A Universal Apologia for the Catholic Church
A matter which I cannot address in public without some disquiet has risen again, and courtesy asks I address it.
My reluctance in taking up my pen to discuss this hideous divorce between orthodoxy and its various deviations is partly from a natural dislike of voicing disagreement with beloved brothers. If my tone seems controversial, that is due to the nature of the controversy, not due to any pride on my part. It is simply a fact that I cannot say why I think I have found the right answer without implying that those who say otherwise have not.
My reluctance again is partly from a pragmatic dislike of exposing the weakness of disunity to our mutual foes, secularists, atheists, Leftists, cultists of Political Correctness, and other jeering and famished monstrosities circling with bloodshot eyes and lolling tongues the broken bulwarks and the fading fires of our dying citadel called civilization, assaulted from without as betrayed from within.
My reluctance finally is partly from, surprisingly enough, humility. It is rare emotion for me. Frankly, I am jovially proud of nearly everything else in my life, from my excellent education, to my natural skill at writing, to my happy family life, to my towering height, to my monstrous girth, to my fine-looking beard like a manly yet silent explosion of hair. But when it comes to divine questions, I was in this matter for so long and so deeply deceived, and so thoroughly sunk into the very Marianas Trench of folly and error, that I take no delight to disagree with another reaching conclusions other than mine. From age seven upward I was an atheist, and a skillful and zealous and successful proselyte of that false doctrine, and I grew from a youth too stupid to grasp the palpably obvious, into a man too arrogant to see the blindingly obvious. So I am reluctant to give voice to my vain imaginings lest wiser men and more learned come across them, and expose them to a just mockery.
On the other hand, my loyalty to Christ and my love of truth for its own sake bids me speak, and the hope that my words might aid some other in any struggle he might have with conundrums akin to mine.
I have elsewhere given an account of the visions and miracles and ecstatic experiences which overwhelmingly and unambiguously transformed me from a zealous atheist to a zealous Christian. It was a supernatural event, and it is not within my power to repeat it for the inspection of casual onlookers. Consequently, I do not expect to convert atheists to theism by power of reason alone, for I was not converted by reason alone, but by the Holy Spirit.
Unlike my supernatural transformation from atheist to theist, the decision which of the competing denominations to join was a natural one, and I relied upon my own unreliable nature and mother-wit to make it. It is that decision this essay is meant to recount and justify.
Reason alone makes a powerful argument that the Catholic Church is what she says she is, and contains the fullness of revelation that other denominations contain only in part. Even if that argument is not convincing to all, honesty asks me to recount why I found it convincing; and hope tells me any man approaching the question from the direction I approached it will likewise find it convincing.
For I approached the question from the outside. The mind of an atheist is so far from the mind of Christendom that it may well be another planet, and all the continents and mountains and seas of your world were like a bright dot to me, as the features of Earth seen from Mars. The differences between Greece and Italy are invisible even in outline to the Martian whose telescope distinguish features of Europe and Asia.
In particular, because an atheist has an equal disdain and contempt for all forms of religious thought, I had no preferences between you and your twin brothers.
I did not, for example, have any opinion whatsoever on the question of the two natures or one of Christ, nor whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father only versus from the Father and the Son, nor whether the Host is a memorial only or contains the real presence of the Son. I was neither attracted nor repelled by the painted statues of the Catholics nor the icons of the Orthodox, nor was I attracted nor repelled by the unornamented simplicity of the New England chapels nor by the splendor and intricacy of the Gothic cathedrals. And I was completely lacking in that odd and phobic revulsion many a Protestant has toward the Virgin Mary.
If I deviated from a the perfect objectivity of perfect indifference, it was only in this regard: What I did possess was the typical attitudes and opinions one might expect from someone raised in mid-Twentieth Century America, to whom classical liberalism of the Enlightenment is bred into his bones, and the idea of separation of Church and State is an automatic one. Also, my attitudes and judgment were remarkably and deeply marked by the writings of the Greek and Roman philosophers and historians, particularly Epictetus, Lucretius, Thucydides, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, but most of all Aristotle. I am and was a thoroughgoing Aristotelian. My intellect is congenitally cool and logical; I am unmoved by appeals to emotion, howsoever heartfelt.
No doubt my Nestorian or Monophysite or Russian or Greek Orthodox readers, or Protestants, or Puritans, or Mormons, or Moonies, or Arians, or Unitarians, or Albigensians, or Witches might wonder with a start of dismay how it comes to be that so wonderful and wise a person as myself could find himself freed the stench and clinging darkness of atheism only to be immediately snared in the filthy meshes of the Roman Catholic Church, so notorious in song and story as being a haunt of devils and pederasts and idolaters and cannibals.
The short answer is that I am neither so wonderful as the question supposes, nor is the Church so dark as she is painted.
When I looked into the matter, I found to my infinite shock that the songs and stories are wrong, and very nearly everything a non-Catholic says or believes about the Catholicism is either propaganda maliciously spread or propaganda unwittingly believed.
(I say ‘unwittingly’ rather than ‘gullibly’ for I myself am as skeptical as it is possible for a human being to be, and even I did not detect any gaps or clues or inconsistencies in the nearly perfect smokescreen of falsehood erected by her enemies that surrounds the towers and walls of the beleaguered Church and blots her from honest view. In nearly every case, I was not even aware that was any controversy, much less another side of the story.)
So if you, my dear Nestorian or Monophysite or Russian or Greek Orthodox reader, or Protestant, or Puritan, or Mormon, or Moonie, or Arian, or Unitarian, or Albigensian or Witch, had never heard the rumor that there was a Catholic rationale or apologetic or reason to support the Church, allow me to acquaint you.
Several things convinced me of the truth of the Catholic claims. I will tell them in chronological order rather than any argumentative order.
Authority: The first was the paradox of the claim by denominations accepting the Catholic teaching, such as the existence of a man called Christ, but rejecting the magisterium on whose sole authority those teaching are to be believed, or even known.
This paradox would be like hearing two messengers from a distant king, both of whom accuse the other of corrupting the message, but finding that the second messenger got his copy from the first, whom he also accuses of corrupting the message.
Canonicity: The second is the paradox of accepting the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity but rejecting the Catholic Church whose Ecumenical Councils on whose sole authority those doctrines rest.
Magisterium: The third is the paradox of asserting an infallible scripture was canonized by a fallible Church; or again that an authorized scripture was authorized by an unauthorized Church.
Scriptural Authority: The fourth is the paradox of claiming an independent, self-defining or self-authorizing authority for scripture.
Unity: The fifth was the paradox of claim that Christ founded a single and unified Church against whose authority He wished His loyal followers to rebel, because His wish was for disunity.
Communion: The sixth was the paradox of the claim that His immediate followers misunderstood the meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist instituted by Christ, but that visionaries or theologians hundreds or thousands of years after those followers, understood that meaning perfectly.
Continuity: The seventh was the paradox of the claim that Christ instituted eternal rules and disciplines for His followers which He also meant to evolve with the times, following the fickle fashions of the world.
Chastity: The eighth was the paradox of claiming to be Christian while scorning Christ’s own clear words forbidding divorce and other unchaste practices.
Historicity: the ninth was the difficulty of assigning a date at which the Church lost her authority. The date is either early or late. If late, it is a paradox to continue to accept, as canonical, her teachings after that date; and if early, it is a paradox to call yourself Christian while rejecting everything the Christians ever taught.
Ignorance: the tenth was the stunning realization that denominations other than the Catholic are naturally ahistorical.
Tradition: the eleventh was the realization that a lack of history implied a lack of universality.
Heresy: the twelfth was a realization which sprang from seeing the pattern of historical ignorance, liturgical paucity, a lack of seven sacraments or all of them, and so on. Heresies are always simplifications of a complex and interdependent organism of ideas into a single master idea, which, upon consideration, has no warrant for supremacy.
Another peculiarity of heretical opinions is that they are rarely novel opinions, but merely a repeat of an old error.
A thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth convincing point was on the questions of the nuanced nature of the balanced judgement of the Church, particularly in her approach to law, the crass and erroneous nature of the accusations against the Church, and the sacramental life within it.
Let me address each of these points in order.
* * *
NOTE: in the passages that follow I intend to use words like ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ and ‘schismatic’ and ‘heretic’ even though these fall awkwardly on the modern ear, because these words are clear and precise. I am not going to use a phrase like “a faithful follower of Christ whose opinion is at variance with the lawful authority for determining the canonicity of Christian teaching, etc.” rather than a word like “heretic” because I am constitutionally unable to substitute a cumbersome phrase for a term of art admitting of no ambiguity.
If you don’t know the difference between a “heretic” and a “heathen” then I respectfully suggest you acquaint yourself with a dictionary. These are not swear-words nor ad copy nor meaningless emotion-noises as are the un-words used so adroitly by the Politically Correct.
Any reader for whom such words have some bad emotional connotation is asked to snap out of his silliness and cease paying heed to emotional connotations of words, which are subjective, but instead to the meaning of words, which is objective.
Or, contrariwise, I may suggest that if the word “heretic” like the word “traitor” or “pervert” has a bad connotation, I might suggest that the connotation exists because it is merited. While we all admire rebels against lawless tyrants who exceed and abuse their authority, we all condemn those who betray the trust entrusted to them, or who rebel against goodness, revolt against reason, or those whose lives are in insurrection against natural affection, and nature’s God.
* * *
Let me address the first question here:
- ON AUTHORITY
I have several reasons for accepting that the Catholic Church is what she says she is, and not what the various break-away denominations says she is.
The first was an argument I came across way back when I was an atheist. It was a theological argument presented as a dialog between the ghost Thomas Aquinas and the ghost of Martin Luther with an imaginary C.S. Lewis on the authority of Christian tradition.
I do not recall where I came across it, nor who wrote it. I thought it was written by some bright and slightly flippant college student with too much free time on his hands, but I also thought it singularly clear and persuasive.
[N.B.: in preparing this essay, I tried to find that article again, and discovered to my infinite surprise that it was written by the great Peter Kreeft, who is indeed bright and slightly flippant, and might as well also be the reincarnation of Socrates. So it is not to be taken as any surprise that the argument was clear and persuasive.]
It had no effect whatsoever on my belief at the time. I thought it was an argument between two people arguing about nonexistent things, much like hearing an argument about whether or not Wolverine’s claws could penetrate Captain America’s shield.
Nonetheless, such arguments can have a winner and a loser even from the point of view of a skeptical outsider, because if you grant the unreal premises, one man’s conclusions will follow and the opposite will not.
Within the logic and continuity of the comic book universe, if you can show how in Issue 301 of AMAZING MARVEL TEAM-UP where it was established that the admantium weapon of Ultron was shown to be able pierce the admantium-vibranium alloy of Captain America’s shield, and that Wolverine’s claws are admantium weapons, the conclusion follows logically, even concerning make-believe things, that the shield of the Red-White-and-Blue Avenger can be penetrated by the claws of the scrappy Canadian X-Man. Any continued argument on the other side must distinguish the cases (that is, say how Ultron’s feat is not proper precedent for Wolverine, or say why Issue 301 is not canonical).
In this case, the ghost of Luther argues that Christianity teaches that there is one scripture, one salvation, and one sovereign Lord; and that therefore the claim by the Catholic Church to have a magisterium, a teaching and interpreting authority in effect adds a second scripture to the first; next, that salvation is by faith alone and therefore the claim of the Catholic Church to require good works in effect adds a second means of salvation; and third, that divine grace alone saves man, not man’s cooperation in that grace, and therefore the claim of the Catholic Church that man has free will adds a second sovereign to the universe, and impugns the power of God.
On the other side, the ghost of Aquinas argues that sola scriptura, a doctrine not found in scripture, is a contradiction in terms, that it must lead to endless fissiparation not to mention that it undermines the Church authority by whose sole witness anyone knows the Bible to be authoritative; that man is indeed saved by faith alone, but that good works are a necessary outgrowth of that faith, if it be real faith; and that if sovereign God wills man to have free will, it does not impugn that will, no more than the freedom of Homer to pen Odysseus as a character who, in his tale, has free will and freely makes his character choices within that tale (as, for example the heroine in TRILBY does not when her will is robbed by the mesmerism of Svengali).
Now, without going into the details of that argument (which frankly I do not recall) this was the first time it was brought to my attention that the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations are not making the same claims.
It is not like the old television gameshow TO TELL THE TRUTH where a man and two imposters all claim to be one and the same celebrity, and the panelists by cunning questions attempt to discover his identity before the master of ceremonies asks the real celebrity please to stand up. It is more like a law case where a mother and a daughter both claim to have the exclusive right to inherit the patrimony of an absent father, the mother basing her claim on widowhood, and the daughter asking the court to divest the mother and turn the property over to her on the grounds that the mother has mismanaged the estate.
The idea is no doubt familiar to religious believers, but this was the first time in my blissful atheist existence, that I came across the idea that the Protestant claim to speak authoritatively and magisterially on Church teachings logically presupposes the magisterial authority of the Church, that is, the Catholic Church, to establish Church teachings, such as the canon of the Bible.
Even though, as I said, to me this was as meaningless as an argument between two fanboys about the imaginary weapons made of imaginary metals wielded by imaginary superheroes, as a matter of logic, I thought the ghost of Aquinas scored a clear, perhaps even unanswerable, victory in the debate. As far as I could tell, the argument carried the day: Luther’s admantium claws could not penetrate Aquinas’s vibranium shield.
Now, let me emphasize that the reason why this argument lodged in my memory was due to sheer contrarian perversity. I had not known the Catholics (sad inmates as they were in that airless tower of superstitious darkness called the Church) could make logical arguments, much less make sound ones.
But, neither as an atheist with no dog in that brawl, nor as a Catholic vowed to live and die in the faith, to this day, do I see any error in the argument.
In effect, the Lutheran claim is a claim of the right to rebel against the teaching authority of the Church, on the grounds that the Church is apostate. Unfortunately, the sole witness for the apostasy of the Church is an alleged disagreement between Church teachings and the scriptures on which the Church relies for those teachings.
But the sole witness for the validity, canonicity, historicity, and divinity those selfsame scriptures is the authority of the Church whose members wrote them, gathered, sanctified, protected, promulgated and canonized them.
1.1 THE PARABLE OF THE MESSENGERS
The first of the several points on which my faith in the Catholic Church rests was brought to my attention back when I was an atheist, and had no concern one way or the other as to which side should prevail in an argument I dismissed as being on a completely imaginary topic.
Namely, one cannot argue that the books of the Bible are canonical and argue at the same time that neither the Church nor any one has the authority to canonize them.
Every baptized Christian is in the position of the servant of a king on the forefront of a battlefield. Two thousand leagues away stands the King, who issues both general and specific orders and also appoints his Supreme Allied Commander and eleven General officers, and establishes his chain of command. He leaves no written orders himself, but the Commander and the Generals hears his words and write some of them down. To prove that they work in his name and under his authority, the King grants them certain signs they can show to the doubtful.
The message contains a great commission for a general levy, that is, every man hearing the message is commanded to join the army in the name of the king, and become a messenger in turn, spreading the good news it contains as far and wide as possible.
At His Majesty’s command, these messengers set out toward you. Enemy spies continually attempt to change and corrupt the message, but the message itself contained repeated warnings of this.
For roughly the first 50 to 75 leagues or so, the message is verbal, and the messengers are repeating it the new messengers they recruit as they go. Even from the first step, there is dispute and debate as to how to interpret and enforce the message, or even what it means. Some of them write part of it down, or write down commentary about it, or write exhortations to each other to keep the message faithfully.
By the time the 100 league mark is run, the Supreme Allied Commander and ten of the eleven General officers have been killed after torture by the Enemy, and the final General officer recalled by the king. At the 200 league mark there are clearly generals (who are also messengers) of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, of which the arch-messenger of Rome is preeminent in honor, and perhaps (this claim is open to dispute) in authority. All these claim to have received their authority from previous messengers who received it from the King. They base their claim of authenticity on this succession, which can be called a ‘chain of custody’ or ‘chain of evidence’ or ‘apostolic succession’.
Between the 300 and 400 league mark, finding that some of the abovementioned writings are fake, and some are real, the chief messengers gathers at what is called an Ecumenical Council, and, with the advice and consent of the Supreme Commander in Rome, decree certain of the writings together to be final and definitive. This is called scripture. But many the messengers before this point wrote down their thoughts about the message and its ramifications, and left a paper trail behind them older than the First Ecumenical Council. These are the Patristic writings.
Disputes are continuous, but all the messengers agree (or seem to) that a general council or a vote between them will settle disputes as they arise. That satisfies some but not others. From time to time other messengers break away, or spies for the enemies arise claiming to be messengers who are not, Arians and Donatists and Montanists and Gnostics, but these are pulled back into the ranks, either gently or roughly.
Before the 500 league mark, two the messengers break ranks and peal off, and go their own way, claiming their interpretation of the message alone is authoritative: these are the Monophysites and the Nestorians.
At the 700 league mark, one messenger throws away all previous written versions of the message, and discards most of the verbal version, and writes a new one which he says is based on secret communication with the King’s superior, the Emperor, whom the messenger saw in a dream. This new message he calls ‘The Recital’. He savagely and continually attacks the other messengers throughout the rest of the trip, pausing only momentary when he is beaten into semi-consciousness and cannot physically continue. He claims the king is not a king, but merely a messenger like himself, but that all the other messengers botched up the message maliciously, and are in the pay of the enemy. The king’s messengers all say he is in the pay of the enemy. Unlike the messengers during the first hundred leagues of the journey, this one produces none of the signs and wonders the king promises will accompany special prophetic messengers acting in His name. This one is called Mohammed.
At the 1000 league mark, the next major break happens, although this time there is no disagreement over the message, only over who has the final authority in case of any garbled messages to establish the authoritative version. These are the Orthodox, who later split into Greek and Russian.
At the 1500 league mark, one of the messengers is unhappy with that part of the message which says he cannot get a divorce, so he peals off. He makes not even a token attempt to pretend to be guarding the original version of the message. These are the Anglicans.
At about the same time, two others, Luther and Calvin break away, on the grounds that only the written version of the message can be trusted, only the written version is necessary. They say the later interpretations and arguments only confused matters. However, oddly enough, these two discard several parts out of the writing, particularly those that happen not to agree with their interpretation of the writing. There is another general council, just the same the ones which determined the contents of the messages and settled all previous disputes, but the new messengers will not accept this as the proper mechanism to settle the dispute. The dispute is so vehement, that they form a new army with new banners and a different chain of command, but they claim to be still loyal to the king, nay, they claim to be the only messengers loyal to the king. Unlike the messengers during the first hundred leagues of the journey, they produce none of the signs and wonders the king promises will accompany special prophetic messengers acting in His name.
When they break away, there is an explosion of many breakoffs from their group in turn, since their group holds, as part of the preamble of the oral message, that it is each man’s duty to break away when he suspects the chief messenger of adulterating the message.
All these messengers, the ones who ran straight as well as the ones who swerved, all reach you at once. They all have orders they say are based on the authority of the King and come from him, but the orders have either minor differences, or major.
On what is the claim based?
The Roman messenger says his authority is paramount and always has been, that he was appointed by the king to settle any disputes and correct any corruptions of the message. The two Orthodox messengers says not so, that the chief messengers of Antioch and Constantinople, Jerusalem and Alexandria were equal, and Rome not greater than they; but the Orthodox accept everything Rome also accepts, at least up to whatever the first seven General Councils agreed.
Luther and Calvin say that the King never granted any messenger authority to interpret the message, only to carry it. The fact that the message was not written down until around the 75 league mark and not finalized into an authoritative version until the 500 league mark is one they do not address. Based on some (rather technical) reasoning about the intentions of the king which is not reflected anywhere in the written message, they both discarded certain parts of their message, including Tobit and Maccabeus and Wisdom. At the same time both claim the other messengers were never granted by the king any authority to carry any oral message. Indeed, Luther and Calvin and Rome all claim each other to be spies in the pay of the enemy, and fall into the most grotesque and deadly combat before your eyes, tearing with tooth and nail, biting ears, gouging eyes, crushing gonads. It is appalling.
At the same time, more messengers appear as if from nowhere. Joseph Smith claims that the king spoke to him personally and gave him a pair of gold tablets written in Reformed Egyptian, a language no one else has ever heard of. He does not have them ready to hand, but he is willing to tell you what is on them. Mary Baker Eddy claims each and every messenger of the king misunderstood the kings message entirely, for he was not the king at all, merely a physician, but she has at her command the same signs and wonders used by the early messengers to confirm that they acted in the king’s authority. Again there is the reverend Sun Myung Moon, whose interpretation of the message is irreconcilable with anything of the previous versions or dispute about the message, and seems to be mingled with elements of Taoism or syncretism, and not even pretending to be part of the original message.
And then there is Mohammed, who shoots your five-year-old daughter in the head, and dances when she dies, and then whines that you are oppressing him, and calls you a racist.
All messengers claim the authority to give the message and the interpretation of the message.
Again, these are not groups of Madison Avenue advertisers attempted to sell you a product. Their message is not an advertisement, which you have the right to ignore, but a command, which you have not. All claim to represent the king whom you are bound and avowed to obey. So disregarding all the messages is not an option, nor is accepting them all an option, since they disagree either in minor or major points, nor is it an option to grant all of them equal credence, since you were warned repeatedly that some messages would indeed be lies from the enemy.
Logically, the only option is to examine their warrant, whatever it may be, on which they rest their claim of authority. If each one claims to be orthodox, the only option is to examine on what grounds each claims the others to be heterodox. It is a partly an historical and partly a legal claim.
The first warrant examined is that of the Protestants. The claim that they make is that the orally transmitted parts of the message were corrupted by the malignancy of the Roman messenger, and cannot be trusted; and moreover that only the written parts of the message are needed to carry out the king’s will. However, even a cursory glance at their practices, since they are Trinitarians and monogamists, shows that they themselves both heed and follow as if by the king’s own command certain things delivered only in the oral parts of the message.
The claim they make that only the written part of the message is to be trusted in not in the written part of the message. Instead, the written part of the message contains quite clear warnings against false messengers, and curses against anyone who alters or contaminates the message.
And the written part of the message is lacking several books. The Protestants claim that they rejected parts of the message which they thought were added by the Romans.
A cursory inquiry as to where and from whom and when each man got the message he carried will reveal the following:
|WHICH MESSENGER||WHERE||FROM WHOM||WHEN|
|Catholic Church||Jerusalem||Jesus Christ||33|
|Presbyterian (Old School)||Scotland||General Assembly||1560|
|Baptists||Rhode Island||Roger Williams||1639|
|Methodist Episcopal||England||John Wesley||1739|
|Free-Will Baptists||New Hampshire||Benj. Randall||1780|
|Free Communion Baptists||New York||Benijah Corp||~1790|
|Campbellites, or Christians||Virginia||Alex. Campbell||1813|
|Reformed Methodist||Vermont||Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church||1814|
|Methodist Society||New York||Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church||1820|
|Methodist Protestant||Baltimore||Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church||1830|
|Seventh-Day Baptists||United States||General Conference||1833|
|Presbyterian (New School)||Philadelphia||General Assembly||1840|
|True Wesleyan Methodist||New York||Delegates from Methodist denominations||1843|
However, at this point, the Protestant messengers say that a strict line of succession of messengers is not necessary to establish to show the authority of the message. There are two witnesses which provide confirmation of the authenticity.
