterium in order to prevent this plurality of viewpoints. 

Actually, He did in various ways: in the Torah, the oral law also given to Moses, in the priests & Levite teachers, the prophets, and at length the scribes, Pharisees (Moses’ Seat), and rabbis. All of these — to varying degrees — had profound guiding authority (with the prophets being infallible). Conversely, in no way did the Old Testament Jews hold to sola Scriptura at any time, as I  have demonstrated in many ways.

So the objection is based on nothing more than a seat-of-the-pants hunch about what God is prepared to permit. It doesn’t appeal to any of God’s revealed purposes—the disclosure of his decretive or preceptive will in Scripture. It doesn’t bother to anticipate any concrete counter-examples. Far from there being a presumption in favor of the Catholic claim, the precedent of God’s former dealings with his people goes against that expectation. If we find all this diversity and dissension under the OT dispensation, why assume that the NT economy must operate according to a contrary set of priorities? Wouldn’t the Catholic rationale apply with equal force to OT church? If Christians require the services of a living Magisterium, wouldn’t the Old Covenant community be under the same necessity? Yet it’s clear from the Gospels that none of the rival parties spoke for God in any definitive sense. The priesthood was the only faction with any institutional standing under the Mosaic Covenant, and its members were frequently and fundamentally mistaken in their construal of its ethical obligations, such as the matter of putting to death their prophesied Messiah. So much for a divine teaching office to ensure unity and fidelity.

Sheer nonsense. This is just a bunch of words jumbled together. I have made scores and scores of biblical arguments related to this whole question of authority: in papers collected on my Bible and Tradition page, and Church page. I demonstrate that denominationalism is most unbiblical in papers collected on my Calvinism & General Protestantism page. We’ll clearly see which side of this debate is more biblical — i.e., in harmony with the Bible –, as this proceeds. No one could possibly miss it.

One of the problems with these utopian scenarios is that they’re premature, reflected a realized eschatology. Utopia awaits heaven and the final state. So much of Catholic apologetics has this armchair quality to it. It makes such large assumptions about what God would never allow to happen. Get up of your chair and take a look out the window! When I observe at the world around me I see that God allows quite a lot. If you want to know what God would allow, you should start with what he has allowed. We can only anticipate the future on the basis of what God has said and done in the past.

More empty words. Sure, God allows (permits) a lot. This doesn’t prove that it is His will. The fact remains that the Catholic Church is doctrinally unified, and uniquely so among any Christian claimant.

As a rule, you can’t disprove a position just because you don’t like the consequences. I’m struck by how many otherwise intelligent, educated people take this solipsistic approach to truth-claims. Most people don’t like cancer, but that doesn’t make it go away. Rather, our attitude should be to study what God has said and done, and then find the wisdom in it. A “dire” consequence may disclose a deeper wisdom in God’s plan for the world.

(c) By excommunicating dissident members, an organization can enforce as much internal unity as it pleases since—by definition—the only people left are likeminded types. So the Catholic appeal is circular. The Magisterium has not succeeded in preventing internal dissension. But its solution has been to externalize some of its internal dissension by exiling certain factions while defining other schools of thought as falling within the bounds of Catholic tradition—even though there’s no real harmony between the respective parties (e.g. Thomists and Molinists), not to mention varieties within a given school. (E.g. versions of Thomism: traditional [Bañez, Scheeben]; transcendental [Marechal, Rahner]; existential [Maritain, Gilson, Rahner], analytical [Geach, Kenny).] So the unity of faith maintained by the Magisterium is a diplomatic and definitional fiction.

Catholicism is not pragmatism: it is taking the Bible as well as the deposit of faith (sacred tradition) seriously. The Bible says there is one truth; so do we, and claim that we are in possession of it in its fullness, guided and protected by God (which factor alone makes it possible: not fallen human beings). Now, one may dispute the claim in many ways, but at least we assert what is clearly the biblical demand and requirement for the one true Church.

In the Church there are many doctrines and dogmas that Catholics must believe; others where diversity of thought is permitted within a wider category that must be believed. Steve brings up Molinists and Thomists. Both parties believe (as they must) in the predestination of the elect. They disagree in speculations about how God predestines. And this is permitted because it is one of the deepest mysteries in theology, and the Church has not yet claimed to know definitively which option is true or truer.

I am not denying the right of a denomination to set doctrinal standards and enforce them. But when the Roman Church draws invidious comparisons between its superior unity and the “scandal” or “tragedy” of Protestant sectarianism, this is an illusion fostered by the way in which the Roman Church has chosen to draw the boundaries in the first place. By setting itself up as the point of reference, by glossing over internal divisions and by classifying anything that falls outside its chosen touchstone as beyond the pale it can—no doubt— present an impressively self-serving contrast. By casting the terms of the debate it has rigged the outcome in its favor. It is only because the Catholic apologist is conditioned by this provincial mindset that he finds such an appeal persuasive.

This is the sophistical game that Steve always plays, but it’s simply not true. It’s a caricature of the Catholic view. Our standard is the Bible and what was taught with great consensus by the Church fathers.

(d) Furthermore, Paul indicates that God deliberately allows for a competition of viewpoints so that the position he himself approves of will emerge by process of comparison and contrast (1 Cor 11:19). One of the unintended services rendered by infidels is in forcing believers to become more thoughtful about their faith. If Voltaire didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him! So the true Church refines its theological understanding by having to fend off infidels from within and without.

Whaddya know: a rare (albeit failed and fallacious) attempted scriptural argument!

1 Corinthians 11:19 (RSV) for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

This is a semi-sarcastic remark. Paul makes it very clear that all factionalism and divisiveness and sectarianism is wrong and evil:

Romans 16:17-18 I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. [18] For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. [11] For it has been reported to me by Chlo’e’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. [12] What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol’los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” [13] Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (cf. 2 Cor 12:20; Phil 2:2)
1 Corinthians 3:3-4 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? [4] For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men? (cf. Rom 13:13; Jas 3:16)
1 Corinthians 5:11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one.
1 Corinthians 11:18-19 For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, [19] for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
1 Corinthians 12:25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissensionparty 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.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, [4] he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, [5] and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. [10] As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, [11] knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.

In 1 Corinthians 11:19 Paul is noting that on the human level, the factionalism that sadly occurs will at least have the good effect of making the genuine, orthodox believers evident, and the rebellious heterodox also evident as wolves in sheep’s clothing. He’s not sanctioning it in the least: which is merely Steve’s wishful thinking in trying to shore up a radically unbiblical denominational sectarianism which is precisely the opposite of what the Apostle Paul always calls for and commands. Hence, we see Protestant commentators agree with my take:

The meaning is, not that divisions are inseparable from the nature of the Christian religion, not that it is the design and wish of the Author of Christianity that they should exist, and not that they are physically impossible, for then they could not be the subject of blame; but that such is human nature, such are the corrupt passions of men, the propensity to ambition and strifes, that they are to be expected, and they serve the purpose of showing who are, and who are not, the true friends of God. (Albert Barnes)

But observe what Paul says — there must be, for he intimates by this expression, that this state of matters does not happen by chance, but by the sure providence of God, because he has it in view to try his people, as gold in the furnace, and if it is agreeable to the mind of God, it is, consequently, expedient. At the same time, however, we must not enter into thorny disputes, or rather into labyrinths as to a fatal necessity. We know that there never will be a time when there will not be many reprobates. We know that they are governed by the spirit of Satan, and are effectually drawn away to what is evil. We know that Satan, in his activity, leaves no stone unturned with the view of breaking up the unity of the Church. From this — not from fate — comes that necessity of which Paul makes mention. (651) We know, also, that the Lord, by his admirable wisdom, turns Satan’s deadly machinations so as to promote the salvation of believers. (652) Hence comes that design of which he speaks — that the good may shine forth more conspicuously; for we ought not to ascribe this advantage to heresies, which, being evil, can produce nothing but what is evil, but to God, who, by his infinite goodness, changes the nature of things, so that those things are salutary to the elect, which Satan had contrived for their ruin. (John Calvin)

Those who are heretics were often never in the fold to begin with, and this is my point. Jesus talked about the wheat and the tares that grow up together (Mt 13:29-30), and the wolves in sheeps’ clothing (Mt 7:15), echoed by Paul (Acts 20:29). And St. John states: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us” (1 Jn 2:19). Thus, we observe such people in the Catholic Church, as well as among Protestants.

It’s determined (on a human, theological level) who is truly — consistently — part of the Church by seeing whether they agree with the Church’s creeds and confessions. That’s the best we can do. Even John Calvin conceded that we can’t know for sure who is among the elect. But we can know who is teaching falsely, by the standard of the Catholic magisterium, guided by the Bible and protected by the Holy Spirit.

(e) I don’t regard the “scandal” of denominationalism as all that scandalous. Granted that all Christians belong to the same family, but in the interests of domestic tranquility many parents have found it necessary to put the boys in separate bedrooms. I’m not endorsing all these denominations. I’d prefer to see everyone in the Calvinist camp. But even Christians who share an identical creed may have differing priorities when it comes to the work and worship of the Church. If all the Reformed bodies were to merge, the style, staffing, message, administration, fellowship and outreach would remain much the same at the level of the local church. They’d just take down the sign outside and put up a new one.

Every Protestant is forced to say this, to rationalize the state of affairs in their general camp, even though the very notion of denominations is fundamentally opposed to scriptural teaching.

(f) It’s my impression that denominationalism owes less to the Reformation than to nationalism and liberalism. There were many nominal Christians as well as closet heretics, atheists and dissenters in the Medieval Church, but when the Church still enjoyed a measure of temporal power and could enforce the party line on pain of torture, death, dispossession or exile, there was naturally an impressive show of outward conformity. But with the rise of nation-states, monarchs resented a rival power-center meddling in their internal affairs. So this nostalgia for the golden age of undivided Christendom— which Luther supposedly wrecked—rests on an ironically profane foundation.

No doubt. It doesn’t make the grotesquely unbiblical sectarianism it any more biblical or any less opposed to the Bible, and is no excuse in the final analysis.

I don’t see that the Roman Church’s rate of retention or recruitment during the modern era is markedly superior to that of the Protestant “sects.” Once it lost its power to coerce dissidents into submission, the Magisterium found that it was limited to the same sanction as its Protestant counterparts— excommunication. (This was also the primary sanction for the OT Church—to be “cut off” from the covenant community.) No more than the Protestant branches does it enjoy absolute sway over its membership. It can’t prevent members from breaking away and forming their own churches. And to a great extent it staves off further schism in its ranks by exceedingly indulgent terms of membership.

This has nothing directly to do with whether denominationalism is God’s will and biblically permitted. It’s simply noting how all Christian communions have ways and means to try to retain their members.

It opposes abortion but never excommunicates Catholic politicians who are complicit in our public policy. It opposes divorce, yet annulments are freely granted to the rich and famous. It opposes homosexuality but then opposes those who oppose homosexual “rights” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶2357-2358). It opposes the death penalty, but has never excommunicated a Mafia Don.

This is merely talking about real or alleged hypocritical or inconsistent policies and applications in the Catholic Church. It has no bearing on whether denominations cause chaos or not (remember Steve’s actual topic, way back when?). They clearly do.

Given a choice I much prefer a plethora of smaller denominations, some good and some bad, to one big bad church. At least with the Protestant tradition you have an avenue of escape. Far better that than a system that generates the Catholic sex scandal. Once you’re committed to your church as the one and only true church, you’ll put up with anything, however horrendous. And that is the history of Roman Catholicism.

This is simply not biblical. The biblical teaching on sinners in the Church is that they do exist, and we should always expect them. We should not even be surprised by horrendous sins like the sex scandal or almost universal acceptance of legal childkilling in the Protestant denominations — and increasingly, even same-sex unions. Paul excoriated the Galatians and Corinthians for their sins, but still called them “churches”; so did Jesus in rebuking the seven “churches” of Revelation.

(g) Likewise, many new denominations are formed as a result of the liberalization of preexisting denominations. Liberals rarely if ever form their own denomination. How could they? Barren theology begets no life. Rather, their modus operandi is to infiltrate and infect a preexisting church and thereby drive out the true believers. Were it not for liberal parasitism, there would be far fewer breakaway denominations.

But that doesn’t represent a novel disagreement. It is only because the faithful continue to believe what they have always believed that they find it necessary to split with a preexisting denomination which has been overrun by a liberal faction that no longer believes the same thing. Schism is as much a mark of doctrinal continuity as it is of superficial disunity. They leave a church because it first left them. Anyone who knows his church history will instantly recognize how true that is.

This is true. The difference is that such liberalism never causes the Catholic Church to change its teaching, so the faithful, genuine Catholics can always stay, whereas in Protestantism, it does often succeed in corrupting whole denominations (thus the faithful “traditional / honest Protestants” are forced to leave and start another). That’s the difference between divine protection and lack of same.

(h) If denominationalism is such a problem, then the Roman Church is a very large part of the problem since—from my standpoint—it’s just one more denomination. The very phenomenon of the Protestant split to which Catholic apologist points only proves that a Magisterium was unable to prevent dissention and schism.

It’s spelled “dissension.” No group: Protestant or Catholic can prevent individuals from going astray and rejecting various teachings. That’s not the issue. The real issue is: how does a Christian communion maintain its orthodoxy and teachings that it has required from the beginning?

The relation between Catholic and Protestant is often represented as analogous to the relation between the trunk and its branches. But both Catholicism and Protestantism represent offshoots of the Latin Church. Trent is not just a linear continuation of the Medieval Church. The Western Church before Trent was more pluralistic in doctrine than the Roman Church between Trent and Vatican I. For example, the Augustinian tradition, though always a minority report, had enjoyed an honored and distinguished representation in the Medieval Church. Luther himself, as we all know, had belonged to a religious order based on that tradition. But in censuring the Protestants, Trent dismantled some cornerstones of Augustinian soteriology (e.g. total depravity, the efficacy and particularism of grace).

Orders such as the Augustinians did not and do not represent doctrinal chaos or dissent or private judgment, as is constant in Protestantism. It’s simply a different style or emphasis of how to live the Catholic life. All Catholics were required to believe certain things, and converts went through an arduous catechetical process before they could be baptized and received into the Church.

(i) There are Protestant denominations (Lutheran and Reformed) that have retained a far more substantive degree of continuity with Reformation theology in its classic creedal expositions (e.g. The Westminster Confession of Faith; The Three Forms of Unity; The Book of Concord) than Vatican II and post-Vatican II theology can honestly claim in relation to Trent. So it’s very misleading to say that Protestants have gone every which way while Rome has stayed the course.

This is sheer nonsense. Vatican II is in complete conformity with the teachings of Trent, and further develop them. Steve simply exhibits his ignorance (a not uncommon thing with him, when writing about Catholicism).

Certainly we see many modern Protestant denominations that are unrecognizable in relation to the theology of the Protestant Reformers. But, of course, one could say the same thing about many Catholic scholars and theologians in relation to Trent. The difference is that Catholics who still believe in Trent are excommunicated (e.g. Lefevbre)

Trent never sanctioned forming a breakaway group and ordaining priests against the wishes of the pope. If Steve thinks otherwise, he’s welcome to cite passage and verse . . .

whereas there is a continuous tradition of unreconstructed Reformed and Lutheran theology extending from the Reformation down to the present day.

Yeah, there are a few million of such folks. Big wow. That is hardly suggestive of being the “one true Church.”

(j) So the right of private judgment did not set a domino effect into motion. And it doesn’t mean that everyone is entitled to his own opinion. Rather, it was set over against blind faith in a self-appointed authority.

Catholic faith is neither blind, nor “self-appointed.” Jesus started the Catholic Church in commissioning Peter. If someone wants self-appointed, that is Martin Luther, who began the “Reformation” sitting on the toilet and figuring out that he was saved by grace: something the Catholic Church had always taught from the beginning and stressed / reaffirmed at the second council of Orange in 529: almost a thousand years before Luther decided to dissent on at least 50 matters of Catholic doctrine and practice (before he was even excommunicated: in 1520). He had no authority to do so. He simply assumed it without reason.

The principle at stake was that only God’s word enjoys dogmatic authority,

. . . which the Bible never ever teaches , therefore it is merely an arbitrary tradition of men, that Jesus and Paul condemn.. . .

and the sense of Scripture has to be established by verifiable methods. It doesn’t cut it to say that Mother Church knows best.

. . . even though the Bible asserts that very thing, notably in 1 Timothy 3:15 and Matthew 16:18-19 and the Jerusalem Council, among other passages.

Instead, a Bible scholar or theologian should be willing and able to take a layman through the process of reasoning by which he arrived at his interpretation so that the layman can follow the argument and see the conclusion for himself. Invoking sacred tradition is no substitute for responsible exegesis.

We don’t teach anything different. All we require are interpretations that don’t contradict received teachings. The Catholic exegete is otherwise as free as an Protestant, and the Church has only definitively interpreted nine passages.

The right of private judgment is the very opposite of individual autonomy—it’s all about accountability. To be sure, this principle can be abused by the willful. But abusing God’s word carries its own inevitable penalty.

Yes it does. And Steve has been doing it over and over in this paper and hundreds of others that he has written.

(k) Theologians like Brunner have contributed to the confusion by pretending that it was inconsistent of Protestants to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the papacy—only to turn around and elevate the Bible to the role of a “paper pope.” This little jingle is very quotable, but it distorts the motives of the Protestant Reformers. Luther and Calvin were concerned with fidelity, not freedom. They were fighting for the freedom to serve God according to his Word. The magisterial Reformation (as opposed to the Radical Reformation) was never an attack on external authority, per se. Rather, it was an issue of submission to a properly constituted authority—God speaking in his word.

It was an essentially / fundamentally inconsistent and self-defeating rule of faith (sola Scriptura) because the Bible itself teaches an authoritative, infallible Church and an apostolic infallible tradition as well as an inspired, infallible Bible: the first two of which sola Scriptura and hence almost all Protestants, reject.

Related to Brunner’s charge is the accusation that conservative Protestants are guilty of “bibliolatry.” This is a clever attempt to put conservatives on the defensive. But it’s a self-defeating allegation. Idolatry is a Biblical category, and therefore presupposes Biblical authority and Scriptural definition. So it is nonsensical to claim that allegiance to Scripture conflicts with Scripture. Bible-believing Christians simply pattern their attitude towards Scripture on the attitude modeled by Christ and his Apostles (Cf. B.B. Warfield, Revelation & Inspiration [Baker 2003], Works, vol. 1.) When, conversely, the liberal denies the absolute authority of Scripture, he is absolutizing his own powers of judgment. As such, he’s guilty of auto-idolatry.

Interesting, but not germane to this discussion, so I’ll pass . . .

(l) Every denomination doesn’t represent a different interpretation of Scripture. And every difference doesn’t represent a disagreement. Many of the different denominations are due to different nationalities. When they all troop over to America it presents quite a spectacle of diversity, but they didn’t all arise due to differences of interpretation.

And as I’ve argued elsewhere, the superficially vast range of doctrinal and denominational diversity is reducible to how you answer four basic questions: (i) Is the Bible the only rule of faith? (ii) Does man have freewill? (iii) How is the OT fulfilled in the NT? (iv) Are the sacraments a means of grace?

There are literally scores of contradictions between denominations, and this means that error necessarily exists somewhere: either one in the case of two contradicting, or both. Falsehood is of the devil, the father of lies. It helps no one. Protestantism institutionalizes it. St. Paul always claimed that he was passing on “the truth”: a unified set of doctrinal teachings. Protestants can’t do that, because if their endless internal contradictions. At best they can only say, “our little sect has all the truth, and those guys don’t.” Then of course the obvious question is “why believe you over against them?

(m) Moreover, these don’t all present a contrast to Catholicism. There are charismatic Catholics. There are Arminian elements in Catholic theology. There are Anglican and Lutheran elements in Catholic theology. There are liberal elements in Catholic theology. So some of these interpretations agree with Catholicism rather than representing schismatic aberrations. Of course, I might view these points of commonality as common errors. But the Roman Church can’t stigmatize them save on pain of self-incrimination.

