|Saint John's Chapel, Mercy Hospital, Springfield Missouri|
Photo by Shane Stephen Schaetzel , Copyright © 2013, All Rights Reserved
Naturally, any blog entitled "Catholic in the Ozarks" is going to require a page dedicated to answering basic questions that are common to people in the Ozarks. Since most people in this part of America (the "Bible Belt") are of Baptist and Pentecostal belief, they often don't have much knowledge of what Catholicism really is, or what Catholics really believe. They may even be under some false impressions or have misunderstandings. This article is a Question and Answer (Q&A) format designed specifically for people in this area, or anyone else who might have a similar curiosity. I will intentionally try to keep the answer to each question as brief as I possibly can for this purpose. The following is a compilation of real questions I have actually received from real people here in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Missouri.
Q: Are Catholics Christians?
A: Yes, Catholics are not only Christians, but we were the first Christians. The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD, and planted in Rome in about 42 AD, when according to the ancient Church historian Eusebius, Saint Peter established his apostolic see in Rome after planting a church in Antioch. Peter was later crucified in Rome, upside down, in the year 67 AD. His direct successors became the popes.
Q: Do Catholics believe in Jesus Christ?
A: Yes, of course we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe he is the Son -- the Second Person of the Holy Trinity -- made flesh and blood, taking on a fully human form, and becoming fully man in every way. We believe in his life, virgin birth, miracles, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection. We also believe he is currently reigning as King of kings in Heaven, and he will one day return to judge the living and the dead.
Q: Are Catholics "saved" or "born again?"
A: Yes. However, we Catholic Christians don't look at this as a one-time event like many "born-again" or Protestant Christians do. While we believe we are "born again" through baptism (John 3:2-5), which is the Biblical context of the saying "born again," we also believe in salvation as an ongoing process that is past, present and future. Yes, I was saved (Romans 8:24) at my baptism. Yes, I am being saved (Philippians 2:12) as I live my life in Christ. Yes, I believe I will be saved (Matthew 10:22) upon my death and when Christ returns. Catholics don't usually do one-time "altar calls" where the pastor asks them to come to the front of the chapel, say the "sinner's prayer" and publicly "give their hearts" to Jesus Christ. Rather, Catholics are asked to do the same thing every week by reception of the sacraments. When one receives the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (Greek: "Thanksgiving") in Communion, one is asked to receive Jesus Christ. The same holds true with the sacrament of penance, wherein one says something similar to the sinner's prayer, as well as the other sacraments wherein Catholics rededicate their lives to Christ. For Catholics, "giving ones heart to Christ" is an ongoing process that never ends.
Q: Why do Catholics call priests "father" when the Bible says to "call no man father?"
A: The passage that some use to support the idea that Catholics shouldn't call a priest "father" is found in Matthew 23:9 wherein Jesus commanded his followers to call no man "teacher" or "father." This passage is commonly cited against the Catholic practise of calling priests "father." However, when we look at this passage in context we see that Jesus is not prohibiting the use of the word "father" but rather rebuking the religious leaders that do not serve their people. He is rebuking the Pharisees of his time because they are called "rabbi" (which literally means "teacher" or "great one") and accept the religious honour and prestige without embracing the sacrifice and humility that is supposed to go along with it. Jesus is commanding his disciples (later apostles) not to be like that. He doesn't want them to think they are greater than the people they are pastoring. He wants them to think of themselves as servants of the people. Clearly the titles of "rabbi" and "father" are not prohibited in and of themselves. Jesus accepted the title of "rabbi" on many occasions. Jesus called Abraham "father" (Matthew 3:9). Saint Stephen called the Jewish leaders "fathers" (Acts 7:2) just before he was martyred by them. Are we to believe that Saint Stephen disobeyed Jesus by calling men "father" just before he was martyred? Saint Paul also called the Jewish leaders "fathers" (Acts 21:40; Acts 22:1). Are we to believe Saint Paul was disobeying Jesus Christ by doing this? Saint Paul also refers to Saint Timothy as "my child in the faith." If Timothy is the child in faith, then what do we suppose Timothy called Saint Paul? Saint Paul specifically told the Corinthian Christians that he was their "spiritual father" (1st Corinthians 4:14-15). He said the same to Philemon (Philemon 10). When we read the writings of the early Christians of the first few centuries, it becomes clear that the practise of referring to priests as "father" was commonplace. This is because the early Christians understood Jesus prohibition on the use of the title "father" in its appropriate context. Jesus was addressing arrogance in leadership. He was not prohibiting the use of certain titles. Catholics call their priests "father" because that's how we look at them. We see them as paternal guardians of our parish family. They serve the role of a "father" in this spiritual setting. In Catholicism, we look at the Church as one big family. We address priests as "fathers," nuns as "sisters" and monks as "brothers." We don't do this because we think they are somehow superior, nor do they think they are superior. Rather, we do it simply as a sign of family affection.
Q: Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest when they could go directly to God?
A: We confess our sins to a priest because Jesus told us to. You see, while Jesus was on earth he regularly forgave people's sins. The religious leaders of his time were indignant about this, asking "who can forgive sins but God?" (Mark 2:7) So Jesus received some really harsh treatment from the religious leaders of his time over this. However, he proved to them that he did have the power to forgive sins by doing miracles that only God could do. No Christian today denies that Jesus had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2-8). That is beyond dispute now. However, Catholics take the whole testimony of Scripture into account. Not only did Jesus have the power to forgive sins, but he also gave this power to his apostles and their successors: 'Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."' -- (John 20:21-23) This one passage alone demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus gave his power to forgive (and retain) sins to his apostles. The apostles then hand-picked their own successors (Acts 1:20-26) and likewise transferred this ministry to them (2nd Corinthians 5:17-20). For Catholics, this is simply a matter of believing the Bible and taking what it says seriously. Either Jesus gave men his power to forgive sins, or he did not, and the Bible clearly says he did. Now when we Catholics commit a sin, we do confess those sins directly to God, both before confession and during confession. The priest then, by the authority he has based on Jesus' own words, dispenses Christ's forgiveness in an official way, as if Jesus Christ himself had said it. The real question here is not why do Catholics go to a priest? But rather, why do other Christians not go to a priest when the Bible specifically says that Jesus gave some men the power to forgive sins in his place? Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have always approached their church leaders for absolution. What makes some Christians today think they're so different? Catholics don't see any difference at all. The early Christians approached their leaders for reconciliation and so do we.