The first witness is a Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit whom the king has sent to guard the authority and continuity of the message. Each messenger makes a claim of inerrancy or infallibility, either express or implied, for to claim otherwise is to claim that the king has no power to send the message.
The second is the written message itself, which can be examined such that it proves itself by its own authority to be authentic and authoritative.
However, it is soon clear that the Roman messenger holds as part of the oral message that the Chief messenger has final authority to rule on what is part of the message and what is not. The Roman makes a clear and formal statement claiming infallibility.
The Protestants make a similar claim for the body of the congregation, or for the written message, or for each individual reading it. No matter how unbelievable the claim is that the king sent an invisible spirit to protect the messengers from error, while it is logically possible that one messenger has this authority, is not logically possible, from the simple fact that all the messengers disagree, that they all possess it.
Also, the redacted sections of the written message provide a logically insurmountable paradox for the Protestant messengers. If their sole authority for the authenticity of their message is the written part of the message, then they have no authority to redact or remove parts of the message on any grounds. They cannot throw away the Book of the Maccabeus or Tobit or the Letters of James or anything else because they claim that neither they nor anyone has the authority to define the cannon.
Finally, when you ask the Protestant messengers, since not one of them saw with his own eyes the king himself give the original copy of the message, written or oral, how they know the king exists at all, their only answer is to say that they take the word for it of the early Roman messenger.
You ask them how they know they written part of the message is the only valid part? Their only answer again is to say they take the word for it of the early Roman messenger.
The Protestants respond that there was a time before the message become corrupted, and the Roman messenger from that time could be trusted, but the later messengers could not. You ask them how they know the early message existed at all? Their only answer yet again is to say they take the word for it of the early Roman messenger.
As far as I am concerned, the argument is definitively over at that point: if the one has no authority and no source of information aside from the other, then the one cannot logically be in a position to overrule the other, or claim his information is better, or his authority higher. It is logically impossible.
But there are a few other questions whose answer lends additional weight to the Roman side of the question.
If you have a legalistic mind, you ask Luther and Calvin to point to the part of the message, or the general standing orders, or the specific field order, which tells them they have the right to disobey their superior officers and create a new chain of command based on different forms than the old chain of command. The Roman messenger claims the chain of command was established from the outset by the King; the Protestants say their authority to rebel comes from the natural reasoning that if the chain of command is disloyal to the king, loyalty to the king demands disobedience to the officers the king placed over you. And the Protestants say that at the time when the messengers all set out, there was no official chain of command. But this is not reflected in the written part of the message, so by the Protestant logic, they cannot rely on any tradition as to what conditions obtained in the early days.
Turning to the other messengers, you discover another astonishing thing. The Greek and Russian and Syriac and Coptic and Malabar messengers, while severed from the authority of the Roman messenger, all reject the specific interpretation of the message maintained by Luther and Calvin. All have priestly hierarchy. All claim apostolic succession. All believe in the Real Presence. None affirm sola scriptura.
The only other breakaway group agreeing with the Protestants on these points is Mohammed. He also believes that the written message was corrupt, so he throws out not one or two, but all the books of the Bible, while keeping the gist of the stories of Genesis, Exodus, and the Virgin Birth. He also denies the sacraments. He also abolishes the priesthood and preaches a simplified version of the message.
Logically, if apostolic succession and so on are corruptions in the message, then the corruption happened independently to all branches, or happened at a point before the rather early point when they split. And if they split for reasons other than the reasons given by the Protestants, then the authority of the Protestants to split is fallacious: if the Protestants accept the authority of the first seven or so Ecumenical Councils, and take the council decisions to be authorized, then they cannot reject the decision of the Council of Trent.
More to the point, if the Lutherans and Calvinists accept the authority of the first seven Ecumenical Councils, then they accept, as a constitutional matter, that the proper way to define Church teachings is by a vote of priests and bishops and archbishops, or, in other words, by the authority of ministerial offices whose authority they reject. The constitution of the various Lutheran denominations does not allow them to call a general council or a synod of bishops, since they have no bishops.
This means they hold themselves bound by the decisions of an office they themselves have abolished.
As a purely legal or constitutional matter, if the Church for thousands of years in both eastern and western branches has accepted the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils and Synods as authoritative, and if there is no scriptural authority or traditional practice of disobeying or overruling them, Luther, an Augustinian monk, does not have the authority to declare himself superior to the Council of Trent, and able to overrule its findings.
Americans hold it as self-evident that governments are instituted among men to protect their rights, and when the government is harmful to those rights, the people have the authority and duty to overthrow the government and erect a new one. This is because Americans hold our rights to come from God Almighty, and the government is merely a human institution derived from human wisdom to attempt to safeguard these mighty gifts. But until the time of Luther, no Christian held that the Church was instituted of men by the wisdom of men, but was rather a divine and mystical body, instituted by Christ.
Whatever the other denominations may say must be decided on its own merit. The claims of the Mormons or Moonies or the Christians of Syria or Malabar has to be decided based on the content of those claims to authenticity. But just the nature of the message we call Christian teaching logically requires that the Protestant claim to be the sole and rightful messengers, based on books whose authenticity is attested to by a Church whose authority they reject, is illogical and impossible.
I have spoken only of Luther, but to my knowledge, all Protestant denominations accept sola scriptura and Luther’s redaction of the books of Tobit and Maccabeus and so on from the canon. All accept the claims that Christian tradition must and should be rejected as unchristian and unauthoritative if not supported by the Bible. However, the Bible itself does not anywhere authoritatively list which books are canonical, which are deutero-canonical, which are apocryphal, and which are heretical, nor does any book in the Bible give any measure or standard by which this determination is to be made.
But more oddly, the Protestants all agree with each other about which books to exclude. No version of the Bible among the Protestants accepts the Shepherd of Hermas, for example, or the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypse of Peter, albeit they all accept the Apocalypse of John and the Book of Esther.
The argument, if it were ever made, that Luther and Calvin and Wesley and Henry VIII and Ebion and Marcion (and whoever else) each one independently had the authority to determine which books were in the Bible, and each one went through a separate and independent procedure of determination, and each one came to the same conclusions and included the same books and epistles is simply ridiculous.
Historically speaking, what happened is that there were two canons of the Old Testament proposed by Jewish scholars and authorities. One was the Alexandrian canon, which predates the Incarnation, and is the one quoted by Christ. The other was compiled by the Pharisees a century or two after the Crucifixion. The Pharisees were scrupulous to exclude any books of the canon which they could not find in Hebraic (or Aramaic). So if there were only versions of, say, the Book of Maccabeus in Koinic, the Pharisees excluded it. This was the state of the best Jewish scholarship both when Jerome translated the scriptures into Latin, and, later, when Luther inquired of the Jews as to the authenticity of disputed book of the Old Testament. However, in the 1950’s the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals copies of at least some of the disputed books in their original Aramaic. And the Catholic and Orthodox churches have always accepted the Alexandrian canon.
The Lutherans were not being completely arbitrary, but neither was the argument being made in good faith, since one of the points of dispute between Luther and the Catholic Church was the legitimacy of prayers for the dead, which logically implies a purgatory or other intermediate condition aside from heaven or hell. The Book of Maccabeus contains references to Jews praying for the dead. The theologian who argues that scripture is the sole and sufficient source of all learning needed for salvation conveniently leaves out the scriptures that disagree with his pet theories.
Historically again, the final canon of the Bible was not established shortly after the messengers set out, but somewhere around the 500 A.D., after those first few Ecumenical Councils whose decision the Protestants accept, but whose authority they do not accept. And yet everything which the Protestants reject as corruptions, from the anointment of bishops to the consecration of the host to the adoration of Mary to prayers for the dead, are between one to four centuries older than that date, and there is no surviving record of any Christian ever doing things any other way.
- ON CANONICITY
So much for the first point. The second is the paradox of accepting on authority the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity but rejecting authority defining those doctrines.
I did not back when I was an atheist (and do not now that I am a faithful Christian) see how anyone can reject the Church without rejecting the writings of the Church. If the Church is not sacred, how can her writings be sacred? And if her writings are sacred, how can the Church not also be?
There are only two possible answers: one is to say that the Church had her authority, legitimately exercised, up through the period where the New Testament writings were written, collected, and canonized, and lost that authority thereafter. The answer depends for its probative value on the date assigned as the point of last legitimate authority, after which the Church’s apostasy was irrevocable. Any doctrines promoted before that date are presumptively valid, as being given by a legitimate authority.
The other answer is to say that the Church never possessed magisterial authority, that is, the authority to define Christian teaching, and that this power lodges either in the individual, or nowhere.
The logical fallacy involved in this second answer is obvious: if the Church never possessed the authority to define doctrine, then nothing in the Christian canon, not even the fact that Christ existed at all, has any authoritative support.
It is not as if there are independent non-Christian written records testifying to the events in the Gospel or the visions of St Paul or St John aside from the apostles and disciples themselves. Aside from the testimony of Peter and Paul and the other saints and apostles and martyrs, there is no record that Jesus of Nazareth lived at all, much less that He was the Christ, much less that He was divine, and said the things He said.
There is nothing in the Bible listing the canon of scripture. There is not even a rule or standard mentioned explaining how to compile such a list, or to establish what books belong and what do not.
But let us suppose for the sake of argument that there were a book in the Bible, let us call it The Book of Solascripture, which clearly and plainly set out that scripture and not tradition is the sole authority for determining canonicity, that is, giving the standard of what constitutes orthodox teaching. Let us further suppose that the Book of Solascripture lists all books which are orthodox and authoritative, from the Book of Genesis through to the Apocalypse of John. Does the Book of Solascripture list itself in the list? Either it does or it does not.
If it does not, that is a self-contradiction, for then the book by whose authority we know which books are authoritative lacks the authority to make that determination.
If it does, that is a circular argument, for then the book by whose authority we know which books are authoritative is the only witness to support its own authority. It would be like a judge in a court of law declaring himself king on the grounds that, as king, he has the authority to grant this one judge, himself, the right to declare who should be king.
Let us suppose again that the Book of Solascripture was written anywhere from 30 years to 120 after the Crucifixion, as late as 150 A.D. Consider the apostle, let us call him Protoluther, who penned the Epistle of Solascripture. Was everything he taught before that date invalid? Was everything every apostle taught before that date invalid? To them, scripture meant only the Old Testament.
What was his basis for Protoluther’s authority to write this scripture and teach this doctrine that authority comes from scripture alone? That authority must be based on something Christ or one of the other apostles taught to him orally. But if so, by it own definition of authority, this doctrine has no authority to be taught, nor to enter the canon of scripture.
If Protoluther has no authority to proclaim Sola Scritpura as authentic Church teaching, how much less has Luther over a thousand years after. And by what authority does Luther decree that all canonizations from the past thousand years were invalid? How does he get the right to strip the sainthood not from one nor two, but from all the saints back to Saint Mary?
But in fact there is no Book of Solascripture, and in fact there is no passage in the Bible supporting Sola Scriptura. (There is a passage saying scripture is useful for instruction and reproof, however, but this is hardly that same thing). There are also passages indicating that the early Church Fathers spread tradition orally, and relied on oral tradition, and expected it to be spread orally, from one generation to the next.
There is no passage in the Bible indicating that this reliance on tradition was, or was meant to be, temporary or limited to a certain early period. (It may be so that Christ intended or command such a limitation, and that we as Christian should obey His intent or command for the sake of salvation, but, if so, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is false, for then there is at least one commandment or divine intention, necessary for salvation, which is not in the scripture.)
So, logically, the answer that the Church never possessed teaching authority must be rejected by any Christian. No man determines the nature and content of the Christian teaching for himself on his own authority, because no man living is an eyewitness to Christ.
That leaves the other answer: that the Church at one time possessed teaching authority and lost it on the grounds of her apostasy. This rests on the question of teaching authority. This is turn rests on the question of whether the Church is or is not one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
Hence to support this answer logically, the Protestants have to make four claims: first, that the early Christians in doctrine and practice and to all practical effect were Protestant and not Catholic, on the grounds that the Church suffered an apostasy, slowly or suddenly, at some specific date between the First Century and the Sixteenth; and, second, that this apostasy was final and irrevocable, such that the Church could never reform, repent, nor regain her lost authority; and third that this apostasy grants each Protestant individual the legal authority to rebel in order to return to the original forms of the Church.
Note that this third claim logically gives each individual baptized Christian an authority no Pope nor General Church Council ever claimed, which is the ability to overrule or ignore the findings of any or all previous Church Councils.
This third claim has no support whatever in the constitution of the Church, nor in canon law, nor in the writings of any Church Father, nor in Scripture, nor any basis in logic. Nothing Christ says said that each man can invent his own Church to suit himself.
The fourth and final claim is that each man has the right and authority to interpret scripture for himself. If a ten o’clock scholar reads a passage where, for example, Jesus says none is good but God alone, and he interprets that to mean that Christ was a human prophet and not the Second Person of the Trilogy, his reading is as authoritative as if Saint Peter had said it.
For that matter, if the same scholar decides that the resurrection scenes are meant to be allegorical or poetical, and that Christ never rose from the dead, or never existed to begin with, that is spoken with Peter’s authority also.
Or if he decides that Christ declaring the Eucharist to be His body is allegorical, then Peter’s authority can dismiss the Lord’s Supper as something Christians need not keep; or if he decides that baptism is a spiritual act which is marred or blockaded by the performance of a sacrament using material water, then Peter’s authority teaches Christians must not perform baptisms; or if he decides the serpent in the garden of Eden was the true God seeking to grant men knowledge and divinity whereas the creator was an evil demiurge and the enslaver of man; then by this logic these are all valid readings, all equally Christian, all equally authoritative.
- ON THE MAGISTERIUM
The third point that convinced me of the truth of the Catholic claims is the paradox of accepting the canon of scripture while rejecting the teaching authority, that is to say, the Magesterium, of the Church. This is asserting an infallible scripture was canonized by a fallible Church; or again that an authorized scripture was authorized by an unauthorized Church.
But if not from the Church, from where would this Magisterial authority come?
Does Christ grant to each several and separate believer the right and authority to define the canon of scripture each man for himself? Do some men have the authority and not others? If so, whence comes this authority? If not through apostolic succession, then from where?
Now, a sensitive modern reader will already notice a whiff a moral atmosphere utterly alien to all modern thought has entered this essay. Why are we discussing authority?
All the authorities of the modern thought teach that authority is radically and innately evil, and is meant only to be rebelled against in the in the name of individualism, or equality, or nihilism or communism, and never to be obeyed or heeded. The paradox of authorities authoritatively declaring all authority to be unauthoritative need not delay us, except to note that it is of a like form to all other modern paradoxes of gibberish.
Rare indeed is the modern reader believes that there is such a thing as a teaching authority, or that statements made by authority of the teacher or pastor have any obligation to be accepted on authority by a student or celebrant under his discipline. The idea sounds old-fashioned and old-worldly if not positively oriental, as if an eastern sage or guru expects his students to bow and vow lifelong fidelity to his teaching.
Nonetheless, we are not discussing an issue where, like the Michelson-Morley experiment, or the Millikan experiment, each man has an equal chance as any other to see the matter in dispute and be an eyewitness. If you doubt the findings of Aristarchus of Samos concerning the diameter of the Earth you, yourself, without any equipment aside from two yardsticks can confirm it. You can thrust the sticks into two spots at different latitudes, pace off the distance with your own legs, measure the shadows cast at a given date and hour, and using math no more complicated than a first year geometry student knows, derive the correct figure. If you doubt whether Galileo was correct about the existence of the moons of Jupiter, you can spot them yourself on a clear night with a pair of field glasses.
This issue is not like that. Until someone invents Irwin Allen’s Time Tunnel, or Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, no additional eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are ever going to appear.
You have to rely on the report of Mary Magdalene, out of whom seven devils were cast, who apparently cannot tell the difference between her master and the gardener, or on the disciples walking the road from Emmaus, who also did not recognize Him, or on the testimony of Saul of Tarsus, who not only had a seizure and went blind, he seems to forget whether the other people with him heard the voices in his head or not. These are not very reliable witnesses, and, frankly, the written record in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles in some of these cases is not written by the witness himself, making it hearsay.
In any case, you, dear reader, were not there. You did not see it. You were not standing next to Thomas, and, when offered the chance, shoved Tom roughly aside and thrust your plastic ruler into the wound in Christ’s abdomen to measure precisely how deeply the spear of Longinus bit.
Outside the Church, there is no visible firsthand evidence available to confirm that Christ was resurrected, nor crucified, nor what He said and did, what He taught and what He commanded His followers to do, nor even, indeed, that He lived at all.
The pagan or Jewish historians who mention the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Tacitus and Josephus, are not giving firsthand accounts, and most likely heard the name only because it was on the lips of the Jewish breakaway sect which was already beginning to call itself Christian, and which already had the unique character of an ecclesiastical body, a Church.
If you hold Christ rose from the dead, the only reason why you think so is that Mary Magdalene, and Peter and Thomas saw Him; and, later, Paul. The only reason you know Mary and Peter and Paul exist at all is the surviving documentary witness of those scriptures which were canonized into the Bible; and the only reason any man has to believe those scriptures are authentic and authoritative is that the Church vouches for them. So if you are a Christian, and you believe Christ rose, you believe the Church in this. Therefore it cannot be maintained by any Christian that the Church never had any authority. The only logical argument is to say she had the authority and lost it.
So there is no one who saw Jesus or even knows He existed, outside the Church. If you want to find out what He said and did, you have to ask the Church. There is no one else to ask, no other source of information.
The difference is, if Galileo says he saw satellites orbiting Jupiter, those satellites are still there, and any supermarket or hardware store can equip you with the telescope you need to prove the point to yourself. You do not have to rely on Galileo’s authority. You don’t have to believe him. You can prove it to yourself for yourself. All you have to believe is your eyes.
But if Boswell says Johnson uttered a witty epigram, or Plato says Socrates asked a witty question, your eyes do you no good, since you cannot put them into the position to observe the event. Either the eyewitness is trusted, or he is not.
In this specific case, we are not dealing with an epigram nor a question, but a command, a gospel, and a great commission. If Christ is real, and He says what the eyewitnesses say He says, then His various parables, examples, and teaching are necessary for our understanding to comprehend, and His various injunctions, exhortations, and commandments are necessary for our wills to obey. If Christ is what His disciples wrote and taught He is, then His word is not just law, but divine law, which means His word is life.
If that is so, it is crucial to understand whether the command to memorialize the Last Supper in the Eucharist is literal or parable, or command to preach to all living creatures; and whether the command to baptize extends to children; and what it meant when Peter was given the keys to heaven, and so on.
In other words, Luther did not read the King James’ Bible. He read the Roman Bible, with the books in it he later removed. Luther did not hear what Jesus said, only what the Romans say Jesus said.
In sum, the Protestant argument suffers from a crucial and fatal defect: You cannot take Christian Bible as the sole authority from which to judge what Christians should and should not believe, and then argue that the Christians have no authority to interpret the Bible, no authority to write the Bible, no authority to say which books are authoritative and which are not. The stark fact is that the Bible has no authority outside the authority the Church, acting on her own authority, grants to the Bible.
The Bible cannot witness to its own truth. The only logical reason to accept the Bible as true is to accept it on the witness of the Church that wrote, compiled and sanctified it. If you think the Church is filled with liars and idolaters and that the Pope is the Antichrist, then you have no grounds to think that any documents produced by the Church are not the documents of liars and idolaters and antichrists.
But suppose it were not so. Suppose Luther had the authority to rewrite and re-edit the Bible. In that case, the Bible cannot be the sole and final authority on matters of Christian doctrine: Luther himself is. But Luther did not heal the sick and raise the dead and do the other mighty works which prophets routinely perform in order to show a divine sanction supports their words. He can simply give no warrant for such a claim of authority.
- ON SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY
Since the time, back when I was an atheist, when I first came across the controversy over Church authority to define canon, I have since only heard two additional arguments which support the Protestant side. Both arguments claim an independent, self-defining or self-authorizing authority for scripture.
One was from a Protestant theologian who is so wise and learned, and so clear and logical in his thinking that I tremble to disagree with him. He made this statement: “It is wrong to say that the Church formed the canon of scripture; the scripture formed the Church!”
The nakedness of the paradox, which I assume is offered more for the cleverness of its word play than as a sober argument, defeats its point. The scripture simply did not fall out of the sky on golden tablets written in Reformed Egyptian and clonk a man named Peter on the head, at which point he declared himself Pope, went to Rome, and was martyred for his faith in a man he had never met. Peter wrote the epistle of Peter.
And if the scriptures did indeed form the Church, then by that same logic, they formed a hierarchical church with apostolic succession, bishops and archbishops, Eucharist and sacrament, reverence for Mary and adoration of Saints and all the other characteristics that the Coptics, Nestorians, Greek and Russian Orthodox share in common with Rome.
If the scriptures formed the Church, the scriptures could not form a Church that contains defects which lasted 1600 years, and then suddenly declare the head of the Church to be the King of England when His Majesty needs a divorce.
In other words, this argument was that the scriptures have an authority independent of the men who wrote them, and of their disciples who preserved, collected, protected, and sanctified them.
How the book could be sacred and infallible but the men who wrote and canonized the book could be not only fallible, but scoundrels bent on corrupting the book and its message is an impossible paradox. Any argument for the independent, non-clerical, and non-apostolic authority of scripture fails.
The other additional argument was from a crackpot whom to quote is to refute. He said that Catholics did not write the New Testament, or in other words, that Peter, Paul, John and all the others were not Catholics.
Now, at the time, four centuries before the break between the Monophysites and the Melkites, and a thousand years, before the schism between the Byzantines and the Romans, the Catholics and the Christians were one and the same. The two words were interchangeable. In other words, the crackpots argument was that the immediate disciples and followers of Christ were somehow, at the same sense and the same time, Protestant and non-Christian.
The question then is at what point they became Catholics, and stopped being Jews. Even a casual inspection of the Acts of the Apostles shows that the Catholics had been baptizing people without reference to Jewish authority, and defying the Jewish authority, ever since Pentecost, and that Saul of Tarsis was persecuting them. They were an identifiable separate group at that time.
In other words, again, the claim is that Peter was the first Pope, but was not Catholic. The Catholics cannot claim the leaders and founders of the Catholic Church wrote the New Testament, or perhaps Catholics cannot claim that these men lead or founded the Church or any Church. Or they were not members of the Church they founded because they were not baptized. Or the Early Church was different in some fundamental way from the Church later called Catholic. Or something. I am reminded of how pro-abortionists claim that unborn humans are not human on the grounds that membership is the species is optional.
I can only assume the crackpot meant that the organizational structure of the Church did not exist in the earliest days. If so, one wonders into what communion or community the men baptized at Pentacost were baptized into. Nor can it be claimed that the apostles and disciples never had a leader or never were supposed to have a leader, because the apostles were arguing about it even before Jesus died, and Protestants as well as every other denomination has a leader of some sort, even if they reject an Episcopal hierarchy as a form of leadership.
Whatever did or did not exist in the first months after Pentacost, since the epistles, the Acts of the Apostles and the Revelation of Saint John already make reference to a Church containing certain uniquely non-Protestant features, such as deacons and bishops, as do the writings of the Antenicene Fathers, and since all this dates from before the New Testament writings were canonized, then the Early Church whatever its nature cannot be said to be Protestant, or anything like it.
