While we wait for Peter's next contribution to the Dialogue on Salvation and Justification, I thought I'd bring some Draft posts out of the closet.
A while back, in my ongoing apologetic efforts for the Catholic Church, I thought I would tackle Bible.ca's treatment of Catholicism, beginning with their Overview of how Catholic faith contradicts the Bible. However, I had refrained from publishing this four-part series because Bible.ca's copyright page says it would be a violation. As such, I contacted the author of the Catholic section, and haven't heard back. As such, I am rewriting my response, editing out his words, but keeping his ideas (since ideas cannot be copyrighted), and responding in that manner. This is a bit unfortunate, since the original page (linked in the title to this post) was in a quiz-like question and answer format, and I had replied as though I was answering the questions, and then giving follow-up. It will remain much like that, except that the original questions will not be directly quoted.
A friend of mine (who comments here as "Hidden One") sent me the link to this site. According to Bible.ca, the 'denomination' it represents is a loose gathering of Christians who are seeking to throw off any denominational ties and return to their view of what the early Church was like. They claim to have no authoritative body larger than the local church, though there are sister churches throughout the country, and all over the world. They claim to be strict adherents to Sola Scriptura, and reject all other traditions (even though they have a section on their page quoting the Early Church Fathers).
Checking out their arguments against the Catholic Church, at first reading it was just too cliché to really worry about. But since these clichés have convinced many Protestants that the Catholic Church is an idolatrous cult, and even convinced many Catholics to abandon their Church, I thought I'd reply to it after all. Due to the length of the original page, I'm breaking this into Four Parts. Because it is an introductory overview, Steve Rudd covers sixteen separated topics about his interpretation of Catholicism, and follows these topics up with a 22-point conclusion. This explains the randomness of the topics covered, and their order, to an extent. The rest of the explanation of the lack of coherent order comes simply from Rudd's seeming assumption that there is no systematic coherence to Catholicism, but that it is somehow just a bundle of human tradition heaped on top of each other. As such, the order that I deal with the issues follows the pattern in which he raised them, so forgive the random leaping around from topic to topic.
[Edit: Having recently recommended this series of articles to a friend of mine inquiring about the Catholic faith, I thought I'd bone up on what I had written, myself. In the process, I discovered numerous typographical errors, and while editing them, paid a quick visit to Bible.ca's article. Lo and behold, to my utter surprise, the original article had been updated in four spots--regarding the Rosary, Mass in Latin, Communion under both kinds, and the Celebration of Easter--in order to reflect certain comments made in this series of responses. As such, I'm tossing in a couple additional notes on those two points regarding the updates. The first thing I'd like to point out is that Mr. Rudd never notified me of the changes himself, even though he has, or should have, my contact information. His changes thus appear to be part of the original article, and are designed to undermine my arguments as if he had already anticipated my comments. This makes it seem, disingenuously, as if I hadn't really adequately responded to his article, but only passed on stock answers to his accusations. The fact is, his accusations are the "stock and trade" of anti-Catholicism, and his sophistries do not in any way defeat my arguments. The best he seems able to do is simply look like he had anticipated those arguments in order that they wouldn't look like arguments at all. If this sort of dishonest apologetics is any indication of the Christian denomination represented by bible.ca, I would seriously hesitate to entrust my soul to its leaders and teachers, if I were you, dear reader.]
Any time that I quote the author, Steve Rudd, his words will be in blue. To see their original page, again, click the title of this post.
In this part, we'll look at whether "Father" is an appropriate title for priests, the Rosary, and the Virgin Mary. See also parts 2, 3, and 4.
Overview of how Catholic faith contradicts the Bible
1. Calling the Priests "Father" is forbidden
FACT: Catholics are taught to call their priest, "Father".
Question #1: Does Jesus approve of calling the leaders of the church, "Father"?
Answer: Matthew 23:9
o YES NO o
"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Matthew 23:9This is the general format of Bible.ca's treatment of Catholicism. A "fact" about Catholic "Doctrine" and a supposedly contradictory Scripture reference, followed by a quiz-like checkbox. It is incredibly black and white, with no apparent room for things like proper exegesis or context. You know, those things on which proper interpretation of Scripture is built.
The present question is about the appropriateness of referring to a priest as "father", in light of Jesus' apparent condemnation of the use of that term for anyone but God. In the mind of the tract's author, Steve Rudd, it's a clear-cut contradiction. But is it? That would depend on two things: According to the context of Matthew 23:9, are we to take Jesus literally when He tells us to call no man "father"? And are there moments in Scripture where Jesus' followers use the term "Father" to refer to other people than God?
