(Edited from an actual reply recently sent from Saint Benedict Center.)
To our online readers: I am sharing this “for what it’s worth” to you. I never got a response from the lady to whom it was sent. Maybe you could join me in praying for her.
Dear Mrs. [Name Withheld],
Christ Jesus be praised! First, let me commend you for having the courage of your convictions regarding your beliefs. While most “Christians” are content to be indifferent about the matter of correct doctrine, not bothering to question the claims of other churches (or, for that matter, to look into their own), you have taken the trouble to question ours. I pray that this may be one in a series of graces leading you to your ultimate purpose in life: eternal salvation.
I should note three things before I proceed to “fill in the blanks” of your letter.
First, three of the doctrines that you assert to be taught by the Catholic Church are, in fact, not at all taught by the Catholic Church. I will note these things when I get to them in your ordered list. Also, of the doctrines that you properly identified as Catholic, some of them you expressed improperly in the few explanatory details you gave. These, too, will be noted in the proper place.
Second, the Catholic doctrines that can be defended from the Bible (which include all the Church’s teachings), will not necessarily be found in the Bible, word for word, in the manner the Church teaches them. I find that many Protestants are under the strange delusion that all they have to do to disqualify a Catholic doctrine from being a matter of divine faith is to demonstrate that the Bible does not assert the proposition in the exact words that the Church advances it. This is childish.
The idea that one can read the sacred text and logically infer things from it — make reasonable conclusions — is something most Protestants accept in principle, yet some of these same folks demand that I show them a verse that states the doctrine the exact way the Church does. This is unreasonable, as it shows a double standard.
Two examples will suffice to show why it is that the “give it to me word for word” approach is a non-Christian approach, and one that is not even practiced by non-Catholics in their own reading of the Bible:
1. Most Protestants believe that Jesus is God (which, in fact, He is). Yet, one cannot find that affirmation in those exact words anywhere in the New Testament. The Bible teaches that Jesus is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), and that “the Word was God” (John 1:1), and that “the Word was made flesh [in Jesus]” (John 1:14). Many other things, too, the Bible says that affirm Jesus’ divinity, but the Bible never says it in these exact words: “Jesus is God.” I spoke to a Protestant a couple of weeks ago who did not believe Jesus is God. We argued round and round, but since I could not offer him a verse that literally said the exact sentence, “Jesus is God,” he would accept nothing that I did offer him from the Bible, which effectively said the same thing.
2. The Bible has — according to the reckoning of every Protestant I know — sixty-six books. The assertion of most Protestants is that those sixty-six books, and no others, are the authentic, inspired, written word of God. Yet, the Bible does not say, “These sixty-six, and only these sixty-six, are the inspired books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus . . . Revelations.” Such a list is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Jesus did not give such a list, nor were the Apostles inspired to do so; yet, most Protestants believe it. (Please don’t take it as sarcastic when I point out that the Table of Contents in your Bible is not inspired by the Holy Ghost. On whose or what authority, then, do you believe that this list of sixty-six books is inspired by God? Was the publisher who posted this Table inspired? Think about it carefully before you answer too quickly.)
Third, everyone reads the Bible with some “tradition” in his mind as a guiding principle — everyone. Even the most “anti-traditional” Protestant has a tradition behind him, namely the “tradition of man” known as the Protestant Reformation, complete with its doctrines of “the Bible only” (sola scriptura), “faith alone” (sola fides), and the “These sixty-six, and only these sixty-six” doctrine referred to above. None of these man-made doctrines are in the Bible. All are part of the Protestant “tradition” handed down from Martin Luther and the others who left the Catholic Church to begin their new religion. (The word “tradition” means a “thing handed down,” usually a belief, teaching, custom, ceremony, or way of doing things.)
Another point: The Bible itself speaks of oral “tradition” as distinguished from the written tradition of Holy Scripture: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:14). We Catholics embrace these Apostolic “traditions” passed on “by word.” Protestants claiming to be against oral tradition do two things: (1) they contradict the Bible in the passage cited, and (2) they contradict themselves since they embrace oral traditions of their own (“the Bible only,” “faith alone,” “only these sixty-six,” etc.), while claiming that they reject non-scriptural doctrinal traditions.