Logically, Protestantism cannot be authoritative if Catholicism authoritative is not because Protestants take their basic teachings about the life and death of Christ, the nature of the Incarnation and the Trinity and so on, on the authority of the Catholic Church and from nowhere else.
Such was my first introduction to the Catholic position from back when I was an atheist. To be sure, I thought both Catholic and Protestant were wrong, but I additionally thought the Protestant claim to be self-refuting.
After my conversion, I engaged in a search and a meditation for over two years before deciding which denomination to join. But this article has grown too long: my report on my later and more Christian thoughts will have to wait for another day.
- ON UNITY
The fifth argument in favor of Catholicism was first point that impressed itself upon me after my conversion. It was the question of unity.
Upon receiving the heartrending beauty and dazzling truth of the Christian faith with as loud a wail of surprise as a baby being born, but much more joyful, I felt as if I were an foundling raised in some terrible gray-walled dystopia where all the children are orphans were born in Petrie dishes, and no rumor of fatherly or motherly love existed, of a sudden finding that both his parents were alive and loved him and sent for him to come home.
Rushing to his magnificent ancestral mansion, the foundling discovers the great house has been torn asunder so that only the Eastern and Western wings still stand, and between them, where the main nave once rose, is now a cratered and lifeless no-man’s-land. At two opposite doors on opposite ends of the majestic ruin, his parents stand. They suffered a messy and vindictive divorce, and each now crossly demands of the foundling that he choose which one to love and which to hate.
That mansion is the Church.
It is no fault of mine that you weak-minded and hate-addicted Christians could not maintain the unity Christ bestowed upon His followers, and I resent to this day that this choice has been forced upon me.
And there is not merely a father and mother demanding exclusive loyalty and love from the discovered foundling, but dozens of major and thousands of minor brethren.
The Eastern wing of the mansion has been further torn into a Greek section and a Russian section, and a race of cannibal troglodytes, either of the communist or Czarist or Mohammedan bent, has been feasting on the flesh of their wretched slaves for decades or for centuries.
The Western wing was torn in sunder between a Catholic and a Protestant section and the brothers and sisters living there tore at each other’s flesh with their teeth so viciously and for so many years, that only the most drastic compromise—namely, that the mother church would have no authority over secular matters—could create a ceasefire. The Protestant rooms and chambers are all walled off each from his next neighbor, with new divisions created each week: Nicolas Stork is in one, and Martin Luther in another, then Henry VIII, Celarius, Robert Browne, Roger Williams, George Fox, William Penn, John Wesley, and on and on.
And there is an often overlooked Southern wing of the mansion, inhabited by Copts and Nestorians and Syriac and Cypriot Christians from North Africa to the Middle East to India, who even now are suffering genocidal extinction at the hands of the Troglodytes, and the larger and stronger members of the broken castle in other wings lift neither arms to help nor voices to protest.
Other buildings also occupy the grounds, either claiming to be the original mansion restored, or an improvement of what the original architect intended, or claiming no affiliation with the main mansion at all, and the builders here are named Reverend Moon or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy.
Now my overwhelming reaction to beholding this splendid ruin was so primal as to be an intuition, practically an axiom: the shipwreck of the Church was a disaster. In nowise could I accept the principle that God is Love, and also accept that Love loves disunity. No bridegroom ever thought the best expression of true and perfect love for his bride was divorce.
More than one Protestant friend of mine urged me that God desired and condoned this separation of the denominations, on the grounds that each denomination has specific characteristics needed to allure back to the faith the many lost souls whose various needs and longings differ sharply from each other.
The argument is illogical in the abstract: those for whom the truth is an insufficient warrant to select whom to serve are moved by fad or fancy or some trivial external detail, like a man who selects a bride based on the brightness of her clothing rather than the rightness of her character. Such creatures are allured to serve God with their lips only, and there is no love of truth in them.
The argument is also, as a matter of practical fact, untrue: the Amish are not more austere than the Franciscans, nor the Calvinists more intellectual than the Jesuits, nor is a Baptist revival meeting more expressive than the feast days of Mardi-Gras, nor the Puritans more penitential than the fast of Lent.
The disunity is not based on a different of worldview, for we are all baptized Christians who believe in the Apostle’s Creed. It is based on small theological differences and large differences of hierarchy. I submit that any soul who would rather go to hell than submit to the truth about the filioque controversy is damned in any case, whether he is right on that point or wrong.
One friend thought I should be grateful to see side a wide marketplace of denominations, each with its own booth, all hawking their wares energetically, and perhaps the competition would keep all denominations honest and alert to serving their customer’s needs. The metaphor is a disingenuous one: should we make the house of worship into a place for tradesmen and moneylenders, indeed a den of thieves?
If the various denominations were merely ethical clubs of like-minded individuals gathered to do some good for the community, the disunion among them would indeed have the beneficial effects that spring from competition in the marketplace of ideas. But few denominations, perhaps none, make the claim that they are unnecessary to salvation, and that their truths they preach are no better and no worse than any other. The whole point of starting a new denomination, if it is not just willfulness or sordid politics, is that the heresiarch thinks he is orthodox and all others are heretics. He thinks he has not a truth but the truth.
An ethical club, or for that matter a restaurant, might think it had the best food or the best ethical program, but none think theirs is the only food on Earth without which men starve. A church is nothing like an ethical club or a restaurant. A denomination claims, or should claim, that theirs is the bread of heaven, without which men die and do not rise again. If the new denomination does not claim this, on what grounds is breaking from their prior denomination justified?
And yet I noticed none of my Protestant friends willing to say within my hearing that his denomination and his alone —Seventh Day Baptists, let us say — was the one, true, holy and sole Church founded by Christ outside of which there was no salvation. (I have on the Internet encountered two voices willing to say so; but far from being sober theologians, they were crackpots.)
One friend, indeed, praised ecclesial disunity on the grounds that were there but one Church, his particular denomination (which is small and eccentric) would have been blotted from existence with stake and faggot. This struck me as a good argument against a nationalized or established church, such as the Protestants erected in England under Henry VIII, or the Russian Orthodox suffered under the Czars, but not an argument at all against Church unity.
I did not understand why, in principle, a theological dispute could not be resolved in the future as they always had been in the past, by synods and counsels and, if need be, general counsels. Any Christian who accepts the Nicene Creed accepts the authority of the Council of Nicaea. I do not understand how, in principle, a Christian can claim to have the right to be a Christian without submitting to Christian teaching, that is, submitting to what Christ taught.
I did not notice any of my Protestant friends who praised disunity quoted scripture to support his position. Not one showed me any passage where Christ was seen praying that his followers should each man go his own way, and should interpret Christ’s saying each man according to his own lights, and should not submit nor serve his brothers, and should accept no authority over him. Logically, it may be that this disunity is Christ’s desire, and it may be that natural reason or Christian tradition can reveal this to us. But it cannot be that the scripture is the sole and sufficient source of all truth necessary for salvation, and that the correct interpretation of scripture is open to any scholar who diligently seeks it, and that disunity is needed for salvation, because the scripture does not say so (and says much indeed against).
But I noticed that none of my Catholic friends praise disunity, and all of them have a powerful irenic desire that the breech between Christendom be closed, and the old wound healed.
They were the only ones woebegone over the scandalous disunity. Nor should this be a surprise: while there may be some in Great Britain grieving over the loss of the American colonies who rebelled, there can be no Americans thus grieved, because they are the rebels. To them, the rebellion is laudable, not shameful, since to them it is an escape from a dark dungeon.
This then was the first point at which I realized that my reasoning would not allow me to agree with my Protestant friends but forced me to agree with the Catholics. One Christ came to Earth and preached one message with one baptism about the establishment of one kingdom.
The Church is unique in world history. Even an atheist must recognize that. No other prophet, sage or philosopher established a Church properly so called.
Mohammed, peace be upon him, established a law-code called Shariah, defining both religious and civic practice (in Mohammedanism, the distinction is meaningless) and he founded a theocratic dynasty, but he did not establish a Church, that is, a non-secular body with a magisterial authority to define doctrine. The Caliphate authority is the same as that claimed by the King of England: namely, the right to punish religious deviation as treason against the state.
Because that dynasty did not outlast the third generation before an event that was both civil war and heresy (namely, the revolt of Omar against the descendants of Mohammed), in the West it is often forgotten that the Muslims do not have a church or anything like it.
What they have is a theocratic state, a Caliphate, which is torn by civil wars and subdivided into smaller tribes and states: it is a world-state, a universal empire recognizing no boundaries and no legitimate non-members. Every soul is either within the House of Submission or within the House of War and waiting to be conquered. Mohammed, in other words, founded a world-state that merely has not yet conquered the world.
Buddha and Confucius did not even establish a religious practice: they a basically philosophers, one teaching a doctrine of asceticism and the other legalism, who were revered by their grateful followers with divine honors, like Caesar or Hercules.
Again, Lao Tzu no more established a Church than did Plato or Plotinus. And so on for the other prophets and sages and philosophers mistakenly said to have “founded” a religion. None of them founded a Church.
Nor in any prior culture whatsoever has there ever been an international priesthood or hierarchy like the Church: from Shinto to shamanism, all such priestly rites are carried out by the local nobility or a heredity clan or caste of priests, Levites or Magi or Brahmins. All are tribal or national. Only Mohammedanism claims this universal character, but it does not even claim to have a universal priesthood or institutional structure.
Zoroaster and Moses both codified and gave laws to their religions, but in each case, what was established was a hereditary priesthood, Levites or Magi, propitiating a tribal or imperial God, and not a body which established a doctrine: the Sadducees, for example, did not have the power to expel Pharisees for heresy because one believed in the resurrection and the other did not. That was not the function of these Levite establishment, nor the Zoroastrian Mages.
Now, the matter is a main point of controversy between Protestants and Catholics as to whether Christ Himself founded the Church, or whether this was done by Peter and Paul or later generations of disciples. Be that as it may, there is no controversy that all the writings of the Early Church Fathers, and every scrap of evidence we posses, shows at least that the official teaching of the Church, long before any split between East and West, Coptic or Melkite, was that the Church was founded by Christ and His apostles.
Certain crackpots whose name I will forebear to mention put forth the idea that Constantine alone founded the Church, which before then had no hierarchy or discipline or doctrine either agreed-upon nor enforced.
In order for this theory to be true, Constantine and his successors, would have had to possess the ability to discover all copies of both scripture and patristic writing extent at the time (including copies beyond the reach of the Empire, in Syria and Malabar) and redact or forge or burn them, to as to abolish all trace of this alleged original non-Authoritarian and non-Episcopal and non-Doctrinal proto-Feminist Church — and then with equal facility to erase all trace of this great act of book burning and book altering.
I note that the founder of the Qin Dynasty of China, when he attempted to burn all books and bury all scholars, that all history should begin with him, was not able to erase the trace of his bookburning. Was it possible that Constantine, who gained the purple after a civil war, was able to exact so complete an obedience from a wide empire that remembered other masters, that all would conspire to deceive future historians by failing to keep any record, verbal or oral, of such a vast program as a purge of all history would entail?
And yet somehow, even though the Imperial government of Constantinople possessed such overwhelming and thoroughgoing powers as this, the very next Emperor could not abolish the orthodox catholic Church in favor of Arianism, and by the time Julian the Apostate achieved the purple, he could not abolish Christianity in favor of paganism. Since these events were in living memory, one would think Constantius or Jovian or Julian would have left some memo about the sudden loss of the world-history-erasing power which their grandfather had enjoyed, or would have left some complaint about its use to benefit the Catholics and no one else.
The idea of Constantine as the sole founder of the authoritative Church can be dismissed as the ravings of historically-illiterate loons akin to folk who say the moonlanding was faked on a soundstage.
Without reaching the issue of who founded the true Church when, it was clear enough that through all history, including all Reformation history until the Treaty of Westphalia, that every Christian denomination taught that there was one true Church, founded by Christ, and the other Churches schismatic, false, heretical and apostate. In the early days the Reformers wanted to Reform the Church because they said she had fallen into error and corruption. The idea of founding a new Church was alien to the very idea of a Church.
So, likewise, the idea proposed by my friends that disunity was part of Christ’s will for His Church had no support in history or scripture or logic.
I knew at that point in my own search that any denomination which proposed that all denominations were equally valid, and (why not?) oriental and classical pagan and shamanistic belief systems as well, was not teaching the truth about Church unity, and had impeached itself from any claim to be the one true Church following the one true Christ.
It was merely a Christian-flavored prayer society, no doubt peopled by kindly or even saintly souls. But it was not achurch much less the Church. A bridge that leads halfway across the sundering flood of the Jordan will not help me reach the Promised Land.
To recap: I took it as fundamental that the Church was meant to be unified, a single institution under a single head, if for no other reason that the disunity of the denominations made a mockery of their claims of exclusive and universal truth. While some older Protestant denominations are bold enough to make the claim that they are the one, true, universal Church founded by Christ, returning to the primitive roots which an apostate Church abandoned, other younger denominations did not, and did not preach or teach that the Church was meant to be one.
Those younger denominations I dismissed from consideration.
- ON COMMUNION
The sixth point I encountered was the question of the Host.
I had noticed that various non-Catholic denominations were willing to share with me, even though I was not one of them, their bread and wine of their Host. It was not until later that I discovered that this was not a Host at all, but merely a memorial or symbol of the Host.
That formed a powerful reason in my mind why I could not join them: Like Groucho Marx unwilling to join any club that would admit him, I was not willing to join any communion not serious enough to exclude me.
Let me not pass this point flippantly, for I mean it seriously. While I was debating and weighing the decision of which denomination to join, one Protestant friend of mine urged me not to join the Catholic Church on the grounds that she could not explain to her daughter why it was that they two were not allowed to take the Host at Mass when they visited a Catholic service, whereas their friendlier denomination forbade nobody.
I asked her if she believed the bread and wine was the very body and blood of Christ. She said in the strongest possible terms that it was not.
I asked her on what grounds she believed 1500 years or so of Christians to be mistaken on this point, and she replied by telling me the scripture on this point is allegorical: when Christ says “this is my body” and “do this in memory of me” He was speaking in parables. She seemed unaware of the body of Christian writings penned between the moment after Saint John put down his pen and Martin Luther picked up his. When I asked her about the Antenicene Fathers (who seemed, if anyone could be, to have been immune from any allegations of early corruption, since they lived during persecutions) her reply was to tell me not to read them.
Again, I was not Catholic nor Protestant at the time, but the simple logic of the situation made me unable to sympathize with my friend’s plight, or even to understand it.
Either the bread and wine is Christ’s body, or it is not. The Protestant says it is not on the quite reasonable grounds that it does not look or smell like it is. The Catholic says it is on the quite reasonable grounds that Christ said it was.
Without deciding the nuances of that fundamental argument, it is clear enough that if a Catholic walks into a Protestant chapel and is offered bread and wine that is quite ordinary in every respect, except as a symbol showing loyalty to Christ, to eat and drink is no more idolatrous and irresponsible than to salute the flag or doff your hat to a lady. It is a gesture of respect and nothing more. Hence it is perfectly reasonable that Protestants allow Catholics to partake in their holy meals.
It is also clear enough that whether or not the Catholic claim is true, the claim being made is that the bread and wine in a Catholic mass is the sacred body and blood of Christ, who is God. Now suppose a Protestant approaches the altar rail for a wafer of this bread.
There are only three possibilities. First, that the bread is Christ but the Protestant thinks it is merely bread, in which case, to eat is blasphemy, because it denies divine worship owed to a divine thing.
Second, that the bread is not Christ, and the Protestant knows it is not Christ, but he nonetheless consumes it in an act of worship, in which case, to eat is idolatry, because it shows divine worship to what is not divine.
The third possibility is that the Protestant thinks it is the body and blood of Christ, in which case he has no business being a Protestant, and should join the Church so he can eat the bread lawfully.
But no matter who was right or wrong about the question of the Real Presence, both parties surely must agree that the Catholics treat the matter of the bread and the wine with much more seriousness and sobriety than the Protestants. Right or wrong, the Protestants say what they are doing is a gesture, nothing more. Right or wrong, the Catholics say what they are doing is a sacrament, as real as childbirth or marriage or death, and touching divinity.
Also, the sheer unfairness of my friend’s accusation was quite striking to me. No sane man makes claim that Luther was the Pope and that the Church rebelled against him, leading all the princes of Italy and France, Spain and Austria into a new and heretical sect that bowed to St Peter. All sides agree that it was Luther who was not Pope, and he rebelled against the Church, leading the princes of Germany and Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway, and inspiring England to revolt. My friend, or her ancestors, left the Church, and then accuses the Church of injustice, because the Church will not admit into communion those who fought both with words and swords to depart from that communion.
Now, at the time I was a “mere” Christian of no denomination, coming from an atheist background with no previous opinions and no presuppositions. I did not automatically think that adoration of the Host was idolatry, nor did I automatically think the refusing to adore the Host was blasphemy.
What I did think was that God, being omnipotent, could incarnate Himself into bread and wine as easily as He did into flesh and blood, and the one claim was not any more or less absurd or sublime than the other.
But, again, upon looking into the matter, I was struck once again by the undisputed fact that the claims are not symmetrical. We have 1500 years or so of Church practice, which even Arians and Donatists and Albigensians performed, of consecrating the host and taking it as if it were the body and blood of Christ. Then we suddenly have Martin Luther and his epigones who discover that the Host is a symbol only, not the Christ.
On the one hand, the claim is that this is and was the Church practice from Pentacost onward, as attested to by the Patristic writings and all surviving records. On the other hand, the claim is that this practice crept into the Church by copying pagan models, such as the sacred meals of the Second Century devotees of Mithra, and God saw fit that all the Christians from Iceland to India for fifteen centuries should be consigned to perdition, and not until Luther did God reveal the long-buried and forgotten truth.
From an objective point of view, speaking as someone neither Protestant nor Catholic, I could not see how the Protestant claim could be true if the Catholic claim was false, since the evidence from the Patristic Writings quite clearly showed the Host being adored as the very body and blood of Christ long before Christianity became of the official religion on the Empire, hence long before there was any reason for any unscrupulous Church official to compromise the truth of the faith. Men who are willing to be thrown to the lions rather than burn a pinch of incense to Diocletian are not likely to preach what they know to be idolatry of a morsel of ordinary bread to their persecuted flock. If you are knowingly performing idolatry, and if you have so much control over the minds of the gullible Christians that they will accept idolatry without demur, why not simply say that God allows the faithful to give incense to Diocletian, and avoid being torn to pieces by lions or red-hot pincers?
This question in my mind, as did so many other questions, was resolved by trying to establish the date of the apostasy of the Church. For the Protestant claim to be true, there had to be a date before the first trace of pagan corruption or the doctrines of men crept into the Church, and there had to be a date (either the same date or a later one) after which the Church corruption was irrevocable and acted as a final abdication of her authority. Anything between those two dates was suspect, and could as easily be a corruption as be true doctrine.
The problem was that the Patristic writings show that all the crucial unique Protestant doctrines, such as the merely symbolic nature of the Host, or the lack of prayers for the dead, come from a strata of time earlier than such things as Arianism and Patripassionism.
In other words, the things alleged to be corruptions date from a time before the things alleged to be true doctrines, such as Trinitarianism and the Incarnation. On the other hand, there is no trace whatever of uniquely Protestant doctrines in any writings before the Fifteenth Century, such as the doctrines of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, and Sola Gratia, and there is certainly no trace of a Church that consists of a national king or secular leader having the power of a General Church Council or Pope to define doctrine, or which elects all its officers with no Episcopal hierarchy.
Also, there was growing in my mind a mild impatience with the claims of Church corruption if the date of Apostasy was pushed to the time before the Ecumenical Councils which established the Nicene Creed or the doctrine of the Trinity.
While a Mormon or a Christian Scientist, who espouse theories even further from the mainstream than Arianism and Albigensianism, can say without a blush that all the Ecumenical Councils were wrong, no one who believes the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity can do so. These doctrines have little or no basis in scripture, and no basis whatever in natural reason: they are purely artifacts of the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles and their successors, and rest solely on the authority of the Church to define Christian doctrine. Anyone who denies that authority has no warrant to believe them; anyone who believes them has no warrant to deny that authority.
At the same time, there was growing in my mind a truly vast impatience with the claims of Church corruption if the date of Apostasy was pushed to the time ever closer to Pentecost, or even to before it.
Mohammedans and Mormons and Christian Scientists told me without a blush that Mohammed and Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith understood Christ better than Polycarp, who studied at the feet of Saint John; or understood Christ better than Saint John, who laid his head on the breast of Our Lord at the Last Supper; or understood Christ better than Christ.
Joseph Smith claims, that as a prophet, he has the authority which perished from the world when the last of the Twelve Apostles perished, and that the Twelve Apostles had no authority to baptize followers nor anoint successors. Joseph Smith, in effect, claims Peter or John had no authority to lay his hands on a follower (such as Polycarp) and proclaim him a bishop, and ergo no authority to found the old Church, but Joseph Smith somehow had the authority to found a new church. Smith claims to understand the Christian teaching better than St Polycarp, who learned it from St John.
Mary Baker Eddy claims that when Saint John says Jesus Christ was the Eternal Word who was with God and who was God, he is mistaken or speaking in a misleading metaphor, since Jesus was a mortal prophet only; she claims that the mission of Christ was to teach men how to heal the sick, and that the Crucifixion did not reconcile Man to God, but was merely an example or demonstration of the illusionary nature of suffering and death, or, in other words, the illusionary nature of the belief that Man is severed from God and needs reconciliation to Him. Mary Baker Eddy, in effect, claims that she understood the nature of the Incarnation and Crucifixion better than St John, who missed the point.
Mohammed claims that Christ was a Mohammedan. Like Mary Baker Eddy, he calls Christ nothing more than a human prophet, not different than Moses or Elijah. Mohammed reads the scriptures where Christ makes outrageous claims to be God, and concludes that the real Christ never made these claims, but will mock the Christians as idolaters on Judgment Day. Mohammed claims to understand the Christian teaching better than Christ.
Now, these prophets of these claimed to have sources of revelation independent of Church authority, so that they knew about Christ and His true teachings from the archangel Gabriel, or the angel Moroni, or from diligent prayer and meditation leading to signs and wonders.
The truth or falsehood of those claims rest upon the reliability of the prophecy of the prophets. Since they are inconsistent, at times wildly inconsistent, from the prophets they themselves claim as their forefathers and forbearers in faith, from Moses to Saint Mary, it is not logically possible for the claim to be true. No Jewish prophet can claim he knows more about God than Moses, and no Christian visionary can claim he knows more about Jesus than St John.
The crackpot Dan Brown makes a claim of Church apostasy from the time of Constantine; this claim, while supported by not even the slightest scintilla of historical evidence, is at least logically possible.
The denominations who base their schism on the writings of a single visionary, like Mormonism of Mohammedanism, make a claim of Church apostasy from the time of the Patristic Writings is less possible; this claim involves a conspiracy theory view of history.
The claim of Church apostasy from the time of Polycarp is laughable, but not logically impossible. But the claim of Church apostasy from the time of Pentecost, or the Crucifixion, or the Incarnation, or the Exodus from Egypt, is not logically possible, because this makes the apostate Church older than the Church.