First, was Jesus being literal in His condemnation of the title, "Father"? What does the passage say?
'You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up' (Matthew 23:8-12).In the context of chapter 23, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees for their hypocritical behaviour. The seven verses preceding the text that I quoted above specifically condemns how they like to be pompous and showy in their religiosity, and love the respect that they garner from their positions. In contrast, Jesus gives His followers the above instruction.
And what does He say? What is His conclusion? That His followers are to be humble servants of others. It's not about the titles (Rabbi, Father, Teacher), but about the attitude of the heart. If a priest is prideful about his "fatherhood", then he is indeed sinning. But simply calling a priest Father is not what Jesus is condemning.
Consider Jesus' other examples. We'll omit "Rabbi" since I don't see that being much of an issue to our predominantly Gentile Christianity, but lets focus specifically on "Teacher." If Jesus forbids us to call our leaders, "Father", then He must also really mean not to call people "Teachers." I suspect that very few, if any, Protestants follow that injunction. In fact, many denominations refer to their main Pastor as the "Teaching Pastor"! We all referred to those wonderful men and women who gave us our education as "teachers", or "professors" in university, and didn't stop to think, "Hey, Jesus doesn't want me to do that!" And, for those who can honestly say that they really did follow the letter of Jesus' law on this issue, what about your family doctor? I assume Jesus' restriction on calling people "father" and "teacher" isn't limited to the English translation of those terms. (Or is calling the Pope, "Pope", okay, since it's from the Latin for Father? Didn't think so, somehow.) Well, "Doctor" is the Latin word for "teacher."
Again, it's not the title itself that Jesus condemned, but the attitude behind the title.
Secondly, are there examples of New Testament Christians referring to themselves or others as Fathers?
In Acts 7:2, St. Stephen refers to Abraham as a "father", and in Romans 9:10, St. Paul does the same with Isaac. In Matthew 15, Jesus Himself refers to the Commandment, Honour your Father and Mother, and teaches about the proper fulfilment of honouring fathers and mothers! And that's not the only occasion, either. So obviously there is an exception for ancestors and biological fathers. But what about the case of calling someone a Father who isn't in any way biologically related? Compare Romans 4:16, where St. Paul calls Abraham, "the father of us all." In Philippians 2:22, Paul refers to the relationship between Timothy and himself as "like a son with his father." In 1 Thessalonians 2:11, Paul again refers to his relationship and work with the Thessalonians as a type of fathering: "As you know, we treated every one of you as a father treats his children." Finally, in 1 Timothy 5:1, we have crystal clear biblical permission for the titling of priests as fathers:
Never speak sharply to an elder, but appeal to him as you would to your own father (emphasis mine).As I've mentioned before on this site, the Greek word for elder, presbyteros, is where we get our English word, "priest." And here we see Paul telling Timothy to treat such priests with respect, and appeal to them as "Fathers."
So, either the Bible contradicts itself on the subject of calling people "Father", or Mr. Rudd is taking Jesus too literally in Matthew 23:9.
2. Praying repetitive words using Rosary beads is forbidden.
Steve Rudd follows the title for this section with some "facts" about praying the Rosary, saying that Catholics pray repetitive words with Rosary Beads, that these were first "invented" in AD 1090, by Peter the Hermit, and that St. Dominic began spreading devotion to the rosary in AD 1208. Rudd goes on to say that Catholics believe that Mary appeared to St. Dominic in AD 1208, at the church of Prouille and revealed the Rosary Beads to him. He then briefly describes the practice of praying the rosary by describing it as "pray[ing] 15 sets of 10 consecutive "hail Marys" in a row (150 times).
Just for the record, in 2003, Pope John Paul added a new set of Mysteries, so now it's 20 sets of 10 Hail Marys, so, 200 times in the Rosary. A note on the history of the Rosary: it actually developed out of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the monastic practice of praying through all 150 Psalms in a day. Laypeople in the neighbourhood wanted to practice a similar devotion, but didn't know and couldn't read all the Psalms. Peter the Hermit, if Mr. Rudd is to be credited, suggested praying 150 Our Fathers instead of the Psalms, while meditating on the life of Christ. Originally, the "rosary beads" were simply knots tied in a string, to help the people keep track of how many they had prayed. This eventually developed, especially through St. Dominic's guidance, into the Rosary we know today.