Required, dogmatic Catholic theology is a unified set of teachings. Charismatic Catholics have been sanctioned by the magisterium, since we believe that all of the gifts and miracles are still operative today (which is the biblical position). It’s people like Steve and his buddy Calvinists who believe in cessation of gifts and miracles: a thing never remotely seen in the New Testament. “Liberal elements” exist among individual dissidents but not in our official theology. This is what Steve can’t grasp and perhaps never will. It’s some sort of intransigent blind spot.

Quantity makes quality possible. Out of the diversity of denominations it is possible to find a number of good churches. Better to have a lot of lifeboats, some of which are seaworthy, and others leaky and listing, than to be trapped aboard a burning and sinking ship.

We’ve discussed the fatal internal difficulties of Protestantism. Steve hasn’t proven that the Catholic ship is sinking. He merely assumes it. As Chesterton observed (paraphrase): “at least five times the faith has gone to the dogs, and in all five cases the dog died.” Steve is one of a long line who seem to feel quite “certain” that the demise of the catholic Church is right around the corner. He’ll die not seeing this happen, just as all the other “prophets” did.

(n) Appeal is sometimes made to Jn 10:16 and 17:20-21. But the unity envisioned here is ethnic and diachronic rather than institutional and synchronic, as the Gentiles are inducted into the covenant community (cf. 10:16a) and the faith is passed on from one generation to the next (17:20).

I wrote way back in 1996 about the meaning and application of John 17 and Jesus’ prayer of unity:

I agree that love is the primary thrust here. But I will not discount the implicit doctrinal oneness, . . . In John 17:22 Jesus prays that the disciples would be “one, as we are one.” And in John 17:23, He desires that they (and us) be “completely one” (NRSV). KJV, NKJV: “perfect in one.” RSV, NEB, REB: “perfectly one.” NIV: “complete unity.” NASB: “perfected in unity.” Now, it is pretty difficult to maintain that this entails no doctrinal agreement (and “perfect” agreement at that). And, reflecting on John 17:22, I don’t think the Father and the Son differ on how one is saved, on the true nature of the Eucharist or the Church, etc. So how can Protestants claim this “perfect” oneness, “as we [the Holy Trinity] are one”? Or even any remote approximation?

(o) The right of private judgment has undoubted generated a great diversity of theological opinion, which is—in turn—reflected in a diversity of denominations. But we’ve always had this. It’s easy to forget about Donatists and Montanists, Novatianists and Waldensians, to name a few pre-Reformation movements, because they were on the losing side of the debate and tended to dissipate over time. So it’s not as if sola scriptura in-traduced a radically destabilizing dynamic into an otherwise cohesive church.

All those groups chose to separate from the Church. And most heresies and schisms appealed to Scripture Alone (just as Protestants) precisely (again, just like Protestants) because they knew quite well that they couldn’t appeal to historical precedent and received tradition (being novelties and innovative teachings). And that’s simply not biblical. They all played games with existing categories and definitions and received beliefs.

Remember, too, that in Reformed theology, all this diversity is a providential diversity. Catholic apologists have traditionally treated the Reformation as if it were a runaway train. But in the plan of God, everything that happens is either good in itself or a means to an ulterior good. There is wheat among the tares. The field exists for the sake of the wheat, not the tares. But in this dispensation you cannot weed out all the tares without uprooting the wheat in the process (cf. Mt 13:24-30). We don’t judge the condition of the field by the presence or even prevalence of the tares. What matters is the state of the wheat.

The problem with this analysis is that the “tares” in the biblical analogy / parable are stray individuals, not entire denominations. I can’t stress it enough: the Bible knows nothing of any legitimate sense of denominationalism. It’s always condemned as factionalism or sectarianism or divisiveness or a force against “the truth / [apostolic] tradition / gospel / word of God.”

(p) Related to (o), critics of the Reformation often appeal to the Vincentian canon as some sort of living ideal which the Reformation violated. This appeal assumes a continuity and commonality of belief throughout the history of the Church, up until the Reformation. But isn’t that an illusion?

No; not for the most part. In the orthodox Catholic Church there was great unity of doctrine.

What was the express creed of your average medieval peasant? Or, for that matter, of the village priest?

That’s ultimately irrelevant. They may or may not have been properly educated, and may or may not have been orthodox and devout. All that matters (in these sorts of discussions) is what the Catholic Church officially taught.

It is natural to form our impression of the Middle Ages from Medieval writers. But that is hardly representative of popular belief. At a time when illiteracy and folk religion were the rule, it isn’t very authentic or meaningful to speak of a core creed shared by the masses. An Athanasius or Aquinas, A Kempis or Dante by no means stands for a popular consensus.

No one is saying that they did. When we refer to unanimous consent, it is referring to the Church fathers, and even this phrase (in Latin) did not mean “absolutely every” but rather, “overwhelming consensus.”

Such an identification leaves the laity entirely out of view, and a large chunk of the lower clergy as well. If anything, it was the Reformation, with its emphasis on Bible literacy, which brought the masses on board. There can be no majority report when the majority is too illiterate and ignorant to exercise explicit faith.

Reports of a very frustrated older Luther (already almost 30 years into his revolt) do not suggest that the “Reformation” was doing all that well in educating the masses, in his own home town:

As things are run in Wittenberg, perhaps the people there will acquire not only the dance of St. Vitus or St. John, but the dance of the beggars or the dance of Beelzebub, since they have started to bare women and maidens in front and back, and there is no one who punishes or objects. In addition the Word of God is being mocked [there]. Away from this Sodom! . . . I am tired of this city and do not wish to return, May God help me with this.

The day after tomorrow I shall drive to Merseburg, for Sovereign George has very urgently asked that I do so. Thus I shall be on the move, and will rather eat the bread of a beggar than torture and upset my poor old [age] and final days with the filth at Wittenberg which destroys my hard and faithful work. . . . I am unable any longer to endure my anger [about] and dislike [of this city].

With this I commend you to God. Amen. (Luther’s Letter to His Wife Katie Regarding the State of Wittenberg: 28 July 1545, in  Luther’s Works, Vol. 50, 273-278)

Catholic Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar (Luther, Vol. 3p. 206) recorded a similar sentiment:

“I confess of myself,” he says in a sermon in 1532, “and doubtless others must admit the same [of themselves], that I lack the diligence and earnestness of which really I ought to have much more than formerly; that I am much more careless than I was under the Papacy; and that now, under the Evangel, there is nowhere the same zeal to be found as before.” This he declares to be due to the devil and to people’s carelessness, but not to his teaching. (Werke, Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 353).

There are many more such statements. And we could look at how early Protestantism persecuted others just as much — if not more — than Catholicism; the 742 Catholic martyrs of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, Luther‘s and Calvin‘s advocacy of the death penalty for Anabaptists, the outright theft of thousands of Catholic churches, its hostility towards art, and its iconoclasm, antipathy towards higher education, and towards science, etc., etc. ad nauseam.


Photo credit: TheDigitalArtist (8-2-15) [PixabayPixabay License]


May 13, 2020

This came about in a related discussion concerning the Judaizers — in the combox of a post about whether Francis Beckwith, prominent Catholic convert, is saved. Anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Jason Engwer’s words will be in blue.

* * * * *

We believe in sola gratia as you do, but reject sola fide as an unbiblical innovation. The fact remains that works are profoundly involved in the salvation (ultimately by grace) in some sense:

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages) [8-6-08]

Catholic Bible Verses on Sanctification and Merit [12-20-07]

They are even central to the criteria of how God will decide who is saved and who isn’t, as I have proven from no less than 50 Bible passages:

Final Judgment in Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages [2-10-08]

We interpret all this in a non-Pelagian fashion. We incorporate all of Scripture, not just our favorite pet verses. You guys simply ignore this data or act as if it is only in the realm of sanctification and has nothing whatever to do with salvation, which is absurdly simplistic and unrealistic in the face of the overwhelming data showing otherwise.

Paul’s focus in Galatians is on the means by which justification is attained (Galatians 3:2), not whether justification is attributed to grace. The idea that one can seek justification through a combination between faith and works, as long as the process is attributed to grace, is a contradiction of what Paul taught. If works are absent from Genesis 15:6, Acts 10:44-46, Galatians 3:2, and other relevant passages, then saying that the works are preceded by and accompanied by grace doesn’t make sense. There are no works for grace to accompany in such passages. To make this a matter of whether the works are attributed to grace is to get the gospel fundamentally wrong. There’s no need to discuss whether non-existent works are works of grace or graceless works. The gospel shuts us up to faith, not to a combination between faith and gracious works (Galatians 3:21-25).

Then why are works always central in every discussion of the final judgment that I could find in Scripture (50 passages: linked to above)?

The final judgment involves more than the means by which the justified attained that justification. It also involves the means by which the unregenerate are condemned, the vindication of the justified, and the non-justificatory rewarding of those individuals. I wouldn’t expect the final judgment to not involve works. In the post you’re responding to, I cited some examples of passages that are about how we attain justification. They don’t just exclude graceless works. They exclude works of any type. Many other such passages could be cited, as I discuss here and here.

Why is this the case if God is supposedly wanting to completely separate any notion of works or acts from salvation itself?

We wouldn’t have to know why works are excluded in order to know that they’re excluded. But it’s a good question, and I addressed it in a post last year.

I agree with what C. S. Lewis said: asking one to choose between faith and works is as senseless as saying which blade of a pair of scissors is more important.

It’s an organic relationship. Actually, Catholics and Protestants, rightly understood, are not far apart on this in the final analysis. It’s mostly mutual misunderstandings and unfortunate semantic confusion.

I wouldn’t expect the final judgment to not involve works.

Good. That’s part of the common ground I alluded to.

But then my question would be: why is the aspect of faith (let alone faith alone so glaringly absent in these 50 accounts of judgment (I think only one mentioned it at all, in my list), if in fact it is the central, fundamental consideration, according to Protestantism?

It’s just not plausible. The Bible doesn’t at all read as it should, were Protestant soteriology true, and Catholic soteriology false. I contend that it would read much differently indeed. As it is, it appears to overwhelmingly favor the Catholic positions.

Central to what? All that the judgment involves? No. The unjustified are condemned for their sins, so works are relevant to their judgment. And the justified are reconciled to God through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) for good works (Ephesians 2:10). The works evidence the faith (vindication), and the works determine non-justificatory rewards. Mentioning works is an effective way of summarizing the judgment, since it brings together so many of the relevant themes. Even when a passage only mentions works with regard to the judgment, we have to keep the nearby context in mind. The original authors (or speakers) didn’t expect their audience to take their comments in isolation, ignoring the context. Those who hear Jesus speak of works in Matthew 25:31-46 know that He was carrying out a ministry in which He forgave, pronounced peace, and healed people upon their coming to faith (see here). Those who heard Jesus speak of works in John 5:29 would also have known that He spoke of reconciliation through faith and avoidance of condemnation as a result of that faith in John 5:24. Those who believe are assured of the future resurrection of life (John 11:25-26). When Paul says that men will be judged by his gospel (Romans 2:16), he doesn’t expect his audience to ignore everything he said about justification through faith and think only of works. Works are relevant, for reasons explained in my last paragraph, but nobody reading Paul in context would think that summarizing statements that only mention works are meant to exclude what Paul said about faith. To ignore the role of faith in his gospel would cause a major distortion of his message. Paul speaks of deliverance from future wrath through Jesus’ blood (Romans 5:9) after having said that the deliverance through that blood was received through faith (Romans 5:1). Etc. And I point out, again, that citing passages on the final judgment doesn’t explain the line of evidence I mentioned earlier. As we see over and over again in Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s, people are justified through faith alone, as illustrated in the paradigm case of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. There is no issue of whether the works involved are works of grace or graceless works, since works of both types are absent.

Thanks very much for your reply, and especially for sticking directly to the issues. I think you have answered well from within your own paradigm, and it is interesting to learn how you answer the question I asked. I truly do appreciate it.

I disagree, of course, but as I said, I didn’t come here to debate. Let me conclude, if I may, by briefly clarifying that the Catholic position is not saying to ignore faith or grace (the content of your entire long second paragraph). Our position is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, which is not alone, and includes works by its very nature.

So all your warnings about “ignoring” faith are non sequiturs, as far as Catholicism is concerned, and a rather large straw man, if you are intending to target Catholic soteriology there.

The point of my paper and question about it is not to stake out some “works alone” position (which would, of course, be a Pelagianism that Catholics totally reject as heresy), but to note that it is rather striking that only works are mentioned in the judgment passages, and never faith alone (and faith at all only once out of 50).

I realize that the Catholic view involves grace and faith as well, which is why I previously referred to faith rather than “a combination between faith and gracious works” in reference to Galatians 3:21-25, for example. The second paragraph in the post you’re responding to was meant to be an explanation of the intention of the Biblical authors, not a response to Catholicism.

In another paper I mentioned here I cite 50 passages from Paul that exhibit the threefold scenario of grace-faith-works.

We also get accused of believing in “sola ecclesia” when in fact our position on authority is the “three-legged stool” of Scripture-Tradition-Church. It’s simply Protestant either/or thinking applied to us.

Thanks again, and I will record your complete reply in a post I’ll make on the topic. You or anyone else is always welcome to comment on my site about anything.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

* * *

I don’t see how some of the passages I mentioned in my last post, such as John 11:25-26 and Romans 5:1-9, can be exempted from an examination of judgment passages. When people are assured of a future in Heaven, the resurrection of life, the avoidance of God’s wrath in the future, etc. on the basis of faith, why wouldn’t such passages be relevant to the subject you’re addressing?

They are thematically related insofar as they are also soteriological, but my 50 passages had specifically to do with final judgment, God’s wrath, and eschatological salvation.

That came about because I was asked in debate with Matt Slick (the big cheese at CARM) what I would say if I got to heaven and God asked me why I should be let in. I replied that we had biblical data as to what God would actually say at such a time, and it was all about works, not faith alone at all. And I found that quite striking (after studying it in greater depth), though it never surprises me to find profound biblical support for Catholicism. I always do whenever I study the Bible.

Romans 5:9 does mention God’s wrath, but it is a generalized, proverbial-like statement (such as often found in, e.g., 1 John), rather than particularistic and eschatological, which is what I was talking about in my paper.

John 11:25-26 is of the same nature, and moreover, if we look at it closely, we see that the Greek for “believe” is pistuo, which is considered the counterpart of “does not obey” (apitheo) in John 3:36. 1 Peter 2:7 also opposes the two same Greek words. In other words, “believe” in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works). Hence, “little Kittel” observes:

pisteuo as “to obey.” Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 Th. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor. 9:13. (p. 854)

Jesus joins faith (“belief” / pistuo) and works together, too, when He states:

John 14:12 (RSV) Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not), it is still the case that the “belief” mentioned in them is (through cross-referencing) seen to include obeying and works, and we’re back to the Catholic organic relationship between the two, rather than the Protestant ultra-abstraction of the two into the justification and sanctification categories.

“Faith alone” is tough to verify from Scripture once everything is taken into account and not just the garden-variety Protestant passages that are always utilized.

* * *

In other words, ‘believe’ in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works).

I agree that faith is obedience, but it can be obedience without being work in any relevant sense. That’s why we’re told that people can believe without working (Romans 4:5-6), that justifying belief occurs in the heart (Acts 15:7-11, Romans 10:10), that works demonstrate faith (James 2:14-26), etc. Different terms are used to refer to faith and works, because they’re different concepts. They can have obedience in common without having some other things in common.

A reference to faith can’t be assumed to include outward action, much less a specific outward action like baptism. That’s why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.). The fact that faith is obedience wouldn’t lead us to the conclusion that other forms of obedience can be included in references to faith.

The term “faith” and its synonyms aren’t all that are relevant here. When we read of a paralytic being lowered into a house, a man visiting a Jewish temple, a crucified man, or a man listening to the gospel being preached, we don’t define what that person is doing solely by a term like “faith”. Rather, we also take into account the evidence provided by the surrounding context. It would make no sense to conclude that a paralyzed man being lowered into a house or a man visiting a Jewish temple was being baptized simultaneously or that a man nailed to a cross or a man listening to Peter preach the gospel was giving money to the poor at the same time. We judge how these individuals were justified partially through the surrounding context, not just a reference to faith or some related term. Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren’t involved.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not)

How can a passage about resurrection life and never dying (John 11:25-26) not be directly relevant? Passages of a similar nature use other phrases that are likewise relevant to future judgment and salvation, such as “on the last day” in John 6:40. Your article includes John 5:26-29, so I don’t see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Similarly, Romans 5:1-9 repeatedly brings up themes of hope for the future and deliverance from future wrath.

And I want to remind the readers of something I said earlier. The coming judgment is primarily a judgment of works even from the perspective of justification through faith alone. The unregenerate are condemned by their works, and the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn’t tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification. The dispute isn’t about whether works are relevant to the judgment, but rather the type of relevance they have.

Thanks for the continuing excellent discussion. Just one point:

the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), [be] vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn’t tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification.

This is classic Protestantism, of course: works are relegated to post-justification status, as part of a separate sanctification and the realm of differential rewards of those already saved. I used to believe the exact same thing, so I’m very familiar with it.

The problem is that Scripture doesn’t teach such a view. The disproofs are already in my paper, in many passages that directly connect or associate salvation with the works that one does: therefore, works are not unrelated to either justification or eschatological salvation, as you claim they are:

Matthew 25:34-36 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; 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, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The “for” shows the causal relationship: “you are saved because you did all these works.” That’s what the text actually asserts, before false Protestant presuppositions and eisegesis are applied to it in the effort to make sure works never have to do directly with salvation (no matter how much faith and grace is there with them, so that we’re not talking about Pelagianism).

If Protestantism were true, the Bible should have had a passage something like this (RPV):

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for you did not believe in Me with Faith Alone.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous who believed with Faith Alone into eternal life.

But alas, it doesn’t read like that, does it?

John 5:28-29 . . . the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

A direct correlation: the ones who do good works are saved; the ones who do evil are damned.

Romans 2:6-8, 13 For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. . . . For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Again, works are directly tied to eternal life and justification; they are not portrayed as merely acts of gratefulness that will lead to differential rewards for the saved; no, the differential reward is either salvation or damnation. Paul totally agrees with Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Note that simply believing the gospel and knowing God is not enough for salvation. One has to also “obey the gospel” (and that involves works).

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If we don’t do the works, we can lose our salvation; therefore works have to do with salvation; they are not separated from that by abstracting them into a separate category of sanctification, that is always distinguished from justification. That ain’t biblical teaching. That is the eisegesis and false premises of Melanchthon and Calvin and Zwingli.

Revelation 20:11-13 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. 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.

Same thing again. Obviously, St. John, St. Paul, and our Lord Jesus need to attend a good Calvinist or evangelical seminary and get up to speed on their soteriology. They don’t get it. The passage should have been written something like the following:

. . . and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to whether they had Faith Alone. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to whether they had Faith Alone.

Perhaps we should get together a council and rewrite the Bible so that it doesn’t have so many “Romish” errors throughout its pages . . . :-) The King James White version or sumpin’ . . . :-)

* * *

Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren’t involved.

I can easily flip that around, based on the biblical data I have been highlighting:

“Part of the problem with the Protestant gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention works without mentioning faith (and especially not faith alone), but also the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that faith alone isn’t involved.”

Since the Catholic believes in the triumvirate of GRACE—>faith—>works as the criteria for salvation, passages dealing with faith pose no problem. The more the merrier. We are saying that faith alone is the unbiblical doctrine, not faith. We’re not against faith at all, but rather, a false definition of faith, that restricts and confines it in a way that the Bible doesn’t do.

But since your position is faith alone (in terms of salvation itself), you have to explain away or rationalize all passages suggesting an important place of works in the equation, in a way that we’re not required to do (given our position) with all the passages about faith that you produce.