- ON CONTINUITY
The seventh point is the matter of historical consistency or continuity.
I was shocked to learn that it is not merely the Catholics who forbid the use of contraceptives, but all Christian denominations throughout the world, until the 1930’s did also.
All the other denominations changed their stance, changed their teachings, and changed their minds in the years between the Great War and the Cold War.
And yet I have heard no rumor of a prophet whose many miracles convinced all these other denominations that God Almighty had excused them from what their fathers back to the First Century had taught and believed.
The Didache, which is perhaps the earliest extra-Biblical writing by a Christian that survives, acts as a handbook or Enchiridion of what the early Church believed, and it may be older than some of the Epistles.
It was just as striking to me that the Didache condemned contraception than that none of my Protestants friend with whom I spoke, and none of the Protestant writers whom I read, mentioned this writing, or seemed even aware it existed.
Obviously any denomination that is merely an ethical society or a Christian-flavored prayer meeting group can make no claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit to preach and teach infallibly and without error what Christ taught and wishes taught.
But any organization which does not claim to be infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit has no reason, in a world were heretics and odd opinions are as thick as locusts, and in a Church whose scriptures ring with repeated warnings against false Christs and false prophets, to have any faith that their fathers kept the teaching truthfully and faithfully.
And, worse, if their fathers repudiated the teaching of their grandfathers, and ignored not one nor a dozen but all of the prior generations of Christian thought and teaching, it is not logically possible to claim that the Holy Spirit has infallibly guided those decisions, because not even God can utter contradictions.
Only when the fathers repudiate a repudiation of their grandfathers, and return to the original teaching of their greatgrandfathers, can they seriously claim a loyalty to the truth across the generations.
And all honest Protestants make exactly that claim, for they say there was an original Church, before she turned apostate and diabolical, which preached and taught exactly what their own founders, Luther or Zwingli or Calvin or Wesley, preaches and teaches.
But when the fathers repudiate their grandfathers to follow the harlot of fashionable current opinion, as did the Anglicans in the 1930’s, more concerned with being Progressive than being Protestant, that denomination is not a church, but a prayer society, or a political society.
A Protestant who says that Polycarp was Protestant and so was Augustine, and that the Church grew unchristian ergo Catholic in the Twelfth or Thirteenth Century, and that Luther rediscovered the original hull of the Ark of Christ beneath the barnacles and accretions of Papist corruption—that Protestant makes the claim to be loyal to the Church Christ founded. That claim may be right or wrong, but it is not dishonorable even if wrong.
But a Protestant who says that urban life and industrialization requires population control, and that the innate concupiscence of man making chastity and abstinence impossible between married couples, therefore natural reason requires contraception, previously forbidden by God, is now allowed and welcomed by Him, on the grounds that God Almighty has my personal comfort and convenience as His greatest if not sole consideration of His ever-changing legislation — that Protestant claims only to be loyal to the world, and to his phallus, and very disloyal indeed to women. That claim not only cannot be right, it cannot be tolerated.
I could not, as a matter of conscience, join any congregation that displayed no consistency of conscience across the generations.
- ON CHASTITY
An eighth point was the matter of the Holy Spirit and its war with the Sexual Revolution.
During the time when I was meditating and searching, the Episcopalian denomination was suffering a schism, because the Progressive Episcopalians, searching diligently through the writings of Saint Paul and the Patriarch Moses, not to mention the entire canon law from the First Century to the Twentieth, had allegedly found some emanation of a penumbra of some Right to Privacy implicit in Christianity, albeit not formerly enunciated: in addition to married priests and priestesses (oddly, for some reason always mislabeled ‘female priests’—I wonder if Queen Elizabeth is now going to be called a ‘female king’) , now there would be admitted lesbian and homosexual priests and priestesses. And no doubt lesbian priestesses joined in the holy sacrament of same-sex union to each other was soon to follow.
The laity and clergy more interested in following the teachings of Jesus Christ than those of Albert Kinsey decided to divorce themselves from their Progressive brethren.
Now from my own coign of vantage, the only thing I respected about the Christians back in the days when I was an atheist was the sobriety and strictness of their teachings about chastity. Since this is one feature which is the source of all real hostility toward Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, it merits a word of explanation.
The concubinage and polygamy permitted by ancient Jews and modern Mohammedans, not to mention across all oriental and American lands, civilized and uncivilized, disgusted me as both demeaning to women and degrading to men. Compared to that, the Christian doctrine of monogamy is rational and prudent.
The same ills which follow upon polygamy follow, albeit at a slow pace, upon a culture which permits and approves of no fault divorce. Men are free to be polygamous, merely in a serial fashion, one at a time, rather than all at once. The proud men can jettison wives and marry trophy girls as pleases them, and the fickle wife can expel her husband from his children and his home without explanation or excuse at any time, and garner his wages thereafter, or have him tossed in jail.
In modern times, the children have all the detriment of being in competition with the children of their stepmothers for the favor of their father which the sons of Oriental potentates suffer, but without the corresponding advantage of having a stable harem of nursemaid and women to help in their upbringing. So it is the worst of both worlds.
The doctrine forbidding divorce is the sole thing in the Gospel which Our Lord Jesus Christ says with utter clarity and absolute authority, not indulging in any of His usual parables or confusing expressions. It is also the only reason for the divorce of the English Church from the Catholic Church.
I was as thunderstuck coming across these passages, after I had dropped my atheism and picked up a Bible, as anything I had ever read.
All my life, being an English-speaker raised in a Protestant culture, I had been taught that King Henry and Queen Elizabeth were hero and heroines, great champions of religious liberty, throwing off the shackles of degrading superstition and allowing each man his own conscience, et cetera ad nauseam.
It was a lie. Henry threw off the light yoke of Christianity and Christian decency so that he could abandon and kill his wives, install a fierce and lasting persecution, and loot the monasteries, and install a heavy yoke on the people of England, installing the first police state in Western history. The long term effect was the removal of the clerical institutions of charities and hospitals, monastic waystations for travelers, or any other support by which the Church traditionally defended the rights of the poor against the rich.
The normalization of divorce was also the first step to the normalization of all sexual behaviors, natural and unnatural, healthy and sick.
The Sexual Revolution, of which I was an enthusiastic supporter in my youth, revealed itself to my eyes when I was a father, and thus responsible for the upbringing of stalwart and honest sons and a chaste and beautiful daughter, to be more hideous than the Gorgon whose glance freezes men’s bones. You see, the desire of a grandfather to have legitimate children reach adulthood without suffering the social pathologies of divorce or adultery was now revealed to me by right reason as being natural, whereas the lustful and imprudent urge of teenaged boys to copulate with pneumatic harlots in bunny suits was unnatural.
And the Sexual Revolution was impossible without contraception. That point had been blindingly clear to me even long before I lost my atheism.
So, as a matter of logic, any denomination which cooperated with the Sexual Revolution, or preached and taught that the use of contraception was acceptable, was in the same category as a group teaching that that sacrifice of infants to Moloch was acceptable. They were not teaching what Christianity had always taught.
Either the first nineteen hundred thirty years of Christian teaching was infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit, or it was not. If it was, to repudiate it was to depart from the protection and grace of that Spirit. If it was not, then there was no Christian doctrine, neither the teaching in favor of monogamy nor against aborticide, which was sacrosanct, which is the same as saying Christianity is merely a matter of private opinion, which is the same as saying there is no Christianity at all.
Whatever other men might do, I knew that I could not affix my loyalty to any denomination preaching or practicing abortion, no-fault divorce, or the lawfulness of contraception.
Such denominations are no longer part of a living Christian tradition.
- ON HISTORICITY
So,then: I became convinced that many of the denominations were Christian in name only, no longer motivated by any authentic Christian spirit (or Spirit) and no longer afire with the enthusiasm which originally provoked them to break away from their previous traditions and institutions.
At this point in my search, the idea of an Apostate Church versus a Primitive Church began to seem more and more unlikely. The whole argument that the Church was apostate turned on the date selected for its Apostasy.
Protestants, Heresiarchs, and Schismatics rarely utter a specific date, but logically, if the modern Catholic Church is an apostate corruption of the Primitive Church then there must be a point before which the Primitive Church was still pure, and a point after which the corruption was irrevocable.
I emphasize the concept of irrevocability because if the corruption was slow, there may be many years, even centuries, during which a recovery back to the original form and purity of doctrine was possible.
It cannot be logically maintained that any deviation by some minority in the Church, that is to say, the presence of a heresy, invalidates the authority of the Church. If the Church authorities in due time to examine and correct the heresy, anathematizing any heretical teachings expelling any obstinate heretics from communion, then the Church corrects the error and retains her authority.
(It is a separate argument to say that the Church does not or should not exercise this authority, and that all opinions no matter how wildly deviant should be welcomed within the Church. That argument is akin to saying their should be no Church, and hence no Christian teaching, hence no Christianity properly so called. That argument need not concern us.)
No one logically can maintain that the presence of one apostate among the Christians, or one evil bishop or concupiscent Pope, invalidates the whole claim of the whole church. Such perfection exists in no institutions whatsoever, nor can it.
Hence it is logically insufficient merely to accuse the Church of being imperfect. To be human is to be imperfect: that is not a sufficient reason for rebellion. The corruption must be incurable, and must act as a permanent abdication of the authority entrusted to His Church by Christ, so that all loyal followers are excused of any obligation to obey.
To be incurable, the false doctrine or practice must be one that achieves a commanding height in the Church, and which cannot lawfully be removed, and which also acts as a bar or block to salvation. The presence or absence of ornaments like stained glass windows, or devotions like praying the rosary, cannot be such a bar, since the Church does not teach these things as necessary to salvation.
So I set myself the task of discovering the date of the apostasy.
Working backward, the date of the apostasy had to be before the Council of Trent, since that was the Council to which the Protestant princes refused to submit.
One possible date is after the Fall of Rome, and the end of Imperial secular power in the West, for then the rise of the secular power of bishops of the Church would be claimed as the source of corruption. But this is not a dispute of doctrine. Even when the most outrageous of Borgia Popes or Avignon Antipopes occupied the Chair of Peter, none taught doctrines in contradiction to the received teaching, and no innovations date from that time.
Another possible date is in the Tenth Century. But surely the Apostasy of the Church was prior to this, for otherwise the Reformers would have conjoined with the Orthodox Church, adopted the noncentralized form of Church government, and accepted their doctrine regarding the Filioque controversy—unless this is also an apostasy. If so, then both the Western and the Eastern Churches alike lost their authority to teach Christian doctrine at least by that time.
For the same reason, any Reformer putting the last date of the Primitive Church in the Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Centuries likewise must cojoin with the Nestorian and Monophysite Churches, or revive the claims of the Arians and Donatists; or else he must reject those schisms as heretical while also rejecting the authority of the orthodox Church to declare them heretics.
And yet all mainstream Protestant denominations accept the findings of the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Ephesus as valid and authoritative: If so, the Church retained her teaching authority at least by those dates.
The dates earlier than this become, for reasons I have herebefore mentioned, increasingly fantastic and absurd: some date the apostasy with the date of the ascension of Constantine to the purple; others to some point within the Patristic period of the Antenicene Fathers; others to scriptural times (in which case the New Testament itself is suspect, and cannot be used as the touchstone to detect heresy); and at least one denomination claims that the Apostles never had the great commission nor authority to teach the teachings of Christ, nor to baptize laity, nor to anoint clerics.
The insurmountable difficulty with placing the date of Apostasy between the First and the Sixth Century is that it leaves all early heretical doctrines after this early date, from Gnosticism to Docetism, to Manicheanism to Donatism, to Arianism and Semi-Arianism, to Pelagianism to Nestorianism, Eutychianism as equally authoritative and valid as the Orthodox Church doctrine in defining Christianity.
But placing the date of apostasy after the Sixth Century means that the Church was still the Primitive Church at that time, and was correct to anathematize Monophystism, and did so as a correct application of her authority.
But this admission is fatal to Calvinism and other Protestant sects who hold that Christ died for the salvation of the Elect alone, with all others pre-destined inescapably to eternal death, for this is the doctrine called Predestinarianism, the work of a heretic called Godeschalcus, who flourished one hundred years before the Monophysites and two hundred before the Monothelites.
Like their heresies, the opinions of Godeschalcus were examined by the clerical legal and theological process of the time, and found to be incompatible with Christian teaching, and duly anathematized.
If this process was lawful and guided by the Holy Spirit, that it is the duty of all faithful Christians to eschew the false doctrines, no matter what their personal opinion or intellectual pretensions. But one cannot eschew Gnosticism, Docetism, Manicheanism, Donatism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism on the authority of the Church and then eschew the authority of the Church on the question of Predestinarianism.
In sum, any heresy which arose after the selected date, whenever it was, when the Primitive Church was no longer pure, cannot be discarded as heretical on the authority of the official Church decree of apostasy, because those decrees are invalid.
A Lutheran who denies the authority of the Council of Trent to define Church doctrine logically must also deny the authority of any other apostate councils, such as those who defined the canonicity of the Bible, the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the mystery of the Trinity. But this affirms (or, at least, undermines any authoritative anathematization of) any heresies or schisms arising after the first council of the Apostate Church or the last council of the Primitive Church, whenever that was.
A Mormon or Mohammedan simply does not have this difficulty, since the one denies everything after the Ascension of John, and the other denies scripture altogether, and writes his own; they both agree that the Church was apostate from when she was founded, if not before.
A modern nondenominational Christian, if such a chimera can be imagined, might argue that Christianity requires no authoritative body of teaching, nor even a canonized Bible, but only each man’s individual conscience, guided by the Holy Spirit (or, more likely, guided by whatever fashionable fads are currently fascinating the scribbling classes). The problem is that this doctrine of individual magisterial authority has no support in Christian teaching in any period of history, nor in scripture.
I have so often heard denunciations of the often-misunderstood doctrine of Papal Infallibility, that I have no patience for those who both utter that denunciation and then claim individual infallibility. Christ did not say the gates of Hell would not prevail against each and every lonely individual Christian reinventing the wheel for himself by himself; He said those gates would not prevail against His Church, founded on the rock of St Peter.
There is nothing in anything said by the Son to any saints or revealed by the Father to any patriarchs saying or implying that each man should or could write his own books of law and prophecy, his own Ten Commandments, and found his own Church.
There is, however, scripture implying that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from apostasy: any schismatic must deny that implication, or interpret it to apply to whatever new church he means to found tomorrow, not to the one from which he stubbornly expelled himself yesterday.
So the idea that each man for himself should discover or invent his own version of the Church is a modern or postmodern idea, found in no generation before this one, and not found anywhere in Christian teaching, but repudiated everywhere.
In other words, it is the same as claiming that the Christian teaching was that there was no Christian teaching, but merely a vague but cheerful assurance given to each man that all his neighbors are heretics, but he alone is orthodox; while this selfsame vague but cheerful assurance is given to his neighbors, on the grounds that there is no orthodoxy, no heresy, no falsehood, no truth. It is a logical paradox.
For this reason, I held myself to be incompetent, that is, not authorized, to determine what should be excluded and what should be included in Christian teaching. I was a Christian, for I had seen a vision of Christ and been healed of a deadly wound by Him. But the vision did not pause to lecture me on the niceties of Trinitarianism or the Filioque controversy. (My very strong impression was that such controversies are intensely displeasing to Christ, and alien to the spirit of brotherhood and selfless love which illumines every aspect of Christian thought, or should. For this reason, any heresy or heathenism I think contains less than the fullness of revealed truth, never will I despise or denounce; I will only criticize it as incomplete. I deem certain of the pagan myths to contain clear glimpses of the truth that Christ revealed in greater fullness.)
Nonetheless, like a Martian approaching the warm blue dot of the Earth, by the time the Martian reaches the upper atmosphere, it must either leave its touchdown spot to blind chance, or select in which of the lands and seas underfoot to set down or to ditch his craft. Being a nondenominational Christian was a contradiction in terms, as much the Martian who lands on Earth but somehow is not on any particular one spot. Inventing my own version of Christianity was a contradiction in terms, for then it would be Wrightinanity, a prospect so horrifying that strong men should faint and children run shrieking.
So I turned to the various denominations and attempted to inquire of them, through their writings or through speaking with their members, when the date of apostasy was. When precisely had the Primitive Church lost the Mandate of Heaven?
My first surprise was that none of the Protestants I read or with whom I spoke or corresponded knew the date. Aside from windy assertions that the Catholic Church was pagan, or had substituted the doctrines of men for the teachings of Christ, or had introduced from the surrounding pagan culture various non-Christian practices, there was an astonishing, nay, a shocking dearth of specifics.
I am reminded of the assertion, often heard in the Postchristian age, that the Virgin Birth is a tale borrowed from pagan antiquity. This assertion justly annoys Protestants as much as Catholics, because it is both ubiquitous yet illogical, and resists all attempt to exorcise it. Consider: if the Virgin Birth were a tale applied to Mary from pagan antiquity, when was the application made? Did Luke hear some story he liked about Isis or Danae or Leto and decide merely to attribute such a fantastic bit of nonsense to Mary? But at the time when he wrote, the events in the Gospel were still within living memory. Would not James the brother of Jesus have objected that Joseph was the father of Jesus, and been offended at applying a pagan goddess story to a nice Jewish girl?
The assertion that the Virgin Mary is a pagan accretion or addition to pure and primitive Christianity founders as soon as one asks when the addition was made. If made before Luke wrote his gospel, we have the incredible improbability of faithful Jews (including strict Pharisees like Saul of Tarsus) welcoming pagan myths into what purportedly is eyewitness reports of the coming of the Jewish Messiah. These are the same men willing to be flayed alive with Bartholomew, stabbed with Paul, or crucified upside-down with Peter rather than throw a pinch of incense to divine Caesar — but now they are perfectly fine with pretending Mary, the mother of the Messiah, who is still alive and living in Palestine, is the same as Isis or Juno. Ri-iiii-ight.
If made after Luke wrote his gospel, then the nativity narratives were added by later editors, and these same men, tolerating without bending the persecutions of Nero or Diocletian, bent without demur to some mysterious Illuminati rewriting their holy books and adding pagan material. No doubt that is why the Apocalypse of John ends with a stirring passage where the saint recommends everyone and anyone add and subtract any material they would like to his book, and with his blessings, so that each man will have a personal version unalike any other. Ri-iiii-ight.
Any Protestant aware that the claim that the Virgin Mary’s virginity was imported from the virginity of Athena or Artemis evaporates the moment a specific date is proposed for the importation, will understand the same evaporation point applies to the claim of Church apostasy.
If the Primitive Church were anything like Lutheranism, or Calvinism, or Mormonism, or any other recent sect, then the earliest strata of Patristic writings would show the particular character of the unique doctrines of the sect which successfully revived the Primitive Church.
What do we find instead? Nine tenths of those writings concern those things all denominations hold in common. In the remaining tenth we find references to infant baptism, the veneration of Mary, the hierarchy of the Church, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and so on and so on. These are writings from the Antenicene Fathers, dating from the years long before Dan Brown’s version of St Constantine replaced the non-authoritarian pro-feminist Church with a cunning robot duplicate and faked the moonlanding on a soundstage.
I recommend the book THE FATHERS KNOW BEST by Jimmy Akin if you wish to read a thorough treatment of the matter.
- IGNORANCE OF THE FATHERS
At this point in my investigations, I ran into a very odd and unexpected problem. The people to whom I turned to help me in this search—and I freely confess that I merely mean average amateurs like myself, not professors of theology—knew nothing about the history of the matter.
Aside from St Augustine, none of them even knew the names of the Fathers of the Church. When I asked them about Arius and Photius, no one knew who I was talking about. They knew the Nicene Creed, but apparently they thought Luther or Calvin had written it. They had never heard of the council of Nicaea, or regarded it as insignificant. They did not know what the Ecumenical Councils were. They had no idea where the Bible came from or when it had been canonized.
At least one faithful Christian scorned me for having any concern with the history of the Church. I thought this a paradox, for that faithful Christian was a member of a sect whose entire claim was a specific claim of historical fact, namely that the Church once possessed, and then lost, the exact teachings of this sect.
Another faithful Christian told me specifically not to read the Early Church Fathers, on the somewhat elliptical reasoning that, since the Fathers knew the Apostles personally, or knew their immediate disciples, they had nothing but misleading opinions about the scriptures those Apostles entrusted to them: whereas men living over a thousand five hundred years afterward, across the gap of lost records and the oblivion of history, speaking another language and from an entirely alien cultural milieu, could grasp the subtle nuances and shades of meaning of the Apostolic writings in a fashion the immediate disciples of the Apostles, who read the words in their native tongue and spoke to the authors face to face, could not.
For most Protestants and Post-Protestants I read or met, the period of time between the visions of St John during his exile on Patmos, and the moment Luther nailed his thesis to the doors of the Wittenberg Church, was simply a long, blank emptiness where nothing of any concern to the faithful Christian had happened.
One or two of them might make passing reference to St Augustine or St Thomas Aquinas, but it was always with a hesitation of suspicion, and without the honorific of calling them a saint. None of them made any reference to Ireneus, Tertullian, or Athanasius, or Chrysostom. None of them seemed to know where the doctrine of the Trinity came from, or the doctrine of the Incarnation.
They did not know the Orthodox Church existed at all, or the Nestorians, or the Syriac or the Cypriot or the Coptics, or anyone aside from the Roman Catholics. It was like walking into a strange alternate world where Christianity had never existed outside Western Europe, as if Eastern Europe, Western India, the Middle East and Northern Africa had never been part of Christendom, but always been part of the Soviet Empire or the Ottoman.
When the news is full of stories about the current genocide of Christians living in the Middle East, who have dwelt there since the Second Century, my Protestant friends have and odd and blank reaction, as if wondering how the flock of the Archbishop of Canterbury or viewers of Pat Robertson could have wandered so far into the Outremere?
Now let me be clear—I am not claiming that alert and diligent scholars do not exist among Protestants, nor would I dare invite the divine lightningbolt by claiming that Catholics do a good job of catechizing their catechumens, or even a non-atrocious or non-negligent job.
I am claiming however that historicity is natural to Catholics by the nature of their Catholicism, that is, by the nature of their extraordinary claim to be the one, true, holy, apostolic and universal church reaching back to AD 33; whereas ahistoricity is natural to Protestants by the nature of their claim to be rebelling against an apostate Church and returning to a cleaner and clearer form of primitive Church. But the nature of the claim, everything between the fall of the primitive church and the restoration of the reformer was an era of darkness and deception.
I am claiming that it is possible to be a well-read, diligent, faithful and well-instructed Lutheran or Baptist or Christian Scientist without having read a single word of the Patristic Writings, or Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, without knowing who St Francis of Assisi was, or St Benedict or St Dominic or St Ignatius of Loyola. You do not need to know the name of a single martyr to be a good Methodist.
You can be a perfectly well instructed Protestant who has never heard of a single saint aside from Saint Patrick and Saint Valentine and Saint Nicholas, and you may be aware of a city named after Saint Louis and a dog named after Saint Bernard. You can learn everything you ever need to learn about Lutheranism by reading Luther.