Q: Why can't Catholic priests be married?
A: Don't tell anyone, but actually they can be married. That's a big secret you see. Any Catholic priest can give up the priesthood to have a wife and family, and since all of them are fairly well educated with college degrees, they'll have no problem picking up a good secular job or starting a family business. Nuns and monks are the same way. They can, at any time, choose to leave their orders to pursue a secular life in holy matrimony. Most of them are highly educated too. Nobody is a prisoner of their religious vocation. There is another secret. It is possible for a Catholic priest to be both a priest and married at the same time. In fact, there are hundreds of married Catholic priests throughout North America and Europe. You see, the vow of clerical celibacy is a discipline not a doctrine, and it only applies to the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. There are 23 rites that make up the Catholic Church. A "rite" is a particular way of being Catholic. Each rite has its own liturgy, traditions and disciplines, but all of them are part of the Catholic Church and are in full communion with the pope in Rome. The Roman Rite is just one of these 23 rites, but it is the largest, and it is the most well known. Married men are permitted to become Catholic priests in 22 of these 23 rites. We don't see much of these other rites in the Western world except in big cities. Only the Roman Rite strictly ordains celibate men, and even then, there are exceptions. If a married Protestant minister wishes to convert and become a Catholic priest, it is fairly common for the Roman Rite to allow him to do this as an exception to the norm. There is also the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite, which permits this exception on a much larger scale. The discipline of clerical celibacy strictly within the Roman Rite was instituted during the latter Middle Ages for very practical reasons. It can be changed at any time. That being said there is no indication that anyone plans to change it anytime soon. A celibate priesthood has worked well for the Roman Rite, ensuring its rapid growth around the world. The idea of clerical celibacy is Biblical. Jesus was celibate and he praised those who chose a celibate life to serve the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:12). Saint Paul, who was also celibate, actually recommended celibacy for anyone working in full-time ministry (1st Corinthians 7:32-35). The vow of celibacy among women in the Church (early nuns) was even commonplace in the apostolic era while Saint Paul was still writing the New Testament (1st Timothy 5:9-12). In response to the recent growing interest of married men wanting to enter ministry, the Roman Rite has also opened up the position of the permanent diaconate for married Catholic men who feel such a calling. The diaconate allows married Roman Catholic men to become deacons in the Catholic Church. They assist in the liturgies of the Church, they can preach homilies (sermons), teach the faith, minister to the sick, baptise the faithful and perform weddings. Basically a Catholic deacon can do just about anything a Protestant minister does. The only thing a Catholic deacon does not do is celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions and anoint the sick, but then a Protestant minister cannot do these things either. At least, not from a Catholic perspective anyway. In many ways a Catholic deacon is parallel to a Protestant minister/pastor in function and responsibility.
Q: Do Catholics believe in the Bible?
A: Yes! In fact, Catholics invented the Bible. Shocking as that may sound it is historically true. The New Testament did not exist as a single compilation prior to 367 AD. Before then most of the writings of the New Testament were on parchment scrolls and scattered throughout the churches of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. They were mixed together with other writings that were orthodox but not necessarily inspired Scripture. No two areas had the exact same number of scrolls, and no two areas had the exact same scrolls. It was all rather chaotic. So in response to the Arian heresy in the fourth century, the Catholic Church commissioned its bishops to find out which scrolls should belong to a universal New Testament that everyone could use. Many committees were held to determine this based on Catholic Tradition, when in 367 AD a Catholic bishop in Northern Africa named Athanasius commissioned a particular set of 27 scrolls consisting of the writings of Matthew through Revelation. Three Catholic synods were then held to ratify this list, and in 405 AD Pope Innocent I declared these 27 scrolls to be the universal New Testament for all Christians! This is the same New Testament we use today, even in Protestant churches, thanks to the hard and faithful work of the Catholic Church sixteen hundred years ago.
Q: Do Catholics read the Bible?
A: Yes, we actually do, perhaps even more so than most Protestants. That's because some of us not only read the Bible on our own, but we have the Bible read to us at mass every day of the week. In fact, if a Catholic simply attends mass every Sunday, he will have heard the entire Bible read to him over the course of three years. If he attends mass every day, which a small few do, he will have heard the whole Bible read to him three times in four years. This doesn't even include the liturgy itself, which is chalk full of Scripture passages from the Bible. Just attending mass is like going to a Bible festival! The priest reads the Bible. The people respond with memorised responses heavily based on Biblical passages. Of course, if the Catholic then prays the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) he again is exposed to an extremely hefty portion of Scripture. Some Catholics attend Bible studies on top of that, and some study the Bible on their own. What Catholics do not generally do is memorise Biblical passages with their chapter and verse numbers like many Protestants do. So if one is expecting to hear a Catholic rattle off a Biblical passage with a chapter and verse attached, one will be disappointed, and because of that, it might superficially appear to that person that the Catholic is Biblically illiterate, though this is actually not the case at all. Now if a Catholic doesn't attend mass, then he's not a good Catholic, and of course by not attending mass, he's probably not reading or hearing much of the Bible either. The same is true of Protestants who don't attend church.
Q: Why do Catholic Bibles have more books?