So you claimed, for example, that “The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn’t tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification.” I have now produced six, plain, clear passages that do do just that. And that has to be explained from your paradigm.

I’m sure you will attempt some sort of explanation for your own sake (if even just in your own mind), because if you fail to do so, you would be forced to give up Protestant soteriology. The stakes are high.

But in any event, bringing out ten, twenty, fifty passages that mention faith does nothing against our position, because we don’t reject faith as part of the whole thing.

The problem for your side remains: how to interpret the centrality of works in the judgment / salvation passages like the six I dealt with in my last two postings, in a way that preserves the “faith alone” doctrine.

I contend that it is impossible. To do so does violence to the Bible and what it teaches. We must base our teaching squarely on biblical theology and not the arbitrary, self-contradictory traditions of men (folks like Calvin), who eisegete Holy Scripture and substitute for biblical thought, their own traditions.

Sometimes it’s easy to confuse those traditions with biblical teaching itself. But by examining Holy Scripture more deeply and over time, I think anyone can eventually see that it supports the Catholic positions every time.

That’s why we continue to see folks who study the issues deeply moving from Protestantism to Catholicism (such as Francis Beckwith: the original subject of this post).

our article includes John 5:26-29, so I don’t see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Fair point. I love discussions of context. Protestants too often ignore context, but you don’t, and I respect that and commend you for it. I have explained my criterion for inclusion in my article on final judgment and works: it depends on how exactly one decides to categorize; how one determines which is a directly eschatological passage or one having to do with judgment. Reasonable folks can differ on that, as there is a subjective element. Not every systematic theologian cuts off the passages they employ at the same exact point.

But as I have been saying, a consideration also of the larger context of John 5 does nothing to harm the Catholic case. You wrote:

many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, . . . the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren’t involved.

Using John 5 as an example (since you brought it up), we see that this doesn’t apply. You say 5:21-22 mentions resurrection and judgment. Fine; indeed it does But what it doesn’t do is give the criteria for these judgments and who is resurrected. That has to come by reading on (further context). You want to highlight 5:24:

. . . he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

I have explained that this is a generalized statement: one could perhaps paraphrase it as “Christian believers have eternal life” or (to bring it down to a Sunday School nursery level): “all good Christians go to heaven.”

It doesn’t follow from a general statement like this that no Christian can ever fall away (though Calvinism requires this, over against many biblical passages to the contrary), or that works have nothing to do with it. We need to look at the deeper meaning of “believe” (as I have already done).

As we read on (the same discourse from Jesus) we get to 5:29:

. . . those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

Now, you want to highlight 5:24 and de-emphasize 5:29. I can gladly consider both of them in the entire equation. It’s once again the Catholic (Hebraic) “both/and” vs. the Protestant (and more Greek) “either/or”. Scripture is asserting two truths:

5:24 “he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life”

5:29 “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,”

Faith and works. For us, the two passages are entirely compatible and in harmony with our Catholic theology: one is saved by grace through faith, in believing in Jesus, and this belief entails and inherently includes good works.

But you guys can’t do that, because you wrongly conclude that any presence of good works in the equation of both justification and salvation itself is somehow “anti-faith” or antithetical to grace alone; and is Pelagianism. This doesn’t follow.

But because you believe this (the false, unbiblical premise), you have to explain 5:29 as merely differential rewards for the saved (who are saved by faith alone); whereas the actual text does not teach that. It teaches a direct correlation between good works and eternal life. It explains 5:24 in greater depth; just as I noted earlier that Jesus Himself places works and faith in direct relationship:

John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do . . .

That’s why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.).

Ah, but baptism (odd that you should bring up that example) is also equated with regeneration and entrance into the kingdom, so this is hardly an example amenable overall to your position:

Acts 2:38, 41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” . . . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The order is not:

1) faith
2) forgiveness
3) indwelling Holy Spirit
4) baptism

but rather,

1) faith
2) baptism
3) forgiveness (directly because of baptism)
4) indwelling Holy Spirit (directly because of baptism)

Because of the baptism, souls were added to the kingdom. They weren’t already in the kingdom, and then decided to be baptized out of obedience. Therefore, the work of baptism directly ties into both justification and final salvation.

Galatians 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians 2:12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Faith and baptism are virtually equivalent in their importance. One is “in” Jesus both through faith and through baptism. Both/and.

Baptism is not a separate, optional work. It is part and parcel of the process. Insofar as it, too, is regarded as a “work” then here we have again the Catholic grace-faith-works (and efficacious sacraments) paradigm.

* * *

Jason gave further answers in a three-part reply (one / two / three). I then wrote in conclusion:

Hi Jason,

We could go round and round on this forever, and keep trying to poke holes in each other’s arguments. Again, I think you have answered very well from within your paradigm. You can have the last word.

Thanks for sticking entirely to theology and avoiding any hint of personal attack. How refreshing, and a model to be emulated.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and all here.


(originally posted on 12-6-09)

Photo credit: Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (1889), by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


May 11, 2020

James White’s words will be in green; words of the president Rick Walston, of the school where White obtained his degree (Columbia Evangelical Seminary) will be in blue.


It’s pretty ridiculous for a man to go around for years calling himself “Dr.” when he hasn’t remotely fulfilled the requirements necessary to attain to that honorable title, and received his “doctorate” from a non-accredited storefront diploma mill after sending in 39 box tops from Cheerios boxes . . . But Mr. White and his minions of defenders wanted to keep the discussion going. They’re firin’ blanks all around. E for effort, if for nothing else.

And this is the guy who is the #1 anti-Catholic online: the most known; the most influential; the most looked-up to; the one everyone mentions. And don’t even start telling me this is ad hominem. It’s not. It’s a question of accuracy in labeling and honesty. It’s a perfectly legitimate thing to criticize, since he calls himself “Dr.” without having done what is necessary to gain that title.

He does have a perfectly acceptable Masters degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. That is admirable and quite enough, without having to lie about being a “Dr.” But not enough for Mr. White . . .

Sometimes the utter foolishness of some folks who pretend to know what they’re talking about is exhausting. Makes me wonder if he even knows what a diploma mill is.

If Columbia Evangelical Seminary is a diploma mill, then it is the only diploma mill that (1) is listed in the Top 10 Graduate Programs in Christian Apologetics by, (2) holds Affiliate Status with the recognized accreditor, the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), (3) has had its degrees accepted in transfer from various accredited schools, including Bakke Graduate University; Erskine Theological Seminary; Liberty University; Luther Rice University; Southern Evangelical Seminary; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; North-West University of South Africa, and more, (4) has degree approval from the Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization for its Doctor of Theological Studies degree, (5) is endorsed by Dr. John Bear: author and Distance Learning and Expert, and Diploma Mill Consultant to the FBI, 1979-1992, (6) has qualified for religious exempt status from the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board for more than two decades, and (7) has a faculty with the vast majority holding doctoral degrees from accredited schools.

If someone wants to debate Dr. White on the issues, that would be fine, but most can’t do that so they resort to this sort of diatribe.

That’s all fine and good, Rick, and I’m not denying that your seminary has any value at all (I’m sure it does a lot of good), but it doesn’t change the fact that Columbia is unaccredited. You expend reams and reams of energy rationalizing why this is not the case:

Nor does this change the fact that what “Dr.” White did in order to gain a “doctorate” is not in any way, shape, or form, adequate. He admits himself that he did a study on the Trinity for the sake of laypeople, not scholars. In and of itself, that is fine and commendable (as I stated in a previous paper n this topic): more power to him; I’ve done the same, myself; but it ain’t “doctoral research”. Does White now claim to be the world’s biggest expert on the Holy Trinity?

As for debating White, I did so in writing scores of times from 1995 to 2007. He ran every time after the first round, or descended into personal attack, so that I quickly lost interest in sustaining a mudfight.

As for resorting to “this sort of diatribe,” White and his followers consistently defend his actions here. Those of us who are critics have dealt with the particulars involved, at great length. Like I said, I have six papers about it on my site. It’s a legitimate issue. I have no problem with anything he learned; all I object to is his calling himself “Dr.”

“Diploma mill” was tongue-in-cheek, as indicated by my sarcasm about the box tops. If you think that is harsh, you ought to see the hundreds of pages of rank insults that White has sent my way through the years. They make my critiques look like high praise and adoration.

Mr. White states:

I was able to design a program around my writing projects, making classes out of entire books. . . . I gladly encourage anyone who questions the value and worth of the work I’ve done with Columbia to do something rather simple: read the following works [he lists eight of his own books] and ask yourself whether they demonstrate sufficient mastery of the subject matter—a mastery equivalent to that which is expected of a scholar on the doctoral level.

I’d love to hear from some folks on my friends’ list who have real doctorates? What do you think of this?

White “reasons”:

1) I’ve written a bunch of books.

2) They show that I’ve learned a bunch of theological stuff. Go read ’em. You’ll see! I do lots of debates, too! I’m a big shot!

3) They’re self-evidently on a level of mastery expected of a guy with a doctorate.

4) Therefore, I can call myself a “Dr.” by means of my self-designed curriculum and study on the Trinity for the common folks rather than the scholars. I got my diploma from an unaccredited institution, but no matter (read #1-3 again to see why it doesn’t matter; repeat them over and over until you’re convinced).

White continues, in self-justification:

So far, then, my own program, combining an ‘accredited’ M.A. and a non-accredited Th.M., has amounted to more than four times the number of credit hours Mr. Novak has indicated. But there’s more. My doctoral program included the writing of six nationally published books. Most doctoral programs require papers and a dissertation. Four of those six books would, taken individually, be substantially longer than many standard dissertations. And while they are written at a popular level so as to communicate with their audience (major publishers do not publish books written so that only a few people could possibly read them), anyone who takes the time to examine the endnotes and the sources used . . . can see that they required extensive study and research. They do, in fact, demonstrate an ability to do first-level research in my chosen field: apologetics.

Wow! Okay, so if the criteria for a doctorate is writing “nationally published books . . . written at a popular level so as to communicate with their audience,” lessee, I have eight of those (will be nine this fall), plus also ten books published by Logos Bible Software: the leading electronic Christian publishing resource, for a total of 19 “nationally published books.” Therefore, by White’s reasoning, I am three times as qualified as he is, to receive a “doctorate.”

Even if we don’t count my Logos books, I have nine to his six (as of that writing), with several of the leading Catholic publishers (Sophia, OSV, Catholic Answers). I do popular apologetics. Lots of folks say I have helped them understand the Christian faith. Therefore, I am “Dr. Armstrong”? I don’t think so . . . Popular apologetics is great (I couldn’t agree with Mr. White more; apart from his anti-Catholicism); but it’s not the equivalent of earning a doctorate degree.

More from “Dr.” [???] White:

Anyone who has read the web pages written about me by KJV Only advocates knows what I mean when I say that my work has been reviewed by those tremendously hostile to me and my position.

The same is true of many of the books written as part of my doctoral work: The Roman Catholic Controversy has been cited in numerous works since its publication, . . . and can anyone seriously think that a work like Mary—-Another Redeemer? will not be held up to serious scrutiny as well? . . . And, of course, since the published versions of my work are sent to a wide variety of scholars and writers for their review and endorsement, one might well point out that there is more review throughout the process I underwent than there would be in a normal university situation.

Lots of hostile reviews from many folks, proving that White earned a doctorate. Huh??!! I guess he feels he can just mold the definition of “doctorate” any way he likes: so that everything he does somehow qualifies him.

Dave, thank you for your thoughtful response. First, I do not rationalize why CES is not accredited. I have attempted to explain the accreditation issue. We think that accreditation is a good thing. However, we have chosen not to pursue it due to the flexibility that we offer in our programs and in an effort to keep our tuition costs as low as possible to benefit those who cannot afford the traditional route. Next, you might be unaware of this, but all accredited schools were at one time unaccredited. No school starts out as an accredited school. So, the mere lack of accreditation does not make a school a diploma mill or substandard. Although, I readily agree with you that there are substandard, unaccredited schools out there. Finally, I understand that you (1) thoroughly disagree with James on various theological issues, and (2) you do not like him. However, attacking CES is a lame and misguided attempt to discredit him. Why not just stick with the issues of your theological differences. At least, then your arguments would carry academic weight and not be subject to the fallacies of ad hominem, straw man, and red herrings.

Whether I disagree with him on theology or like him is perfectly irrelevant. I would argue exactly the same way with a Catholic that I liked personally. It’s a question of accurate labeling. Read my other comments. You’re not interacting with any of the arguments we are making. I myself would more than qualify for a “doctorate” by White’s own criteria.

Dave, I’m not following this comment: “Rick Walston claimed otherwise, regarding Liberty.” What did I claim otherwise?

You wrote: “has had its degrees accepted in transfer from various accredited schools, including . . . Liberty University”

Jason Morris wrote above: “Liberty University doesn’t accept their degrees, they are considered a degree mill. If you have one of their UG degrees and try to gain acceptance into Liberty Universities seminary you will be rejected and be required to get an accredited BS degree.”

Then any person who ever graduated with a doctoral degree from a school that was not presently accredited (1,000s from Bob Jones U for example) are not doctors. This is a position with which all the U.S. Department of Education (and all of the educational arms of all 50 U.S. States disagree). Nonetheless, anyone can reject another person’s degree if he so chooses.

How is what he did different from what I’ve done? All I have to do is find some school anywhere to put a seal on my writing efforts and I am a Doctor? I can design my own curriculum, write my own books as I please (on the popular level, just like him), get them reviewed and panned by lots of folks (he said this, not I), and I get the doctorate? White writes about his “dissertation”:

The only meaningful criticism that could possibly be raised against my dissertation is this: it is not ‘focused’ enough. That is, conventional wisdom is that your dissertation topic must be very narrow, very focused, and the resultant work must be extremely in-depth, showing an ability to do original research. Such is the standard dissertation. And while there is more than sufficient scholarship in my dissertation as far as original languages, or in-depth discussion is concerned, I gladly and openly confess that it is not your every-day dissertation. The ‘Trinity’ is FAR too wide a topic to qualify in most doctoral programs. Of that we can all be sure.

Dave, you wrote above: “‘Diploma mill’ was tongue-in-cheek, as indicated by my sarcasm about the box tops.” Thank you.

You’re welcome, Rick. As the “box tops” comment was clearly humorous, and not literal, it’s not a big stretch to interpret the other in the same fashion. But still, many use “diploma mill” as a synonym for “unaccredited.”

Dave, you stated: “But still, many use ‘diploma mill’ as a synonym for ‘unaccredited.'” — I’m unaware of people using “diploma mill” as a synonym for “unaccredited.” I co-authored a book with the distance learning guru Dr. John Bear, Distance Learning Expert and Diploma Mill Consultant to the FBI on matters regarding diploma mills, and he—and the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Education, do not use “diploma mill” as a synonym for “unaccredited.” To do so is simply pejorative and overstated.

That’s fine. I’m more interested here in the ideas than in words. So you think White can write his book on the Trinity, on a popular level (I just wrote a book on the topic, myself, called Theology of God) and call that a doctoral dissertation, and therefore, himself a “Doctor”? A yes or no answer will suffice, though I’d love to hear more explanation of it.

“more interested here in the ideas than in words”? How does one express ideas without words? Next, to answer your question would be to accept your framing of the issue, which is a vast minimalization of what transpired.


US Dept. of Education, “Diploma Mills and Accreditation – Diploma Mills”:

What is a diploma mill?

The Higher Education Opportunity Act defines a diploma mill as follows:

DIPLOMA MILL- The term `diploma mill’ means an entity that–

(A)(i) offers, for a fee, degrees, diplomas, or certificates, that may be used to represent to the general public that the individual possessing such a degree, diploma, or certificate has completed a program of postsecondary education or training; and (ii) requires such individual to complete little or no education or coursework to obtain such degree, diploma, or certificate; and

(B) lacks accreditation by an accrediting agency or association that is recognized as an accrediting agency or association of institutions of higher education (as such term is defined in section 102) by–

(i) the Secretary pursuant to subpart 2 of part H of title IV; or (ii) a Federal agency, State government, or other organization or association that recognizes accrediting agencies or associations.

The dictionary defines a diploma mill as:

An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless. – Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

Diploma mills are schools that are more interested in taking your money than providing you with a quality education. You need to know how to protect yourself as a consumer.

Important: The Better Business Bureau suggests you watch for the following features and regard them as red flags when considering whether or not to enroll in a school:

Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution, an example would be earning a Bachelor’s degree in a few months.

See also: “Diploma Mills: 9 Strategies for Tackling One of Higher Education’s Most Wicked Problems” (Hanna Park, World Education News + Reviews, 12-12-17)

You can sidestep legitimate questions if you wish, Rick. The fact remains that by White’s own lengthy description and justification of his doctorate, I myself would also have one on the same basis.

Yes, there are also accreditation mills that one must be aware of. They do a vast business and many schools become “accredited” by these bogus organizations. My friends, John Bear and Allen Ezell have written on this very topic.

Dave, I like you . . . we’ve had a fairly pleasant discussion. I can only assure you that I’m not sidestepping your questions. I just know enough about logic not to get sucked into false dichotomies and framed questions.

I appreciate your friendliness, too. I think reasonable people can disagree on these matters. I don’t have to totally run down your school in order to argue about what “doctorate” means. I wrote in my second paper on this topic:

(let it be plainly known what the nature of my argument is), I am not even opposed to some schools doing what they do without being accredited, if they perform a valuable teaching service. All I am opposing is the false advertising of claiming that they grant doctorate degrees and that these degrees are the same in essence as those from the accredited institutions.

I’m basically self-taught in theology, myself. Obviously I have no objection to that. But I don’t run around calling myself a “Dr.” I call myself simply a “lay apologist” or “popular apologist” (i.e., popular-level, not “popular” as in “fame”).

Can you at least define “doctorate” for me, Rick? Is that a “framed question” or a “false dichotomy” too, to want to see what your definition is?

Re: your post with the photos: I always have to laugh when I see the Mormon fella’s photos “of CES.” Talking about framing the issues. A Mormon guy who lied about what his intentions were stopped by our office for about 20 minutes and took some unflattering photos and then proceeded to post them on the internet and “commentate” on those photos. One can do the same with nearly any location. It’s not the photos but the commentary of the photos that framed his biased position, and many others then bought into his commentary without so much as contacting CES for a response. One photo was of an office door with a hand scribbled note that said something to the effect that there was no money inside the office. Now, the guy asked me what the note was about and I told him that the night before, our office had been broken into, and our regular, nice door with the name of the school and so on had been smashed, and we had a carpenter just toss up another door while we did our repairs. Our office was in a larger office complex, and several other businesses were also burglarized and their doors broken down as well. The local police who responded to the burglaries told all of the businesses in that complex that they thought they knew who the culprit was and that he nearly always hit the same locations within 48 hours. They told all of us to put notes on the door stating that there was no money inside to dissuade him from breaking down our doors again. So, in haste, I hand-wrote the note and taped it to the door, and the next morning when the Mormon guy showed up, he took a photo of the note on the door. He asked me about the note and I explained it all to him. Now, even though there were other businesses in the same complex (down the same hallway!) with the same note on their doors, he did not take any photos of their doors with their notes. And, although he was informed of why the note was there and what had happened, he just took a photo of our door (which was only one of four of our office doors by the way), and posted it on the Internet with his unflattering commentary. And, then, people who don’t like James White reposted and reposted those photos and the biased commentary. Besides all of this, we’ve not even occupied that office space for more than a decade. This only goes to show the flimsy “evidence” that people attempt to use to discredit James White, rather than dealing with the issues of the differences in their theology.

Thanks for the account of the Mormon guy. Bias is almost universal. I’m not surprised by that at all. I was just having fun with the photos. White has commissioned two professional caricatures of me, with lies in the humor in them.

So, no definition of “doctorate”? That’s a loaded question? :-)

Actually, I was just about to look up what I wrote on the topic in my book on Distance Learning and maybe be able to simply cut and paste it in.