[Edit: As per the square-bracketed note in the introduction, I'm offering a few comments in this section regarding the updates to bible.ca's article. The first is that Steve Rudd updated it to include my comments about Blessed Pope John Paul II's adding the Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary--almost verbatim, mind you. He was very clear about my not plagiarising his article in the past, but apparently it's not exactly quid pro quo where Steve Rudd is concerned.]
Rudd continues with what he refers to as an "Historical note", saying that Catholics "borrowed" the idea of praying with beads from the pagan religions who were already using them hundreds of years before, citing specifically Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam (which, whatever else one might think of it, is not technically a pagan religion). Rudd's point, such as it is, is that because the Rosary uses beads, it is therefore the same as the types of prayers that Hindus and Muslims pray, which also use beads. Rudd's point, for whatever reason, in this historical note, revolves more around the beads themselves than the prayers that they mark.
In claiming that there is a connection between Catholics using a chain of beads to pray the Rosary, and Hindus or Muslims using beaded chains in their prayers (which he refers to as "rosaries" as well, as though we borrowed the word, too), Rudd is committing the Genetic Fallacy: Since using beads as an aid to prayer originated in Hinduism, it must be wrong! This doesn't add up, though, since there is nothing intrinsically evil about a bead, or a string of beads for that matter. It is the motives of the heart and how they are used that are good or evil. Just because someone in another religion had an idea, doesn't make it a bad idea simply because they belong to another religion. If I showed that other religions before the Jews recorded sacred scriptures for their religions, would Steve Rudd stop reading the Bible, since having a Bible evidently comes from pagan origins? I would certainly think not!
Steve Rudd's "Question" for this section is whether Jesus forbade repetitive prayer using Rosary Beads. For his "answer", he cites Matthew 6:7:
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words."Here is the grist of Steve Rudd's objection to the Rosary--the charge that it is "meaningless repitition." But of course, we must ask the question, "Is all repitition meaningless?"
Well, if it is, then Mr. Rudd again has problems with his Bible. Take a look at Psalm 136. In each of the 26 verses in this Psalm, the author repeats the phrase, "for his faithful love endures forever." That's pretty repetitive if you ask me. This Psalm must be a bad prayer! But wait, it's in the Bible! Doesn't that mean that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit? Doesn't that mean it's God's Word? Hmm. Interesting. God caused the Psalmist to pen a very repititious prayer of thanksgiving to Him, and then later on, came to earth as a Man, and said that such repitition is bad. Somehow, that doesn't seem right. Or, maybe, He changed His mind after that?
Well, I don't think so: Look at Revelation 4:8:
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was studded with eyes all the way around as well as inside; and day and night they never stopped singing:Huh. They never stopped singing that, eh? And these are angels in heaven!Holy, Holy, Holy
is the Lord God, the Almighty;
who was, and is and is to come.
[Edit: Steve Rudd tossed in a couple lines in response to my drawing upon Psalm 136 and Revelation 4:8 as evidence that not all repetition is meaningless. In order to make it seem like he had already anticipated my arguments, he writes:
Catholics will vainly appeal to Psalm 136 that alternates the same phrase 26 times with 26 different blessings God gives us. It is not 26 in a row as with the rosary! This is also a song, not a prayer. Revelation 4:8 has "angels singing" not "men praying".Apparently, besides committing the Genetic Fallacy and being downright disingenuous, Steve Rudd likes to play "Move the Goalposts." Apparently, he A) wants us to believe that Jesus only condemns "meaningless repetition" when praying, and not when singing, as in Psalm 136, and acts as if there is a clear distinction between the two things--despite the fact that the Book of Psalms is often referred to as Israel's Prayerbook, and that St. Augustine was wont to refer to singing as "praying twice". I suppose if I sang my rosary prayers, it would suddenly be okay? Moreover, B) he wants us to think that because Psalm 136 apparently isn't as repetitious as the Rosary, that it's not repetitious at all, or that somehow interspersing the same, repeated phrase with different interrupting ones somehow flies under Jesus' "meaningless repetition" radar. But, C) when I pointed out a truly repetitious prayer, in Revelation 4:8, he justifies that by saying that it is angels, and not men, who are praying it. Again, not only is the distinction between singing and praying tenuous at best, Rudd once more has no concept of context, for three verses later, the 24 Elders (human Saints in heaven, according to most commentators) respond to the 4 Living Creatures song with their own: "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created" (Revelation 4:11).]