A: The short answer is to say that Catholics kept the books that Protestants removed from the Bible. You see, the canon of the Bible was basically settled in 405 AD. However, over a thousand years later, a German Reformer named Martin Luther decided to move seven books from the Old Testament (Tobit, Judith, 1st Maccabees, 2nd Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch) into a separate section he called apocrypha (meaning "disputed"). He then moved portions of the Old Testament books of Esther and Daniel into his apocrypha section. Then he tried to remove four books from the New Testament (Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation). His rationale was that these books didn't carry the same weight as the rest based on his academic studies. (In other words, they didn't agree with his theology.) His removal of the Old Testament books from the regular canon, along with his shortening of Esther and Daniel, became a very popular trend among Protestants throughout Europe. However, his attempted removal of the four New Testament books was ultimately rejected by all, and eventually forgotten to history. The Catholic Church however, does not believe that any modern scholar, priest nor bishop, (not even the pope himself!) has the authority to alter the Biblical text regardless of the level of academic reasoning that goes behind it. So Catholics use the longer Bible originally used by the early Christians. It is interesting to note that most Protestant Bibles continued to print the so-called apocrypha books up until the 1880s. In recent decades, however, it has become in vogue for some Protestant Bible publishers to print Bibles that include all of the missing books that Martin Luther attempted to remove. So, just a century after completely removing those books from their printed Bibles, some Protestant publishers are starting to put them back in.
Q: Do Catholics follow the Bible alone?
A: No. Catholics do not follow the Bible alone because it's not Biblical to do that. The idea of following the Bible alone comes from the German reformer Martin Luther, who in 1520 AD declared "Sola Scriptura" as one of his five "Solas" or pillars of German Protestantism. The Latin phrase "Sola Scriptura" means "Scripture Alone" or the "Bible Alone." There is no Biblical passage that can back this idea. In fact, the Bible suggests the exact opposite. The canon of Scripture itself, which is the list of books that make up the Bible, is not anywhere recorded in the actual text of Scripture. So if we go by the concept of the Bible Alone, we don't really know what books should belong in the Bible to begin with. The Bible also tells us specifically to follow the traditions of the Church (1st Corinthians 11:1), whether written in the Bible, or given orally (2nd Thessalonians 2:15). It tells us to shun those who do not keep the traditions of the Church (2nd Thessalonians 3:6) and tells us that Scripture should not even be interpreted independently of the Church (2nd Peter 1:20 & 2nd Peter 3:15-16). Jesus himself commanded his own apostles to follow the traditions of the Jewish leaders (Matthew 23:2-3) because they held an authority of succession from Moses. What Jesus condemned was not tradition in and of itself, but rather the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders who abused tradition for their own financial and political gain (Matthew 15:1-8). No, Catholics do not follow the Bible alone, because the Bible basically tells us not to. Catholics instead follow both sacred Scripture (the Bible) and sacred Tradition, which is conveyed to us through the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
MARY AND THE SAINTS
Q: Do Catholics worship Mary?
A: No, Catholics do not worship Mary, nor do we worship anyone or anything other than the Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church condemns the worship of anyone or anything else as idolatry and such idolatry is punishable by excommunication.
Q: If Catholics do not worship Mary, why then do Catholics pray to Mary?
A: Catholics pray to Mary, other Saints and the holy angels, because we do not believe prayer is worship. Catholics understand worship in the Biblical sense, which involves the presentation of an actual flesh and blood sacrifice. This, coupled with the act of adoration (full submission of the mind, body, soul and will) is how Catholics understand worship in its most pure and Biblical sense. The mere act of prayer is simply to offer requests, and does not in and of itself, constitute real Biblical worship.
Q: Why pray to Mary and the Saints at all when you can take your prayers directly to God?
A: As Catholics we do take our prayers directly to God all the time. We do so publicly during the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass) and also during the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), as well as during the administration of all the sacraments. We also take our prayers directly to God during private devotion and prayers as well. In addition to this, we also pray to Mary, the Saints and the holy angels, because we view them as "prayer partners" in our devotion to God. They assist us in our prayers in the sense that they pray with us to God. Just as we ask friends and neighbours in this world to pray for us, so we also ask friends in the next world to pray for us as well. The Bible itself gives us indications that this is a wholesome and acceptable practise (Tobit 12:12; Mark 12:26-27; Mark 9:4; Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4).
Q: How is praying to the Saints not necromancy or witchcraft which is forbidden in the Bible?
A: There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that forbids praying to the Saints. Jesus himself did it in Mark 9:4. If it's good enough for the Son of God, then it's good enough for us. The Scripture passage that is commonly used here, in an attempt to equate prayer to Saints with necromancy or witchcraft, is Deuteronomy 18:10 in which God strictly forbids witchcraft. This is then combined with the Scripture that recalls King Saul's encounter with the witch at Endor (1st Samuel 28). Because the witch engaged in conjuring up the dead (a medium), it is mistakenly interpreted that any attempted contact with the dead is a form of witchcraft. First of all, when Catholics pray to a deceased person, we do not expect that person to answer us. Second, when we pray to a deceased person, we do so through the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit who makes that communication possible. We make no attempt to circumvent (get around) God and talk to the dead ourselves, expecting some kind of reply apart from God. That really would be witchcraft and necromancy. The very definition of witchcraft is to attempt to do things apart from God. We Catholics have no desire for this and such things are forbidden by the Church anyway under pain of excommunication. As I said, there is no Scriptural prohibition against praying to the saints and I defy anyone to present me with one. You see, Catholic Christians believe that death is truly conquered in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not believe people in Heaven are really dead. We believe they are living, and they are just as connected to the Holy Spirit as we are, if not more so. They are more finely attune to what is happening in the Body of Christ than we are. Therefore, we can communicate with them. We can send messages to them, through the Holy Spirit in prayer, and we most certainly can ask them to pray for us, which is what we do.
Q: Why do Catholics have statues of Mary and other Saints?
A: Statues, sculptures and paintings of various figures from the Bible, and various persons throughout history, are called icons, and they serve as visual reminders of these persons and the virtues they represent. They are used as visual aids in the same way a Bible serves as a written aid. When, one enters a private home, it is common to see pictures of family members on the walls, both living and deceased. In the same way, when one enters a Catholic Church, the images of loved ones in the Church are commonplace.
Q: Doesn't the Bible forbid the use of statues and "graven images?"