Alright; thanks.

With such a question in such a setting while we’ve been talking about these issues, it’s tempting to try to cross every t and dot every i, but let me just give you this description (not definition) that comes from my book on distance learning:

The Doctorate

The term Doctor has been a title of respect for a learned
person since biblical times. Luke tells us, “After three days they
found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both
hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46—KJV).
Nowadays the academic title of Doctor (as distinguished from
the professional and honorary titles, to be discussed in Chapter 11)
has come to be awarded for the completion of an advanced course
of study, culminating in a piece of original research in one’s field.
This is known as the doctoral dissertation. (Sometimes, especially
in Europe, the original research is referred to as a doctoral thesis.)
Many distance learning Doctoral programs waive the
necessity for on-campus study based on the assumption that the
mature candidate already knows a great deal about his or her field.
Some DL doctoral programs permit the use of work already done
(e.g., books, professional seminars, professional journal articles,
etc.) as full or partial satisfaction of credits and/or class

The most frequently awarded research (sometimes called
academic) Doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), known
as the D.Phil. in many other countries. The Doctor of Philosophy
need have nothing to do with the study of philosophy. It is
awarded for studies in hundreds of fields, ranging from art to

Hundreds of Doctorate titles have been identified. In ministry
and theology, after the Ph.D., some of the most common
Doctoral degrees include the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), Doctor
of Religious Education (D.R.E.), Doctor of Sacred Theology
(S.T.D.), and the Doctor of Theology (Th.D.). (For information
about professional degrees, like the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.),
Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), Juris
Doctor (J.D.) and honorary Doctoral titles, see Chapter 11.)

“culminating in a piece of original research in one’s field.”

White’s treatise on the Trinity is not that. Or are we to regard six of his books, collectively, as constituting his “doctorate”? I’ve seen lots of his work. His definitions are so shoddy that many are literally self-defeating. For example (one of many), his absolute dichotomizing of “sacraments” and “grace” would take Luther, Augustine, even Calvin out of the Christian faith. He doesn’t properly understand Catholicism (almost needless to say).

If his tomes against Catholicism are part of his “doctoral research,” and his ruminations on the Trinity (real specific topic there!) “original research,” good heavens, it has to be one of the weakest dissertations ever written, wholly apart from the accreditation issue.

If we grant that accreditation is not necessary for a doctorate (which I don’t), it’s still legitimate — setting that aside for the moment — to wonder what specific requirements there are, and to wonder aloud how White’s writing of popular apologetics books (as I do myself) constitutes same. Again, I’m repeating his own rationales, that I cited above, straight from him.

I’m also on record, many many times, in stating that I believe White does a lot of good and helpful work, too (something he never says about me to the slightest degree). For example, his work against Islam, against higher critics like Ehrman, against KJV Only and the heresies and cults.

Lots of good stuff. I have no problem acknowledging that, even though he thinks I am a complete idiot / ignoramus / imbecile.

Well, as Abe (or someone) said: You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Dave, it’s been rather enjoyable communicating with you today. No, that’s not sarcasm; I’m serious. Blessings, Ric.

I enjoyed it, too, Rick. God bless you.

Just call me “Dr. Armstrong”! Except for Greek and a few other technical things he’s learned, I can match him almost topic-for-topic and book-for-book.

I’d grant White an ID: Doctor of Insults. He is indeed one of the world’s greatest experts on that, and has royally earned *that* degree. Credit where it is due . . .

I am also happy to grant White the title of “Bishop” since he classified himself as one in a letter to me (in his Baptist ecclesiology, elder = bishop). So his proper title is: Bishop “Dr.” [?] James White, ID.

I have no problem with Bishop White learning and sharing what he has learned with others. I do have a problem with calling what he did a “doctorate.” I had a pleasant discussion with Rick Walston, but he didn’t explain to me why what White did is different from what I have done myself, or how and why it can be called “doctoral research” leading to a “doctorate.” I am almost completely self-taught in theology and apologetics. I’m not out to achieve fame or prestige. I make very little money and am regularly attacked and lied about, online, with thousands of people reading. Nor is this merely “personal” against James White. He is infinitely — exponentially — more vitriolic against me than I have ever been regarding him.

One must understand the nature of my argument. I’m the last thing from some sort of elitist. I’m sitting here as a professional apologist (11 years and running) with no theological degree (I have a BA in sociology, cum laude). That ain’t my problem with White and this whole issue. I’m all for long distance learning and learning on one’s own, and popular books sharing that for the sake of the kingdom — not necessarily connected to any institution.

I ain’t out there calling myself “Dr.” though, am I? It has an established meaning, and I have seen nothing as of yet to change my mind as to that fact, or related to White’s calling himself a “Dr.” based on what he did (based on his own report).


Related Reading

James White’s Bogus “Doctorate” Degree (vs. Mark Bainter) [9-16-04]

James White’s Bogus “Doctorate” Degree , Part II (vs. Jamin Hubner) [6-29-10]

James White Bogus “Doctorate” Issue Redux: Has No One Ever Interacted With His Self-Defense? / White Takes His Lumps from Baptist Peter Lumpkins [2-20-11]

Doktor James White on Fudging His Teaching Assignments (by Baptist Peter Lumpkins; see also my Facebook link and further comments and documentation in that combox) [3-23-11]


(originally posted on Facebook on 4-5-13)

Photo credit: Linnaea Mallette [PublicDomainPictures.Net]


May 11, 2020

[see book and purchase information]

Words of Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White will be in blue.


In an article on his blog, dated 10-31-09 [linked below], he attacked Dr. Francis Beckwith:
We get the distinct feeling that despite spending 90 days doing the study that led him back to Rome, Dr. Beckwith somehow missed the best works from the non-Roman Catholic viewpoint. I see no reason to believe he worked through Chemnitz or Whittaker [sic] or Goode or Salmon. It seems most of his reading was in secondary, pro-Roman sources, or at least fuzzy ecumenical ones.
One will scan his notes in vain for any reference to any classical works on, say, sola scriptura, such as William Whitaker’s late 16th century classic, Disputations on Holy Scripture, or William Goode’s mid 19th century work, Divine Rule of Faith and Practice.
And again, about someone else on 9-3-07:
Of course, these issues have been addressed many times, so I wonder if this writer has, in fact, read Goode or Whitaker . . .?
Have you listened to both sides? That is, have you done more than read Rome Sweet Home and listen to a few emotion-tugging conversion stories? Have you actually taken the time to find sound, serious responses to Rome’s claims, those offered by writers ever since the Reformation, such as Goode, Whitaker, Salmon, and modern writers?
I see. Now, Dr. Beckwith is a professional philosopher (i.e. — very unlike Mr. White — , a professor, with a real doctorate, not a fake one bought with cereal boxtops: like White’s). That’s his life’s work. I doubt that he would even have a tenth of the time that full-time Christian apologists like myself and Bishop White have, to deal that fully in primary anti-Catholic or contra-Catholic Protestant sources.
I do have that time, and lo and behold, when I wrote one of my three books on sola Scriptura (the 310-page Pillars of Sola Scriptura: Replies to Whitaker, Goode, & Biblical “Proofs” for “Bible Alone” from 2012), it was a point-by-point refutation of the two men whom White and many other Protestants consider the best historic defenders of the false doctrine of sola Scriptura (absolutely central to Protestant thinking).
I devoted pages 13-186 to the 1588 work, Disputation on Holy Scripture: Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, by the Calvinist Anglican William Whitaker (1548-1595). And I devoted pages 187-236 to the 1853 tome, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, by the evangelical Anglican William Goode (1801-1868).
How’s that for “work[ing] through” the “best works from the non-Roman Catholic viewpoint”? This is what White constantly demands, yet when a Catholic actually does it, it’s crickets on his end: no response whatever from him or any other Protestant apologist.
He also mentions Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), the Lutheran theologian, as one of these “best” sources. I haven’t written a book about him, but I’ve read his main polemical book and have done three lengthy examinations of his highly flawed arguments regarding the Church fathers and their supposed quasi-Lutheran leanings:
Moreover, I read George Salmon’s book against infallibility back in 1990 when I was fighting against the Catholic Church (infallibility was my biggest objection), and I have addressed it twice as a Catholic:
It contains atrocious and rather easily refuted argumentation, too. White has utterly ignored all of that material, too. I not only was familiar with Salmon’s polemics; I heavily utilized it when I was fighting against the Catholic Church an particularly infallibility in 1990. In a portion of my longest (75-page) conversion story I wrote (links added presently):

I quickly found some of the leading polemics against Catholic infallibility, such as the Irish Anglican anti-Catholic George Salmon (1819-1904), author of The Infallibility of the Church (1888) and Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), the German historian who rejected the ex cathedra declaration of papal infallibility and formed the Old Catholic schismatic group. His books, Letters of Quirinus and Letters of Janus, were written during the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Salmon’s work has been refuted decisively twice, by B.C. Butler, in his The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged “Salmon” (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1954), and also in a series of articles in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, in 1901 and 1902 [see p. 193 ff., March 1901] (probably able to be found online).

Yet Protestant apologists Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie still claimed in 1995, in a major critique of Catholicism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p. 206; cf. p. 459) that Salmon’s book has “never really been answered by the Catholic Church” and is the “classic refutation of papal infallibility.”

Prominent professional anti-Catholic James White, in the same year, claimed that I must have never been familiar with the best Protestant arguments against infallibility and Catholicism in general — hence my eventual conversion on flimsy grounds.

The truth was quite otherwise: the above works are the cream of the crop of this particular line of thought, as evidenced by Geisler and MacKenzie’s citation of both Salmon and Küng as “witnesses” for their case (ibid., pp. 206-207). Church historian Döllinger’s heretical opinions are also often utilized by Eastern Orthodox apologists as arguments against papal infallibility.

Using these severely biased, untrustworthy sources, I found the typical arguments used: for example, Pope Honorius, who supposedly was a heretic. I produced two long papers containing difficult “problems” of Catholic history and alleged contradictions and so forth (just as atheists love to do with the Bible), to “torment” my Catholic friends at the group discussions.

George Salmon revealed in his book his profound ignorance, not only concerning papal infallibility, but also with regard to even the basics of the development of doctrine:

Romish advocates . . . are now content to exchange tradition, which their predecessors had made the basis of their system, for this new foundation of development . . . The theory of development is, in short, an attempt to enable men, beaten off the platform of history, to hang on to it by the eyelids . . . The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied. (The Infallibility of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House [originally 1888], pp. 31-33; cf. pp. 35, 39)

Here Salmon is quixotically fighting a straw man of his own making and seeking to sophistically force his readers into the acceptance of a false and altogether logically unnecessary dichotomy. He contended that development of doctrine implies change in the essence of a doctrine and therefore is utterly contrary to the claims of the Church to be the guardian and custodian of an authoritative tradition of never-changing dogma.

But this is emphatically not the Catholic notion, nor that of Cardinal Newman, to whom Salmon was largely responding. Nor is it true that development was a “new” theory introduced by Cardinal Newman into Catholicism, while the “old theory” was otherwise. This is proven by the writing of St. Vincent of Lerins, one of the Church fathers, who died around 450 A. D., in his classic patristic exposition of development, The Notebooks:

Will there, then, be no progress of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly there is, and the greatest . . . But it is truly progress and not a change of faith. What is meant by progress is that something is brought to an advancement within itself; by change, something is transformed from one thing into another. It is necessary, therefore, that understanding, knowledge and wisdom grow and advance strongly and mightily . . . and this must take place precisely within its own kind, that is, in the same teaching, in the same meaning, and in the same opinion. The progress of religion in souls is like the growth of bodies, which, in the course of years, evolve and develop, but still remain what they were . . . Although in the course of time something evolved from those first seeds and has now expanded under careful cultivation, nothing of the characteristics of the seeds is changed. Granted that appearance, beauty and distinction has been added, still, the same nature of each kind remains. (23:28-30; cited from William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers; Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979, vol. 3, p. 265)

St. Augustine (354-430), the greatest of the Church fathers, whom Protestants also greatly revere, expressed similar sentiments in his City of God (16, 2, 1), and On the 54th Psalm (number 22). The (explicit) concept predated Newman by at least fourteen centuries, Salmon’s claims notwithstanding.

George Salmon thus loses much credibility as any sort of expert on Christian history, papal infallibility, or development, for this and many other reasons, as demonstrated by his Catholic critics. Yet Geisler and MacKenzie, while presenting a fairly accurate picture of Newman’s (and Catholic) development of doctrine, state that Salmon’s book is “a penetrating critique of Newman’s theory” (ibid., p. 459).

It is beyond our purview here to examine the faulty and jaundiced reasoning employed by the above-cited “anti-infallibility” works, and my own ambitious and zealous adoption of them, in my effort to refute the Catholic Church on historical grounds. Suffice it to say that it is largely a matter of misunderstanding or misapplying the true doctrine of infallibility, as defined dogmatically by the First Vatican Council in 1870, or else a conveniently selective and dishonest presentation of historical facts and patristic citations.

I thank James White for the unintended compliment.
(originally posted on Facebook on 11-11-19; expanded on 5-11-20)


May 9, 2020

[John Calvin’s words will be in blue; Tim Staples’ in green; anti-Catholic Reformed polemicist James Swan’s in brown]


Catholic apologist and friend Tim Staples has a new book out about Mariology, entitled, Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines.  On 10 October 2014 at the Catholic Answers blog, he wrote a related post, entitled, “Apologists Make Mistakes, Too!” Well, of course we do (as far as that goes)! No argument there. I am questioning, however, whether we have been (hugely) mistaken on this particular point.

First of all: I’m not trying to make this some big stink between Tim and I. Not at all! It’s a friendly dispute about a fascinating question. Tim’s a great guy. I like his stuff; he likes my writing, too. We first met in 2011 at the Catholic Answers office in California.

I think it is important to respond to this article, in particular, because it’s already (quite predictably) being exploited by anti-Catholic Reformed apologist James Swan. I wrote on the Catholic Answers thread about that:

It’s all the more important that we get this issue nailed down, since vitriolic anti-Catholic Protestants like James Swan is already trying to exploit your post, to make Catholic apologists look stupid. He immediately seized upon it in his post, dated 10-11-14:

This is another issue that’s been on this blog for many years now. . . . I look forward to utilizing Staples here the next time one of Rome’s apologists bring this up. . . . I’ve accused Rome’s defenders for years of sloppy and inaccurate historical work on the Protestant Reformation, especially the Reformers’ Mariology. At times it’s been like shooting fish in a barrel. . . . It’s enough for me that one of Rome’s popular defenders is now saying some of the same things I’ve been saying for years.

Thus, he is using the old tired tactic of pitting one Catholic apologist (whom he thinks is relatively more smart) over against the rest of the massive lot of dummies that he thinks we are as a class, in order to mock both Catholic apologists and the faith they defend. He despises all of us. He’s only trying to “use” your post in order to make his point that Catholic apologists en masse are sloppy researchers and not to be trusted (except, of course, when they reach the same conclusion that he does).

It’s important, then, that we determine where the truth lies here. . . . I believe I and others (and you, formerly) have been correct in stating that Calvin accepted the PVM. This is not a faux pas (or worse) that we have to rectify, in public or in private.

So what exactly is the dispute under consideration? Here are the standard passages from Calvin that are used to demonstrate (though not with absolute conclusiveness; I agree) that he believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary:

Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s “brothers” are sometimes mentioned. (Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke, sec. 39 [Geneva, 1562], vol. 2 / From Calvin’s Commentaries, translated by William Pringle, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1949, p.215; on Matthew 13:55)

[On Matt 1:25:] The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called “first-born”; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin . . . What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us . . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation. (Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 107)

Under the word “brethren” the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity. (Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 283 / Commentary on John, [7:3] )

Some Protestants have argued that these texts are insufficient to determine what Calvin believed, or that he himself was agnostic and took no position on this issue, or in fact, opposed the notion that she was a perpetual virgin. Tim wrote in his recent post:

I also point out some errors going in the other direction. Well-intentioned Catholics—even some Catholic apologists—have presented things concerning Protestant beliefs that are just plain wrong.

And error is error no matter the source.

. . . Calvin Did NOT Believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

This second myth is even more widespread.  . .

The error seems to have stemmed from misunderstanding some few comments from John Calvin’s 3-volume set, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Transl. by Rev. William Pringle (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009). In his commentaries on Matt. 13:55 and Matt. 1:25, in volume 1, he takes Helvidius to task for assuming Mary had other children because of the mention of the “brothers of the Lord,” in Matthew 13:55, and for assuming “Joseph knew her not until…” meant that Joseph then was being said to have known Mary conjugally after Christ was born.

Calvin correctly and sternly (in good Calvin fashion) teaches the “brothers” of the Lord may well be a Hebrew idiom representing “cousins” or some other extended relative. And he also points out that the “until” of Matt. 1:25 really says nothing about what happened after Mary gave birth. It was used there to emphasize the virginity of Mary up “until” that point.

. . . unfortunately, many Catholics have taken these two sections of Calvin’s commentary out of context and claim it to mean he agreed with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. But in fact, he never says that. He simply concludes these Scriptures to be silent on the matter. They prove neither yeah nor nay when it comes to Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Tim produces as evidence for his claim, Calvin’s commentary on Luke 1:34:

The conjecture which some have drawn from these words, that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage . . . 

He added:

Notice here, he not only denies this text could be used to prove the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, but he denies the doctrine itself as a possible consideration.

Now, at first glance, this evidence did seem fairly compelling for Tim’s position. But I knew (because I had documented it previously) that many Calvinist  scholars and other Protestant experts on Calvin agree that he did accept the perpetual virginity, and so I wondered why that is, if Tim is correct, and I started digging for more information. I found another related citation, that I think affirms what I and others have been arguing, lo, these many years.

Max Thurian, in his Mary: Mother of All Christians (translated by Nevill B. Cryer, New York: Herder & Herder, 1963, pp. 39-40) — I have a hard copy in my library — notes a sermon of Calvin’s on Matthew 1:22-25, published in 1562 in the shorthand notes of Denys Ragueneau. Here is his citation:

There have been certain strange folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! for the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company. There we see that he had never known her person for he was separated from his wife. He could marry another all the more because he could not enjoy the woman to whom he was betrothed; but he rather desired to forfeit his rights and abstain from marriage, being yet always married: he preferred, I say, to remain thus in the service of God rather than to consider what he might still feel that he could come to. He had forsaken everything in order that he might subject himself fully to the will of God.

And besides this, our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second. Thus we see the intention of the Holy Spirit. This is why to lend ourselves to foolish subtleties would be to abuse Holy Scripture, which is, as St. Paul says, “to be used for our edification.”

From this we learn several things:

1. It serves as a further interpretation or clarification of his allegedly “agnostic” commentary on Matthew 1:25, as actually affirming perpetual virginity.

2. It shows that his denial of a vow of perpetual virginity from Mary is not necessarily and not in fact the same as a denial of her perpetual virginity.

3. Calvin does indeed believe in the traditional doctrine, as we see in his statement: “not because there was a second or a third” and his assertion that Joseph never dwelt with Mary. Mary had no further children. This is why he habitually refers to her as “the virgin” in his writings, much like Catholics have through the centuries. It implies perpetual virginity.

4. Since they never lived together, according to Calvin, obviously they had no children together. Thus, Mary was perpetually a virgin.

5. Moreover, it wasn’t a question of corrupting marriage, per his comment on Lk 1:34, since for him, they never lived together and thus were not “united.” Thus, the difficulty for the belief that he held to the PVM, suggested prima facie by his comment on Luke 1:34 vanishes. For Calvin, both things are true: Mary didn’t make such a vow and they didn’t live together in a chaste fashion, since he thinks they didn’t live together at all.