But if you are a Catholic, and the only thing you ever read was the Bible and the Baltimore Catechism, I am claiming you are not well-read, diligent, faithful and well-instructed in your faith. I am claiming you cannot learn everything you ever need to learn about Catholicism without being more catholic in your reading. If you cannot name a single saint nor martyr, or have not named yourself at confirmation after one of them, you are not experiencing the fullness of the Catholic faith.
I am not saying Catholics are better read than Protestants. My experience is the opposite: the people who know the least about the Catholic faith are usually Catholics.
I am saying that the nature of an orthodox Church differs from the nature of a heterodox denomination, which is basically a church-flavored prayer group or theological movement. Orthodoxy concerns itself with Christ first, then all the saints and martyrs. Heterodoxy concerns itself with Christ first, then with its founder and his thoughts and writings, whoever that founder happens to be.
- ON TRADITION
At this time in my spiritual inquiry, I had become convinced that any denomination with no continuity to the historical church could be a guard of the traditional Christian faith. This raised a tenth point.
This lack of history logically necessitates a lack of tradition, which implies also a lack of completeness, of universality, or of depth in art and ritual.
During this period of my life, I went to services of one denomination or another weekly or biweekly. Hand in hand with my growing sense of discontent to be in the midst of Christians utterly isolated from their Christian fathers, I began to notice how frequently the preaching lingered on the words of the founder of the particular sect I was visiting, and how comparatively infrequently on the words of Christ and His Apostles, and how no disciple of any Apostle was mentioned even by name, much less quoted.
I felt like a man starving for stew, and being given a watery broth without meat and without substance. It was thin soup indeed.
It was not just one sect or two where I noticed this: while the founder of the denomination was never placed above Christ in honor, nonetheless the founder was the only other person mentioned, revered, or quoted. The Kingdom of God consisted of Christ and Calvin, with no one else in sight; and by some slight of hand, the features of Christ are nearly identical to those of Calvin. (I mean no disrespect to Calvin in particular, for the same could be said of any founder of a dissenting sect, Luther or Zwingli or Sun Myung Moon).
This lack of history logically necessitates a lack of completeness. The Catholic doctrine of necessity has countless authors, all in agreement with Church teaching. The Lutheran doctrine has Luther and — I cannot bring a second name to mind. Original and daring theologians born in the Lutheran Church no doubt started their own denominations. So only the philosophical and theological concerns of the one founding writer have any emphasis. Everything else is life is either copied from the Catholic writers, or not addressed at all.
This lack of history logically necessitates a lack of diversity, of universality. Suppose I wanted to read inspiring books either by or about the main figures of this denomination. Every scrap of paper ever written by or about, say, the Seventh Day Adventists or the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, would not fill up the same bookshelf as the collected works of the Antenicene Fathers, much less the writings, century after century, merely of authors canonized as saints by the Catholic Church.
This lack of history logically necessitates a lack of art. Or suppose I wished the refreshment of reading some work of popular art or elevated literature in keeping with the moral mood and atmosphere of whatever denomination I chose? On the one hand, we have Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS and Milton’s PARADISE LOST. I can think of not one book of fiction or adventure taking place in the moral atmosphere of the Christian Scientists or the Quakers or Calvinists, and of anything redolent of Mormonism, I can think only of HOMEGOING by Orson Scott Card.
But if I want to read something with a particularly Catholic character, then everything from Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS to Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES is open to me, and from Dante’s INFERNO to the ballads of Robin Hood, the songs of Roland, and the Death of Arthur, and I am in the company of every romantic figure from Boethius to Prester John to Friar Tuck to Zorro.
And, again, in terms of religious art or architecture or fine music, the Puritans have neither art nor decoration to display to engage the eyes and stir the ear or uplift the heart to divine things. Not all Protestants spend their efforts smashing statues and stained-glass windows, but their general output is less, and they have the grievous disadvantage of having begun over an millennium after the Catholics.
I also began to wonder how empty heaven seemed to be for the Protestants. Aside from God and Jesus and the founder (whoever he happened to be, depending on the sect) there was yet another great blank emptiness. The was no Virgin Mary mentioned as having any heavenly presence, no apostles, no saints, no martyrs, and the angels seems to have no hierarchy.
Their heaven was as blank and depopulated as a diagram, not crowded like a family portrait.
As for rite and ritual, prayer and sacrifice, and sacraments, the Protestants once again had a simplified and oddly empty library of forms of worship. They have neither Benedictines nor Augustinians nor Knights Hospitalier. Some of the denominations allow that baptism and marriage are sacraments, while others, showing more logical consistency but less humanity, have no sacraments.
None of the denominations I visited had any historical roots older than a few centuries. Some were less than two hundred year old, younger than my nation.
Far different was the result when I turned to the Catholics and inquired of them. Even the least well catechized seemed to know about the Arian controversy, or why and when the Eastern Orthodox Church had broken with Rome.
They were absolutely laved in history, and therefore in everything that came with it: a rich tradition with many branching arms and variations, a rich sacramental life, a rich devotional life, rich ornamentation, a wealth of forefathers, a library of theologians and philosophers and devotional writings, a museum of art. And finally the universal Church portrayed an image of heaven as rich and varied as the court of a king, complete with scribes and ministers and elders in gold crowns and martyrs carrying palms, and in a place of special honor, the Queen Mother; and Christ at the center of it all.
It took me a while to put these disparate facts into a pattern and see the conclusion, and I apologize if this essay reflects that confusion. The pattern is this: orthodoxy is organic and alive, and it is something like a family portrait, something which appeals to all aspects of human nature; whereas heresy is simplistic and dead. Heresy is like a diagram that appeals to the intellect alone, and ignores most of human nature, or all of it.
- ON THE CHARACTER of HERESY
In religion, just as in politics or philosophy or any other institutional mental effort, heresy is taking one idea from an organic plurality of ideas and elevating it to supreme preeminence, so that other ideas are justified by their agreement with the master idea, or rejected by the master idea. What makes heresies illogical — all heresies, not just religious ones — is that the master idea has no innate preeminence over other ideas in the institutional mental effort equally as old or foundational or well-attested.
If you have noticed the difference between, for example, Libertarians and Classical Liberals of the Enlightenment, what are now called Conservatives, you note that the Libertarians affix all their political ideas to the one master idea or principle of nonaggression, which says that the state’s role is restricted to preventing aggression or fraud between citizens. While this idea covers the majority of what Conservative principles since the time of the Declaration of Independence or earlier suggest, it rebukes other ideas, equally as old, or foundational, or valid, which Conservatives uphold. The Libertarians took one idea out of the pluralism of classical liberal thinking and ran it out to its logical conclusions and beyond. For this reason, Libertarians find themselves oddly mute on certain political ideas unrelated to their master idea, such as when (or if) the state should gather taxes and raise or maintain standing armies. Without involving myself in further nuances, any reader who dislikes this example is invited to provide his own: the phenomenon of enthusiastic reformation in the name of a daringly simple idea defeating an older, richer, more complex and more human idea is commonplace.
The allure of the simple idea is its simplicity; its elegance. The illogic of the simple idea is that it has no validity outside of its context, and no right to overrule other ideas equal in rank and dignity to it. It is, in a word, simplistic. It does not say everything about all aspects of life.
Outside the Church, we have all certainly seen this in other cults and social movements. For the Communist, there is no aspect of life or art which is not directly related to the Communist revolution: there is no such thing as a soccer game, unless it displays the principle of material dialectic, or shows the oppression of the proles. For the Feminist, there is no topic from cookbooks to contraception not directly related to feminism: there is no such thing as a soccer game unless it is coed soccer. If the Catholic Church were indeed heretical, it would have this monotonous, one-hued character, because it is the nature of heresies to absorb all surrounding ideas into the one simplified heretical idea.
This tendency to simplification is not due, or not due solely, to some satanic attempt to deprive all human life from the blessings of the sacrament. Rather, this simplification is due to the nature of a heretical ideas as such.
If the Protestant claim were correct, we should expect to see in history a Primitive Church with all the organic wholeness of the True Church, a Church that addressed every issue of life from every angle of the circle and informed every aspect of human life: a complete Church.
Then when the apostasy struck, those organic truths would be compressed and corrupted, as heresies always compress and corrupt, turning each of the multiple and various aspects of church teachings into a dull repetition of the one apostate theme.
So if the Protestant view of history were correct, we should expect that a Primitive Church once held the wholeness of truth and was corrupted into an apostate Church, or, in other words, that an original plurality and richness was simplified into an single all-consuming master idea.
Instead we see the opposite: the Catholic Church is accused not of simplifying the complexity of an organic original doctrine, but of adding layers and accretions and ornamentation to what was once a primitive doctrine refreshing in its stark simplicity.
On the other hand, if the Catholic claim were correct, the Protestant movement is no different from the Albigensian movement or the Arian, or the Docetist, with the one exception that, unlike those previous heresies, this one is still alive. But the truths of the Catholic faith would be compressed and corrupted and suffer simplification into a master idea.
And, of course, it is rather easy to simplify the ideas of the Mohammedans or the Lutherans into a simple slogan, saying there is no God but God, or saying there is no scripture but scripture.
Which is what we do see.
The best counter argument made here, is that human nature, being naturally inclined from Adam onward against obedience to heaven, inevitably corrupts pure doctrine. The Pharisees took the oral legal codes of the Jews rather than the writings of the law and the prophets for their doctrines, and so became consumed with legalistic niceties. The result was that they were justly condemned by Christ as hypocrites and worse.
Surely (runs the counterargument) this is the pattern we see here, with the Church, once elevated by imperial favor to being the sole established religion of the Empire, larded with lands and privileges, began to busy itself in petty theological disputes, furiously fuming over insignificant niceties of definition, or attempting to define mysteries no mortal could understand, or to add pagan rituals and ornaments in order to be more easily accepted by the rustic mobs, and in all things followed the Pharisees and became like them.
The problem is that the Catholic Church is and continues to be concerned with those things which make her uniquely Catholic. She opposes contraception because she has for two thousand years. She accepts infant baptism because she has for two thousand years. Neither the teaching on contraception nor on infant baptism is an accretion, because it has been an unchanging fixture of the Church teaching since the time when the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.
And, more striking to me was that I noticed the Catholics with whom I spoke still passionate, still fully engaged and still—if my mortal eyes are any judge of invisible things—driven by the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, few if any Anglicans are still passionate over the matter of the 39 Articles. Some do not even know what that is. Likewise, the leaders of the Free-Will Baptist Church founded by Benjamin Randall perhaps can identify on what grounds they broke away from the Baptist Church founded by Roger Williams, but I doubt any in their rank and file could do.
I have met one or two people on the Internet who can get worked up about the question of Justification by Faith Alone versus Justification by Faith demonstrated in Works, but for the most part the Protestant Churches seem not to remember why they broke away from the Catholics.
(In just this series of articles so far, I have been chided more than once for over-stating a difference between Catholic and Protestant, or misstating a difference which was not present: some agree with the doctrine of the Real Presence, and some have Deacons and Bishops and so on. All of which leads me to wonder what the fuss was about—it is like reading a version of the Declaration of Independence where the King of England is not accused of anything disadvantageous to the colonists.)
The love of Christ in the Protestant churches I saw in action was still burning red-hot: let no man say I accuse them of a lack of charity or zeal! But several of the Protestants were dabbling with contraception and divorce and abortion and government-funded abortion, and admitting Priestesses, and they continued to schism and schism again, so that if I joined one, it might not be in business a decade from now. Because of this following after worldly fashions and dabbling with fashionable ideas of postmodern sexual liberty, I grew convinced that they were not being guided by the Holy Spirit. They did not seem to act like supernatural institutions should act.
But the only place I came across the love of the specific features that defined the denomination was either in the youngest and smallest denominations (the Christian Scientists, the Church of Latter Day Saints) or the oldest and largest (the Orthodox and the Catholics).
12.1 A SHORT HISTORY OF HERESY
Let us take a short while (or, if need be, a long one) to review some of the heresies of the first ten centuries of the Church. I am confident that even an abbreviated list will make clear the particular nature of heresy:
HERESIES OF THE FIRST CENTURY
Simon Magus —In addition to his power of flight, and his willingness to buy church offices, Simon the Magician taught that (1) the world was created by angels and (2) when the soul leaves the body it enters into another body (3) that man has no free will, thus good works being unneeded for salvation.
Menander—Calls himself the messenger of the Unknown Power. His disciples were promised immortality in this life. Menander invented the doctrine of Aeons, and that Christ exercised functions in appearance alone.
Cerinthus—Denied that God was the creator of the world; asserted the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation; taught that Christ would establish a terrestrial kingdom in Jerusalem, where the Just would spend a thousand years in the enjoyment of every sensual pleasure; Cerinthus denies the divinity of Christ. Jesus was born a mere man, when baptized in the Jordan “Christ” descended upon him in the form of a dove, filling him with power and knowledge; but after Jesus fulfilled his mission, he was deserted by Christ, who returned to heaven, and left him to darkness and death.
Ebion—Admitted no part of the New Testament except the Gospel of St. Matthew, and that mutilated, leaving out two chapters. St. John wrote his Gospel to refute the errors of Ebion. Ebion says Jesus Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary, born as other men are, but on account of his great virtue, the Almighty adopted him as his Son.
HERESIES OF THE SECOND CENTURY
Corpocrates—Gnostic who taught we must practice every form of evil and concupiscence through many lifetimes in order to defy the Demiurge and his rules; taught that Christ was a man born as other men are, and that the world was created by angels. Everyone has two souls, for without the second, the first would be subject to the evil angels. Venerated Pythagoras.
Valentine—Gnostic who taught that the Reprobate (Hylics) were fated to damnation, and the Elect (Pneumatics) were freed from the need for good works and allowed every carnal concupiscence. Jesus was not born of a Virgin, nor Incarnate, but brought his body down from heaven.
Prodicus—Held it was lawful to deny the faith to avoid martyrdom, he was a worshiper of the four elements, sun and moon, condemned all prayers to any invisible God, but worshiped the planets. Heresiarch of the Adamites, who practice all their rites naked, and perform abominations.
Cerdonius—a Gnostic and a Manichean. Preaches the resurrection of the soul but not the body. Rejects all the Gospels but that of Luke.
Marcion—arch-Gnostic, Manichean, hater of matter, identified the Demiurge as God of the Jews, the creator of matter and of law. The Good God sent his messiah, Christ, and the Bad God has yet to send the Jewish messiah. He also mutilated the New Testament to make it separate from the old, in his effort to portray the New Testament God as a different figure from the Old.
Montanus—led the prophetesses Priscilla and Maximilla to utter new prophecies, speak in tongues, use unknown words, and utter rodomontades.
Refused to admit lapsed sinners to repentance. Claimed to be greater than Christ on the grounds that the Holy Spirit inhabited him, holding that there was to be additional prophets after Christ. The Heresy of Montanus shot forth different branches:
Cataphrigians=Eucharistic bread made from the blood of infants. If the infant died of the cutting, was considered a martyr, but if survived, was considered a high priest.
Artotirites= offered up bread and cheese
Peputians=ordained women, saying there was no difference between men and women
Pattalorinchites=Wore a sick on their mouth or nose to keep strict silence.
Bardesanes— disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead.
Theodotus the Currier—Held that Christ was a man.
Theodotus the Banker— Held that Melchisadech is Christ, or greater than he.
Hermogenes— Held that matter is uncreated and eternal. The devils hereafter be united with matter, and the body of Jesus Christ is in the Sun.
HERESIES OF THE THIRD CENTURY
Praxeas—Patripassionist, saying the Father entered the world as Jesus and suffered.
His followers included Berillus, Noetus, Sabellius. This later was the heresiarch of the Sabellines.
Manes—Founder of the Manicheans. Teaches that there are two gods, one of good and one of evil, and two souls in every man, one good and one evil. Denies free will, saying man is always carried by a force his will cannot resist, and denies the necessity of baptism. Jesus never took a body like ours.
Tertullian—he called the Catholics Psichici, or Animals. Widely regarded to be a Montanist, despite that he wrote against Montanism. Said the Church could not absolve adulterers. He taught that the soul was a body of a palpable form but transparent because one of the Prophetesses heard so in a vision.
Origen—Presuming too much on his wisdom, he fell into different errors, by wishing to interpret many texts of Scripture in a mystical, rejecting the literal, sense. Believed in universal salvation, and the salvation, after a second crucifixion to come, of the devils trapped in the bodies of stars and planets; and in the creation of many worlds before this one, and many to come after. The souls of men were created before the beginnings of the world, and then sent to inhabit the bodies of men.
Novatus and Novatian — Schismatic rather than heretic, but they denied that the Church could absolve those who become idolaters through fear of persecution, denied the sacrament of confirmation, refused communion to those who contracted second marriages.
Angelicals—offered worship to angels
Apostolicals— Said it was not lawful for anyone to possess property of any sort. Not lawful to marry.
HERESIES OF THE FOURTH CENTURY
Donatus—Donatists held that the church is composed only of the righteous and Just. They broke Catholic altars and chalices and threw the host to the dogs, who, going mad, turned and consumed them.
Circumcellionists—Led by Faber and Maxidus. Freed slaves and abolished debts, killed those who did not become proselytes to their doctrines. Aching for martyrdom, they flung themselves from precipices, or into the fire, or drowned themselves or cut their own throats. (It must be said that the Donatists attempted every authority and power to stop them).
Arius—Arians: taught that the Word in the Incarnation took a body without a soul, and that the soul was part of the divinity. The Word was not from all eternity, but created out of nothing by the Father; Christ according to his free will was of a mutable nature, and might have followed vice, but since He embraced goodness, God rewarded him with divine nature, honoring him with the titles Word, Son, and Wisdom.
Macedonius—Denied the Holy Ghost was God, and taught that he was only a creature like the angels, but of a higher order. Called the Pneumatomachi—enemies of the Spirit. Noted for their moral lives and monastic regularity.
Apollinarists—Apollinaris taught that Christ had no soul per se, but instead had the Word where a man would have a rational soul. The error was based on the Platonic conception, rejected by the Church, that man has three substances: body, soul and mind. He followed with three other errors: first, that the body of Christ, born of Mary, was consubstantial with the Divinity of the Word, and hence followed the divinity of the word was passible, and suffered, in reality, torments and death; second, that the flesh of Christ came not from Mary but was brought down from heaven (and on this ground called the Catholics, who teach that the flesh of Christ comes from Mary Homicolists); third, the Divine Substance of the Word was converted into flesh. Apollinaris also erred in teaching that there were degrees among the Trinity (God=greatest, son=greater, ghost=great) and said the Jewish rites ought be resumed.
Antidicomarianites, or adversaries of Mary—who teach that she did not remain a virgin, but had other children after Christ by St Joseph.
Collyridians—the opposite error, holding that Mary was a deity. So called because they worshipped the virgin by offering a certain sort of cake called in Greek collyrides.
Aerius—taught that there is no difference between priests and bishops; that prayers for the dead are useless; and that the observances of fasts and festivals, even of Easter, is only a Jewish rite, and useless.
Antropomorphites—Audaeus their founder, Said God was literally like man, possessing members and so on. They followed the Jewish rite of Passover rather than Easter.
HERESIES OF THE FIFTH CENTURY
Elvidius—taught that Mary had other children after Christ by St Joseph.
Vigiliantius—Condemned the practice of celibacy; condemned the veneration of relics of the martyrs, calling the Catholics Cinerists and idolatrous; condemned the lighting of candles by day; eschewed prayer for the dead; condemned public vigils in the Churches; reprobated the custom of sending alms to Jerusalem; totally condemned monastic life, saying we make ourselves useless to our neighbors by embracing it.
Pelagius—Taught that Adam and Eve were created mortal, and that their sins only hurt themselves, not their posterity; that infants are now born in the same state that Adam was before his fall; children dying without baptism do not go to heaven, but do possess eternal life; that the naturel force of the free will of man could fulfill all divine precepts, conquer all temptations and passions, and arrive at perfection without the assistance of grace.
Predestinarians—who say the good works were of no use to those foreknown to be lost, but neither do the sins of those elect foreknown to salvation work harm to them.
Nestorianism—Nestorius revived the error of Ebion and Photinus, teaching that the Word was not hypostatically united with Christ, but only extrinsically, so that God dwelled in Christ as in his Temple. Taught that Mary was the Mother of Christ, but not of God. Christ has two persons, God and Man, even as he has two natures.
Felix of Urgel and Elipandus of Toledo supported Nestorianism. These maintained that Jesus Christ, according to his human nature, was not the natural but only the adopted Son of God, or, as they said, the nuncupative, or Son in name alone.
Eutychianism— Eutyches taught Christ had two natures before his incarnation, but after had but one, commingled, and so it is a fable to say Christ suffered and died.
HERESIES OF THE SIXTH CENTURY
Existants or Tolerators—who permit every religion save that of the Catholic.
Agnoites or Ignorants—founded by Themistius. Christ, being of divine nature confounded with human, was ignorant of many things, such as the day and hour of the Judgment; this ignorance was as natural to him as other inconveniences, as hunger, thirst, and pain which he suffered in this life.
Tritheists—Founded by Philoponos the Laborer. Held that one person must have one nature, therefore the trinity is three gods. He also wrote against the Resurrection in the flesh.
Corruptibilists—Held that Christ had a corruptible body, and was subject to suffering involuntarily. (The Catholic doctrine was that these sufferings were voluntary, out of unbounded love; and that his passions, as were those of prelapsarian man, bound by reason, and on that account are called propassions.)
Incorruptibilists or Phantasiasts—Founded by St. Julian of Halicarnassus. The body of Christ was by its nature incorruptible and free from passions. He suffered neither from hunger nor thirst nor weariness nor pain.
Julian the Phantasist and Themistus the Corruptibilist stirred up a commotion of the people of Alexandria, that they burned each other’s houses, and murdered each other on account of their difference of opinion.
HERESIES OF THE SEVENTH CENTURY
Mohamet—pretended to be a prophet of God, but could produce no miracle to attest to his commission; but he boasts of one ridiculous in the extreme: a piece, he says, fell off the moon into his sleeve, and he fixed it on again; for this reason the Mahometans adopt the half moon as the symbol of their empire. He composed the Alcoran, assisted, as some think, by Sergius, a monk. It is a collection of precepts, taken from Mosaic and Christian law, together with many of his own, and interspersed with fables and ridiculous revelations. He professes there is but one God; but in his Alcoran he relates many trivialities unworthy of the Supreme Being, and the whole work is filled with contradictions. The Mahometan paradise is fit only for beasts, for filthy sensuous pleasure is all the believer has to expect there.
Monothelites—said that Christ, albeit of two natures, had one will or one operation alone. Christ is the Son himself, and produces the divine and human operation by means of one theandric or divine-human operation alone, both divine and human, so that the distinction exists not in reality but is only drawn by our understandings.
HERESY OF THE EIGHTH CENTURY
Iconoclasts—A captain of the Jews, Sarantapechis (whose name means ‘four cubits’) induced the Caliph Jezzid to commence a destructive war on the sacred images in the Christian churches.
The error was repeated in the Twelfth Century by the Petrobrussians, Henricians, and Albigensians; two hundred years later the same error was repeated by the followers of Wickliffe; by the Hussites, in Bohemia; by Carlostad, in Wittemburg, though against Luther’s will; and by the disciples of Zuinglius and Calvin, those faithful imitators of Leo and Copronimus, and imitators of the Jews and the Saracens.