A: I certainly hope not, since a photograph of any kind would qualify as a "graven image" even if it is only graven with ink. You better toss those family photos if that is the case! The Biblical passage most commonly used to support the notion that graven images are forbidden by God is Exodus 20:4-5. However, just five chapters later (Exodus 25:18-19) the very same God that supposedly forbade graven images then commanded Moses to make graven images. So which is it? Are we to have graven images or not? Was God effectively saying; "Make no graven images, except this one?" Then in Numbers 21:8-9, God again commanded Moses to make a graven image. Then in 1st Kings 6:23-29 and 1st Kings 7:25-45, we see that God actually blessed Solomon's Temple, made in God's honour, which is covered with graven images inside and out! Clearly, God does not have a problem with graven images; not statues, nor icons, nor paintings. If we take a closer look at the context of the prohibition against graven images in Exodus 20, we can see that what God was really forbidding was the making of graven images dedicated to false gods. What God actually forbade was the worship of false gods, and any image that represented such false gods. He was not prohibiting the creation and display of graven images in general. Nor did he forbid their use in places of worship dedicated to him. What God forbade was the creation of images that represent a deity (god or goddess) other than himself. For God is not only a jealous God, but he does not contradict himself either. When reading the Bible, remember the Rule of Context, which is "context rules!" To say that God prohibits graven images because of one particular verse, and then just leave it at that, is a gross violation of the rule of context. God does not prohibit graven images! What he prohibits is graven images of false gods. There is a difference.
Q: Why do Catholics believe in the ever virginity of Mary when the Bible talks about the "brothers" of Jesus Christ?
A: Here is the problem. Jesus spoke Aramaic. The gospel was first proclaimed in Aramaic. In the ancient language of Aramaic, there is no word for cousin, aunt or uncle. These members of extended family are simply referred to as "brothers" and "sisters." The same is true of ancient Hebrew. The references in the New Testament that refer to the "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus have no Biblical connection to actual siblings. In fact, the Scriptures refer to different mothers for some of those named "brothers" of our Lord (Matthew 27:56; John 19:25). Of course many refer to a single word "until" in Matthew 1:25 to "prove" that Mary did not remain a virgin. These same people fail to recognise that the same word "until" is used multiple times in Scripture (Matthew 28:20; 1st Corinthians 15:25; 1st Timothy 4:13), and in no way means something changed after a certain event. Besides the unanimous Tradition of the early Church, what clearly tells us that Jesus had no male siblings is the fact that as Jesus was dying on the cross, he gave care of his mother to his disciple John rather than to the next male sibling in line as Jewish law would require (John 19:26-27). Are we to believe that Jesus broke Jewish Law immediately before he died? If he did, that would make him a sinner, and thus an imperfect sacrifice. No, Jesus did not (indeed he could not) break the Law of Moses because as a Jewish man he was under the Law of Moses, and as God he could not sin. So the fact that he gave the care of his mother to somebody who was clearly not his sibling brother indicates that he had no sibling brothers. To say that he did is to make Jesus Christ a sinner while he was on the cross dying for our sins.
Q: Why do Catholics believe Mary was without sin?
A: Again, besides the unanimous consensus of the early Church, and plenty of early Christian writings to support that dating back to the second century AD, the greeting of the angel Gabriel is the Biblical reference that clues us in. The angel Gabriel addressed Mary as "full of grace" (Luke 1:28), not "highly favoured one" as some modern translations erroneously put it. The term "grace" does mean the favour of God, but to say that one is "full of grace" is to say that one has no room for sin. According to Scripture, Mary was already in the state of grace that Christians do not attain until after they receive baptism. This has led the Catholic Church to understand that God created Mary in the same state of grace as he created Adam and Eve, and that by God's mercy, Mary was not stained with original sin like the rest of us. Theologically this is very important, because Jesus received all of his human flesh and blood from Mary. That flesh and blood ought to be unspoiled and unstained by sin. Furthermore, modern science tells us that cells from the mother and child do exchange between them during pregnancy. In fact, modern science has confirmed the presence of male baby cells in the brains of their mothers decades after pregnancy. Jesus and Mary shared flesh and blood, as all mothers and their babies do. That means that in order for Jesus to inherit and maintain a perfect body from his mother, without sin, his physical mother should be without sin as well. While God can do anything he wants, it is only fitting and proper for things to be done this way, and the Scripture seems to support this with the angelic salutation "full of grace." Some Christians believe that Mary became "without sin" when she accepted God's plan to deliver the Saviour. However, the angelic greeting seems to indicate that her state of grace existed prior to her acceptance of God's messianic plan. So while some Christians believe Mary became "immaculate" (without sin) at the annunciation, Catholics believe she was conceived and born "immaculate." This is what is meant by the "Immaculate Conception." All Christians become immaculate (without sin) upon their baptism, which in many cases happens shortly after birth. Mary however, seems to be the only Christian who was immaculate (without sin) before her birth. The debate about when Mary became immaculate (without sin) has been long-standing in Christianity. What has not been debated, until recently, is the notion that she was not immaculate at all, and remained with original sin during her pregnancy with Jesus and after. That is a recent Protestant phenomenon. Such a notion was foreign to the early Church and the first Christians.
Q: Why do Catholics give so much honour to Mary?