This 1562 sermon may be one reason why many Protestant (including Calvinist) scholars agree that Calvin adhered to Mary’s perpetual virginity, as I noted in my paper (alluded to and linked above) over four years ago now:

David F. Wright, in his book, Chosen by God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective (London: Marshall Pickering, 1989, pp. 173, 175), stated:

[H]is more careful biblicism could insist on only Mary’s refraining from intercourse before the birth of Jesus (i.e., her virginity ante partum). On the other hand, he never excluded as untenable the other elements in her perpetual virginity, and may be said to have believed it himself without claiming that Scripture taught it. . . . [Calvin] commonly speaks of Mary as “the holy Virgin” (and rarely as simply as “Mary” preferring “the Virgin”, etc.).

Thomas Henry Louis Parker, in his Calvin: an Introduction to his Thought (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), concurs:

. . . the Virgin Birth, which Calvin holds, together with the perpetual virginity of Mary. (p. 66)

He is the author of several books about Calvin, such as John Calvin: A Biography (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), and Oracles Of God: An Introduction To The Preaching Of John Calvin (Lutterworth Press, 2002), Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (S.C.M. Press, 1971), Calvin’s Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), and several other Calvin-related volumes, and translator of Calvin’s Harmony of the Gospels in its 1995 Eerdmans edition.

Presumably, he knows enough about Calvin to have a basis for his beliefs about this matter and Calvin’s own position.

The article “Mary” (by David F. Wright) in the Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith (edited by Donald K. McKim, Westminster John Knox Press,1992, p. 237), proclaims:

Calvin was likewise less clear-cut than Luther on Mary’s perpetual virginity but undoubtedly favored it. Notes in the Geneva Bible (Matt. 1:18, 25; Jesus’ “brothers”) defend it, as did Zwingli and the English reformers . . .

Donald G. Bloesch, in his Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2006, p. 87), joins the crowd:

Protestantism . . . remained remarkably open to the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Among others, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wollebius, Bullinger and Wesley claimed that Mary was ever-virgin (semper virgo). The Second Helvetic Confession and the Geneva Bible of the Reformed faith and the Schmalkald Articles of the Lutheran churches affirm it.

Geoffrey W. Bromiley in his article, “Mary the Mother of Jesus” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: K-P (edited by Bromiley, revised edition of 1994 published by Eerdmans [Grand Rapids, Michigan], p. 269), wrote:

The post-partum or perpetual virginity concept is held by some Protestants and was held by many Reformers (e.g., Calvin in his sermon on Mt. 1:22-25) . . .

Note that this refers to the sermon I cited above, not just Calvin’s Commentaries. And this is from the revised ISBE: not a source one can easily dismiss.

Derek W. H. Thomas, writing in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (edited by David W. Hall & Peter A. Lillback; Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing [Calvin 500 series]: 2008, p. 212), makes a casual reference: “a perpetual virgin in Calvin’s view!”

He is a professor of systematic and pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.  His doctoral dissertation was devoted to Calvin’s preaching on the book of Job.

Timothy George concurs, with slight qualification:

To be sure, there is nothing theologically problematic about affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity. This venerable tradition, first given dogmatic sanction at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, was affirmed by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin during the Reformation, though Calvin was more agnostic about this belief than the other two reformers. (in Mary, Mother of God, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co.: 2004;  p. 109)

Dr. George is the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, teaches Church history and serves as executive editor for Christianity Today. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written more than twenty books, and regularly contributes to scholarly journals. His book Theology of the Reformers is used as a textbook in many schools and seminaries.

J. A. Ross MacKenzie wrote: “Calvin, like Luther and Zwingli, taught the perpetual virginity of Mary” (in Alberic Stacpoole, editor, Mary’s Place in Christian Dialogue, Wilton, Connecticut: Morehouse-Barlow, 1982, 35-36).  Dr. Mackenzie was a professor of church history at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, and has translated or written more than twenty theological books.

Robert H. Stein, professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also agrees:

If one believes in the perpetual virginity of Mary, a teaching held not only by Roman Catholicism but also by Greek Orthodoxy, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, then the Helvidian view must be rejected. (Mark [Commentary], Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic: 2008, p. 187)

Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza argued that Catholics and Protestants agreed on the perpetual virginity of Mary, at the Colloquy of Poissy in 1561 (see William A. Dyrness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: the Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards, [Cambridge University Press, 2004], pp. 86-87).

* * * * *

Tim Staples gave a long reply in the combox that I don’t think (with all due respect) refuted the heart of my objection at all: what Calvin flat-out stated in his sermon. Nor did he explain why so many Protestant and/or Calvinist scholars hold that he accepted the perpetual virginity of Mary. It’s one thing for us as Catholics to look at a few texts and render our opinions. The Calvinist or the Calvinist or otherwise Protestant Calvin scholar who has an opinion on such a matter will be far more informed, as both a specialist and an advocate of Calvinism, as the case may be, than we would be (generally speaking).He would also know a lot more than a quack Reformed polemicist like James Swan who regularly makes pronouncements on such matters as if he is some sort of scholarly expert who should be trusted as much as actual scholars. I back up my contentions with scholars, as much as possible. Swan makes his (often quite dogmatic) contentions (complete with the ubiquitous mocking of Catholics and Catholicism that is his stock-in-trade) whether scholars agree with him or not.

Such Protestant scholars also would generally disbelieve in many of the Marian doctrines, so if they assert that Calvin believed this, chances are he did, since their bias would be towards a stance that he did not. In that sense, they are sort of “hostile witnesses.”

James Swan then chimed in with his usual one-note tune, first writing on his blog about my comment in the thread:

A comment was left for Mr. Staples giving (among other things) a Calvin citation from a secondary source (that is, no original or complete context) documenting a sermon from Calvin (a citation from Calvin in English which was translated from the French, originally from shorthand notes), taken from a French journal, not the original sermon (that is- the secondary source utilized a Calvin quote from a journal).

Then on the thread itself, he replied:

If I recall, Max Thurian wrote his book in French. It was then translated to English. If one checks Thurian’s documentation for his Calvin quote, it doesn’t appear to me that he actually utilized a primary source, but rather took his citation from La Revue réformée 1956/4, pp. 63-64. In other words, the Calvin quote in question that is presented in English came from the French, and was taken from a French journal. Where did the French journal get it? Did the journal article use the primary source? These are the questions I would ask immediately. Without reading something in context, making pronouncements on what Calvin did or did not believe may not be the best thing to do. 

. . . These are the basic things I ask when looking into texts. It may indeed be the case that there was not any distortion from what Calvin originally said to the presentation from Thurian. A careful person though should make sure to examine the trail of evidence before making dogmatic conclusions.

Once again, for those not familiar with Swan’s modus operandi (which I’ve observed and interacted with for over twelve years), he appears objective and without an ax to grind. To act with his usual stripes would not be to his purpose, so he “behaves.” His insinuation is that Tim Staples is “careful” whereas the vast majority of Catholic apologists are not. And that is what Swan has been contending for years, with particular animus against my views of Martin Luther’s Mariology. It’s the “divide and conquer” routine. He’s simply cynically using Tim Staples’ views as a means to make the same anti-Catholic and anti-Catholic apologist point he always tries to make.

The fact remains that Swan can talk about “context” all he wants, and make out that even non-scholars must always read the original context in the original language (which he doesn’t do himself) to decide anything at all. He’s no scholar. The men I cite are scholars, and for some odd reason they conclude (over against mere blogger Swan) that Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

This is why scholars exist in the first place: to specialize in things that most of us have neither the ability nor the desire to specialize in. We consult them for the answers to such things. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (unlike Swan) is such a scholar,  and in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (edited by himself: revised edition of 1994) he stated:

The post-partum or perpetual virginity concept is held by some Protestants and was held by many Reformers (e.g., Calvin in his sermon on Mt. 1:22-25) . . .

Somehow he thinks this sermon is solid evidence that Calvin believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity.  Somehow another scholar like Thomas Henry Louis Parker, the very editor of Calvin’s Commentaries, and author of some ten works about him, agrees with Bromiley. Why is that? Did they, too, take things out of context, or lack “care” with the primary sources? Did they jump to dogmatic conclusions, when they would be inclined by predisposition not do? I think not.

In such disputes about historical fact, one should consult the scholars who are most familiar with the person whose opinions are being discussed. Tim Staples is not a Calvin scholar and not an historian. Neither is James Swan. Neither am I. But I consult the scholars who are in a position to decide such things, whereas both Tim and Swan have (regarding this question) thus far ignored that relevant evidence, for some inexplicable reason.

Another internal argument based on Calvin’s own commentaries can be produced. I alluded to it in on page 60 of my 2010 book, “The Catholic Mary”: Quite Contrary to the Bible? In his Harmony of the Gospels (Vol. II, p. 65; “translated from the original Latin and collated with the author’s French version, by William Pringle), Calvin is commenting on Luke 8:19 (“And his mother and his brethren came to him”), and  casually mentions that the parallel passages of “the other two Evangelists . . . represent Christ’s mother and cousins as having come . . .” (my italics). The other two passages are the following (RSV):

Matthew 12:46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.

Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him.

This is fascinating. Calvin is not being neutral or agnostic here at all, as to the specific meaning of adelphos in these instances. He has taken a definite position: it means “cousins.” He believes that Jesus doesn’t have siblings and that these instances of adelphos / adelphe / “brothers” / “brethren” do not prove otherwise (as countless contrary arguments against perpetual virginity falsely assume is the case). Calvin adopted the classic “cousins” theory as to the meaning of “Jesus’ brothers” in Scripture (which is the usual view that Catholic commentators take).

This directly contradicts what Tim Staples claimed (above) about Calvin’s views. He wrote:

Calvin correctly and sternly (in good Calvin fashion) teaches the “brothers” of the Lord may well be a Hebrew idiom representing “cousins” or some other extended relative. . . . But unfortunately, many Catholics have taken these two sections of Calvin’s commentary out of context and claim it to mean he agreed with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. But in fact, he never says that. He simply concludes these Scriptures to be silent on the matter. They prove neither yeah nor nay when it comes to Mary’s perpetual virginity.

This has now been shown to be untrue, by both the 1562 sermon and the Harmony of the Gospels, at Luke 8:19, where Calvin definitely opts for the meaning of “cousins.” Therefore, he does indeed “say that” in this other place in his corpus of Bible commentary. He’s either taking the position of perpetual virginity or at the very least a view perfectly consistent with it (Jesus’ described “brothers” were his cousins / He had no siblings). But what it clearly is not, is an agnostic or neutral position (at least regarding these uses of adelphos / adelphe), as Tim claims it is. Later, he wrote in comments (replying to me):

I believe Calvin rejected the Perpetual Virginity of Mary in his commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke and that I think many of us have taken this work out of context over the years. . . . the use of his commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, specific to his comments on Matt. 13:55 and especially Matt. 1:25 is misguided, in my opinion.

When you consider that Calvin explicitly takes a position in between Helvidius and Jerome in his commentary on Matt. 1:25 and he says as much, he says the text does not conclude either way, and then he footnotes his own work in Matt. 1:25 when he comments on Matt. 13:55 that the “brothers of the Lord” could be a Hebrew idiom for some other extended relation, that seems to me to be more agnostic than declaratory of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

It’s no longer agnostic, when Calvin interprets both the passages in Matthew and Mark (and by strong implication, also in Luke) as meaning “cousins.” Again, I’m sure this data is part of the reasoning for why so many Protestant, and specifically Calvinist scholars believe that Calvin held to the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Nor is there any hint of “waffling” on Calvin’s part, as far as I can tell, in all of this information, taken together. My take is a perfectly plausible and self-consistent explanation for all of it, in line with what the Calvin scholars also say: he believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. He didn’t “waffle” on it; he didn’t appear to change his view over time, He simply wasn’t quite as explicit as Luther and others were, on this question. It requires a little digging to ascertain his position (which we have done).

I also don’t think that Calvin was “neutral” or “agnostic” regarding Matthew 1:25 and the notorious “until” argument of those who deny perpetual virginity. That text neither asserts nor denies perpetual virginity in and of itself. That far, we all agree, I think. What detractors of the doctrine do is insinuate that “until”  implies sexual activity on Mary’s part after the birth of Jesus. Calvin firmly responds that it does no such thing. He shoots down this very common argument, made by Protestants all the time today. He responds precisely as a Catholic apologist would: arguing that the text doesn’t in any fashion  prove what it is claimed that it supposedly proves.

To me, that is not an agnostic or uncommitted position at all. It is in favor of perpetual virginity (or if we want to nitpick) totally consistent with it, and inconsistent with one of the most common biblical arguments made against it. The “brothers” argument is the other most common (and thoroughly fallacious) argument made. Calvin points out that the word doesn’t have to always mean “siblings.” He’s exactly right.

But if that sounds neutral or agnostic at his commentary on Matthew 13:55, it ain’t when he comments on Luke 8:19 (and also on Mathew and Mark) and says that the meaning of “brothers” in the parallel passages is “cousins”. He is no longer neutral or undecided or uncommitted or agnostic. He has taken a position. And it is exactly what we would expect him to argue, if indeed he holds to the perpetual virginity of Mary, as I believe he did.

I think Tim’s argument collapses in all respects (sorry, Tim!). The 1562 sermon was one decisive blow. It explained that Calvin’s objection to a vow of virginity did not mean he denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, as explained above. He blew that off by saying that Calvin’s commentary is much more to be trusted than the sermon. Very well, then: if we (rightly or wrongly) want to give some “priority” to the Commentaries, now the comment on Luke 8:19 has to be dealt with, and it does not favor Tim’s position. It has undermined the very essence of it (repeated over and over by Tim): that Calvin allegedly took no stand and merely discussed a range of possibilities.

In another instance of Calvin interpreting a “brother of Jesus” as a cousin, we have his commentary on Galatians 1:19 (“But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.”):

Except James. Who this James was, deserves inquiry. Almost all the ancients are agreed that he was one of the disciples, whose surname was “Oblias” and “The Just,” and that he presided over the church at Jerusalem. (33) Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by another wife, and others (which is more probable) that he was the cousin of Christ by the mother’s side: (34) but as he is here mentioned among the apostles, I do not hold that opinion. Nor is there any force in the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve; for the subject under consideration is the highest rank of apostleship, and we shall presently see that he was considered one of the chief pillars. (Galatians 2:9.) It appears to me, therefore, far more probable, that the person of whom he is speaking is the son of Alpheus. (35)

Footnote 35 elaborates:

This is fully consistent with the opinion commonly held, that Alpheus or Cleopas was the husband of the sister of Mary, the mother of our Lord, and consequently that James, the son of Alpheus, was our Lord’s cousin-german.

All of this is perfectly consistent with, if not direct evidence of, Calvin’s belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Tim made another reply in the thread, consisting mostly of reiterations of what he has already said (which is never a good sign of the vigor and strength of an argument: it should be able to defend itself against critiques). He replied:

In fact, if you want to add to your case file, I would recommend Calvin’s commentary on Gal. 1:19,

I already made that argument in comment #26 [right above his comment where he stated this]. But glad to see that you found that, too.

All of these are great for Catholic apologetics, but I don’t believe they are definitive proof that Calvin believed in the PVBVM.

Again, you completely ignore the opinions of Calvin scholars: that he did believe in it. Why? Why do they think that? Why are you so sure that they are wrong? So you really think that a guy like Thomas Henry Lewis Parker is completely out to sea when he affirms this; that he is not familiar with all the relevant texts in Calvin, and his understanding of all that is inferior to yours? He is the author of:

Calvin: an Introduction to his Thought (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).

John Calvin: A Biography (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).

Oracles Of God: An Introduction To The Preaching Of John Calvin (Lutterworth Press, 2002).

Calvin’s Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

Editor of Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (S.C.M. Press, 1971),

Editor of Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)

Translator of Calvin’s Harmony of the Gospels (1995 Eerdmans edition).

He translated Calvin’s commentaries on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians in 1965 and his Commentary on John (1959-61).

According to you, The Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith is dead-wrong.  Donald G. Bloesch is wrong. Geoffrey W. Bromiley in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is wrong.

Derek W. H. Thomas, writing in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (edited by David W. Hall & Peter A. Lillback; Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing [Calvin 500 series]: 2008, p. 212), makes a casual reference: “a perpetual virgin in Calvin’s view!” He is a professor of systematic and pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.  His doctoral dissertation was devoted to Calvin’s preaching on the book of Job. But he’s wrong, too.

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, and executive editor for Christianity Today is wrong. Robert H. Stein, professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is dead-wrong. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, was wrong in asserting that Calvinists accepted the doctrine, in an attempted ecumenical council in 1561, during Calvin’s lifetime.

You ignore all this. All these scholars are incompetent in their own field of expertise. I guess you think they have been quoting Calvin out-of-context, too, just as (if you are right) dozens of Catholic apologists have been doing (such as Jimmy Akin, Scott Hahn, Fr. Stravinskas, various EWTN articles, etc.). The Catholic Answers tract Mary: Ever Virgin agrees with my take:

Today most Protestants are unaware of these early beliefs regarding Mary’s virginity and the proper interpretation of “the brethren of the Lord.” And yet, the Protestant Reformers themselves—Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli—honored the perpetual virginity of Mary and recognized it as the teaching of the Bible, as have other, more modern Protestants.

So now that has to be revised, too?

Your argument (that you merely repeat here; nothing new) from Calvin’s commentary on Luke 1:34 was refuted by the sermon of 1562. Calvin thought Mary and Joseph didn’t even live together. Thus, the “difficulty” you find compelling, vanishes.

You dismiss the sermon on inadequate grounds (therefore you make no attempt to counter-reply to that relevant additional consideration). How is it, then, that Geoffrey Bromiley, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, seems to think that it is strong evidence?: “The post-partum or perpetual virginity concept is held by some Protestants and was held by many Reformers (e.g., Calvin in his sermon on Mt. 1:22-25)”.

You can ignore this relevant data from Calvin scholars a third or fourth time if you wish, but it won’t help your case. Every doctoral dissertation reviews the literature, to see what the consensus of scholars on a particular question is. It’s not considered the fallacy of “appeal to authority” when they do that. And it isn’t, because that’s not all they produce. They also make the argument in their dissertation, just as I am making various arguments from primary Calvin texts, but also noting the consensus of the Calvin scholars and professors of history, etc. who have examined the matter. This is not insignificant at all. Yet when it comes to what the scholarly experts say, you want to completely ignore and dismiss that.

You certainly don’t have a consensus of scholars on that contention.

I’m the only one in this discussion who has actually cited scholars! I don’t think you have cited a single one (I may have missed it, and it may be in your book; just not here). At best, some of them note that Calvin was less explicit than Luther (which  I agree with in the first place). Thus, David F. Wright says: “Calvin was likewise less clear-cut than Luther on Mary’s perpetual virginity but undoubtedly favored it.”

That’s not saying that the opinion is tentative, or that he waffled, or was agnostic, or only open to the possibility, or changed his mind in later years, etc. It says what it says: “undoubtedly favored it.” Timothy George wrote: “affirmed by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin during the Reformation, though Calvin was more agnostic about this belief than the other two reformers.” Yep; I agree. He was less direct than Luther (most people are!), but he still, according to Dr. George,  “affirmed” it.

They’re all looking at the same evidence that you and I have seen. This is the conclusion they come to. I think they’re right, and that Catholic apologists have been right about this, and anti-Catholic polemicists like James Swan wrong.

I have no problem noting when Protestant “reformers” get things wrong, or when they change their minds later on. Hence, I modified my view of Luther’s view of the Immaculate Conception, which he changed later on in life. I call his position “immaculate purification,” because he no longer placed it at her conception. I changed my mind in part because of some arguments produced by anti-Catholics. Truth is truth, wherever it is found.

But I changed my mind, and wrote about it almost exactly four years ago. So you’re not the only Catholic apologist who can change their mind if the facts warrant it (lest the enemies of the faith like James Swan start saying that you are a “lone voice” in this regard). I’ve done it many times.

But as I mentioned at first, anti-Catholics like Swan are only going to exploit your article (he already has), since it says that almost all Catholic apologists have been wrong about this for years, and you become in effect the “whistleblower” for integrity and truth.