HERESY OF THE NINTH CENTURY
The Great Schism introduced by Photius and consummated by Cerularius—The errors here concern the procession of the Holy Ghost, and the consecration in Leavened Bread.
HERESIES OF THE TENTH CENTURY
There are at least two possible reactions to this list. One is so be surprised that so many modern opinions are so ancient, and be unimpressed with reopening a case that was long ago decided. Another and opposite reaction is to be appalled that the modern opinion is so old and has been suppressed for so long by such ruthless dishonesty.
I imagine a Gnostic or an Ebionite or a Manichaean is just as outraged as a Mormon to find that the True Church of Gnosticism (or whatever) was suppressed while St John was yet still alive, and pleased that the mercy of God kept the True Church alive in secret for so many centuries. I imagine the reaction of Orthodox and Catholic is the opposite: a mixture of wonder and disgust at the persistence of wrongheadedness.
By no means are all the heresies of the first ten centuries listed here. There are several things striking about this list, brief as it is. First is the perpetual nature of the heresies; second is their tendency to come in pairs, and hence to serve as a basis for accusation against orthodoxy; third is their simplicity. Heresies are always simplifying a subtle or complex idea, and therefore robbing it of life and energy.
Heresy is perpetual. Many of these ideas are natural enough, even reasonable upon the surface, or appealing to some vanity in man which has not changed, and so they recur throughout history.
Cerinthus denying the divinity of Christ is an idea repeated by everyone from Mohamet to Thomas Jefferson to Mary Baker Eddy. The Adamites of Prodicus remind me of Mike the Martian from Robert Heinlein’s paean to narcissism, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. The Peputians are active to this day, seeking to have women ordained. I met a student of Hermogenes, that is, a scientist who claimed that since matter was uncreated and eternal, the theory of the Big Bang must be wrong. Karl Marx is a heresiarch akin to the Apostolicals.
And nearly all of modern Political Correctness has the same attitude and approach as the Gnostics, that is, the belief in verbal formulae as the key to salvation, which is restricted to an intellectual elite, combined with a belief that everything that common sense calls good is actually evil and everything common sense calls evil is good. Gnosticism is a favorite pastime of several authors I have read, from David Lindsay to John Crowley.
Arians are alive and well and preaching that Jesus was the Son of God, but not God, and so are the Antidicomarianites, who deny the perpetual virginity of Mary. Particularly after the Sexual Revolution in America, it became fashionable to regard virginity with pity, as a deprivation, and so the idea of living one’s entire life in abstinence became unimaginable to that generation. It is more than a little shocking to me how many Arians I have run across, particularly among the New Age movement, who regard Christ as a created being like ourselves, or like angels.
The doctrine of Apollinaris, that the Jewish rites ought to be resumed by Christians, I hear preached on the radio periodically by a divine I otherwise deeply respect, who also suggests a return to the Jewish practice of observing the Sabbath on Saturday rather than the Christian Sunday.
(You see, if you only accept scripture as authoritative, and New Testament scripture was written when Christianity was in its infancy, no mature feature of Christian development will be present in scripture, but the fully mature Jewish features will be. One will not find scriptural authority for Sunday services, and will conclude, quite logically (and, given the false premise, quite falsely) that Saturday service or polygamy or whatnot is proper Christian practice and dogma.)
And, of course, the Existants or Tolerators, who tolerate every religion save that of the Catholics are alive and well in the person of modern multicultural cultists and relativists.
The second striking feature is how often the heresies come in pairs. For example, opposite the Antidicomarianites, who hold that Mary could not accomplish the feat that many Nuns and Monks accomplish of living an abstinent life, were the Collyridians, who adored Mary as a goddess. Again, opposite the Nestorians, who held that Christ was two persons, mortal and divine, are the Eutychians or Monophysites, who held Christ had only one person with only one nature. Then there are the Phantasists, who say Christ could not suffer weariness or pain, and the Corruptibilists, who said Christ could not help but suffer weariness and pain.
The advantage of this pairing of opposite heresies is that the orthodox position can always be accused of the opposite flaw to one’s own. Arius called Catholics Sabellians, because we profess that the Son was God, like unto the Father. Pelagius called us Manicheans, because we insist on the necessity of grace. Eutyches called us Nestorians, because we believe that there are two distinct natures in Christ—the divine and the human. Likewise, Nestorius called us Arians and Apollinarists, because we confess Christ in one person, true God and true man.
The disadvantage of this pairing is that when one accuses the Catholics of something they do not believe and do not teach, the Catholic can merely point to the official ruling where that heresy was anathematized. For example, it is amusing to answer those who claim that Catholics worship Mary by asking them why the Catholic Church specifically held the worship of Mary to be a heresy?
One of my readers here has repeated the accusation that Catholics have been corrupted by Greek metaphysics, despite that when real Greek metaphysics (such as the doctrines of the Apollinarists) appear in history, and they are contrary to Christian metaphysics, they are unambiguously condemned and anathematized by the Catholics.
One can immediately sift honest accusations from mere propaganda in this way. Someone who honestly if mistakenly thinks that Catholics worship Mary will be dumbfounded to find the practice of the Collyridians is and was condemned by the Catholics, and will correct his mistake. The accuser more devoted to accusation than to truthfulness, however, will merely repeat the accusation, perhaps adding an expression of wonder at the hypocrisy of the Catholics who so blithely disobey their own precepts.
One advantage to the accusers of these heresies coming in pairs of opposites, is that the Catholic theologians must resort to theology, that is, to careful and precise reasoning about the nature of divine things. At that moment, the Catholics can be accused of hair-splitting, of wasting time on trivialities, and of scholastic arguments about the number of angels able to dance on the head of a pin. This accusation has a tremendous advantage of flattering the ignorant, who are always suspicious (usually with good reason) of the rigorous and technical lucubration of scholars. Technicalities of theology provoke in the human breast the immediate desire to return to the simpler days of a simpler form of Christian teaching, something that can be understood by a child. This desire is vain: God is infinite and mysterious, beyond the reach of human thought, but something of His nature has indeed been revealed to us. He cannot be simplified) because reality is not simple (even though, technically speaking, His nature is perfect, ergo simple).
One of the things I did when looking into which denomination to join was to read up on this history of some of these heresies, particularly Arianism. Because all heterodoxy by its nature accuses orthodoxy with heterodoxy, it is absolutely necessary for anyone making a wise decision about denominational loyalty to be familiar with what heresy is, and what the range of opinions are. One of the tools the examination of the history of heresies gave me was an ability to recognize the ‘look and feel’ of heretical thought, because there is a recurring pattern to it.
There is a pattern to heretical ideas. A heretical idea is always the brainchild of one man, so it is always one simple idea, something that can be repeated on a bumper sticker. Heresy is impatient with quibble, qualification, and precision. It is always a flat idea, something that seems more like a diagram and less like a family portrait. And it is always an unbalanced idea, like a wild cook finding that a little ketchup makes burgers and fries taste better concluding that a lot of ketchup will make everything from eggs to ice cream taste better. This is because the truth is a balancing act, and a heresy is a stumble and a fall.
Because heresies are one man’s opinion, they are simple, and because they are simple, they are perennial. Easy ideas are easy to stumble upon again. Because they are simple, heresies provoke, as a natural reaction, both a balanced counter action from the orthodox, and an unbalanced counter action from another heresiarch, who tries to combat the false bumper sticker with another bumper sticker equally as false. Easy ideas easily father easy over-reactions in the opposite direction, as Libertarianism is an overreaction to Communism. And they are unbalanced.
Anyone who has read a heresiarch knows how boring it is to read a man with one fixed idea which he relates to everything from shoes to ships to sealing wax to cabbages to kings. His one grand theory, which is simple enough to write on a postcard, can explain everything, everywhere.
Reading the history of heresies robs modern heresies of most of their glamour. One begins to become tone-deaf to their appeal. It will immunize any patient thinker against the lure of the shiny new idea or allegedly revolutionary conception, because all such modern ideas are merely old ideas with a new coat of paint.
You see, the heretics like to pretend either (1) that they are returning to an older conception of the Church which the Catholics have since misplaced, like an absentminded old crone forgetting where she left her car keys, or (2) that they are discoverers and inventors of a new truth, like Copernicus or Einstein, fearlessly turning the world on its ear by proclaiming that, after all, Man is the only God or that Christ was only a Man (in the First Millennium, Arians and Mohammedans) or proclaiming that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Father and Son and neither protects the sanctity of doctrine nor animates the Church (Second Millennium, Photius, Luther) or proclaiming that God the Father, is after all, a Mother (Third Millennium, various feminists).
But the claim to be returning to an older conception is deflated if you find the Church from ancient times discussed and dismissed and rejected as alien to Christian teaching the pet idea you are trying to say Peter and Paul believed, or should have believed; or that there is no trace of any such teaching at all.
And the claim that you have a revolutionary new religious insight is deflated if you find the Church from ancient times discussed and dismissed and rejected as alien to Christian teaching the pet idea you are trying to say is brand new.
There is also, to my mind at least, a question of legal process. In the scientific community, certain ideas, such as, let us say, the Phlogiston theory, or the Steady State theory, have been discredited and are no longer discussed seriously. The matter is settled. This is because there is a process for settling such disputes, namely, the court of nature.
But a theological question cannot be settled by looking at the natural world, because theological questions concern supernatural things. There is, nonetheless, a process and a method of theological argument much as there is of philosophical argument.
Unlike philosophical argument, however, which is merely a matter of private opinion, a theological argument concerns corporate opinion, that is, it concerns what the Church will preach and teach as orthodox, what she will condemn as heterodox, and what she will rule is left to the private discretion of the faithful each man in his own opinion.
My question is this: absent a showing of improper procedure or denial of due process (cf. the Robber Council) or absent a new revelation from God surrounded by signs and wonders to show the revelation is divine and not merely an opinion of men, if the Church has decided the orthodox teaching on a specific issue centuries or millennia ago, what are the grounds for revisiting the decision?
You either have to claim, as the Protestants do, that the Church has no Magisterium, no teaching authority; or you have to claim, as the Mormons do, that there was no Church until the coming of Joseph Smith (or whoever your founder is), merely twelve apostles who founded an antichurch.
Or you have to claim you have new evidence, such as your Wayback machine has investigated the Tomb of Christ in the Holy Land, and you can see that a pack of dogs rolled the stone away while the Roman guards were sleeping, an dragged the body behind a bush and consumed it, bones and all. And then Christ’s hitherto unknown twin brother Bejesus dressed up as him and tried to spook the Apostles as a prank, which simply got out of hand.
But an emotional feeling that the Bible is all you need and each man’s opinion is as good as St Thomas Aquinas or St Augustine, or that Christ was just a prophet and not divine, or that there should be many christs among the pagans because it is unfair that the Jews should be a chosen people, or that Mary should have had other children because large families are nice, or that priests are icky — none of this is evidence. None of this is even argument. It is sentimentalism.
Sentimentalism is an insufficient reason to revisit the Church’s decisions on orthodoxy, and an insufficient warrant to re-open a closed case.
If this way of thinking seems alien to a democratic nation like the United States, where each man has the right to worship in whatever fashion he sees fit, or to speak anything he sees fit, consider that to become a naturalized citizen of the United States from another nation you must consent to the proposition that all men are created equal, and to the other legal and moral ideals represented by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and indeed swear and oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Soldiers must swear such an oath likewise, and the wording is the same for lawyers when they enter the profession. The Church is older and greater and larger than any nation, and will outlast them all, and she demands a much greater degree of loyalty than the mere citizen of a democracy, whose private life is his own matter.
Joining your life to Christ crucifies your life to the world and the world to you. It is an absolute commitment. Unless you personally have had a private revelation, where Christ came to you personally and described who He was and what He did to save you, you cannot know about Christ or come to Christ except through the Church or through some books the Church wrote and protected and declared holy. Knowing what that devotion entails is not and cannot be a matter of personal opinion. There is not one Christ for me and another for you just as there is a not a private reality for me and another for you. Theological truth is much more like a scientific canon of findings or the findings of a court of law, it is a public and corporate finding, than it is like private opinion.
You do not have the right to tell the Church, especially the Church Fathers, what to teach. The Fathers are in heaven, and are not going to reissue updated versions of their books. Their books are older than your nation, and, unless you are Greek, older than your language.
There are only two options. Either the Church has the authority to decide what she shall and shall not teach as Church teaching, or she has not.
If she has not that authority, then no theological dispute or debate is ever finally decided, not on the basis of scripture, nor precedent, nor human reasoning, nor for any other reason, any more than philosophical issues are ever finally decided. It is all a matter of personal opinion, and each man must discover the truth for himself, or decide based on his personal wisdom and interests and preferences.
If she has that authority, then certain theological issues are dead. The matter is settled. Rome has spoken.
- ON THE NATURE OF LAW
The thirteenth point which convinced me was the particular character of the Catholic Church. She is preeminently balanced and just in her approach, a type of justice often dismissed as being legalistic or pharisaic. That dismissal is groundless. A balanced and just approach is the only approach: anything else is emotionalism, perhaps fanaticism.
I will repeat here what I have said many times: The Catholic Church is eminently logical. If Vulcans had a religion, they would be Catholic.
At about this time in my investigations, my beautiful and talented wife, who is considerably more tolerant and supportive of her husband’s eccentricities than she should be, noticed that most of the comments left by readers on my computer journal were left by Catholics, and that there was a particular affinity between their outlook and my own. At her urging, I took up RCIA classes, and began to study Catholicism in earnest.
While I am, there can be no doubt, an extraordinarily silly man (sometimes deliberately) there can be no doubt that I was always of a very sober and serious temper when it came to the deepest questions of life and death. I had a philosophical temper as a child even before I took up the study of philosophy in my youth. I mean that have always honored the rational and intellectual approach to any topic over the enthusiastic and spontaneous. I have never believed that the depth or authenticity of an emotion any evidence in the slightest as to the appropriateness or sanity of that emotion, nor any evidence in the slightest as to the truthfulness of whatever opinion deep and authentic emotion provokes or is provoked by. Nor have I ever regarded philosophy as a mere word-game or diversion, or something without far-reaching consequences in the life of a man or the life of a nation.
It is primarily due to this philosophical temper that I attended law school. The greatest advantage over other law students of my class and generation is that I had been trained in undergraduate school to think, that is, to establish arguments in a rigorous fashion, to understand and to anticipate counterarguments, and to see that some matters had no simple answer, but were matters of qualified, nuanced and careful consideration. My First Year classmates had to spend months unlearning the twin idiotic ideas that there was always one simple right answer and that there was never one simple right answer, whereas to me the idea that there was an argument to be heard on both sides of any issue was as natural as breathing.
But I mean not to dwell on myself. I mention this only to establish that I am qualified to detect a particular character of thought and writing which one finds only in the best philosophers and jurists, in Blackstone as well as Aquinas: the habit of balanced judgment, of examining both sides of an argument, of seeing implications, of allowing exceptions when justice demands, and of ruthlessness forbidding exceptions when she does not.
It was upon reading the catechism of the Catholic Church that I encountered once again the type of mind, that particular highest type, which I had heretofore seen only in jurists and philosophers and other mind of a decidedly rigorous and powerful intellect.
Two examples will suffice. In the matter of abortion, the Church teaches that it is always wrong, and gravely against the dignity of the human person. Whereas in the matter of capital punishment, the Church teaches that it is most often wrong, but in a circumstance where the public safety cannot be obtained in any other way (such as in a nation too poor or war-torn to incarcerate prisoners reliably) capital punishment is not necessarily forbidden.
I will add a third and yet a fourth example. The Catechism teaches that the torture of prisoners of war is always forbidden. The reason for such a strict and absolute prohibition was made painfully clear in recent years in this nation, where one party accused to other of indulging in the practice, and the other reacted, first by denying the charge indignantly, and second by arguing that torture was not absolutely immoral. It is that second argument that should never be voiced or heeded in public, and any Christian faithful to Catholic teaching has no excuse for either.
But, contrariwise, war itself is not forbidden in absolute terms. The Catechism teaching the doctrine defining justice in war, which has informed the conscience of the West up until the Napoleonic times, when the heresy of political liberalism, as displayed by the French across the bloody pages of history, but later by the Socialists of Russia and the National Socialists of Germany, that exquisite barbarian horror known as total war theory. Just war theory holds that wars can be fought under specific conditions dealing with the justice of the cause, the impossibility of peaceful reconciliation, and the possibility of success. The reason for the careful balancing of causes in the Just War theory was once again made painfully clear in recent years in this nation, which attempted to have a public debate about the justice or injustice of our current war. It was impossible to have a rational conversation about the justice or injustice of the war while using that baroque modern vocabulary and elliptical phrasing moral relativism requires. Among moderns, any statement about justice is dismissed as unjust, because their single (and singularly stupid) moral standard is that it is wrong to have moral standards. The modern cannot talk or think rationally about morality because they hold morals to be individual, mystical, and based on emotion. Never has a matter of great and momentous public weight be debated so frivolously. Never has a nation needed to be catechized so badly.
I have no doubt that a similar clarity and profundity of thought exists among writers who support non-Catholic theologies, but I have not yet come across them. There are non-Catholic writers I can name who are truly rigorous or truly deep or both, but I have yet to see an official document propounded by their leadership describing in actionable detail the wholeness of the faith.
In general, Protestant denominations tend to admire religious enthusiasm, and the visionary denominations tend to prefer signs and wonders and speaking in tongues, the exorcism of demons and the healing of the sick by prayer alone. I denounce none of these things nor even look at them askance, for the Catholic Church not only has them, she has them properly in balance with other things and is the mother of them all. We alone have professional exorcists and a process to distinguish between real miracles versus hoaxes.
In general, Catholics tend to have everything written down. If you want to know what we believe and why we believe it, or to discover the areas where each believer is at liberty to decide howsoever he sees fit, you can look it up. Like the laws of a just and sober nation, a reasonable man can know the law and know how to conform to it. For a variety of reasons, this is simply not true of many of the other denominations.
One of those reasons for this lack of legality is a lack of international character in other denominations. I have been frankly nonplussed by those whose main resentment against the Catholic Church is her medieval assumption of secular powers. They seem to regard this as a slight against the separation of the state from Church which is so near and dear to the heart of the Constitution of the United States, so cherished by the American people, and as an affront to freedom of conscience. I have even heard faithful Catholic lament the assumption of Constantine to the Purple, on the grounds that the establishment of the Catholic Church as the official state religion of the empire corrupted her.
While a mystic of an Oriental discipline that preaches a purely individual relation to God, and has no communal rites or stances whatsoever, could make this argument, no Protestant can. In the early days, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Calvinism denominations were national churches in precisely the fashion that the Catholic Church after Constantine was not. While a man whose religion has no organization and no leader can mock the idea of having a Pope or a supreme Archbishop without hypocrisy, he cannot whoever is a member of a church whose official theology is that the King of England is the supreme head of the church, or various German princes, and so on.
My main reason for not joining an Eastern Church, such as the Greek or Russian Orthodox, who could show apostolic succession and make other profound claims to being the original and true Church, is precisely their lack of international and independent character. These Eastern Churches have had only three Ecumenical Counsels akin to the Council of Trent or Vatican II, and in recent years, none. For many years they were dependent on the will of the state even for their internal organizational matters.
The idea of the Separation of Church and State is a Protestant idea, or, specifically, it is the cease fire of Protestant denominations finding themselves unable to continue the endless wars their doctrine of making each King his own Pope inevitably creates. The various national Churches engaged in a cease fire by next making each individual man his own Pope, and the Kings were restored partway to the humbler position they occupied before the Reformation.
The Separation of Church and State is surely better than suffering the establishment of national churches, but in recent years this doctrine has mutated into its own opposite: instead of a restriction on government actions when they interfere with Church business, it is now regarded as a restriction on the actions of churchgoers when they interfere with Government business. The creation of state-run schools, the abolition of prayer in schools, the privatization of religious education, the removal of public monuments, such as crosses for war-heroes, or the display of the Ten Commandment on which all Angloamerican law is based from our court houses, the secularization of Christmas, and the requirement that Catholics fund contraception, abortifacient drugs and sterilization, and fund the spreading of doctrine anathema to us, all this and more is a fruit of this inversion of the Protestant cease-fire between the various schismatic sects.
The traditional Catholic division between secular and spiritual powers and orbits of authority makes more sense and is, in the long run, healthier than this agreement to drive all mention of God from the Public Square, an agreement having its roots in an exhaustion from the futility of the religious conflicts brought on by the Reformation.
- SLANDERS AND RUMORS
The fourteenth point which convinced me of the truth of the Catholic faith was the untruth of the accusations made against that faith. I found out very quickly that nearly any Catholic whom I read or whom I heard knew precisely what various Protestants taught and preached, and that no Protestant I read or heard knew what the Catholics taught and preached, but instead uttered the most outrageous propaganda against the Church.
This awoke my suspicions. I had seen a similar thing in debates between Communists and Economists (I will not here use the word ‘capitalist’ to refer to any man who prefers sound economic principles to bloodthirsty tyranny). The Economists knew the errors of the Communists by chapter and verse, whereas the Communists had no idea whatever of what Economics taught or supported.
No one shoots blanks who has real ammunition. The only reason to resort to misrepresentation as a tactic in debate is when the truth will not serve.
Looking into the matter, I had expected to find that at least some, or at least one, of the Protestant objections to Catholicism to be meritorious. I found none. This was deeply shocking to me, considering that these things I now knew to be slanders had been things taught, without exception, without even a hint that there was another side to the story, in every classroom and storybook I encountered as child. It was common knowledge. Everyone believed it. Everyone knew it.
Everyone believed rubbish.
I will list a few examples, albeit, if provoked, I can list dozens and dozens more.
The Crusades. Everyone knows that the superstitious and bloodthirsty Catholics, out of idolatry for the Holy Land and the sacred sites therein, fell out of bed one day and without provocation attacked the peaceful sheepherding Muslims minding their own business in that part of the world, which had been their ancestral lands since the dawn of time.
Except this is a slander. The Crusades were primarily defensive wars meant to keep international pilgrimage routes open, and secondarily to assist the Roman Emperor in Constantinople against the causeless and ceaseless aggression of the Muslim conqueror, who had recently invaded and conquered the Middle Eastern lands of the shrinking Eastern Roman Empire.
Everyone knows that the Catholic used to lock up all copies of the Bible, depriving the faithful of the comfort and truth of the faith, and ruthlessly attacking and burning anyone who made a translation that the common people could read.