A: Throughout all of Christian history, Mary has been given the highest honour and respect. In the early Church she took on the role as the mother of all the faithful and many writings from the earliest Christians give her great respect. The real question here is why do Protestants not give much honour to Mary? Mary prophesied about herself when she said: "all generations will call me blessed." -- (Luke 1:48) Do you call her blessed? Do you do so regularly? If not, why not? Why are you directly contradicting the Bible? To understand Mary's blessedness, we need to understand where she stands in the Kingdom of God. First and foremost, she is the "new Eve" in the sense that her "yes" to God (Luke 1:38) counters Eve's "no" to God (Genesis 3:2-6). Mary became the "new Eve" in the sense that she became mother of all those who trust in Christ, and in doing so she effectively became the first Christian. Mary was the first human being to ever believe, trust and submit to the will of God through Jesus Christ. She was the first among all Christians. That alone is enough to give her more honour than any other Christian, but it doesn't stop there. Mary gave birth to our Saviour Jesus Christ. She cared for him, fed him, nourished him, clothed him and cleaned him. She was our Saviour's first teacher. Can you imagine that!?! She was chosen to teach the Law of Moses to the one who gave us the Law of Moses. Thus the young theologian who so impressed the scribes at the Temple (Luke 2:46-47) was originally instructed in theology by her! As if that were not enough, it doesn't stop there. All throughout Jesus' ministry, Mary told others to follow Jesus and listen to him. Thus she became the first evangelist! Wait, there is more. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he gave the care of his mother to his apostle Saint John. Now John was not his brother, and Jewish law would demand that the care of Jesus' mother go to the next male sibling in line. Jesus didn't do this. Instead he gave the care of his mother to one of his apostles, and in so doing he made her the mother of this apostle (John 19:26-27). If Mary was made the mother of the apostle, she is by default the mother of all his disciples and of the whole Church. Again, that should be enough, but there is more. You see Jesus was the King of the Jews, and because he is God incarnate, that makes him the King of kings as well. The Church is a Kingdom, in which Jesus is the King. There is however something about Jewish men that most people know. They love their mothers and they give their mothers high places of honour in their lives. Likewise, it is an ancient Jewish custom for Jewish kings to place their mothers on the throne beside them. In other words, ever since the days of Solomon, many Jewish kings have made their mothers (not their wives) their queens. Jesus is an unmarried Jew and he is a King. So??? It is only natural to believe that Jesus made Mary his queen in Heaven (Revelation 12:1). The Bible says we are all made royalty in Christ (1st Peter 2:9), so it only stands to reason that Mary is all that much more so. The honour and respect that we Catholic Christians give to Mary in no way diminishes the honour, respect and worship we give to Jesus Christ. If anything, it enhances it, because without Jesus Christ, Mary is nothing, and she would be the first one to tell us that.
Q: Do Catholics believe in salvation by faith alone?
A: No! We absolutely reject this concept because the Bible specifically contradicts it. The only place in the entire Bible where the phrase "faith alone" is found is in James 2:24 which reads: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." There is no other passage in the Bible which suggests that "faith alone" is sufficient for salvation. There are plenty of verses that point out the superiority of faith over the old Mosaic Law (Romans 3:21-22; Romans 4:1-24; Galatians 3:16-18; Galatians 5:2-5; Ephesians 2:8-9), but none of them say that salvation comes directly by "faith alone." These passages emphasise the fact that salvation is the work of God not man. It comes to us solely by God's grace (unmerited favour toward us), and we must receive that grace as a little baby receives the care of his mother. Saint Paul pointed out that the Law of Moses was given as a tutor. It was designed to teach us that we are sinners and we need God's grace. It was designed to teach us that our own righteousness is insufficient and that we can't be saved on our own. We need God to help us. That's what the Law of Moses was all about. Father Abraham understood this, and so God initiated in his offspring a tutoring process that would lead all of humanity to the same understanding. When we receive God's grace, it produces both faith and works in us. Both faith and works are the byproduct of God's grace. They go hand-in-hand. As Saint James said: "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:27) This is why salvation is an ongoing thing. It is a process that is not complete until we die, and this is why Saint Paul told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). You see, we Catholics believe in salvation by grace alone (not faith alone), yet grace must not be resisted, either before justification, by remaining in unbelief, or after justification, by engaging in serious sin. The notion of salvation by "faith alone" came to us from the German reformer Martin Luther, as one of his "five solas" (or pillars) of German Protestant religion. It became extremely popular in the Protestant world. Luther himself could find no direct Biblical validation of this teaching, so he created one. In 1522 AD he artificially inserted the word "alone" after the word "faith" into Romans 3:23 of his German translation of the New Testament, thus changing the entire meaning of the text. Luther not only attempted to remove some books from both the Old and New Testaments (see above), but he also had no problem changing the text of Scripture itself to suit his theological presumptions. The Catholic Church does not permit the changing of Scripture to suit theological presumptions. As Catholics we do not believe we "earn" our way to heaven as if we did not need the merits of Christ. Far from it! We believe that everything we have comes directly from the grace of God, and this includes our salvation, our faith and our works.
Q: Do Catholics believe in "once saved, always saved?"
A: No. The Scriptures are clear that one can lose his salvation if one rejects the forgiveness of God, either by persisting in unbelief or else persisting in mortal sin without repentance. (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 24:13; Romans 11:22; 1st Corinthians 9:27; 1st Corinthians 10:11-12; 2nd Corinthians 11:15; Galatians 5:4; 2nd Timothy 2:11-13; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-27; Philemon 2:12; 1st Peter 1:9; Revelation 20:12-13)
Q: Why do Catholics baptise babies when they can't even understand what is going on?
A: We Catholics baptise our infant children because Jesus said: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." -- (Matthew 19:14) Saint Peter told us that salvation comes through baptism (1st Peter 3:21). We also baptise them because Saint Paul has specifically told us that baptism replaces circumcision as our initiation into covenant with God (Colossians 2:11-12). Jews circumcise their boys at eight days of age, to initiate them into the covenant God made with Moses. God didn't have a problem bringing babies into his covenant of the Law? Why would he have a problem bringing babies into his covenant of Grace? As pointed out above, we Catholics do not believe in salvation by "faith alone," so faith is not necessary to receive God's grace when one is too young to understand or believe. An infant child just receives, and this is the example God wants all of his followers to understand about how salvation works. It's totally God's doing not ours! We are expected to participate in our salvation (by faith and works) when we are old enough to do so, but it is neither our "faith alone" nor our "works alone" that saves us. Nor is it our "faith plus works" that saves us. It is God's grace and God's grace alone -- period. There is no better example than that of an infant child receiving the sacrament of baptism to illustrate this. The child can do nothing, neither believe nor work. All the child can do is receive God's grace, and so that is what the child does. That is what we must understand. God is our salvation -- not us. The early Christians baptised their infants and children and we have record of this going back as far as the second century AD. The notion that children should not be baptised, because they are not old enough to express faith, did not come about until after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and probably derives from the false notion that salvation comes through "faith alone." Indeed, if salvation came through "faith alone" then there would be no way anyone too young to express faith could be saved, or initiated into God's covenant made through Jesus Christ. Thus, babies who die in infancy would have no assurance of salvation whatsoever, since they would not have ever attained an age in which they can express faith. Again, this is probably the result of the "faith alone" misunderstanding. Because of this, many Protestants have come up with the "age of reason" idea to answer the unsettling thought that God would send unbaptised children to hell. This notion however has no basis in Scripture. Since we know that salvation does not come by "faith alone" (see above), then we know that the covenant of salvation in Christ can certainly be presented to an infant through baptism, or a child of any age, just as the covenant of the Law in Moses was presented to infant males through circumcision. The Catholic message on baptism is the same as the Jewish message on circumcision. Don't wait! Initiate your children into God's covenant as quickly as possible, both for their benefit and yours.