With these points out of the way, let me proceed with “your list” of alleged Catholic aberrations:
Your first allegation: The Pope is the earthly head of the church. My response: The pope is the visible head of the Church on earth. Jesus is the Church’s invisible head. The following scripture texts, read in the light of inspired tradition, show us that there exists such an office in the Church and that that office was given to St. Peter and his successors in perpetuity until the end of time:
a) As soon as Peter was introduced by his brother Andrew to Jesus, the Lord changed his name from Simon to Peter. “And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas . . .” (John 1:42). In Hebrew Aramaic that name is Cephas, which means rock. Jesus was certainly not interested in handing out nicknames; every man’s name God changed in the Bible (Abraham, Israel, Joshua) was in view of a mission. “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:16). To Peter alone was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, along with the power to lock and unlock, which is to bind and loose (Matt. 16:18-19). Keys are a symbol of authority: “And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Is. 22:22). See, too, Rev. 1:18.
The Lord gave to Peter (and to his successors) the duty of feeding His entire flock as supreme pastor: “Feed my lambs . . . feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). The Greek fathers call Peter archicephalos, “chief head,” appointed by Christ at the Last Supper to confirm the brethren, which is to say the other apostles: “Simon . . . strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). In this visible capacity, Saint Peter is, by appropriation, the “Vicar” of Christ. A vicar is one who acts as an agent for a superior, as a deputy. Jesus, while He walked among us, personally gave authority to the seventy-two disciples to speak in His name (vicariates), and to heal in His name, and to cast out demons in His name, as we read in Luke 10:16; therefore, since the twelve Apostles enjoyed a higher authority than these, Peter, as chief among the twelve, and his successors (even Judas’ place had to be filled [Acts 1:25]) are in the highest sense Christ’s vicars. See also, John 13:20; 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 4:14; Acts 5:1-5 where the Apostles of Christ speak and command in His name with divine authority. No Protestant denies that God gave authority to Moses to speak in His name, Jesus Himself referring to the continuance of that authority in the office, or “chair,” of the high priesthood (Matt 23:2), which office taught with authority long after Moses had written the first five books of the Bible. Why, then, do they deny that the “chair” of Moses has been superseded by the “chair” of Peter? Why is it that Protestants refuse to accept the word of the Rock who is Christ (1 Cor. 10:4) when the Rock affirms that He will build His Church upon a visible rock that is Peter, a Church of faithful men upon a chosen man of faith: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona: because flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). A visible Church of baptized men, sinners as well as saints, cannot be built upon an invisible faith, and certainly not upon the invisible faith of Peter; rather it must be built upon a faithful man, just as the Rock Himself tells us that He would build it in the Gospel. Or, would you say that St. Paul was not inspired by God when he wrote that the Church was “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” even as Jesus Christ is the “chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20)? Once you have pondered these points, let us hope with the critical eye befitting a Christian, the following complementary scriptural references concerning the Prince of the Apostles should serve to further enlighten you concerning the Catholic truth.
b) St. Peter is always mentioned first and foremost in every inspired list of the Apostles, although the order for the listing of the other eleven does vary: Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13; and Luke 9:32.
c) St. Peter speaks for the Apostles, either as their spokesman, or as one having the primary authority within the actual college: Matt. 18:21; Mark 8:29; Luke 12:41; and John 6:69.
d) St. Peter addresses all the people gathered from east and west in Jerusalem at Pentecost; he was the first, therefore, to preach under the impulse of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:14-40.
e) St. Peter worked the first miracle of healing: Acts 3:6-8.
f) When alone at prayer, it was revealed by God to Peter, as head of the twelve Apostles, to preach salvation to Cornelius and to all the Gentiles: Acts 10:45-48.
g) When St. Paul found fault with the disciples of St. James, who wanted to impose the whole of the Mosaic law upon Gentile converts, the Apostle of the Gentiles did not confront James about it, which would have been easy, since this Apostle was in Jerusalem, but, rather, he brought the issue up directly to St. Peter, when they both came together in Antioch in Syria. It was here in this Gentile city that St. Paul felt compelled to withstand Peter “to his face,” when the latter “dissimulated” by dismissing himself from the table of the Gentiles lest he offend the Jews from Jerusalem who still considered Gentile meats unclean (Gal. 2:11). Why single out Peter? Because Peter, as chief pastor, was not fulfilling, in this matter, his office of “confirming the brethren.” He had been negligent in correcting James and his disciples concerning the proper liberty in regard to the partaking of Gentile meats that all Jewish converts now had in Christ.
Second Allegation: The Pope is called “Lord God the Pope.” People bow down to him. My response: This is not true and not Catholic doctrine; so I do not wish to defend it.
Third Allegation: The Pope has all authority on earth pertaining to the Church. My response: See No. 1.
Fourth Allegation: The church is built on Peter. My response: See No. 1. Also, remember the point already made. Scripture tells us that the Church is “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). St. Peter was an Apostle.