That’s a shame; especially when I don’t see that your argument succeeds.

Tim replied at length again in the thread. Here is our exchange:

I would love to go with these Protestant scholars you’ve cited. It would make my life easier. But how can I when I read the above that I’ve given to you?

By accepting the 1562 sermon as the most “definitive” word on the topic that we have (far as I can tell)!

An appeal to the authority of Calvinist scholars is good and interesting, but can you at least see why that would not be enough for me?

Technically, I’m not appealing merely to their authority, or saying, “believe it because these experts believe it, and no one can do otherwise.” I understand logical fallacies very well, as the veteran of well over 700 online debates and apologetics arguments for 33 years now.

My challenge to you was a more subtle form of argument: “Why do you think these guys all seem to agree that Calvin held to the PVM, if in fact (and in your mind) it is so unclear and so fuzzy and indefinite?” Bias doesn’t explain it, because their natural bias would be to oppose it, since they likely don’t hold to it themselves (most of ’em; though I read that even Kuyper believed in it). You question the validity of the 1562 sermon, but Bromiley didn’t, and made it his stated proof.

To me it’s a curiosity: how could a guy that eminent in academia conclude that Calvin believed in the PVM, on the basis of something you will hardly even consider? The most plausible reason to me would be that he thinks it is genuine and does indeed reflect Calvin’s thought, two years before his death. The scholar has to defend what he asserts to his peers, and will be hung out to dry if he can’t. The stakes are a lot higher for them, in everything they argue.

I must say this as well. I am enjoying this back-and-forth quite a bit. Hopefully, all who are reading this will do the research and make up their own minds.

Yeah, it’s fun, and that is the utility of dialogue. I’ve found new arguments that I think help my side, in being challenged to back it up more fully. And it looks like you have done the same from your side.

I really appreciate Dave’s attention to detail in this matter. Would that all involved in the work of apologetics were as intense.

Thanks, and likewise.

And I have yet to hear a response for my concerns from these other statements.

I’ve said at least twice now that what Calvin said in his sermon, can account for that, I believe. He sees it as not a “regular” situation at all. He assumes that Joseph and Mary don’t even live together. Therefore, there is no “monstrosity” of a man and a woman being under the same roof, and also chaste. They aren’t together in the first place! If he wants to die on the hill of saying that without consummation there cannot possibly be a marriage, then Joseph and Mary weren’t married at all in his eyes, though the Bible says they were, and it seems to me that he puts his opinion above even the Bible at that point.

But that’s how I answer your whole line of argument about Calvin and the absolute necessity of sexual relations for a marriage, in his mind. You obviously disagree, but it is some kind of counter-reply, agree or no. So it’s incorrect to say that I have not replied to that. I incorporate the sermon into what I think is a consistent interpretation that takes all of the data into account, whereas your method is to dismiss the sermon as inauthentic or of dubious overall relevance.

I would say: “utilize all the resources and connections available at Catholic Answers and find out more about this sermon; get the original, and find some guy who knows Latin or French (whatever the original is), so that all that can be settled.” You guys have the money and 40 or so people. I have very little money and am just myself. :-)

I’ve searched and searched online and can’t find out any more info. about it. If it goes down, I would agree that your case is relatively more plausible, though I still believe that he held to the PVM, from all the evidence, even without the input of the sermon. If it is determined to be absolutely authentic, then I think you have to deal directly with it, and explain how it doesn’t prove that he held to the PVM.

And especially in the case of Matt. 1:25, Calvin explicitly says the text cannot be used to conclude either position.

I dealt with that earlier. Proponents of the “brothers” follow Helvidius and argue that the famous “until” here proves sexual relations. Calvin states firmly that it does not do so at all. To me, that is more so defending tradition, even if he also says or implies that no one can conclude either way based on that alone. But he does assert that the “pro” argument fails at this point — he shoots it down and virtually insults those who make it — , and that is quite significant itself, seeing that this is one of the centerpieces of their argument.

I think it all goes together. This argument; the fact that he states twice that adelphos meant “cousins” and not sibling-“brother”; the sermon, the use of “holy virgin,” the testimony of Beza, the seeming consensus of Reformed scholars. It’s a cumulative argument, with the sermon as the clincher, in my mind, but still strong and plausible even without it.

But (here is your strength) without what he says in the sermon, your argument from his views on marriage would be a lot more compelling, since they wouldn’t be countered and overcome by what he stated in the sermon. So the sermon seems to be in the center of the whole debate, and we must learn more about it: if for no other reason than satisfaction of curiosity!

I acknowledge that your argument (at the end) is more compelling if the sermon is irrelevant. But what do you say if it is backed up by scholarship and shown to be absolutely authentic and late in his life as well?

Thanks for the friendly discussion!

* * * *

I then went searching for the sermon in question. I had an idea where it might be found, and wrote in the thread:

I think the sermon would likely be part of the Corpus Reformatorum, since volumes 29-87 are devoted to his works. It’s in Latin (unless some stuff is French). We just have to figure out what volume it’s in. Many volumes are available in Google Books.

I started looking through online volumes; went to the index volume and found “Sermons on the Nativity” in Volume 46. I then wrote:

I’m almost certain I found it. Go to this link and download the pdf of vol. 46 (“Tome 46”) of the Corpus Reformatorum. It’s called “Sermon 22” on the Harmony of the Gospels, dealing with Matthew 1:22-25, and runs from pp. 259-272. It’s in French.

I did that, and cut-and-pasted the entire sermon.  Google and Babylon translation pages revealed that it was indeed the sermon in question, based on a comparison to the Thurian version (above). I then posted it on a separate web page, and asked on Facebook if anyone could translate the last portion of it. Gregory Fast did so.

Now fortunately, we are incredibly blessed to have James Swan, an anti-Catholic blogger, who does not know French, as far as I know, to announce (on the CA thread) that he also ran across the sermon and that “The translation from Thurian’s book is accurate.” Whew! That settles that! Now we can all rest easy at night, knowing that a non-French speaker and non-credentialed blogger with a penchant for classifying professional Catholic apologists as “psychotic” — has authoritatively proclaimed that the portion of a Calvin sermon conveyed by native French speaker Max Thurian, who was born in Geneva, the city of Calvin, is “accurate.” Thurian’s citation wasn’t good enough for Swan. He had to make a judgment, himself, in all his wisdom, before he trusted it. Now he does, and so we can all go through the day with a spring in our step, knowing that Swan has confirmed a citation as authentic.

Swan is the one always harping on and on with his one-note tune about going to the original sources and doing “ad fontes” research, endlessly mocking Catholic apologists (or those who pass themselves off as such). He talks a good game (man, he sure does talk it!), but he doesn’t follow his own advice. He only applies it selectively to Catholic apologists, whom he despises and detests. He wrote in the thread:

I have located the sermon, as well as the place in the text Thurian’s quote is from. The translation from Thurian’s book is accurate. . . . The sermon itself was not all that difficult to locate, and the place in the French text is easy to spot.

Uh huh. Is that so? I just found out about the sermon a few days ago, and already, last night, I located it in its primary source, with no help from Swan, who alluded to having found it in the thread, but didn’t post the reference, as I did. Swan, however, has known about at least a portion of this sermon for over seven years. Why, then, has he not dug it up until now, since, as he said last night, that it “was not all that difficult to locate”? He goes on and on about going to the original sources, and takes almost eight years to find this one, amidst his eight or so articles about Calvin’s Mariology?

On 17 January 2007, Swan wrote an article on his blog entitled, “Bibliographic Tedium on the Reformers and Perpetual Virginity.” In it he rails (as he has 39,584 times) about how stupid Catholic apologists are. He cited a portion of this sermon that one of them posted on the anti-Catholic CARM discussion board:

Calvin: “There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what a folly this is! [Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, Published 1562]

Alongside this were ostensible citations from Luther and Zwingli. Swan goes into deep detail about the sources of those, but ignores the Calvin quote. He then condescendingly lectures and insults in his usual boorish fashion:

Normally when I interact with someone on this topic, the person quoting this stuff becomes silent when ask for a little more bibliographic information. I do so to find out if the person putting forth the information has actually read Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli, or if the information is a cut-and-paste job taken from Catholic apologetic web sites. . . . it’s the Internet, and anything goes. I strongly doubt I’ll get the bibliographic material I asked for. I only point out tedium like this to show that many times, people are putting forth information as if they’ve actually studied a subject, and made an informed decision. For most people though, it seems one makes a conclusion and then looks for information to support it. Such is the normal folly of the defenders of Rome.

Why, then, didn’t Swan follow his own advice and show that the quote from Calvin’s sermon was not authentic? It took him over seven years to do so, in the context of Tim Staples writing about the topic and my disagreement with him (and his attempted exploitation of same for purely polemical and slanderous purposes). All of a sudden, now Swan can figure out how to find the original primary source. If it “was not all that difficult to locate,” why did it take him almost eight years? It took me two days. I guess that is one of the many profound differences between the Inimitable Mr. Swan and meself.

In his article, he mocks the Catholic who produced these quotes because he said it might be a couple of weeks to find further sources, because he was moving and his materials were in boxes (“It will be [a] long couple of weeks. Now this takes guts, . . .”). Almost eight years later, Swan looks up the same source, and pronounces the Thurian portion of it (that the Catholic he chided, cited) as “accurate.”

How could we all make it through the day without such a profoundly intelligent, wise, nuanced, always thoughtful, always eminently fair and charitable and “scholarly” fellow brother in Christ, who thinks we are all in spiritual darkness and an inch away from hell, being lowly “Romanists?”

* * *

After posting the translation of a portion of the sermon onto the CA thread, I wrote:

So where does that leave the friendly discussion and debate now, Tim? Do you agree (first of all) that it is an “authentic” source, to be duly considered in the overall mix? Does it change anything? Does it make it more plausible for those of us who think Calvin accepted the PVM to believe it, even if you remain unpersuaded? Can we now move from a status of being classified as those who cite Calvin “out of context” in order to promulgate a “myth” to ones who hold a respectable position that can be solidly believed in good faith (equally reasonable and thoughtful folks honestly disagreeing), given the evidence we have produced?

Tim replied:

I think it leaves the discussion friendly, but perhaps it makes the title of my blog post all the more appropriate, but for a different reason. I stand corrected. I think this leaves no doubt that Calvin, at least at the point of writing this sermon, believe[d] in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. I can now say definitively that Calvin waffled on this. And this is reasonable. The PVBVM was believed universally for 1,500 years in the Church. It was believed by men like St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Bernard, all of whom Calvin respected. I will modify my post to include the “waffling” part. I appreciate the back-and-forth and all involved. We live and learn.

I’ll take note of Tim’s modifications of his post when he changes that. It’s been a great discussion. Kudos to Tim Staples, Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers, for being able to be partially persuaded of a different view. He now thinks Calvin “waffled” on the perpetual virginity of Mary and believed it at least in the last years of his life. I think Calvin believed it consistently all along, and that nothing in his statements that we have found is inconsistent with that interpretation. He merely became more explicit, so as to leave no room for doubt, in the late sermon.

And for these reasons (I submit), the numerous Protestant scholars and Calvin scholars I have cited take the position that he did indeed believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. The ones who think he did not believe it are folks like, well . . . . noncredentialed anti-Catholic polemicist and blogger James Swan . . . . Not very impressive . . . .

* * *

Tim revised his initial post as follows:

This second myth is even more widespread, but I must qualify it. There can be no doubt that John Calvin, at least at some point in his career, believed in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. But to place him on the same level of Luther, Zwingli and Wesley is misguided. It is not to paint the entire picture accurately. And this is why. . . .

My thanks to Dave Armstrong for pointing out to me something I did not know. There is a sermon that John Calvin preached on the Harmony of the Gospels (sermon 22) where he explicitly defends the PVBVM, but this occurred earlier in his career [?: my understanding is that it is from 1562: two years before his death]. So again, there is no doubt that Calvin at least earlier in his career believe[d] this Catholic dogma.

Swan continued to comment in the thread. I disputed one thing he stated:

If one really wanted to give Calvin’s opinion on this issue, it is to simply say that Calvin did not think it correct to speculate. This isn’t the answer polemicists want to hear, but it is letting Calvin be Calvin.

Nor is it the answer numerous Calvin scholars (including T. H. L. Parker, mentioned above [by Swan himself], who appears to be the leading Calvin scholar in the world, judging by his books) want to hear. They are letting Calvin be Calvin and they think he held to the PVM. Period. Some temper it a bit in terms of emphasis and explicitness (and I agree, as I have said; Calvin is not Luther), but they still say he held it. I could hardly find anyone who said what Tim believes about him. I’m open to hearing about those. I didn’t find them myself, in some very intense and laborious searches.

That’s not proof, of course, but it does prove that one can hold that Calvin believed in the PVM for non-“polemical” purposes. These guys think he did because they think he did. DUH! No other motives other than arriving at historical fact: just as are my motives and Tim’s alike (despite being ignorant, lowly, Pelagian, half-pagan, unregenerate papists who don’t know what the gospel is). Folks can honestly disagree on some things.

Calvin already did “speculate” about the issue at hand by stating that there were no second and third sons besides Jesus, and by interpreting adelphos / adelphe as “cousins” in at least two instances. That is taking a stand (of some sort), whereas most of those arguing against PVM today almost automatically use the tired, dumb “brothers” argument and also the “till” argument of Matthew 1:25 that Calvin also says proves not a whit of what they casually assume it proves.

To me, that’s taking a stand on it. I don’t think it’s neutral or noncommittal at all. Technically, Jesus being an only child and Mary being a perpetual virgin are different, but it works out basically the same, in terms (specifically) of the arguments commonly used. One party says these “brothers” are siblings and the other denies it. Calvin is in the latter camp. Seems to me, anyway. And all these scholars I have cited somehow come to the same conclusion.

I remain the only person who has cited scholars that back up what my position is, as a non-scholar and non-historian. If someone thinks otherwise, then please produce the scholars that agree, and say that Calvin either denied or waffled on the PVM. I’m all for it. That would make the “agnostic” case stronger and more respectable. As it is now, I truly believe that my position is the most plausible to interpret in  harmonious fashion all of the data I am aware of.

“Why Bring Up the Marian Views of the Early Protestant Leaders At All? Of What Relevance is It?”

This is a question often raised by Protestant apologists, who misunderstand the reason why Catholics note these historical facts about the Protestant founders’ beliefs and aspects of “distinctive Catholicism” that they retain.

Primarily, it is a matter of historical fact or absence of evidence for same. Hence I wrote in the thread at CA:

In this instance, no dogma is involved. It’s purely a matter of historical fact: did Calvin believe in the PVM or not? Whether he did or not has nothing to do with Catholic belief. We do hold to it in any event, as dogma.

If one is interested in the history of theology, development of doctrine, and history of ideas (as I am, very much so), these sorts of questions are interesting, in and of themselves, wholly apart from apologetics or personal adherence one way or the other. Along these lines, it’s fascinating to see how the earliest Protestants differ from present-day ones, which is a matter of internal Protestant development (or departure, as the case may be). These approaches are as much sociological as they are historical, but not directly related to apologetics or “partisanship.”

I also think, however, that such questions are tangentially or potentially also apologetical ones in some respects. If a Protestant founder like Luther or Calvin believes in the PVM and at the same time believes in sola Scriptura, then (assuming self-consistency) they obviously think they have biblical rationale to believe it, rather than merely Catholic authority or an argument from extrascriptural tradition.

This then becomes a question in apologetics, insofar as a Protestant tries to claim that Catholics believe in it (as they habitually claim) only due to extrascriptural tradition. At that point we say that it is entirely possible to accept it within a sola Scriptura rule of faith, since Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or whoever, did the same. This undercuts the argument against such-and-such detested Catholic doctrines based on thinking they are “traditions of men” or corruptions. And that is undoubtedly apologetics and/or “polemics.” Anti-Catholic polemicist James Swan understands this, since he wrote on his Boors All blog, on 10-15-14:

What I’ve found is that the alleged Mariology of the Reformers has been used by the defenders of Rome to show that the Reformers practiced sola scriptura and held to distinctly Roman doctrines.

Having gotten this right  (this is partially what we are attempting to do, per the above explanations), he then goes on to draw conclusions from that, that we do not use in our arguments in this respect. But kudos to Swan for getting part of his analysis right. He has consistently shown himself to be equally clueless about both Catholicism and Catholic apologetics over the dozen years I have observed his pathetic antics.

Anti-Catholic polemicist Steve Hays, writing on his Tribalblogue site on 10-13-14, demonstrates, on the other hand, that he doesn’t get all of this at all (which is not an infrequent occurrence for him), in writing (after referring to the discussion with Tim Staples on the CA blog):

Suppose the Protestant Reformers agree with Rome on this issue. If that’s an argument from authority in support of Rome, then by converse logic, when they disagree with Rome, that’s an argument from authority in opposition to Rome. The argument from authority cuts both ways.

He’s completely out to sea here, and about to drown. It never was an argument from “authority” in the first place (what non-Catholics believe has no bearing at all on what the Catholic Church teaches as binding doctrine: zero, zip, nada, zilch). He only thinks it is because he doesn’t analyze Catholic thinking and apologetics deeply enough: not even as deeply as James Swan does (and that’s setting the bar very low indeed!).

And he does not do so because it is a general rule that what one utterly despises, one doesn’t accord enough respect to study and research and present accurately. Therefore, when such a person sets out to battle against the dreaded Beast that he detests so deeply, he inevitably ends up fighting a straw man. Hays has virtually made a “career” (insofar as one can say that at all about a mere blogger, as he is) out of such foolish activities.

Protestant apologists typically claim that such beliefs among their founders are mere unfortunate remnants of their former Catholic affiliation, which they haven’t yet managed to shake off because they were still early in the game of Protestant history, and this is “understandable,” etc., etc. This is the “spin” that indicates, I think, a definite measure of embarrassment that the heroes and founders of the Protestant Revolt continued to believe a fair amount of “Catholic stuff” that now your average Protestant “Tom, Dick, or Harry” immediately “knows” from Scripture Alone, are abominable false doctrines. Luther and Calvin hadn’t yet arrived at that basic state of “Bible knowledge” (a ridiculous contention if there ever was one, once one sees how learned and “soaked in the Bible” both men were).

The “remnant” explanation is possible; however, it’s an entirely subjective argument, very difficult to prove. It’s a distinction without a difference. How would one prove that so-called “Reformer X” believed in the PVM because of the continuance of arbitrary Catholic tradition, or because he truly thought it was warranted from the Bible? I don’t see any way to do it. So the claim is arbitrary and made based on wishful thinking and special pleading, rather than solid ascertainable fact. It’s an interpretation superimposed on the facts as can be determined, to “explain away” what is thought to be anomalous or embarrassing or inconvenient in the course of anti-Catholic and/or pro-Protestant apologetics and polemics.

In any event, all parties are responsible to try to determine the historical facts of any given matter, whichever way they turn out. I think  I’ve shown that I am trying my best to be objective as to these sorts of facts, by changing my mind about some aspects of Luther’s opinion of the Immaculate Conception. He later placed this act of grace at the time of Jesus’ conception rather than Mary’s, so, accordingly, I have renamed his belief, “Immaculate Purification.”

This showed that I am perfectly willing to go where the facts lead, even if the persuasive evidence was partially provided by anti-Catholic sources, as it was in that instance, because truth is truth wherever it is found. Tim Staples has also shown that he is willing to retract some things and modify his position, as more facts become available. That’s what it’s all about: we ought to go to wherever the truth leads us, as can best be determined by diligent study. It was that pursuit of truth that led both Tim and I into the Catholic Church, which entailed changing our minds on a host of matters.


(originally posted on 6-5-14)

Photo credit: Portrait of John Calvin (1509–1564), c. 1550 by an anonymous French painter [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


April 24, 2020

In one of the Facebook groups I was in for a time, I was asked this question:

Does Jesus forgive all sins through his substitutionary atonement or can [a] Roman Catholic priest forgive sin through infant baptism, penance, and the Eucharist?