Q: Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory as a place in between Heaven and Hell?
A: Actually Catholics don't believe that, and the Church doesn't teach that. In spite of all the myth and speculation that swirls around the topic of Purgatory, the Church only officially teaches two things about it. One, it exists (Matthew 5:26; Matthew 12:32; 1st Peter 3:18-20 & 4:6). Two, our prayers help those who go there (2nd Maccabees 12:44-46; 1st Corinthians 15:29-30; 2nd Timothy 1:16-18). Now beyond that it's just a matter of explaining what it is. Explanations have changed a bit over the centuries as societies understand things in different ways, just as explanations of Heaven and Hell have changed over the centuries too. The first thing we need to understand about Purgatory is that it's not an "in between" state of Heaven and Hell. Quite the opposite is true actually. Purgatory is connected to Heaven in some sense. Some might even call it "Heaven's Front Door." The only people who go to Purgatory are people who are already saved, and the reason why they go to Purgatory (or more accurately "through" Purgatory), on their way to Heaven, is to let the merits of Christ's atoning sacrifice burn away all of their sinful attachments to this present world (1st Corinthians 3:11-15) so that all that which is pure and holy in their lives may shine more brightly in the glory of Heaven. That's basically it. It is the final method through which God takes imperfect people at the end of their lives, and through the merits of Christ, transforms them into perfect and glorified Saints in Heaven.
Q: Do Catholics believe Protestants can be saved?
A: The answer is essentially yes. You see, Catholics and Protestants are united together by virtue of their common baptism in the name of the Trinity. Every baptism performed in the name of the Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is essentially a Catholic baptism, and every Protestant church performs baptism this way. So that means that every baptised Protestant has essentially received a Catholic baptism, regardless of who performed it or where it was performed, and the Catholic Church fully recognises this. So right from the start, Protestants are initiated into the New Covenant of salvation in Jesus Christ in a fully Catholic way. After that, things start to change of course. Protestants have their own beliefs and practises which range far and wide, depending on which denomination or affiliation we are talking about. The Catholic Church teaches that "there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church" and by this it means sacramental membership through baptism, not necessarily official membership on paper. The Catholic Church also recognises the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating within Protestant churches, and officially considers Protestants to be "fellow Christians" by virtue of their Trinitarian baptism. Where Protestants enter a precarious position is when it comes to their knowledge of the Catholic Church. Those who are ignorant of the Catholic Church's essential role in salvation history cannot be held accountable for what they do not know. However, those who have studied history, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, knowing full well the essential role the Catholic Church plays in salvation history, will be held accountable for what they know. It is a cause for fear and trembling before God Almighty. With knowledge comes responsibility. Protestants who have studied and know the truth about Catholicism, must for the sake of their immortal souls, seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church. We all must follow the convictions of a well-informed conscience.
Q: Do Catholics really believe that communion bread and wine become the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ?
A: Yes, because Jesus said so. Have you ever read John 6:66? In addition to the apocalyptic connection to this number, it's the most frightening verse in the whole Bible. It says: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." -- (John 6:66) What was the context of this passage? Jesus just got through explaining the mystery of Holy Communion to his disciples (John 6:51-65). He described himself as the "bread of life," and just when you think Jesus was pulling one of those non-literal parables again, he kicks it up a notch and goes straight into literal speech. He tells his disciples that they must literally "eat his flesh and drink his blood" to have eternal life. Jesus tells his disciples that this is spiritual (as in not carnal) but that it is literal too. Read these passages over and over again to see for yourself. Many of his disciples left him after this. He didn't go after them and say: "Wait! I wasn't speaking literally. You misunderstood." It would be cruel to suggest that Jesus was deliberately misleading his disciples to drive them away with a symbolic parable that he allowed them to misunderstand as literal. No. Jesus Christ was speaking literally here, and he was allowing his own disciples to leave him because of it. Now since the earliest days of Christianity, well documented all the way back to the early second century, the Church has always taught that when the priest consecrates the communion bread and wine, these elements literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ hidden supernaturally under the physical appearance of bread and wine. Saint Ignatius, writing in about 105 AD, said the following about those who did not believe this to be literal: "Heretics abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ." -- (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6) This same Ignatius, who was the Bishop of Antioch and ordained by the Apostle John, was shortly thereafter martyred in the circus in Rome where he was fed to lions before a cheering crowd. When we say the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, what we mean to say is that both species contain all of the properties of Jesus Christ. The bread literally becomes the body of Jesus Christ. The wine literally becomes the blood. Now, Jesus Christ is living, and therefore his body and blood cannot be separated. So to partake of just one species is to partake of the whole and complete Christ -- body and blood, humanity, together with his soul and divinity. When we look at the Biblical passages dealing with communion (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1st Corinthians 10:16; 1st Corinthians 11:23-29), not a single one suggests a non-literal interpretation is in order. Not a single one gives us a "symbolic" or "metaphorical" context. It is all very literal and straight-forward. Remember, the first rule of Biblical interpretation is the Rule of Context, which states that "context rules!"
Q: So does this mean that Catholics believe Jesus is re-crucified every time a priest says the mass?
A: No. We believe the Eucharist is the living and resurrected Christ that is made present to us, who was once crucified, once and for all time, not to be misunderstood as to say that Christ is somehow re-sacrificed or re-crucified every time we celebrate the Holy Mass. That would be both blasphemy and nonsense. No, the communion we receive is the living and resurrected Jesus Christ who shares himself supernaturally with us. The sacrifice was offered (slain) 2,000 years ago, but has been consumed ever since.