Fifth Allegation: Peter was the first Pope. My response: Again, see No. 1. But, note: the word “pope” means “father.” This was a title the Church gave to the successors of Peter, not a title given in Scripture. However, who can deny that spiritual fatherhood is a very scriptural concept (see 1 Cor. 4:15)?
Sixth Allegation: Church tradition is superior to the Bible in its authority. My response: This is not Catholic doctrine; so I do not wish to defend it.
Seventh Allegation: Mary never had other children. My response: There is no place in the Bible that says, “Mary never had other children.” Neither are there places that say that “Mary had other children.” Again, it is the Protestant (human) tradition that says she did (although not all Protestants believe this). There are passages in the Bible that you may interpret to mean that Mary had other children, but there are more sensible explanations of these passages that are consistent with all of Scripture, especially Luke 1:34 ff., where it is made obvious that Mary never intended to have normal marital relations. Also, interpreted by the authentic tradition of the Church — the “pillar and ground of the truth” — these passages clearly do not mean the Blessed Virgin had other children. St. Jerome, who, in the late fourth century, at the pope’s behest, translated the Bible into the Latin language, which was the commonly spoken western language at that time, wrote a treatise in defense of the Blessed Mother’s perpetual virginity against the novel teachings of a heretic named Helvidius.
As an example of such misappropriation, let us take the case of St. James the Less whom, no doubt, you allege was our Lord’s blood brother, since St. Paul calls him the “brother of the Lord” in Gal. 1:19. Three times the Holy Spirit inspired the evangelists to identify this Apostle as the son of Alpheus, not Joseph. (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; and Luke. 6:15) The mother of this James was also named Mary, and she is identified as one of the other women, besides the Blessed Virgin, standing beneath the cross of Christ. Here she is called the “sister” of the Blessed Virgin (John. 19:25). Unless we are to assume that two girls in the same family were given the same first name, the word “sister” here used must mean “relative,” “cousin,” or, perhaps, if she were married to the brother of St. Joseph, even “sister-in-law.” Therefore, James the Less, son of Alpheus (also called, in holy scripture, by his Greek name of Cleophas), was our Lord’s cousin. This is still a common practice among the Semitic people to call one’s cousin a brother or sister. Furthermore, if Jesus had other brothers from Mary, His mother, then why did the Savior, as He was dying on the cross, give her to the care of John? For James, Simon, Jude, and Joseph are all called the Lord’s “brethren” in the Gospel. I did a more detailed study on this that I could send you, if you are interested.
Eighth Allegation: Mary is a mediator for man to Jesus. My response: The Church does not teach this exactly as you put it. Our Lady is an intercessor. She intercedes for us. She is also a mediatrix with God (the Trinity). Her “mediation” is by way of her being a spiritual mother to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, which is what Christians are. (See Rom. 8:29, where Jesus is called the “firstborn amongst many brethren.”) That Mary is our spiritual mother can be seen also in John 19:25-27, when her dying Son gave her to His Church through the beloved Apostle. We also see Mary acting with great confidence in her role of intercession at the wedding of Cana. “Do whatever He tells you,” she instructed the stewards (John 2:1-12).
Ninth Allegation: The bodily Assumption of Mary (she went to heaven in a bodily form). My response: Who, then, do you imagine is the “woman clothed with the sun” in the Book of Revelations (Apocalypse), chapter 12? Also, note the end of chapter 11, in which passage the Apostle describes his vision of the opening of the temple in heaven and “the ark of the covenant was seen in the temple.” First, the sacred writer sees the ark in the heavenly temple and then, immediately following that (the inspired text has no chapter and verse enumerations) he speaks of the “woman.” The ark was a tabernacle for God. It prefigured the person of Mary. “He that made me, rested in my tabernacle” (Ecclesiasticus 24:12). There is a longstanding Christian tradition that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. Also, keeping in mind the Ark-Mary typology, we read this in the Psalms: “Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified” (Ps. 131 [132 in KJV]:8). There were fathers of the Church who interpreted this passage to apply to Mary. I also composed a little treatise on this topic that I could send you, if you are interested.