I replied:

Why do you feel the need to pit these things against each other, as if they are contradictories? It’s illogical and silly.

It’s not Catholics who invented the notion that baptism grants forgiveness of sins. Holy Scripture teaches that (and asserts that it is a means of salvation, too):

Acts 2:38 (RSV) And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;

1 Peter 3:20-21 . . . God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you . . .

Acts 22:16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

It’s not Catholics who drummed up the idea that the Eucharist could save us. Our Lord Jesus said that:

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

John 6:53-58 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

Jesus and Paul also clearly taught that human beings could function as mini-mediators in the work of forgiving the sins of others (i.e., not committed against the one offering forgiveness: as a representative of Christ):

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

2 Corinthians 2:7, 10 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. . . . [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,

So where’s the beef? This person seems alarmingly deficient in his knowledge of what the Bible teaches.

Related Reading

(originally posted on 3-20-17 on Facebook)
Photo credit: The Seven Sacraments: detail: baptism, confirmation, penance, by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1400-1464) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
February 6, 2020

This is one of a series of extensive excerpts (with my occasional commentary) from The Catholic Controversy (1596): a classic of Catholic apologetics (originally a collection of pamphlets), written by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622): a Doctor of the Church [see all the installments by searching “Salesian Apologetics #” on my blog sidebar search function]. Any comments of mine (apart from lists of related links) will be in blue. The rest is from the online, public domain text (3rd revised edition, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1909; translated by Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B.).

What I present is an edited abridgment, designed for modern readers: so I will dispense with the constant tedious use of ellipses (“. . .”). I will cite the section of the book used, so that anyone who desires it may consult the full text and/or particular contexts, patristic references (which I omit), etc. I will follow the custom of my paperback TAN Books edition: of italicizing scriptural passages.


Part II, Article V: Chapter 1: The Authority of the Ancient Fathers is Venerable

Theodosius the Elder found no better way of putting down the disputes of his time concerning religious matters than to follow the counsel of Sisinnius, — to bring together the chiefs of the sects, and ask them if they held the ancient Fathers, who had had charge of the Church before all these disputes began, to be honest, holy, good. Catholic and Apostolic men. To which the sectaries answering, yes ; he replied : Let us then examine your doctrine by theirs ; if yours is conformable to it let us retain it, otherwise let us give it up. There is no better plan in the world. Since Calvin and Beza own that the Church continued pure for the first six hundred years, let us see whether your Church is in the same faith and the same doctrine.

And who can better witness to us the faith which the Church followed in those ancient times, than they who then lived with her, at her table ? Who can better describe to us the manners of this heavenly Spouse, in the flower of her age, than those who have had the honour of holding the principal offices about her ? And in this aspect the Fathers deserve that we yield them our faith, not on account of the exquisite doctrine with which they were furnished, but for the uprightness of their consciences, and the fidelity with which they acted in their charges.

One does not so much require knowledge in witnesses as honesty and good faith. We do not want them here as authors of our faith, but as witnesses of the belief in which the Church of their time lived. No one can give more conclusive evidence than those who ruled it : they are beyond reproach in every respect. He who would know what path the Church followed at that time, let him ask those who have most faithfully accompanied her. The wise man will  seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will he occupied in the prophets. He will keep the sayings of renowned men (Ecclus. xxxix. i, 2). Hear what Jeremias says (vi. 16) : Thus saith the Lord : stand ye on the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, which is the good way, and walk ye in it ; and you shall find refreshment for your souls.

And the Wise Man (Ecclus. viii. 11): Let not the discourse of the ancients escape thee, for they have learned of their fathers. And we must not only honour their testimonies as most assured and irreproachable ; but also give great credit to their doctrine, beyond all our inventions and curious searchings. We are not in any doubt as to whether the ancient Fathers should be held as authors of our faith; we know, better than all your ministers do, that they are not. Nor are we disputing whether we must receive as certain, that which one or two of the Fathers may have held as opinions. Our difference is in this : You say you have reformed your church on the pattern of the ancient Church ; we deny it, and take to witness those who have seen it, who have guarded it, who have governed it: — is not this a straightforward proof, and one clear of all quibbling ?

Here we are only maintaining the integrity and good faith of the witnesses. Besides this you say that your Church has been cut, and reformed according to the true understanding of the Scriptures ; we deny it, and say that the ancient Fathers had more competence and learning than you, and yet judged that the meaning of the Scriptures was not such as you make out. Is not this a most certain proof ? You say that according to the Scriptures the Mass ought to be abolished ; all the ancient Fathers deny it. Whom shall we believe — this troop of ancient Bishops and Martyrs, or this band of new-comers ? That is where we stand. Now who does not see at first sight, that it is an unbearable impudence to refuse belief to these myriad Martyrs, Confessors, Doctors, who have preceded us ? And if the faith of that ancient Church ought to serve as a rule of right-believing, we cannot better find this rule than in the writings and depositions of these our most holy and distinguished ancestors.


Related Reading:



Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.


Photo credit: St. Francis de Sales [Bosco Austalasia / Salesian Journeying with the young]


February 6, 2020

This is one of a series of extensive excerpts (with my occasional commentary) from The Catholic Controversy (1596): a classic of Catholic apologetics (originally a collection of pamphlets), written by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622): a Doctor of the Church [see all the installments by searching “Salesian Apologetics #” on my blog sidebar search function]. Any comments of mine (apart from lists of related links) will be in blue. The rest is from the online, public domain text (3rd revised edition, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1909; translated by Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B.).

What I present is an edited abridgment, designed for modern readers: so I will dispense with the constant tedious use of ellipses (“. . .”). I will cite the section of the book used, so that anyone who desires it may consult the full text and/or particular contexts, patristic references (which I omit), etc. I will follow the custom of my paperback TAN Books edition: of italicizing scriptural passages.


Part II, Article IV: Chapter 2: How Holy and Sacred is the Authority of Universal Councils

We are speaking then here of a Council such as that, in which there is the authority of S. Peter, both in the beginning and in the conclusion, and of the other Apostles and pastors who may choose to assist, or if not of all at least of a notable part ; in which discussion is free, that is, in which any one who chooses may declare his mind with regard to the question under discussion ; in which the pastors have the judicial voice. Such, in fact, as those four first were of which S. Gregory made so great account that he made this protestation concerning them : ” I declare that like the four books of the Holy Gospel do I receive and venerate the four Councils.”

Let us then consider a little how strong their authority should be over the understanding of Christians. And see how the Apostles speak of them : It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us [Acts 15:28; Jerusalem Council]. Therefore the authority of councils ought to be revered as resting on the action of the Holy Ghost. For if against that Pharisaic heresy the Holy Ghost, doctor and guide of his Church, assisted the assembly, we must also believe that on all like occasions he will still assist the meetings of pastors, to regulate by their mouth both our actions and our beliefs. It is the same Church, as dear to the heavenly Spouse as she was then, in greater need than she was then, — what reason therefore can there be why he should not give her the same assistance as he gave her then on like occasion ?

Consider, I beg you, the importance of the Gospel words : And if he will not hear the Church, let him he to thee as the heathen and the publican [Mt 18:17]. And when can we hear the Church more distinctly than by the voice of a general Council, where the heads of the Church come together to state and resolve difficulties ? The body speaks not by its legs, nor by its hands, but only by its head, and so, how can the Church better pronounce sentence than by its heads ? But Our Lord explains himself : Again I say to you, that if two of you shall agree on earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. . . . For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them [Mt 18:19-20].

If two or three being gathered together in the name of Our Lord, when need is, have so particular an assistance from him that he is in the midst of them as a general in the midst of his army, as a doctor and regent among his disciples, if the Father infallibly gives them a gracious hearing concerning what they ask, how would he refuse his Holy Spirit to the general assembly of the pastors of the Church ?

Again, if the legitimate assembly of the pastors and heads of the Church could once be surprised by error, how would the word of the Master be verified : The gates of hell shall not prevail against it [Mt 16:18]? How could error and hellish strength more triumphantly seize upon the Church than by having subdued doctors, pastors, and captains, with the general ? And this word : I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world [Mt 28:20] — what would become of it ? And how would the Church be the pillar and ground of truth [1 Tim 3:15] if its bases and foundations support error and falsehood ? Doctors and pastors are the visible foundations of the Church, on whose ministry the rest is supported.

Finally, what stricter command have we than to take our food from the hand of our pastors ? Does not S. Paul say that the Holy Ghost has placed them over the flock to rule us [Acts 20:28] and that Our Lord has given them to us that we may not he tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine [?] [Eph 4:14]  What respect then must we not pay to the ordinances and canons which emanate from their general assembly ? It is true that taken separately their teachings are subject to correction, but when they are together and when all the ecclesiastical authority is collected into one, who shall dispute the sentence which comes forth ? If the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be preserved ? If the chiefs are blind, who shall lead the others ? If the pillars are falling, who shall hold them up ?

In a word, what has the Church more grand, more certain, more solid, for the overthrow of heresy, than the judgment of General Councils ? The Scripture, — Beza will say. But I have already shown that ” heresy is of the understanding not of the Scripture, the fault lies in the meaning, not in the words.” [St. Hilary of Poitiers] Who knows not how many passages the Arian brought forward ? What was there to be said against him except that he understood them wrongly ? But he is quite right to believe that it is you who interpret wrongly, not he, you that are mistaken, not he ; that his appeal to the analogy of the faith is more sound than yours, so long as they are but private individuals who oppose his novelties. Yes, if one deprive the Councils of supreme authority in decision and declarations necessary for the understanding of the Holy Word, this Holy Word will be as much profaned as texts of Aristotle, and our articles of religion will be subject to never-ending revision, and from being safe and steady Christians we shall become wretched academics.

Athanasius says that ” the word of the Lord by the Ecumenical Council of Nice remains for ever.” S. Gregory Nazianzen, speaking of the Apollinarists who boasted of having been recognised by a Catholic council : — ” If either now,” says he, ” or formerly, they have been received, let them prove it and we will agree, for it will be clear that they assent to the right doctrine, and it cannot be otherwise.” S. Augustine says that the celebrated question about Baptism pressed by the Donatists made some Bishops doubt, ” until the whole world in plenary council formulated beyond all doubt what was most wholesomely believed.” ” The decision of the priestly Council (of Nice),” says Rufinus, ” is conveyed to Constantine. He venerates it as settled by God, in such sense that if any one were to oppose it he would be working his own destruction, as opposing himself to God.”

But if any one supposes that because he can produce analogies, texts of Scripture, Greek and Hebrew words, he is therefore allowed to make doubtful again what has already been determined by General Councils, he must bring patents from heaven duly signed and sealed, or else he must admit that anybody else may do as he does, that everything is at the mercy of our rash speculations, that everything is uncertain and subject to the variety of the judgments and considerations of men. The Wise Man gives us other counsel :  The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened in, which by the counsel of masters are given from one shepherd. More than these, my son, require not [Ecc 12:11-12].

Part II, Article IV: Chapter 3: How the Ministers Have Despised and Violated the Authority of Councils

Luther in the book which he has composed on the Councils is not content with tearing down the stones that are visible, but goes so far as to sap the very foundations of the Church. Who would credit this of Luther, that great and glorious reformer, as Beza calls him ? How does he treat the great Council of Nice ? Because the Council forbids those who have mutilated themselves to be received into the clerical ministry, and presently again forbids ecclesiastics to keep in their houses other women besides their mothers or their sisters : — ” Pressed on this point,” says Luther, ” I do not allow [the presence of] the Holy Spirit in this Council. And why ? Is there no other work for the Holy Spirit to do in Councils than to bind and burden his ministers by making impossible, dangerous, unnecessary laws ? ” He makes exception for no Council, but seriously holds that the Curé  alone can do as much as a Council. Such is the opinion of this great reformer.

Beza says in the Epistle to the King of France, that your reform will refuse the authority of no Council; so far he speaks well, but what follows spoils all : ” provided,” says he, ” that the Word of God test it.” But, for God’s sake, when will they cease darkening the question ! The Councils, after the fullest consultation, when the test has been made by the holy touchstone of the Word of God, decide and define some article. If after all this another test has to be tried before their determination is received, will not another also be wanted ? Who will not want to apply his test, and whenever will the matter be settled ? After the test has been applied by the Council, Beza and his disciples want to try again ? And who shall stop another from asking as much, in order to see if the Council’s test has been properly tried ? And why not a third to know if the second is faithful ? — and then a fourth, to test the third ?

Everything must be done over again, and posterity will never trust antiquity but will go ever turning upside down the holiest articles of the faith in the wheel of their understandings. We are not hesitating as to whether we should receive a doctrine at haphazard, or should test it by the application of God’s Word. But what we say is that when a Council has applied this test, our brains have not now to revise but to believe. Once let the canons of Councils be submitted to the test of private individuals, — as many persons, so many tastes, so many opinions.

The article of the real presence of Our Lord in the most Holy Sacrament had been received under the test of many Councils. Luther wished to make another trial, Zwingle another trial on that of Luther, Brentius another on these, Calvin another, — as many tests so many opinions. But, I beseech you, if the test as applied by a General Council be not enough to settle the minds of men, how shall the authority of some nobody be able to do it ? That is too great an ambition.

Some of the most learned ministers of Lausanne, these late years. Scripture and analogy of faith in hand, oppose the doctrine of Calvin concerning justification. To bear the attack of their arguments no new reasons appear, though some wretched little tracts, insipid and void of doctrine, are set a-going. How are these men treated ? They are persecuted, driven away, threatened. Why is this ? ” Because they teach a doctrine contrary to the profession of faith of our Church.” Gracious heavens ! the doctrine of the Council of Nice, after an approbation of thirteen hundred years, is to be submitted to the tests of Luther, Calvin, and Beza, and there shall be no trial made of the Calvinistic doctrine, quite new, entirely doubtful, patched up and inconsistent !

Why, at least, may not each one try it for himself ? If that of Nice has not been able to quiet  your brains, why would you, by your statements impose quiet on the brains of your companions, who are as good as you, as wise and as consistent ? Behold the iniquitousness of these judges ; to give liberty to their own opinions they lower the ancient Councils, while with their own opinions they would bridle those of others. They seek their own glory, be sure of that ; and just as much as they take away from the Ancients do they attribute to themselves.

Beza in the Epistle to the King of France and in the fore-mentioned Treatise, says that the Council of Nice was a true Council if ever there was one. He says the truth, never did good Christian doubt about it, nor about the other first three ; but if it be such, why does Calvin call that sentence in the Symbol of the Council — Deum de Deo lumen de lumine — hard ? And how is it that that word consubstantialem was so offensive to Luther — ” My soul hates this word homoousion ; ” a word, however, which so entirely approved itself to that great Council ?

How is it you do not maintain the reality of the body of Our Lord in the holy Sacrament, that you call superstition the most holy sacrifice of the same precious body of Our Saviour which is offered by the priests, and that you will make no difference between the bishop and the priest, — since all this is so expressly not defined but presupposed, there, as perfectly well known in the Church ? Never would Luther, or Peter Martyr, or Ochin have been ministers of yours, if they had remembered the acts of the great Council of Chalcedon ; for it is most expressly forbidden there for religious men and women to marry.

The Council of Constantinople attributes the primacy to the Pope of Rome, and presupposes this as a thing of universal knowledge ; so does that of Chalcedon. But is there any article in which we differ from you, which has not been several times condemned either in holy General Councils, or in particular ones received generally ? And yet your ministers have resuscitated them, without shame, without scruple, not otherwise than though they were certain holy deposits and treasures hidden to Antiquity, or by Antiquity most curiously locked up in order that we might have the benefit of them in this age.

I am well aware that in the Councils there are articles concerning Ecclesiastical order and discipline, which can be changed and are but temporary. But it is not for private persons to interfere with them ; the same authority which drew them up is required for abrogating them ; if anybody else tries to do so it is in vain, and the authority is not the same unless it is a Council, or the general Head, or the custom of the whole Church. As to decrees on doctrines of faith they are invariable; what is once true is so unto eternity ; and the Councils call canons (that is, rules) what they determine in this, because they are inviolable rules for our faith.

But all this is to be understood of true Councils, either general or provincial, approved by General Councils or the Apostolic See. Such as was not that of the four hundred prophets assembled by Ahab [1 Kings 22:6]: for it was neither general, since those of Juda were not called to it, nor duly assembled, for it had no priestly authority. And those prophets were not legitimate or acknowledged as such by Josaphat, King of Juda, when he said : Is there not here some prophet of the Lord that we may inquire by him ? [1 Kings 22:7] — as if he would say that the others were not prophets of the Lord. Such, again, was not the assembly of the priests against Our Lord ; which was so far from having warrant in Scripture for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, that on the contrary it had been declared a private one by the Prophets ; and truly right reason required that when the King was present his lieutenants should lose authority, and that the High Priest being present the dignity of the vicar should be reduced to the condition of the rest.

Besides, it had not the form of a Council ; it was a tumultuous meeting, wanting in the requisite order, without authority from the supreme head of the Church, who was Our Lord, there present with a visible presence, whom they were bound to acknowledge. In truth, when the great sacrificer is visibly present, the vicar cannot be called chief; when the governor of a fortress is present, it is for him, not for his lieutenant, to give the word. Besides all this, the synagogue was to be changed and transferred at that time, and this its crime had been predicted. But the Catholic Church is never to be transferred, so long as the world shall be world ; we are not waiting for any third legislator, nor any other priesthood ; but she is to be eternal.

And yet Our Lord did this honour to the sacrificial dignity of Aaron that in spite of all the bad intention of those who held it the High Priest prophesied and uttered a most certain judgment (that it is expedient one man should die for the people, and the whole nation perish not) [Jn 11:50-51], which he spoke not of himself and by chance, but he prophesied, says the Evangelist, being the High Priest of that year.

Thus Our Lord would conduct the Synagogue and the priestly authority with singular honour to its tomb, when he made it give place to the Catholic Church and the Evangelic priesthood : and then when the Synagogue came to an end (which was in the resolution to put Our Lord to death), the Church was founded in that very death : I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do [Jn 17:4], said Our Lord after the Supper. And in the Supper Our Lord had instituted the New Testament ; so that the Old, with its ceremonies and its priesthood, lost its force and its privileges, though the confirmation of the New was only made by the death of the testator, as S. Paul says [Heb 9].

My intention has been to destroy the force of the two objections which are raised against the infallible authority of Councils and of the Church, the others will be answered in our treatment of particular points of Catholic doctrine. There is nothing so certain but that it can meet with opposition, but truth remains firm and is glorified by the assaults of what is contrary to it.


Related Reading:

Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority [6-4-96]

Pope Silvester and the Council of Nicaea (vs. James White) [August 1997]

Conciliar Infallibility: Summary from Church Documents [6-5-98]

Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority: Explanation of the Subtleties of Church Teaching and Debate with Several Radical Catholic Reactionaries [7-30-99; terminology updated, and a few minor changes made on 7-31-18]

Jerusalem Council vs. Sola Scriptura [9-2-04]

The Analogy of an Infallible Bible to an Infallible Church [11-6-05; rev. 7-25-15; published at National Catholic Register: 6-16-17]

The Bible on Papal & Church Infallibility [5-16-06]

Council of Nicea: Reply to James White: Its Relationship to Pope Sylvester, Athanasius’ Views, & the Unique Preeminence of Catholic Authority [4-2-07]

Protestant Historian Philip Schaff: The Church Fathers Believed in Conciliar Infallibility Based on the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) [Facebook, 10-8-07]

Papal Participation in the First Seven Ecumenical Councils [4-22-09]

Popes & Early Ecumenical Councils (vs. Calvin #16) [6-15-09]

Authority and Infallibility of Councils (vs. Calvin #26) [8-25-09]

Books by Dave Armstrong: Biblical Proofs for an Infallible Church and Papacy [2012]

Acts 16:4 vs. Sola Scriptura & John Calvin?: Is Conciliar Authority Binding on Protestants (Especially When it is Guided by St. Paul and St. Peter?) [11-2-15]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #10: Ecclesiology (Jerusalem Council) [3-2-17]

“Reply to Calvin” #2: Infallible Church Authority [3-3-17]

Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) Decrees: Universally Binding? [11-21-19]


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.