Q: Do Catholics believe Protestant communion is the same as Catholic communion?
A: No. This is because we believe the power to ask God to bring about the transubstantiation of the communion elements was given by Jesus Christ to his apostles, who in turn gave it to the bishops and priests they chose. This power is passed down through generations in a specific and defined line of succession which can be easily traced through history back to the apostles. In order for a transubstantiation of the communion elements to occur, a minister must be properly ordained by a bishop who has this authentic apostolic succession back to the apostles. Protestant ministers generally do not have this, and most would not dare to claim it, so they cannot call on God for transubstantiation of the communion elements. So for most Protestants, communion means something all together different than for Catholics.
Q: So then is Protestant communion just symbolic?
A: For most Protestants it really is just a symbolic meal of remembrance, similar to the Jewish Passover Seder. While there are a few Protestant ministers here and there (namely some Anglicans and Scandinavian Lutherans) who may actually have legitimate apostolic succession, the overwhelming vast majority of Protestant ministers do not, nor do they claim to have it. So for them, nothing really happens at the consecration portion of the service, assuming the communion elements are consecrated at all. In some Protestant churches they are not. Because of this, some Protestant churches put the emphasis on everyone in the congregation receiving the communion elements at the exact same time. This is their understanding of "communion." Thus, the bread and wine (often grape juice) are distributed in small plastic cups in advance, while everyone waits for the pastor to give the cue. At that point all receive the elements together simultaneously, as they simultaneously "remember" the last supper of Jesus Christ. This is considerably different from the Catholic practise of Holy Communion which we understand to be literal. In Catholic churches the emphasis is on the individual reception of the real presence of God in the communion elements. The word "communion" then takes on a much deeper meaning, in that the communicant is literally having physical contact with God the Son -- Jesus Christ -- under the accidental appearance of bread and wine.
Q: So if Catholics believe the communion elements are literally the manifestation of Jesus Christ, who is God, does that mean that Catholics worship these communion elements as God?
Q: How is the Catholic worship of bread and wine not idolatry?
A: Well, if it were only "bread and wine" then it really would be idolatry, but it's not merely "bread and wine." It is the real and literal presence of Jesus Christ (God the Son) made manifest under the accidental appearance of bread and wine. So when Catholics worship this Holy Eucharist we are worshipping the literal and physical presence of Jesus Christ. Many Catholics, myself included, whisper the words of Saint Thomas at the consecration of the communion elements: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) It is fitting that these words came from "doubting Thomas" when he finally realised the truth and believed. Every Catholic, especially a Protestant convert like myself, has this Thomistic epiphany when he finally realises what Jesus was talking about in John 6:51-65. This communion Eucharist, which just looks like ordinary bread and wine, really and truly is the risen Lord Jesus Christ! You see, it's just a matter of taking Jesus at his word. He said it, I believe it, that settles it. The real question here is if he said it, and you don't believe it, why not?
Q: How can this Catholic worship of communion elements be Biblical?
A: Worship involves sacrifice. It has always involved sacrifice. Under the Old Covenant, unblemished animals were brought to the Temple for sacrifice, and ancient Jews would worship God as these animals were being sacrificed. Then, especially during the Passover sacrifice, the meat from this animal holocaust was roasted in fire (cooked well done) and then given to the Jewish worshipper for consumption in the Passover Seder meal. Thus, every sacrifice has two parts, the offering and the consumption. The offering happened only once, when the animal was killed. The consumption happened multiple times, as the worshipper ate the Passover lamb one bite after another, sharing it with others in his family, and then going back for seconds and thirds, until all of the meat was gone. This illustrates communion in the Catholic understanding of Jesus Christ as the God's Passover Lamb. The offering of this sacrifice of Christ happened only once, on the cross at Calvary. The consumption happens many times, millions of times actually, in Eucharistic liturgies all over the globe, for century after century, until this present day. However, like the loaves of bread and fish that were multiplied in the gospels, this sacrificial consumption never runs out. Miraculously, it continues indefinitely until all have been filled with the presence of Christ. As stated above, true worship always involves a sacrifice combined with adoration -- the complete submission of the body, mind, soul and will. This is what Catholics are doing in the holy liturgy of the mass. This is worship in a Biblical sense. Prayer by itself is not worship. Praise and song by themselves are not worship. However, when these things are combined with a real "flesh and blood" sacrifice, and the full submission of our bodies, minds, souls and will, we have authentic Biblical worship, which is identical to that of the Patriarchs, ancient Israel and the early Church.
Q: How can any reasonable and sane person be expected to believe such absurdity as the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ?
A: Remember John 6:66? From the very beginning, many have left the company of Jesus and his apostles over this teaching. When you really stop and think about it, taking Jesus' words at face value over the transubstantiation is no more absurd than many of the other miracles the Bible records. Do you believe Moses parted the Red Sea? Do you believe God stopped the sun for Joshua? Do you believe Jonah was swallowed and vomited by a giant fish? Do you believe Jesus walked on water? Do you believe Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead? Do you believe that he himself rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? If you can believe such absurd things as this, how hard can it be to believe a properly consecrated Eucharist (communion bread and wine) is the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ? Especially since he said it is.
Q: Do Catholics really believe the Catholic Church was the only Church ever established by Jesus Christ?
A: Yes, we most certainly do. This is based both on the Biblical record and historical evidence. The term "Catholic" is Greek and means "whole, universal and complete." The term "Catholic Church" has been used since the late first century to contrast the Church of the apostles with false heretical sects that were springing up among the Greek Gnostics. In 105 AD, Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote the following to the Christians in Smyrnea: "See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery [priests] as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." -- (Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 8) Now this Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop in the early Church who was ordained by the Apostle John himself. We believe the Catholic Church is the messianic Kingdom of God, promised to ancient Israel, and is indeed the continuation of ancient Israel. In fact, in the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint), ancient Israel is referred to many times as "ecclesia" or "the Church." The New Testament Church is just a continuation of that. Jesus Christ is the King of Israel, and therefore the King of the Catholic Church. This Kingdom/Church was established between 30 - 33 AD, when King Jesus made Peter his prime minister: 'Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."' -- (Matthew 16:16-19) Ever since then the Church has been established, and it was inaugurated at the Feast of Pentecost following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At this point the leadership of ancient Israel ceased to be the scribes, priests and pharisees. From that time forward, the true and authentic leadership of Israel was the apostles appointed by King Jesus. Historical records tell us that in about 42 AD, the King's prime minister (Saint Peter) travelled from Antioch to Rome, and there he established his permanent apostolic see. It was at this time the Catholic Church became the "Roman Catholic Church" because Peter was now in Rome. Later Saint Paul arrived in Rome, and together the two built the Roman Catholic Church into the headquarters of all ancient Christianity. Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome in about the year 67 AD. Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside-down. Since then, Peter's direct successors have carried on the ministry of Saint Peter, having inherited through ordination and consecration the apostolic powers once held by Saint Peter.