Except this is a slander. Bibles in the Middle Ages were locked up for the same reason a gold chalices or patens used in divine services were locked up: to discourage thieves, not to discourage the faithful. There was no law or custom against owning a private copy of the Bible, any more than there was a law or custom against owning a private copy of the works of St Augustine. But before the invention of the printing press, such things were handmade, hence very expensive. Most literate men were clergymen, and most clergymen were literate, so there was no pressing economic need for Bibles printed in the vernacular. And, depending on the year under discussion, Bibles in the vernacular were printed by the Church, but then again the number people in Europe who were literate in the vernacular but who could not read Latin was nearly zero: as recently as my Grandfather’s day, all educated men were expected to read Latin. In any case the translation of the Bible into the vernacular was not forbidden except during the Reformation, when the Reformers started printed up spurious copies of the Bible, with books and chapters missing, or phrases mistranslated, or crucial words left out, in order to lend credence to the theological theories of the particular Reformer. To this day, most English copies of the Bible record the salutation of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary as “Hail, Mary, Highly Favored” because the Latin or Greek words favor the Catholic interpretation of the immaculate conception “Hail, Mary, Full of Grace.” I have mentioned in a previous place Luther leaving out the Book of Maccabaeus because it refers to prayers for the dead, and therefore logically implies that the Catholic doctrine of a Purgatory or intermediate state after death and before final judgment is possible. So the Catholic Church’s efforts, in the days before copyright law, was not to prevent the poor starving masses from learning to read, or reading a book in a language they knew, or covering up their crimes by keeping the Bible out of their hands, lest the peasant discover some passage in the Gospel of Thomas saying that Mary is not the Mother of God — no, nothing like that. The Catholic Church was, as she always did, was trying to stop the spread of heresy. If the heretics used the printing press to distort Church teaching and mistranslated the Bible in specious support of that heresy, the Church attempted by persuasion or coercion to put a stop to it. But she was the enemy of heresy, as she always was, not an enemy of the printing press, as she never was.
Everyone knows that the Catholic Church hates and fears science, and attempted to abolish science. She had Galileo tortured for daring to claim that the Earth moved.
Except that this is a lie, and one so outrageous that even atheists are aware of it. The Church founded all the institutions of higher learning in Europe. Full stop. The University system is a Church invention. The number of churchmen who founded sciences or contributed crucial advances is too long to list here: I will mention only Copernicus, Nicolas of Oresme, Bacon, Mendel, the theory of the Big Bang and the science of meteorology. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for insulting the Pope and for telling the Church what she could and could not teach: a bit of overreach on his part, but which might well have been ignored, had not Europe been in the throes of the Reformation, the first civil war in Christendom since the Arian days, and the first civil war that provoked any actual wars.
Everyone knows that the Catholic Church encourages superstition. To believe in the Real Presence is the same as to believe in magic.
Another lie. No organization in the history of the world has ever systematically opposed superstition, witchcraft, astrology, the belief in fate and the belief of the helplessness of men in the face of hostile (yet strangely open to bribes) supernatural spooks except the Catholic Church. It was the revival of superstition in Protestant lands which led to the Witch burnings.
Everyone knows that the Catholic Church forbids the use of contraception because she seeks to conquer the world through overpopulation. And also because she hates and fears sex. Also because she hates women. Also because she is a party-pooper and a killjoy.
Another lie, and a particularly persistent one, considering how stupid it is, and how easily refuted. The Catholic Church’s position on sex and sexual are a matter of public record recording in public documents. Anyone can read them. I will not bother contradicting them here, since every Protestant has in recent years heard those same Protestant slanders against the Church now turned around and used by Atheists against all Christians, Protestants included. I will say only that the Church forbids the use of contraception for the same reason she forbids other sterile and selfish uses and abuses of the sexual nature of man, because she thinks sex is sacred, a joy and blessing bestowed by God on undeserving mankind, and not a thing to be warped out of recognition and robbed of all meaning and pleasure.
Everyone knows the Catholic Church hates women. That is why they do not ordain priestesses and use contraception, and why the Bible holds up Eve as the source of all evil. That is why they call God ‘Father’.
Another lie. Women are treated like dirt in every culture that does not take its basic view of mankind from Christianity, which holds, as do the Jews, that all men are created in the image and likeness of God. Read your histories of China and India and the New World. Read up on how things are done in Islamic nations. Look at the way the Greeks and Romans treated their womenfolk. A single example will have to do: where the pagan Romans legally allowed a husband to kill his wife or a father his daughter as part of his prerogative as Paterfamilias, the Christian Romans allows women to become Abbesses and founders of Holy Orders, in control of money and property, and required that no woman could be wed against her will. There are female saints in Christianity, a plethora of them, starting with Mary; there no female saints in Islam.
Everyone knows that the Catholics worship the Pope and think he is infallible.
The doctrine of Papal infallibility is not any sort of honor due to the Pope. It is rather that the Catholics take quite seriously the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would teach the Church and protect her from error. This does not mean that the Church makes no mistakes. This means that the Christian teaching preserved by the Church, teaching on the matter of faith and morals, is without error, because the Holy Spirit protects it. Since the Pope has the final veto on debates within the Church on matters of faith and moral, logically his decision — an authority he has used exactly twice in all of history — is inspired by and ratified by the Holy Spirit, hence is infallible.
No doctrine has been the butt of so many jokes and so much abuse and misunderstanding. Except for some few ethereal New Age mystics or pragmatic witches comfortable with the idea that their ideas do not need to be truthful to be useful, every man of any religious conviction whatsoever thinks his ideas are true. The Christian has the additional assurance that his faith is a grace of God and is protected by error from the Holy Spirit. The Catholics believe this power vests in the official body of the Church, laity and clergy both, when they act as one, and therefore in the bishops and archbishops and in the Pope. In other words, something that the main mass of Christian men have always taught and believed, such as abominable nature of sodomy, cannot be in error. The only difference is that the Protestants believe this power vests in the King of England, or in their particular founder or leadership council, or in the individual, or in the Bible itself.
Everyone knows the Catholics worship Mary rather than God.
This one is a howler. It is the one belief I did not even bother to investigate or think about when investigating which denomination to join. It was too obviously stupid, the kind of thing a man says only when he knows he is speaking to people who will never, ever speak to the person being accused.
I will say one or two things on this point now, however, since both Mohammedan in his Alcoran makes this accusation, as did at least one crackpot on my web journal. The Catholic Church officially anathematized a sect called the Collyridians in the Fourth Century, who taught that Mary was a deity. If we worshipped Mary as a goddess, it would be odd that we excommunicated and persecuted anyone who worshipped Mary as a goddess.
However, the crackpot’s argument was that we worship Mary without knowing that we worship her. To prove this, he pointed out that we pray to her, that we bow and show other signs of reverence and respect, and so on. I asked him if he took his hat off to ladies or put his hand over his heart when saluting a flag. I do not recall getting a reply.
His claim was that the pagans he knows who worship goddesses behave in just the same way, and say the same thing, about Juno or Isis or Amaterasu or Kali as we say about Mary. I know something about paganism, indeed, I know much more about paganism than I know about Christianity, since I studied the one for roughly three times the years I studied the other. Catholics in reciting the rosary say “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” There is no prayer anywhere which where the faithful pagan says “Juno, please pray to your husband Jove on my behalf.” Likewise, Mary was assumed up to heaven, unlike her son, Our Lord, who ascended unto heaven. ‘Assumed’ is a technical term that means she was not moved by her own power, but was plucked up from on high. There is no report in any mythology of a pagan goddess who does not have the ability to go up to Olympus on her own, except, perhaps for Proserpine when she is chained up by her husband during winter.
Do I need to go through another half dozen? If have spent any time on the Internet, you have seen countless little accusations and slanders offered up against all Christians, such as that there are many pagan gods who are born of virgins, or that Christmas is a pagan holiday, or that Easter is a German goddess, and so on and so on. If you have been the butt of one of these drive-by slanders, you know them to be historically illiterate and logically suspect. All accusations about Catholicism having been corrupted by pagan ideas are of an alike level of illiteracy and idiocy. They are either half-truths or out and out lies. In each case, any attempt to determine a date at which the corrupting idea entered the Church will soon explode the myth, unless one is willing to believe that martyrs will die under hideous torture rather than say Caesar is divine, but will without leaving behind any evidence of a dispute or debate accede to a popular error saying Mary is divine.
- ON SACRAMENT
Now I come to a final point, but this is not one which convinced me to join the Catholic Church, for at this point in my search, I had become convinced at first intellectually, and then with my whole soul, that the Catholic Church was what she claimed to be: the one, true, holy, apostolic and universal Church founded by Christ, adorned as His bride, and also forming His mystical body on Earth. This final point is one I discovered only after I entered communion with the Catholics, and which I could have only discovered then.
The final point is the centrality of the sacramental life to the Christian life, and the luminous, supernal reality of the sacraments as a conduit for divine grace.
In a Catholic Church, you do not only praise Christ with your lips, you eat him with your mouth in an act of intimacy shocking alike to the Muslims as to the Gnostic, who regard all matter as evil, and God too good to be incarnate. The shock of incarnation is still alive here, and still offending people.
It is like the jump of a live electric wire. If a layman offers me a bit of bread and asks me to eat it as a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ, this is surely a profound and reverential thing, but it is not a living thing, it is merely a symbolic act of piety. It is like tipping your hat to a lady as a sign of respect for the fairer sex, or covering your heart with your hand to salute the flag.
If a priest who has consecrated the Host offers me the soul and body of Christ Himself under the appearance of a bit of bread, this is as different from a mere sign or mere salute as marrying a lady and carrying her off to the honeymoon is from a tip of the hat, as different as serving the nation in wartime and taking a bullet for the flag as from a mere salute.
It is real.
What the Protestants have, by their own admission, is not real. What they have is symbolic.
The first time I entered the confessional booth, and had to confess an entire lifetime of sin, I was painfully aware that the Priest could impose any penance he saw fit. Instead he imposed, thankfully, a rather light penance. When I expressed surprise that so many years upon years of blackest sin could be forgiven with so little suffering on my part, the Priest commented only that a little leaven raises the whole loaf.
The burden of suffering for sin had been shouldered by another, which is something all Christians of whatever denomination know and for which we give thanks. But not all denominations know the sensation of having the Holy Spirit abolish and absolve you of sin. It is a matter as profound as baptism, but, unlike baptism, it is recurrent.
I have heard Protestants dismiss the sacrament of confession on the grounds that the Priest has not the power to absolve sin. Likewise, I have heard members of younger denominations dismiss baptism on the grounds that water has not the power to install new life. Likewise again, I have heard my hippy friends living in sin together dismiss marriage on the grounds that a little bit of paper called a marriage certificate has not the power to bind two souls together in love. All such argument are based on a very simple error into which a certain degree of willful ignorance or self deception is involved.
It is all strawman argument. No one claims the marriage certificate in and of itself could make a couple lawfully wed; nor that the baptismal waters have the power to baptize without the baptism (for then zealots could save all souls by running down the street with waterpistols filled with water from the baptismal font, consigning souls to heaven with a squirt as they ran by); nor does any man claim it is the man serving as Priest, rather than the power of Christ Himself, by His sacrifice on the Cross, who performs the absolution of sin.
In each case, the critic confuses a sacrament, which is a visible sign of an invisible reality, with a symbol, which is an arbitrary sign related to reality only as an arbitrary convention. The word ‘sorrow’ in English is an arbitrary sound vibration linked by the convention we call language to the invisible reality of a soul in grief. Tears, however, are an outward sign of grief. The mere fact that the tears can be faked, for example, by hiding an onion in your hankie and pretending to cry, does not by itself break the link between tears and the sorrow which causes tears. On the other hand, when a Judge says the words ‘I condemn the prisoner to death’ or a Bride and Bridegroom say the words ‘I do’ the last act in the reality of the murder trial or the marriage ceremony has been performed; and the prisoner really is condemned, and the pair really is wedded, as of that moment. But the words are the audible outward aspect of a terrible and permanent inward and inaudible reality.
My hippy friends are not actually married. That is the reality, albeit it is an invisible reality, and they are correct, but irrelevant, when they say the visible marriage certificate does not create the marriage. My Christian friends from a denomination that considered baptism to be a mental act only, one not requiring an act of baptism, are not actually baptized. So why should I assume my Protestant friends are absolved of sin whenever they perform a mental act of contrition without the benefit of clergy? More reasonable to assume they will work off the debt of sin in that selfsame Purgatory in which they do not believe.
Why assume they have in them the new life of Christ when they did not eat the body of Christ and drink His blood precisely as commanded? While it is certainly possible that they might be saved such as they are, for the mercy of Christ is measureless, they are willfully not making use of the helps Christ has provided for them, and dismissing the means of salvation as unworthy, which Christ instituted as worthy.
But what is the point of trying to live the Christian life without the aids of the Christian sacraments? Why attempt to build a bridge yourself armed only with a redacted Bible and your own imagination, when the entire communion of saints, on Earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven, not to mention the whole Kingdom of Heaven, stands ready to aid and assist and inspire?
The Christian life without the Christian sacramental life is like the one-legged man at the dance. He can do a jig, indeed a sprightly one, and may well shame many a two legged man who dances with less enthusiasm, but he will never find the balance and gracefulness the dance requires. It is awkward, but it can be done.
Now at this point I depart from rational argument altogether, and recount a mystery before which reason stands mute and amazed. I recall the most profound sensation as of an eternal force moving through my soul when the words of the absolution were said over me. It was like coming to life again. I do not mean I suffered a strong emotional reaction—I surely did, but this was not that. I mean that I sensed something supernatural. I can no more doubt it than I doubt my own self-awareness, or the sight of the sun at noon.
Obviously, this is not an experience I can reproduce before the eyes of a skeptic, nor even relate to a Protestant or anyone who has never gone to confession. I do not even know if Catholics or Orthodox tormented by no deep sin or mired by many decades of spiritual grime coating their souls could sense a sensation like that I did. Nonetheless, I am an eyewitness. It happened to me. I have no logical reason to doubt its reality.
But this is a reality closed to those who deny the reality and sanctity of the sacrament of confession, and a similar reality to closed to those who deny the reality and sanctity of the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The final point of difference between the universal Church and the various national denominations and church-flavored prayer meetings of laymen is the fundamental difference of the nature of what they say the church is, and what they say happens at services.
The most obnoxious accusation I heard leveled at the Catholic Mass was from a member of a denomination that is not technically Christian, since they neither baptize nor confess Christ as divine savoir, but they call themselves Christian, and take Jesus to have been a wise prophet after the fashion of Elias or Moses (albeit one whose laws they need not take literally). He accused the Catholics of practicing magic, of attributing spiritual powers to bread and wine and mere bits of matter. To him, this was not merely repugnant to the dignity of God, who is a spiritual being incapable of either creating the material world or incarnating Himself, it was a bar or hindrance to true spiritual unity with the divine.
Of course, the opposite is the case. The belief that symbols and signs are sacred is a magical belief, because it conflates the symbol with the reality. The belief that reality is exactly what it says it is, that is a non-magical but supremely rational belief.
The only point in being a Christian as opposed to a Jew or Muslim is to believe Jesus was Christ, that is, that the promised messiah of the Jews was indeed the God of the Jews who took on human form and became man, the Word made flesh, and dwelt among us. The only reason to be a Christian is to believe that Christ has died, and is risen, and shall come again.
To believe that the Eucharist was merely a symbol and not literal but that the Resurrection was literal and not a symbolic resurrection is an oddity, perhaps even a contradiction, for it argues that a God who has the power to incarnate Himself in Man has not the power to incarnate Himself in bread. It is like saying an author can write an autobiography, and portray himself on paper, but cannot write a fable about the gingerbread man, and portray himself under a figure of speech.
A less obnoxious but far more widespread criticism is that the sacraments and the apparatus of clergy is a barrier or bar to a man’s attempt to be reconciled to God. Many a proud Protestant during my search told me with a sneer that he needed no stinking Priest to introduce him to God, or act as a chaperone, nor to intercede, and that God intended the scripture to act as the only way and truth and life and bridge binding man to heaven.
These sneers were the single most revolting and repellant aspect of the whole debate between Protestant and Catholic I was forced to endure during my search, because they were nakedly satanic. It was the sneer of pride. It was the look on the face of Lucifer boasting that he could place his throne above the stars.
One reason for my great affection for Greek Orthodox celebrants and even Mormons is that I have so far encountered no sneering dismissal by their laity against everyone who was not a layman. I have not heard an Orthodox boast that he can confess by himself his sins to God and be granted absolution without the aid of a priest, nor have a I heard a Mormon claim that his relationship with God needs no aid from temple nor tabernacle nor prophet. That boast of self-sufficiency I have heard from Gnostics, and Deists, and Lutherans, and others of like ilk.
But putting that revulsion aside (for it is, after all, merely an emotion) I could not help but notice the logic of the argument. The argument was that the instrumentality Christ Himself had put in place to build a bridge between Man and God was not only insufficient when compared to, say, the institutions put in place by Calvin or King Henry, they were actually counterproductive.
The argument is that the sacraments, or some of them, are hindrances or distractions from true reconciliation with God, and that the priests and the saint, by interceding for us and helping to carry our prayers, actually block those prayers.
Let us suppose for the sake of argument that it is so. Paging through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I see nothing which says a man cannot read the Bible by himself, pray by himself, ask for forgiveness by himself, and be granted forgiveness by the grace of God. Indeed, since the Catholic and Orthodox Church recognizes and encourages hermits and monastics and other forms of consecrated life, if anything, the Church is more eager than the denominations that one can encounter God in isolation.
But there is nothing in scripture or tradition or natural reason which says that this isolation is necessary.
Nothing I have read says that the Catholic Church teaches that you need a saint to help you pray or need a priest to confess in prayer your sins to God. Nothing says God cannot shed His grace as He sees fit beyond the confines of the official walls of the Church; and indeed, several passages in the Catechism say the exact opposite in no uncertain terms.
Most, if not all, of the criticisms I have heard directed against the sacramental life of the Church and the new life it grants to those of us who are born again in Christ are based on woeful ignorance of what the Church actually teaches about these things, or a woeful misunderstanding of the wonder of what the Church offers.
The first time I had the opportunity to eat the bread and drink the wine in memory of Christ, nothing could have stopped me, not even if a thousand swords and pikes had risen up to block my way, not even if I were to die the next second. That is how hungry, after my barren life of proud atheism, how hungry I was for Christ, or any memorandum of Him. As I recall, this was at an Anglican service to which a friend had invited me: that was how profoundly I was moved at what was, by all accounts, merely a sign or reminder of Christ. No one claimed it was He Himself.
The Roman Catholics (and, of course, our brothers the Orthodox) make a much stronger claim, one that is shocking. They claim the bread and wine is Him. It is God.
Compare those two claims, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. If the Protestant claim is correct, and no man has the authority to consecrate the Host, and no priest in the history of the world has ever done so, this means that all billion or so of Catholics and Orthodox Christians since the First Century onward, all over the world, were committing an act of satanic blasphemy and idol-worship, literally bowing down to a wafer of bread they made with their own hands as one would bow to a divine being. It was not until the Fifteenth Century that the good Lord in His divine wisdom revealed to a few German theologians or English princes that the practice of the Eucharist had been in error during all those centuries and in all those lands. Calvin concluded God intended from before their birth the souls unlucky enough to be born in the First through Fifteenth Centuries to be damned.
If the Catholic claim is correct, then God is as shocking and surprising in His incarnation to us, here and now, as He was to the astonished and appalled Jews in First Century Palestine. If the Catholic claim is honest, what happens at Mass is a miracle more intimate than marriage and childbirth.
Lest someone should say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is a recent invention, adopted by the Council of Trent, let us keep in mind that no Christian doctrine is defined by the Church until a heresy arises to question it. The date at which a doctrine is formally recognized has to do with the date at which a heresiarch first doubts it. What no Christian has ever doubted, no Council has ever affirmed.
At this point in my search, my search was over. For I had come to the same point during my atheist days in reference to Christianity as I now came in my nondenominational days in reference to Catholicism.
In my atheist days, the more I looked at Christianity, the more I realized it was not merely one religion among many. It was fundamentally different, an oddity, if not a monstrosity. I will not here list those differences: that would require an essay, if not a book. It is sufficient to say that there is no other religion, aside from Christianity, which forms a Church, which defines itself by a Creed, and which promises rebirth in this life and eternal life in the next. The despair of Oriental religions and the dreaminess of pagan religions have nothing in common with the sharp, hard, electrical and alarming reality of the Christian faith, which has given rise to Christendom which has conquered the world both physically and intellectually.
Most atheists pay lip service to the idea that Christianity is a superstition no different from any other, no different from the philosophy of Confucius, the mysticism of Buddha, or the pathetic rites and practices of the Cargo Cult. But that is not what they believe in their hearts. In their hearts, all their enmity is reserved for Christianity. They regard it as more dangerous, more insidious, and more outrageous than other beliefs. Most atheists, sooner or later, come to realize that the claims of Christianity are so immoderate, so over-the-top, so shockingly outrageous, that Christianity is either shocking in how utterly and supernally true it is, or else Christianity is shocking in how depraved an abomination it is.
Hearing the message of the Christians, most atheists, soon or late, come to the realization that if Christianity is not the Word of life from Heaven, it is surely the gabble of madness from Hell. It is not merely one opinion among many. If it is right, it is absolutely right, shockingly right. If it is wrong, it is as utterly wrong as it is possible to be, shockingly wrong.
So, once again, I reached that same point as a nondenominational Christian looking at the various denominations. I did not then and do not now see any real difference between, say, Baptists and Methodists. They look like two difference and respectable opinions about the nature of the discipline and doctrine of the Christian life that are reasonable.
But between them and the Roman Catholic Church is an outrageous gulf. The Church claims to be the one and only Church. She claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit. She claims absolute authority over all matters of faith and morals. She claims to be in the lineage of Melchizadech. She claims continuity with Paul and Peter. She claims to be the Bride of Christ. She claims to be the Body of Christ. She claims that at daily mass Christ is present under the appearance of Bread and Wine. She claims what is loosened on Earth by her ministers is loosened in heaven, and what is bound, is bound. She claims to know the names of some of the saved and blessed Elect in heaven, and commends those saints to your prayers. She claims the Church will endure until the End of Time itself.
There is something in the mood and atmosphere of these claims that rings familiar to me. Do you recognize it? Who else made claims that sounded both blasphemous in their outrageous scope, and also too good to be true? Who else made claims so shocking that all the respectable people were stirred not just to dispute and disagreement but to anger and indignation, indeed, to bloody violence?
Read the Gospel. Christ made claims this outrageous. He promised eternal life and prayers answered before they were asked and mountains to jump into the sea. If He was not a lunatic and not a confidence trickster of spectacular ambition and suicidal incompetence, then He was telling the truth. He was the truth. If Christ is lying, then He is worse than a devil from Hell. If Christ is lying, He is the antichrist. But if He is telling the truth, if He is the truth, then He is the Christ.
Likewise, with his bride, the Church. If she is not the Bride of Christ, as she says she is, performing miracles at every mass and absolving sins at every baptism and confession, then she is the Whore of Babylon and the archenemy of Christ.
In my survey of the width of theological and doctrinal opinion that agitates the minds of the faithful since the beginning of the faith, there were many mansions I inspected, some large and some very small indeed, some small and humble and some bright and colorful. And then there was one titanic and ancient tower, taller than a mountain, tall enough to crack open the sky like the ladder seen by Jacob, and from the echo of the resounding bells and singing choirs rang out a word so unearthly and yet so wide that it surely came from the other side of the firmament.
In the same way, among the many men who are sages or mystics or prophets who founded or inspired a religion, there is one who towers above the others, and speaks words at once so mild and so outrageous that the nations shake to hear them, either in the terror of the Godfearing or the terror of the rebellious angels.
My experience is that Catholics (and I include Orthodox) when I spoke to them, said the most shockingly wondrous things, things too good to be true, but they said them in a humble and unassuming way. In this case, they told me that the bread and wine was the Incarnate Christ, and that I could literally take a divine substance into my body, in a union more intimate than marriage.