So, it seems that Jesus was referring to something quite different when He condemned meaningless repitition. Does the Rosary apply? Well, if all the Rosary consisted of was repeating the same prayers over and over and over, mindlessly, then I would say "Yeah, probably." However, that's not what the Rosary is! The prayers (which are all pretty much taken right out of Scripture itself) are designed to help us focus. Focus on what? Events in the Gospel. Events of Jesus' life. The prayers create a backdrop to the meditations on key mysteries from Jesus' birth, ministry, death, and resurrection! Through this meditation, we come to a fuller understanding of who He is! Somehow, I can't see Jesus having a problem with us using whatever means there is of getting to know Him better! (And, trust me, if you're using improper and sinful means, you won't get to know Jesus at all!)
I can attest in my own life to the increased understanding of Christ's love for me, gained from praying the Rosary. (For more on the Rosary, see my Rosary series by clicking here, and scrolling down to the heading The Rosary.)
3. Virgin Mary
Steve Rudd pours out a lot of information in his "Fact" section on the Blessed Virgin, citing beliefs such as the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and the collateral, that she didn't have any other children other than Jesus. He also claims that the Pope teaches that Mary is the mediator between God and man. He again refers back to the Rosary, citing that because of its construction, that we praise and pray to Mary on a more regular basis than we do to Jesus Christ. He says, "Rosary Beads graphically represent how Roman Catholics heap 10 times more praise upon Mary than God himself. Of the 59 total beads of the Rosary, 53 beads are 'Hail Marys', but only 6 beads are 'Our Father'. The Rosary most often ends with a 'Hail, Holy Queen' prayer to Mary, not God."
Well, where do I start?
Yes, we believe that Mary was always a virgin, and that she had no other children (not necessarily that Jesus didn't have any brothers--if He did, they just weren't Mary's children). Catholics do not believe that Mary is a Mediator between God and Man, if by that you mean that she, of herself, can bring us to redemption. Rather, through our prayers for each other, we intercede or mediate for each other, and it is in this sense that Mary is also considered a mediator--that, and the fact that as Jesus' mother, she was instrumental to the plan of redemption, to which she willingly consented.
The claim that we give greater praise to Mary than we do to Jesus is completely wrong. Jesus is God; Mary is not. The kind of praise and worship that we give to Jesus is completely different than the honour paid to Mary--and the kind of honour paid to Mary is the same kind that the Bible commands us to give to our parents, elders, and those who have served the Lord. Finally, could not the fact that the Rosary has more prayers "to" Mary simply mean that every 59 times (actually, it's 54, counting the ten Hail Marys per decade, the three in the intro, and the Hail, Holy Queen at the conclusion) are as effective as six prayers straight to God (and there are more than six, if you count the six Glory Be's, the 5 Fatima Prayers, and the Apostle's Creed)? In other words, a) there are only (exactly) three times as many occasions of asking Mary to pray for us as there are direct prayers to God. In my mind, rather than taking focus away from God, it emphasises the effectiveness of going straight to Him, without excluding or diminishing the opportunity to rest in others' prayers for us.
Steve Rudd goes on to ask his questions--this time there are more than one. The first question is whether Jesus had other brothers and sisters, specifically from the womb of Mary. He uses Matthew 13:55-56 to provide the "answer".
"Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?"Interestingly enough, the men referred to as Jesus' brothers in this passage (or anywhere else, for that matter, are never, anywhere in Scripture, actually called Mary's sons! In fact, at least two of the above are called sons of another Mary! In Mark 15:40, it describes James the less and Joses as being the sons of a Mary who was with the women who witnessed Jesus die. It would be unusual for Mark to describe this Mary as the mother of James and Joses, rather than of Jesus, if it was in fact, Jesus' mother! Compare the account in the Gospel of John: "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala." So, we have three Marys at the foot of the cross. One is Jesus' mother, one is Mary Magdala, and one is the wife of Clopas--Mary's sister?! Are we really expected to believe that Mary's parents had such limited imaginations that they named both their daughters "Mary"? No. Rather, this gives us a clue as to who Jesus' "brothers" actually are.
In the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, there was no word for "cousin", and so family members were often referred to as brothers and sisters, even when the actual relationship was much more distant. While the Greek language does have a word for cousin, we must keep in mind that the men who recorded the New Testament were predominantly Jewish, and so even their Greek would have many Hebrew idioms in it. As such, they commonly continued to refer to cousins as brothers even when there was technically a better choice.