Photo credit: St. Francis de Sales [Bosco Austalasia / Salesian Journeying with the young]


February 5, 2020

This is one of a series of extensive excerpts (with my occasional commentary) from The Catholic Controversy (1596): a classic of Catholic apologetics (originally a collection of pamphlets), written by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622): a Doctor of the Church [see all the installments by searching “Salesian Apologetics #” on my blog sidebar search function]. Any comments of mine (apart from lists of related links) will be in blue. The rest is from the online, public domain text (3rd revised edition, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1909; translated by Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B.).

What I present is an edited abridgment, designed for modern readers: so I will dispense with the constant tedious use of ellipses (“. . .”). I will cite the section of the book used, so that anyone who desires it may consult the full text and/or particular contexts, patristic references (which I omit), etc. I will follow the custom of my paperback TAN Books edition: of italicizing scriptural passages.


Part II, Article III: Chapter 1: That we Need Some Other Rule Besides the Word of God

Once when Absalom [2 Sam 15:2-4] wished to form a faction against his good father [David], he sat in the way near the gate, and said to all who went by : There is no man appointed by the king to hear thee … O that they would make me judge over the land, that all that have business might come to me, and I might do them justice. Thus did he undermine the loyalty of the Israelites. But how many Absaloms have there been in our age, who, to seduce and distract the people from obedience to the Church, and to lead Christians into revolt, have cried up and down the ways of Germany and of France : There is no one appointed by the Lord to hear and resolve differences concerning faith and religion ; the Church has no power in this matter ! If you consider well, Christians, you will see that whoever holds this language wishes to be judge himself, though he does not openly say so, more cunning than Absalom.

I have seen one of the most recent books of Theodore Beza, entitled : Of the true, essential and visible marks of the true Catholic Church ; he seems to me to aim at making himself, with his colleagues, judge of all the differences which are between us ; he says that the conclusion of all his argument is that “the true Christ is the only true and perpetual mark of the Catholic Church,” — understanding by true Christ, he says, Christ as he has most perfectly declared himself from the beginning, whether in the Prophetic or Apostolic writings, in what belongs to our salvation.

Higher up he had admitted that there were great difficulties in the Holy Scriptures, but not in things which touch faith. In the margin he places this warning, which he has put almost everywhere in the text : ” The interpretation of Scripture must not be drawn elsewhere than from the Scripture itself, by comparing passages one with another, and adapting them to the analogy of the faith.” And in the Epistle to the King of France : ” We ask that the appeal be made to the holy canonical Scriptures, and that, if there be any doubt as to the interpretation of them, the correspondence and relation which should exist among these passages of Scripture and the articles of faith, be the judge.”

He there receives the Fathers as of authority just as far as they should find their foundation in the Scriptures. He continues : ” As to the point of doctrine we cannot appeal to any irreproachable judge save the Lord himself, who has declared all his counsel concerning our salvation by the Apostles and the Prophets.” He says again that ” his party are not such as would disavow a single Council worthy of the name, general or particular, ancient or later, (take note)—” provided,” says he, ” that the touchstone, which is the word of God, be used to try it.”

That, in one word, is what all these reformers want — to take Scripture as judge. And to this we answer Amen : but we say that our difference is not there ; it is here, that in the disagreements we shall have over the interpretation, and which will occur at every two words, we shall need a judge. They answer that we must decide the interpretation of Scripture by collating passage with passage and the whole with the Symbol of faith. Amen, Amen, we say : but we do not ask how we ought to interpret the Scripture, but — who shall be the judge ?

For after having compared passages with passages, and the whole with the Symbol of the faith, we find by this passage : Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt, xvi.), that S. Peter has been chief minister and supreme steward in the Church of God : you say, on your side that this passage : The kings of the nations lord it over them . . . but you not so (Luke xxii.), or this other (for they are all so weak that I know not what may be your main authority) : No one can lay another foundation &c. (i Cor. iii. 11), compared with the other passages and the analogy of the faith makes you detest a chief minister.

The two of us follow one same way in our enquiry concerning the truth in this question — namely, whether there is in the Church a Vicar General of Our Lord — and yet I have arrived at the affirmative, and you, you have ended in the negative; who now shall judge of our difference? Here lies the essential point as between you and me. I quite admit, be it said in passing, that he who shall enquire of Theodore Beza will say that you have reasoned better than I, but on what does he rely for this judgment except on what seems good to himself, according to the pre-judgment he has formed of the matter long ago ? — and he may say what he likes, for who has made him judge between you and me ?

Recognise, Christians, the spirit of division : your people send you to the Scriptures ; — we are there before you came into the world, and what we believe, we find there clear and plain. But, — it must be properly understood, adapting passage to passage, the whole to the Creed ; — we are at this now fifteen hundred years and more. You are mistaken, answers Luther. Who told you so ? Scripture. What Scripture ? Such and such, collated so, and fitted to the Creed. On the contrary, say I, it is you, Luther, who are mistaken : the Scripture tells me so, in such and such a passage, nicely joined and adjusted to such and such a Scripture, and to the articles of the faith.

I am not in doubt, as to whether we must give belief to the holy Word ; — who knows not that it is in the supreme degree of certitude ? What exercises me is the understanding of this Scripture — the consequences and conclusions drawn from it, which being different beyond number and very often contradictory on the same point, so that each one chooses his own, one here the other there — who shall make me see truth through so many vanities ? Who shall give me to see this Scripture in its native colour ? For the neck of this dove changes its appearance as often as those who look upon it change position and distance.

The Scripture is a most holy and infallible touchstone ; every proposition, which stands this test”^ I accept as most faithful and sound. But what am I to do, when I have in my hands this proposition : the natural body of our Lord is really, substantially and actually in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I have it touched at every angle and on every side, by the express and purest word of God, and by the Apostles’ Creed. There is no place when I do not rub it a hundred times, if you like. And the more I examine it the finer gold and purer metal do I recognise it to be made of. You say that having done the same you find base metal in it. What do you want me to do ? All these masters have handled it already, and all have come to the same decision as I, and with such assurance, that in general assemblies of the craft, they have turned out all who said differently.

Good heavens ! who shall resolve our doubts ? We must not speak again of the touchstone or it will be said : The wicked walk round about (Ps. xi. 9). We must have some one to take it up, and to test the piece himself; then he must give judgment, and we must submit, both of us, and argue no more. Otherwise each one will believe what he likes. Let us take care lest with regard to these words we be drawing the Scripture after our notions, instead of following it. If the salt hath lost its savour, with what shall it he salted (Matt. V. 13) ? If the Scripture be the subject of our disagreement, who shall decide ?

Ah ! whoever says that Our Lord has placed us in the bark of his Church, at the mercy of the winds and of the tide, instead of giving us a skilful pilot perfectly at home, by nautical art, with chart and com pass, such a one says that he wishes our destruction. Let him have placed therein the most excellent compass and the most correct chart in the world, what use are these if no one knows how to gain from them some infallible rule for directing the ship ? Of what use is the best of rudders if there is no steersman to move it as the ship’s course requires ? But if every one is allowed to turn it in the direction he thinks good, who sees not that we are lost ?

It is not the Scripture which requires a foreign light or rule, as Beza thinks we believe ; it is our glosses; our conclusions, understandings, interpretations, conjectures, additions, and other such workings of man’s brain, which, being unable to be quiet, is ever busied about new inventions. Certainly we do not want a judge to decide between us and God, as he seems to infer in his Letter. It is between a man such as Calvin, Luther, Beza, and another such as Eck, Fisher, More ; for we do not ask whether God understands the Scripture better than we do, but whether Calvin understands it better than S. Augustine or S. Cyprian.

S. Hilary says excellently : ” Heresy is in the understanding, not in the Scripture, and the fault is in the meaning, not in the words.” and S. Augustine : ” Heresies arise simply from this, that good Scriptures are ill-understood, and what is ill-understood in them is also rashly and presumptuously given forth.” It is a true Michol’s game; it is to cover a statue, made expressly, with the clothes of David (I Sam xix.) He who looks at it thinks he has seen David, but he is deceived, David is not there. Heresy covers up, in the bed of its brain, the statue of its own opinion in the clothes of Holy Scripture. He who sees this doctrine thinks he has seen the Holy Word of God, but he is mistaken ; it is not there. The words are there, but not the meaning.

” The Scriptures,” says S. Jerome, ” consist not in the reading but in the understanding “: that is, faith is not in the knowing the words but the sense. And it is here that I think I have thoroughly proved that we have need of another rule for our faith, besides the rule of Holy Scripture. I say as much of Traditions ; for if each one will bring forward Traditions, and we have no judge on earth to make in the last resort the difference between those which are to be received and those which are not, where, I pray you, shall we be ? We have clear examples. Calvin finds that the Apocalypse is to be received, Luther denies it ; the same with the Epistle of S. James. [Luther considered removing both from his Bible, but in the end did not] Who shall reform these opinions of the reformers ? Either the one or the other is ill formed, who shall put it right ? Here is a second necessity which we have of another rule besides the Word of God.

There is, however, a very great difference between the first rules and this one. For the first rule, which is the Word of God, is a rule infallible in itself, and most sufficient to regulate all the understandings in the world. The second is not properly a rule of itself, but only in so far as it applies the first and proposes to us the right doctrine contained in the Holy Word. In the same way the laws are said to be a rule in civil causes. The judge is not so of himself, since his judging is conditioned by the ruling of the law ; yet he is, and may well be called, a rule, because the application of the laws being subject to variety, when he has once made it we must conform to it.

The Holy Word then is the first law of our faith; there remains the application of this rule, which being able to receive as many forms as there are brains in the world, in spite of all the analogies of the faith, there is need further of a second rule to regulate this application. There must be doctrine and there must be some one to propose it. The doctrine is in the Holy Word, but who shall propose it ? The way in which one deduces an article of faith is this : the Word of God declares that Baptism is necessary for salvation; therefore Baptism is necessary for salvation. The 1st Proposition cannot be gainsayed, we are at variance with Calvin about the 2nd ; — who shall reconcile us ? Who shall resolve our doubt ? If he who has authority to propose can err in his proposition all has to be done over again. There must therefore be some infallible authority in whose propounding we are obliged to acquiesce. The Word of God cannot err, He who proposes it cannot err; thus shall all be perfectly assured.

Part II, Article III: Chapter 2 (first part): That the Church is an Infallible Guide for Our Faith

Now is it not reasonable that no private individual should attribute to himself this infallible judgment on the interpretation or explanation of the Holy Word ? — otherwise, where should we be ? Who would be willing to submit to the yoke of a private individual ? Why of one rather than of another ? Let him talk as much as he will of analogy, of enthusiasm, of the Lord, of the Spirit, — all this shall never so bind my understanding as that, if I must sail at hazard, I will not jump into the vessel of my own judgment, rather than that of another, let him talk Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Tartar, Moorish, and whatever you like.

If we are to run the risk of erring, who would not choose to run it rather by following his own fancy, than by slavishly following that of Calvin or Luther ? Everybody shall give liberty to his wits to run promiscuously about amongst opinions the most diverse possible ; and, indeed, he will perhaps light on truth as soon as another will. But it is impious to believe that Our Lord has not left us some supreme judge on earth to whom we can address ourselves in our difficulties, and who is so infallible in his judgments that we cannot err.

I maintain that this judge is no other than the Church Catholic, which can in no way err in the interpretations and conclusions she makes with regard to the Holy Scripture, nor in the decisions she gives concerning the difficulties which are found therein. For who has ever heard this doubted of ?


Related Reading:

Sola Scriptura, the Old Testament, & Ancient Jewish Practice [1999]

Catholic “Three-Legged Stool”: Scripture, Tradition, & Church: Dialogue with an Anglican on the Catholic Rule of Faith (vs. Jon Jacobson) [10-31-02]

The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete / Interpreter + Bible Passages that the Church has Definitively Interpreted [9-14-03]

Sola Scriptura: Unbiblical!: Refutation of Dr. Richard Bennett [9-15-03]

Quick Ten-Step Refutation of Sola Scriptura [10-10-03]

“Moses’ Seat” & Jesus vs. Sola Scriptura (vs. James White) [12-27-03]

Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment Are Logically Circular [1-28-04; slight modifications and abridgment on 9-5-17]

Jerusalem Council vs. Sola Scriptura [9-2-04]

Analyzing Luther / Protestant Traditions of Men Inevitable [9-29-04]

Catholic Rule of Faith and Binding Authority: Old Testament Analogies [4-9-06]

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

How Do Catholics Approach & Interpret Holy Scripture? [6-17-09]

Were Vernacular Bibles Unknown Before Luther? (+ later Facebook discussion) [6-15-11]

Reply to a Lutheran on Tradition & the Patristic Rule of Faith [1-10-12; additions on 2-20-18]

Bible: Completely Self-Authenticating, So that Anyone Could Come up with the Complete Canon without Formal Church Proclamations? (vs. Wm. Whitaker) [July 2012]

“Solo” Scriptura vs. Sola Scriptura: Reply to Keith Mathison [2012]

Exchanges on Sola Scriptura with Jerome Smith [2-13-14]

Catholic Church: Superior to the Bible?: Does the Catholic Church Claim to be ‘Above’ the Bible and Its “Creator”? [9-14-15]

Acts 16:4 vs. Sola Scriptura & John Calvin? Is Conciliar Authority Binding on Protestants (Especially When it is Guided by St. Paul and St. Peter?) [11-2-15]

Dialogue on Authoritative Bible Interpretation in the New Testament (vs. Reformed Baptist Elder Jim Drickamer) [1-14-17]

Discussion on Sola Scriptura and the Rule of Faith [10-13-17]


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.


Photo credit: St. Francis de Sales [Bosco Austalasia / Salesian Journeying with the young]


February 5, 2020

This is one of a series of extensive excerpts (with my occasional commentary) from The Catholic Controversy (1596): a classic of Catholic apologetics (originally a collection of pamphlets), written by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622): a Doctor of the Church [see all the installments by searching “Salesian Apologetics #” on my blog sidebar search function]. Any comments of mine (apart from lists of related links) will be in blue. The rest is from the online, public domain text (3rd revised edition, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1909; translated by Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B.).

What I present is an edited abridgment, designed for modern readers: so I will dispense with the constant tedious use of ellipses (“. . .”). I will cite the section of the book used, so that anyone who desires it may consult the full text and/or particular contexts, patristic references (which I omit), etc. I will follow the custom of my paperback TAN Books edition: of italicizing scriptural passages.


Part II, Article II: Chapter 2: That There are Apostolic Traditions in the Church

We confess that the Holy Scripture is a most excellent and profitable doctrine. It is written in order that we may believe ; everything that is contrary to it is falsehood and impiety : but to establish these truths it is not necessary to reject this which is also a truth, that Traditions are most profitable, given in order that we may believe ; everything that is contrary to them is impiety and falsehood. For to establish one truth we are never to destroy another.

The Scripture is useful to teach ; learn then from the Scripture itself that we must receive with honour and faith holy Traditions. If we are to add nothing to what our Lord has commanded, — where has he commanded that we should condemn Apostolic Traditions ? Why do you add this to his words ? Where has our Lord ever taught it ? Indeed so far is he from having ever commanded the contempt of Apostolic Traditions that he never despised any Tradition of the least Prophet in the world.

Run through all the Gospel, and you will see nothing censured there except Traditions which are human and contrary to the Scripture. But if neither our Lord has written it nor his Apostles, why would you evangelise unto us these things ? On the contrary, it is forbidden to take anything away from the Scripture ; why then would you take away the Traditions which are so expressly authorised therein ? Is it not the Holy Scripture of S. Paul which says : Therefore, brethren, hold fast the Traditions which you have received, whether by word or by our epistle ? (2 Thess. ii. 14). “Hence it is evident that the Apostles did not deliver everything by Epistle, but many things also without letters. They are, however, worthy of the same faith, these as much as those,” are the words of S. ‘ Chrysostom in his commentary on this place.

This S. John likewise confirms : Having more things to write to you, I would not by paper and ink : for I hope that I shall be with you and speak face to face (2 Jn 1:12). They were things worthy of being written, yet he has not done it, but has said them, and instead of Scripture has made Tradition. Hold the, form of sound words, which thou hast heard from me . . . Keep the good deposited [“guard the truth that has been entrusted to you” – RSV], said S. Paul to his Timothy (2 Tim 1:13-14). Was not this recommending to him the unwritten Apostolic word ? and that is Tradition. And lower down : And the things which thou hast heard from me before many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall he fit to teach others also (ii. 2). What is there more clear for Tradition ? Behold the method ; the Apostle speaks, the witnesses relate, S. Timothy is to teach it to others, and these to others yet. Do we not see here a holy substitution and spiritual trusteeship ?

Does not the same Apostle praise the Corinthians for the observances of Tradition ? If this were written in the 2nd of Corinthians, one might say that by his ordinances he understands those of the 1st, though the sense of the passage would be forced (but to him who does not want to move every shadow is an excuse) ; but this is written in the 1st (xi. 2). He speaks not of any gospel, for he would not call it my ordinances. What was it then but an unwritten Apostolic doctrine ? — this we call Tradition.

And when he says to them at the end : The rest I will set in order when I come [“About the other things I will give directions when I come” – 1 Cor 11:34, RSV], he lets us see that he had taught them many very important things, and yet we have no writing about them elsewhere. Will what he said, then, be lost to the Church ? certainly not ; but it has come down by Tradition. Otherwise the Apostle would not have deprived posterity of it, and would have written it.

And our Lord says : Many things I have to say to you, hut you cannot bear them now (John xvi. 12). I ask you, when did he say these things which he had to say ? Certainly it was either after his Resurrection, during the forty days he was with them, or by the coming of the Holy Spirit. But what do we know of what he comprehended under the word: — I have many things, &c. — if all is written ? It is said indeed that he was forty days with them teaching them of the Kingdom of God ; but we have neither all his apparitions nor what he told them therein.


Related Reading:

“Tradition” Isn’t a Dirty Word [late 90s; rev. 8-16-16]

Binding, Authoritative Tradition According to St. Paul [2004]

James White’s Critique of My Book, The Catholic Verses: Part I: The Binding Authority of Tradition [12-30-04]

Refutation of James White: Moses’ Seat, the Bible, and Tradition (Introduction: #1) (+Part II Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI) [5-12-05]

Bible and Tradition Issues: Reply to a “Bible Christian” Inquirer (Particularly Regarding St. Augustine’s Position) [3-1-07]

Nature of Tradition & Church: (vs. Two Lutheran Pastors) [10-9-07]

Martin Luther’s Remarkably “Pro-Tradition” Strain of Thought [1-18-08]

Biblical Evidence for True Apostolic Tradition (vs. “Traditions of Men”) [6-23-11]

Biblical Evidence for the Oral Torah [10-18-11]

Reply to William Whitaker’s Sola Scriptura Arguments: Absurd Alleged Biblical Indications Against Apostolic Tradition [10-20-11]

Reply to a Lutheran on Tradition & the Patristic Rule of Faith [1-10-12; additions on 2-20-18]

Did Jesus Commission the New Testament (or the Disciples?) [5-31-18]

Is Sacred Tradition “Inspired”? No; Only Sacred Scripture Is [10-8-19]

Anglican Newman on Oral & Written Apostolic Tradition [10-12-19]

Oral Tradition According to Great Historic Apologists [10-18-19]

Martin Luther on the Exact Nature of Being “Biblical” [11-10-14; revised and expanded on 1-5-20]


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2700 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.


Photo credit: St. Francis de Sales [Bosco Austalasia / Salesian Journeying with the young]


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