Tenth Allegation: There is a place called “purgatory” to which those who die go after death to be purified, a place of punishment but not necessarily permanent. Under certain conditions, a person in purgatory can be released and saved. My response: This is correct, that is, in identifying Purgatory as a Catholic doctrine, but the details, as you state them, are wrong. Purgatory is not only “not necessarily permanent,” it is not at all permanent. Purgatory is a temporary place of chastisement, and all the souls who go there are secure in their salvation. They await their entry into the Beatific Vision (Heaven), which will follow upon the completion of their purgation. At the general judgment, after the end of the world, there will be no more Purgatory. There are many proofs for the existence of Purgatory that are easily derived from Scripture, tradition, and even from common sense when applied to revelation. Consider these points:
a) Not all sins condemn one to hell, but God’s justice demands that all sins be expiated. “For he that doth wrong, shall receive for that which he hath done wrongfully: and there is no respect of persons with God” (Col. 3:25). See also Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matt.12:36; and Apoc. (Rev.) 21:27. That this expiation for lesser sins (“a just man shall fall seven times and shall rise again,” Proverbs 24:16) and for grave sins not sufficiently repented of before death can be done “in the next world,” see Matt. 12:32. See, too, Revelations (Apocalypse) 21:27, where it is written that nothing “defiled,” or that “maketh a lie” shall enter the “heavenly Jerusalem.”
b) According to Holy Scripture, we need (and will receive, if we are saved) “perfection” and “completion”: “Being confident of this very thing, that he, who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). See also, Matt. 12:36; Heb.11:40 & 12:23; and1 Pet. 5:10.
c) Death can come before expiation or perfection happens. It is common sense, therefore, to hold that there must be a place in God’s economy of salvation wherein those who die in an imperfect state are made perfect. Not only in the Old Testament, as we read in the story of the heroic Machabees, but even still today, the Jews pray for the dead in their synagogue service. Why pray for the dead at all if our petitions cannot benefit them?
d) St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (3:13-15) testifies to purification in the next life, especially by way of fire: “Every man’s work shall be manifest [emphasis added]; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” Many of the early Christians took this passage to mean Purgatory (Origen, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great).
Eleventh Allegation: A priest can forgive a person’s sins. My response: After His resurrection our Lord gave this power to the Apostles as is clearly evident in John 20:22-23: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” How could the Apostles (or their successors) make a judgment to forgive or retain sins if they are not confessed to them? See also, Matt. 18:18 concerning Christ giving the Apostles power to “bind” and to “loose.” And, too, see James 5:14-16 and 1 John 1:9, where the faithful are encouraged to avail themselves of the great mercy of God in His sacrament of confession. That the confession of sins was required practice in the Old Testament is clear not only from the commandment to do so in the Mosaic Law (Num. 5:5-7), but also the same confession is praised in the books of Wisdom (Job 31:33; Prov. 28:13; and Ecclus. 4:31) and exacted by John the Baptist for proper preparation in the reception of his baptism of penance (Matt. 3:6). It is important to note that this confession is required for sins committed after receiving the Baptism of Christ, not for sins committed before that. Nor can any sins be forgiven, even if one confessed to an Apostle, without contrition and firm purpose of amendment.
Twelfth Allegation: Only very special people are made a “saint” after they die. My response: This is not a teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church teaches that all who die in God’s justice are saved and, therefore, are “saints.” Even those in this life who are in God’s grace are saints. St. Paul, for example, called himself “the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). The Catholic Church does not “make” saints; she merely declares that holy people whose sanctity is proved by miracles are indeed in heaven, where they can pray for us before the throne of God. Intercessory prayer is proved by the following verse: “By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). See also, Rom. 15:30; Col. 4:3; and 2 Thess.1:11. That the saints, who have died, are with God is proved in these two following passages among many others: 1 Cor 13:12 and 1 John 3:2. The fact that the Church has authority from God to teach men the truth pertaining to salvation (and to do so without error) allows her to make these declarations known as canonizations. This can be seen in the following passages. That the Church is infallible: “Whatever thou shalt bind upon earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). And, again, Matt. 18:18, “. . . he [that] will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican” (emphasis added). See also, Matt. 28:20; Mark 16:16; Luke 10:16; and 1 Tim. 3:15, wherein the Apostle refers to the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
You close your letter with this thought: “I find in the New Testament we will be judged by the word of God, not human tradition.” Mrs. Beguiled, I find in the New Testament that we will be judged by Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:31 ff.), the just Judge. I also find there that the members of the early Church were “persevering in the doctrine of the apostles” (Acts 2:42) and that, further on (vs. 47), in the Church, “the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” Therefore, if anyone wishes to be saved, he must hold those same doctrines of the Apostles, which they learned from Jesus Christ. These are the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church, the one true Church of Jesus Christ, our sovereign Lord and Judge.
I hope these responses are helpful to you. May our Lord bless you.
In Jesus Christ, the Eternal Truth,
Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M.