My experience with non-Catholics is the opposite. They would say doctrinal ideas which I could have made up myself, claiming these ideas came from God, things too obvious or too boring to be true, and they said them in an arrogant and self-righteous way.
I admit this could have been sheer accident. Perhaps I just happened to meet humble Catholics and arrogant non-Catholics. But the attitude seemed, to me at least, not to be due to their personality type but to the nature of the message they were saying: The Catholic mourned because the dissenters had departed from the Mother Church, their home. The Non-Catholic scolded because the faithful were too gullible or too wicked to depart from the cathouse of the Whore of Babylon.
And when I asked politely what made her a Whore rather than a Mother, I was answered with trifling bits of hairsplitting, arguments about metaphysics baffling even to a philosopher, and wild accusations.
Like the bandits in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE who say that they don’t need no stinking badges, one too many Protestant boasted of his ability to find his way to heaven without any stinking priests, needing no support of stinking saints, no help from the sacraments of confession or the Eucharist, and needing nothing whatever from the stinking Virgin Mary. Again, I am not saying this is normal Protestant doctrine, but I am saying it is natural. The nature of Protestantism makes this stance natural and reasonable, whereas the nature of the ancient forms of the Church do not.
This haunted me. For there was one other whose manner was the same. He said the most astonishing and shocking things, promising that mountains would jump into the sea and so on, but in the most humble and unassuming way.
I believe the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ because she talks like Christ talked.
So, finally, having tasted Christ in the bread He gave us, and heard His pardon and peace bestowed by the ministers He left with us, I am finally and fully convinced that His Church is who she says she is: the Catholic Church is the body of Christ because she speaks with His voice, and, if you peer into the signs and wonders which surround her like the bright cloud around ark and altar, you will discern His living features.
- A PERSONAL NOTE on SHOOTING ONESELF IN THE FOOT
By rights, I should explain what might be called my procedural decisions in selecting a denomination. I did not, for example, demand a sign from the Lord as to which denomination is correct.
My very strong intuition and inspiration, amounting to a personal dogma, is that the Lord of Light is more concerned for whether a man is helping the poor, visiting the prisoner, aiding the widow, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and baptizing the lost, that He is concerned about our opinions about mysteries the human mind is not constructed to be able, in this life, to understand. I am convinced that the Lord regards discussions of the differences between denominations with hatred. I expected no sign.
Nonetheless, thanks to the followers of Christ who ignored and betrayed Christ’s last prayer spoken on Earth, which was for radical unity between His followers, I nonetheless had to choose between the denominations. Staying at home on Sunday and inventing my own personal brand of Christianity, known perhaps as Wrightinanity, was not an option, and departing the house required I either take the road to the left or to the right, since the church buildings of the different denominations lay in different directions. Which way to go?
Not without prayer, I set about to reason my way through the conflicting accounts of history and theology. I knew that I had no formal training in theology, nor any but a smattering of Greek and Latin and nothing of Aramaic or Hebrew, so I knew that revisiting each and every case of every opinion called heretical was beyond my powers. Even to read two or three books on the history of heresies was nearly beyond my powers, or at least my patience. I knew I had no ability to come to an independent yet sound conclusion about the nature of the Filioque controversy, nor to comb through such records as the obliterating gluttony of history had spared of the debates of the councils and synods grappling with that issue.
I decided at once not to heed any argument about non-essentials, that is, arguments which, even if proved true, would not change the verdict on the merits. For example, suppose that the Council of Trent is wrong about the doctrine of the Real Presence, or wrong about the doctrine of justification by faith alone rather than faith and works? Would I in either case refuse to take the Eucharist or refuse to have faith or refuse to do good works? Would anything in my behavior be changed, or anything in my prospects of salvation be changed?
The answer was no.
The idea that if the Host was merely symbolic but that I thought it was the real presence of Christ due to honest mistake by paying too much heed to the ministers set by Christ over me in his stead, that St Peter would body-tackle me at the Golden Gates and command the ferocious many-eyed warrior angels standing nearby to cast me into the jaws of Cerberus was absurd.
The parable of the sheep and the goats does not contain the line, “But, Lord, when were we supposed to know that you were two natures in one person rather than one nature?” Nor does it say, “Lord, when were we supposed to know the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son rather than from the Father and the Son?” Nor does it say, “Lord, when where we supposed to know that Justification is through faith alone and grace alone?”
It says, “Lord, when did we fail to feed and cloth you?” To which the answer is, “Whatever you failed to do for the least of mine, you failed to do for me.”
The answer is not “The Donatists of the Fifth Century in Northern Africa were the only correct and true Church. Everyone else is damned.”
The only thing I saw that would be changed was that I would have to give up the practice of using contraception. Since (1 ) the use of contraception viscerally disgusted me, and since (2) my lovely bride was a Christian Scientist (whose church does not believe in the use of medicine in any case), and since (3) the evils of contraception (not the least of which is the harm to the woman’s hormonal system, a fact under-reported in our sex-crazed yet sex-bored society) is the main point which convinced me, back when I was an atheist, that the Christians were sane and the world insane, I saw that joining with the Catholics would in effect force me to live up to what my conscience already told me was correct, whereas joining with any other denomination or Church would not.
This cleared the docket of all but the crucial arguments.
The argument was not over whether or not Christ had one nature or two natures or two wills or coeternity with the Father. I was not competent to decide such subtle matters. The argument was over who was competent to decide such matters. More importantly, the argument was whether or not the claim that the authority competent to decide such matters had abdicated her authority by malfeasance, and on whom if anyone had that authority devolved. That was a matter I, or any man of ordinary prudence, could decide by a brief examination of the claims of authority.
I went to several churches of several denominations during this period, but by no means visited them all. In one of them, a part of the regular Sunday service was for the pastor to repeat that on such and such a date, a group of the founder’s students met and voted to establish a church in order to help spread the founder’s message, allegedly a return to the primitive Christianity as practiced by Christ and the early disciples.
So the Universal Church was founded by Christ, our King, whereas this latecomer denomination was founded by a vote of its members?
I could not help but hear the voice of King Arthur from MONTY PYTHON’S HOLY GRAIL saying querulously to a socialist member of the Jacquerie, “You don’t vote for kings!”
Logically, if anyone could start a church by vote, then the word “church” merely means “club” or “ethical society” or “political party” or “school of thought.” By this claim, a Christian church is one that adopts the King James Bible (or some other well regarded translation) the way my local Ethical Society club might adopt Robert’s Rule of Order. This claim is that churches are worldly institutions organized for the convenience of the members, who happen to share in common a desire to seek a closer spiritual relation with Christ.
The claim made by the ancient Churches, the Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Coptic and Syriac and Malabar, is that the Church was founded by Christ Himself, and that He gave to the Apostles something they were charged to pass along to their disciples and hence to us. One of the most striking things to me about the debate over, let us say, gay marriage or the ordination of priestesses, when some modernistic voice calls on the Catholic Church to change her ways and get with the latest worldly fashion, the reply of the Church is that she does not have the authority to make those changes. Rome could (and does) make decisions about whether priests can marry. That is a matter of discipline, which is in human hands. Rome cannot (and does not) make any decisions about whether priestesses can be priests. That is a matter of dogma, which comes from Christ.
Without reaching the merit of these two claims, the significant thing is that they are not the same claim. A church that is voted into existence by the students of some charismatic founder is not basing its claim of authority on an authorizing act; it is not, indeed, even claiming to have authorization properly so called, but merely be acting on its own behalf, not as vicar or representative of anyone. A church taken over by a monarch or czar, and rendered into an organ of the secular power, is basing its claim of authority on the coronation, that is, on the sacred nature of the kingship, and the duty of the king to defend the faith and maintain orthodoxy within his domain. The ancient Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic) claim that they are authorized by the authority of Christ who is authorized by God Almighty.
Again, without deciding the merit of the claim, it is clear as a matter of logic that the claim of a denomination voted into existence cannot be inferior to the claim of the ancient Churches. If Mary Baker Eddy and a group of her students can vote to establish a church, so can St Peter and a group of his. And again, as a matter of logic, the claim of a denomination ordained into existence by a monarch cannot be inferior to the claim of the ancient Churches. If King Henry can bring the Anglican Church into existence by royal degree, so can Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, or, for that matter, so can Constantine the Great.
Hence, I found I did not need to decide the merits of the claims of the various heterodox and orthodox opinions and dogmas. I only needed to decide whose claims of authority were in keeping with sound logic and the historical facts. Any historical fact which was disputed, I held in abeyance.
But there were certain claims I dismissed without hearing any evidence: whenever a Protestant gave an atheist argument, I discarded it as irrelevant.
Let me explain what I mean. Back in my atheist days, when I read Gibbon’s DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, so much mockery was heaped on Christianity, that I knew I was reading an atheist. There was not a single thing that author had to say about the Church or the disputes which tore the early Church which was not said in a tone of scorn. Whenever possible, the toleration of the pagans or the discipline of the Mohammedans was contrasted favorably to the bigotry and violence of the Christians in their priest-plagued over-complexity of gross superstitions.
When I found out later that Gibbon was a Christian but merely an anti-Catholic, I laughed aloud in scorn, because the man was so blinded by partisanship that he did not see every single argument and phrase he delivered against his hated enemies, the Catholics, could be delivered with equal justice against him and his denomination.
Indeed, during my lifetime, I have seen the public discourse suffer exactly this change. When I was young, traveling missionaries once came to my door and told me earnestly that the Catholic Church was pagan. You can now go online to any number of brainless atheist sites and see little cartoon versions of the same arguments telling you earnestly that all Christianity is pagan, that Christmas trees are pagan, and the Easter eggs are symbols of the worship of Isis. The arguments are exactly the same in terms of their historicity and logic (namely, little to none), and they use the same events and same references.
Ninth tenths of the enmity between Protestant and Catholic is concerned in non-serious but very bitter arguments of exactly this type, where the Protestant is uttering some slander against Catholicism that can with equal justice be turned against the Protestants.
If a Protestant says to a Catholic, for example, “You revere Mary, who is both a virgin and a mother, which is impossible! This is merely a pagan worship of Ishtar or Isis in disguise!” then the Atheist can say to the Protestant, “You revere Christ, who is both dead and alive, both man and god, which is impossible! This is merely the pagan worship of Adonis or Atis in disguise!”
Some of my readers seem to think this is the ground on which the decision between the denominations is to be made: like some sort of game where Constantine or Torquemada is blamed for some act of cruelty or bigotry, and Queen Elizabeth is blamed in return. Any denomination whose members commit crimes is not truly Christian. By that logic, since Judas was a traitor, and yet was a disciple of Christ, ergo Christ is not truly Christian.
Denunciations of Medieval Popes or Renaissance Antipopes have no persuasive value whatsoever to me. If anything, it proves the claim that the Church is preserved from error by the Holy Spirit—because if those crooks could not ruin the Church, no one can. Your denunciations have never rang as loud and strong and wrathfully as what Dante says about Church corruption, and he was a faithful son of the Church, and sang her beauty with a voice like an angel.
In any case, any denunciation of pre-Reformation Christianity by the Protestants is self-denunciation, since that is the stock from which you spring. It is as ungrateful and self-defeating as those modern Americans who think it cute or clever to denounce the American founding fathers on the grounds that these men were religious fanatics and smugglers or slave-holders. It is an illogical argument: the founding fathers were just as evil in their religion and smuggling and slave-holding when they were subjects of the King as when they were citizens of a Republic, only they were less free. And I solemnly assure any of my historically illiterate readers out there that the Romans were worse, far worse, when they were pagans. Julian the Apostate, for example, had a slavegirl slain via disembowelment by Egyptian priests so they could read her entrails to discover his fortunes in the upcoming war with the Persians. (They told him he would return in victory. So much for pagan magic.)
Such was the savagery of the culture of the time: and yet I hear people complaining that Constantine sat in on the Council of Nicaea and observed its workings, as this is apparently some act of gross tyranny, and an offense against our alleged God-given right to invent and promote new doctrines and new blasphemies.
And the worse, by which I mean the least persuasive and stupidest argument, is the argument that runs that since Richard the Lionheart was a Catholic, Catholicism is bad, because it fights holy wars. By the same logic, Richard the Lionheart was a Christian, Christianity is bad, because it fights holy wars.
To the contrary, holy wars are the only wars worth fighting. Holy wars are not about something, they are about everything. Even someone who claims nothing is worth fighting for must agree that everything is worth fighting for.
To be quite frank, such arguments about blaming Christians for being warlike has the opposite from the intended effect. I have never started from the proposition that all Christians were Quakers, and it is clear enough that no Christian can be a pacifist, not and heed Our Lord’s command to sell our coats and buy swords.
To the contrary, the idea that the warrior kings from Richard the Lionheart to King Arthur were all Catholic, not to mention rogues and thieves like Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, as was every soul in Western Christendom before the Reformation, and in all of Christendom before the Great Schism, strongly recommends that ancient sect to my imagination, and brightens rather than darkens her luster in my eyes.
- SUMMATION and CONCLUSION
Readers of a modern frame of mind, as is only natural for those raised in English-speaking hence Protestant cultures, will no doubt be nonplussed that the majority of this argument dwelt on the question of who has the authority to define Christian teaching.
(Readers of a post-modern frame of mind, or non-mind, will have a negative emotional reaction to the word ‘authority’ because it has been associated by their indoctrination with the concept of tyranny and despotism, and they will make squawking noises like a duck in reaction, just as they have been conditioned or programmed to do by their programmers. We need not dwell on the delicate distinction between legitimate versus illegitimate authority, because it is neither necessary nor possible to answer an sentimental reflex with a reasoned argument: all that happens is the post-modern mind will dimly apprehend other words in the argument to which it has a stereotyped and pre-programmed reaction of sentimentality, and again will produce duck-noises, regularly as a dog salivating to Pavlov’s bell. I address no argument to anyone in this frame of mind.)
From even before I was a Christian, I have never sympathized with the argument that one can accept the writings of the Church as authoritative, but reject the authority of the Church that authorized them.
The logical difficulty is that the canon of scripture is neither self-evident nor self-defining, nor did the writings appear out of nowhere for no reason, nor is there any independent witness to their authenticity, aside from the Church. The men who wrote the Epistles and the Gospels are properly understood as Christians writing to Christians, since there was only one Church in those days before the schism with the Nestorian and the Orthodox: and the men who protected, circulated, copied and sanctified those writings as official Church teaching were Christians as well.
The claim that the current Catholic Church is not the legitimate heir to that Primitive Church consisting of St Peter and the Apostles, their disciples and so on, whether true or false, has no bearing on this question of the authenticity of the Gospels. My claim is that faith in the authority of the Gospels logically implies faith in the authority of the men that wrote them, and the authority of the men that sanctified them and declared them canonical, and declared other writings, such as the Gospel of Thomas, to be fraudulent.
The only reason why you or I or any man may have reason to know Christ exists at all, much less what He said and did and taught, is because of the witness of the Church preserving the record. If you think the witness is lying or telling a half-truth, rejecting Christianity wholly is a logical option, but accepting the written record as sacred, while rejecting as apostate the single and sole source on whose authority the sacredness of scripture rests, is flatly illogical.
If you do not believe something said aloud by a notorious story-teller like me, why would you believe it merely because I wrote it down on a letter? If you believe what is written on the letter because it has the imprimatur of some authority, let us say that it was notarized, why would you take that notarization as a sign of authenticity if it turns out that the only Notary-Public in existence is me, the selfsame story-teller?
The reason why the main point of the argument turns on the question of teaching authority is because that is the cause of the schism severing Catholic from Protestant. In legal terms, it is what a lawyer would call a question of standing. Who has the right to complain that Church teachings are heretical? Who has the right to correct the Church? Who has the right to start a new Church if the old Church proves incorrigible? Who has the right to define what Church teaching should be?
My argument is that there are only four possibilities:
One can say that the Church has that right, either by a consensus of the laity, or if no consensus emerges by the formal ruling of an official body, synods or councils or archbishops speaking from the Chair of Peter, no doubt aided by the Holy Spirit. (Whether the Archbishop of Rome possesses a supreme authority over the archbishops of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople is a separate question.) This is the orthodox position.
Or one can say that every man has the right to define what the Church ought to teach, each man in his own private conscience, again no doubt aided by the Holy Spirit. This is the theory of individual Magisterium.
Again, one can say that the Church had the right to define what the Church ought to teach up to a certain point in history, and then lost that authority. This is the theory of the Apostate Church.
Finally one can say that prophets and wonder-workers such as Mohammed or Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith have this authority, due to their possession of miraculous or prophetic powers. This is the argument from prophecy, also called Montanism.
Each argument turns in a different set of facts and involves a different theory of the case. Let us deal with them in reverse order:
The argument from prophecy or miracle depends on two things (1) whether the miracle was performed as described or the prophecy came to pass or both and (2) whether the doctrine preached by the prophet is coherent with other and previous prophets. If a new prophet or dreamer of dreams contradicts things said by Moses and Isaiah and Saint John the Beloved Disciple, then he is asking us, in effect, to follow after other gods, and scripture warns us not to do this.
The main defect from the argument from prophecy is that prophets founding new churches have no more ability to pass along their prophetic character to their immediate or remote successors than Saint Peter to pass alone his sainthood. Mohammed wrote the Alcoran, for example, but Omar and Ali did not.
Now, while the successors to the First Church of Christ Scientist and the Church of Latter Days Saints make the claim — which any man is free to investigate — that their practitioners and prophets can produce signs and wonders and prophecies as a continued evidence of their divine authority, I see no logical reason on that ground to disbelieve that St Peter validly ordained Linus, or Linus ordained Cletus, and so on to the present day. If anything, St Peter is making the much more mild claim: not that his saintly miracles are passed along from one minister to the next, but only his ministry is passed on from one minister to the next. And in terms of the total number of saints and miracles and signs and wonders, naturally an ancient Church with a billion members has a much greater repertoire of signs and wonders than a denomination one twentieth her age and one hundredth her size.
The argument that the Primitive Church was valid up to a certain point, then turned apostate, and cannot be reformed ergo a new church founded on different grounds with different disciplines, organization, and different sacraments is fundamentally an historical argument. That argument turns on the date selected for the point of no return. Any findings of the Church back when she was primitive and pure, or even back when she was only somewhat corrupt, are still authoritative; whereas those after the date are suspect.
A problem with that is constitutional and foundational. If the Primitive Church was founded by Christ and His Apostles, and the Apostate Church cannot be reformed, then the new church has to be founded anew: but no Augustinian Monk or English Monarch has the right to found a new Church, unless he can show apostolic succession or some other valid warrant from God. It is analogous to the incapacity or abdication of a king: if the king abdicates, the crown does not pass to the first wandering scholar who wants to erect his own kingdom to suit himself. Likewise here, no Reformed Church which does not have the character and structure of the First Century Church can make a claim to be Reformed, because it is not a return to the original forms allegedly abandon through corruption and apostasy.
A second problem is that while the offending doctrine, whatever it is, might be purged from the new and reformed Church once it is proved that the old Church was wrong to teach it — let us say that the Council of Nicene was wrong in anathematizing Arianism, for example —the new Church has no authority to reform the usages, disciplines, or manners of the Church, such as by abolishing bishops or admitting priestesses or refusing baptism to infants, unless that usage sprang from that doctrine. In other words, it is perfectly logical for an Arian Church to anathematize Trinitarianism if indeed Arius was correct and orthodox and the Council of Nicene was incorrect and heterodox: but the new Church cannot reform practices and disciplines present in the Primitive Church, because the purity of the Primitive Church is the axiom on which the abolition of the impure Apostate Church is based.
A third problem here is that an investigation of the Primitive Church, or what records remain, does not logically allow for the rejection of earlier usages, such as infant baptism or the adoration of Mary, while also allowing for the acceptance of later usages, such as the doctrine of the Incarnation, or the Trinity, or the establishment of the canon of scripture.
While it is logically possible that the Church, as she fell ever deeper into corruption, made few and then more heretical decisions early on by popular consensus, and just so happened to hit upon some few orthodox decisions later on by Episcopal council and vote, the practical effect of the stance that the Pure Church had some bad doctrine and the Apostate Church had some good doctrine, is the same as awarding each individual man the right to decide what the Church should teach. The stance requires every single decision and doctrine to be revisited, every case reopened, and all the evidence and arguments to be re-examined. The main difficulty in reopening the Arian controversy, for example, is that both Arius and Athanasius are dead, and the documents on which they relied are lost, and the entire culture and language is changed.
The difficulty of awarding each man the right to define Church doctrine is that it is tantamount to abolishing the Church. The body of Christian belief is corporate and public. It is not like a belief in a philosophical or scientific theory, which is a matter of private opinion.
In that respect, the body of Christian belief is more like loyalty to the flag. If you do not believe that it is self-evident that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness, no matter what it says on any legal document or voting roll, you are not an American. Likewise, if you do not confess Christ died and rose again in the flesh, ascended and will come again, if you do not accept Him as Lord and Savior, you are not a Christian. Likewise again, if you do not confess and believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, you are not Catholic. The question for the Reformers is what should the Catholic Church teach?
In all this, one position that cannot logically be maintained is that the Church decisions of the first Ten Centuries of the Christian Era were authoritative, so that, in fact, the sacred canon of scripture is just as the Church defined it, and the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity are authoritative, but that the doctrine of Justification defined by the Council of Trent is non-authoritative.
There is more and more clear justification in scripture for the teachings of Arius or Nestorius than for the teachings of Luther. The only logical ground on which to reject heretical teachings, aside from reopening and revisiting each case separately, is to accept the rulings of the authority as authoritative. To accept all rulings as authoritative except only that one which runs afoul of your personal interests, insight, belief, preference or perspective is rank hypocrisy, if you do not extend the same courtesy to the Nestorians and Arians.
If you do extend the same courtesy to the Nestorians and Arians, this is tantamount to abolishing the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church; and, once again, if you abolish the Magisterium, you cannot rely on it.
And even less logical position is to maintain that salvation is by scripture alone, and then NOT to take the canonical rulings of the ancient Church as authoritative, but to edit and redact scripture according to your own personal will.
Luther had no more right to throw away books of the Bible, and declare them unsacred, than Joseph Smith had a right to add the Book of Mormon, and declare it sacred.
Mohammed did both, declared the whole body of scripture unsacred, while adding a book of his own devising, the Alcoran: but his Alcoran contains references and highly edited versions of the stories from the Old and New Testaments, the very books he claims none of the faithful should read or tolerate.
As a logical matter, one cannot claim sola scriptura, the doctrine that all Church doctrines are contained in scripture, as a Church doctrine, because scripture does not recite the doctrine of sola scriptura.
The one passage in 2nd Timothy which Protestants tents to quote as proof test says that scripture, meaning the Old Testament, is useful for correction and reproof and growth. Saying something is useful is not the same as saying all non-scriptural sources are unnecessary.
And in the alternate, even if this is what the passage meant, since Timothy’s own letter was not scripture at the time, ergo by its own logic, the doctrine of sola scriptura would be unnecessary. If it is unnecessary to salvation to believe that all non-scriptural sources are unnecessary to salvation, then the Church, which teaches all things necessary to salvation, needs not to teach this.
That this doctrine was invented by a man who redacted the scripture, removing books that had been present for over a fifteen hundred years, merely makes the doctrine one of grotesque hypocrisy.