Thus, it can easily be seen that Jesus' brothers are likely to be His cousins. Another option is from an early Christian writing (not inspired) called the Proto-Evangelium of James, in which it is said that Joseph was a widower when he married Mary (who was consecrated to virginity), and that he had children from his previous marriage. Hence, Jesus' brothers could be foster-brothers and sons of Joseph, rather than of Mary. Either way, the fact that Mary did not have biological children is made very clear in John 19:26-27. In this passage, as Jesus is dying on the cross, He gives His mother to the care of John the Apostle. Now, if Mary had other sons, it would have been their duty to care for her, by Law. That Jesus would ignore them and give His Mother to John would have been a tremendous insult to James, Joses, Simon and Judas, had they in fact been her sons. Jesus, who was perfect and perfectly fulfilled the Law, would not have violated it either in insulting His brothers, nor in forbidding them their lawful duty to care for Mary. Thus, we can conclude quite readily that Jesus was in fact Mary's only biological Son.
As such, I answer NO to Steve Rudd's question.
Rudd's second question asks whether Joseph began normal sexual relations with his wife after Jesus was born? For the answer, he directs us to Matthew 1:24-25:
"And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus."Rudd's answer to this question hinges on the word "until." He takes it to mean that Joseph kept Mary a virgin until Jesus was born, and then afterward knew Mary in the biblical sense. However, the word Greek word translated "until" does not necessarily imply a change of state after the "until". In other words, that Matthew says Joseph didn't sleep with Mary until Jesus was born does not therefore automatically mean he did so afterward.
In the Bible, there are several times when a writer says something should continue "until" a certain point, but means that that same thing should continue even beyond that point. Take Jesus' words in the Great Commission, for example. After telling His Apostles to go out and preach the Gospel, He says, "'And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time'" ("yes, to" is the same Greek word, heos, as used in Matt 1:25). Are we to think that, at the end of time, Jesus will no longer be with us?
Or what about 1 Timothy 4:13, in which Paul exhorts Timothy to give heed to sound doctrine until Paul comes. Does that mean that Timothy can become a heretic once Paul gets there?
So again, Matthew 1:25 fails to conclusively prove that Mary did not remain a Virgin. On this, I again answer NO, in keeping with the historic tradition of the Church, which was even believed by the early Reformers such as Luther and Calvin!
Rudd's third question about Mary is whether Mary is the one mediator between God and man of which the Bible speaks. Obviously and predictably enough, he pulls out 1 Timothy 2:5 for the "answer":
"For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."NO, Mary is not that one mediator. However, Roman Catholicism never makes the claim that she is. Rather, she co-operates in Christ's One Mediation, through her willingness to bear Him into the world, and her continued prayers on our behalf. In that sense, Mary is used by God to "mediate" graces to us, but she is not the One Mediator of Salvation that 1 Timothy 2:5 is talking about.
On the other hand, each one of us are called to mediate for each other, in that very same passage! Again, context is key! In 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Paul urges us "first of all that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be offered for everyone...To do this is right and acceptable to God our Saviour" (emphasis mine). Intercession and mediation are synonymous. So while only Christ can mediate salvation to us, we can mediate for each other to Christ through our prayers of intercession. In the same way, Mary mediates for us, through her intercessions.
Steve Rudd's final question about the Blessed Virgin Mary (and the final question for this part of our series) claims that Catholics engage in "endless" praise of Mary, and counters that with the example of a woman in the Gospel who praised Mary directly to Jesus. The question is what was Jesus' response: commendation or discouragement? The Scripture to which Rudd appeals for his answer is the Gospel passage alluded to:
"While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.' But He said, 'On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'" Luke 11:27-28Since the Bible itself calls Mary "most blessed among women" (Luke 1:42), and again, the Bible is God's Word, and since Jesus is God, and God cannot contradict Himself, to interpret Luke 11:27-28 in a way that does not mean that Mary is not blessed, nor to be called blessed (since Mary herself proclaims, "Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed" - Luke 1:48) must be ruled out.
The phrase translated "On the contrary" by the NASB that Steve Rudd is using, is the Greek word, menounge (men-oon-geh), which does not mean "On the contrary" at all, but "Rather". Its root is men, meaning "Truly" or "Surely". Thus, Jesus' reply is an affirmation of what the woman said, accompanied by a clarification: that people are more blessed because they obey Jesus, not simply because they are related to Him. In this way, the New Jerusalem Bible has it better: "'More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'" Is Mary to be considered and called "blessed"? Yes, for Scripture so tells us to! But why is she blessed? Simply because she was Jesus' Mother? That's certainly part of it. But the greater part is because she perfectly followed the Word of God!
Again, Luke 11:27-28 does not tell us that Mary is not, or should not be called, blessed! It just reminds us of how we are all to be blessed! Therefore, my answer is YES!
(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations.
Catholic Distinctives: Mary, Mother of God.
Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)