Q: How can Catholics say that Peter is the "rock" upon which Jesus built the Church, when clearly the passage used to support this uses two completely different words for "rock?"
A: In Matthew 16, the Greek word used for Peter is "petros" while the Greek word used for the rock Jesus said he would build his Church on is "petra." These are two completely different words. "Petros" means little stone, while "petra" means huge boulder. "And I tell you, you are Peter [Petros], and on this rock [Petra] I will build my church..." -- (Matthew 16:18) The problem here is the Greek language. You see, in Greek, words are inflected with gender. So "petros" is inflected with a male gender, while "petra" is inflected with a female gender. We see similar gender inflection in many other languages too. Now because these two Greek words have a different gender, and because they mean two different things, it has led many Protestant theologians to teach that while Jesus gave the name "rock" (petros) to Simon Bar-Jonah, he did so symbolically, because he was really talking about a completely different "rock" (petra) which was the revelation that Simon gave, namely that Jesus is the messianic Son of God. The problem with this interpretation is that it's incredibly superficial, inaccurate, linguistically impossible, and out of context. These Protestant theologians have fallen victim to the old language trap. The Greek versions of the Gospel of Matthew were a translation from an original Aramaic text. One of the early Church Fathers, Irenaeus, wrote the following in about 180 AD: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church." (Against Heresies 3:1) What was the dialect of the Hebrews during that time? It was Aramaic. So based on Irenaeus' testimony, we know the first (and original) version of Matthew's gospel was written in Aramaic not Greek. The Greek translator of this Aramaic text ran into a problem with the Greek word for "rock." The obvious Greek translation for the "rock" upon which Jesus would build his Church is "petra," meaning large boulder, but the problem is that in Greek, Petra is a girl's name! You can't give Peter a girl's name!!! The masculine form "petros" works as a proper boy's name, but means "little pebble" and doesn't convey the massive character of the "rock" that Jesus built his Church on. The translator of Matthew's gospel was simply trying to make Matthew's plain statement about Peter being the "rock" work in the Greek language. The truth is, Jesus didn't name Simon Bar-Jonah "Petros" or "Peter" at all! In fact, there is no evidence that Jesus ever even spoke the word "petros." Jesus was a Jew who lived in Galilee of Palestine. He spoke Aramaic, as all Jews did at that time, with perhaps a smattering of Hebrew, which was at that time nearly an extinct language, spoken exclusively in the Temple in Jerusalem. However, Hebrew would not be the language Jesus would speak in public settings. Instead he would use Aramaic, because that is what everyone else would understand, and if Saint Matthew's intended audience for his gospel was the Jews (as every Biblical scholar affirms) then of course he would write it in Aramaic. The majority of the world's Jewish population was living in Palestine at that time, and they spoke Aramaic not Greek. It is very clear, based on both tradition and history, that the name Jesus gave to Simon Bar-Jonah was not the Greek word for rock (Petros) but rather the Aramaic word for rock (Cephas). and this is backed with Scripture (John 1:42; 1st Corinthians 1:12; 1st Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:9; etc.). Now the Aramaic word "cephas" means "rock." It doesn't mean big rock or little rock, and it is neither male nor female. It just means "rock." In Aramaic, Jesus would have said: "And I tell you, you are [Cephas], and on this [cephas] I will build my church..." -- (Matthew 16:18) It's really very simple you see, and it's contextual, because of what Jesus said in his next breath: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." -- (Matthew 16:19) What did Jesus do here? Simple. He gave Peter (Cephas) the promise of power, real spiritual power, the power to "bind and loose" meaning the power to make doctrine and law within the Church which will be backed by the forces of Heaven itself! Jesus was doing what every king always does. He was investing authority into his prime minister.
Q: How can Catholics say Peter died in Rome, when there is no Biblical or historical record of Peter ever being in Rome?
A: Just because it's not written plainly in the Book of Acts doesn't mean it didn't happen. It is astonishing that so many modern Evangelicals assert this when the historical records are indisputable, and no early Christian writing even questions that Peter and Paul died in Rome. For example; Saint Ignatius of Antioch, on his journey to be martyred in Rome in 105 AD, wrote to the Roman Christians, urging them not to lobby for his release, saying: "I issue you no commands, like Peter and Paul: they were Apostles, while I am but a captive." (Epistle to the Romans 4). Thus he indicated the position of authority Peter and Paul held in Rome during their residence there. Irenaeus, in about 180 AD, summarised the position of the early Roman Church in ancient Christianity as follows: "the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere." (Against Heresies III:2) This is just a small example of the writings of the ancients who universally asserted, and never denied, the presence of Peter and Paul in Rome, and even more so, asserted that because of their presence in Rome, the Roman Church had a position of preeminence in the ancient world. However, in addition to that, it is a mistake to say that there is no Biblical record of Peter ever living in Rome. Indeed there is. The Bible contains one of the letters written by Saint Peter to the Christians in Asia Minor. Here it would appear that Peter was writing to some of the Christians he once shepherded over in that area. At the end of this short epistle he sends his farewell: "She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark." -- (1st Peter 5:13) The pronoun "she" is likely a reference to the church Peter is shepherding in "Babylon" with his assistant Saint Mark. The reference to Mark as a "son" again demonstrates the paternal nature of Christian leaders as "fathers" in the early Church. (Indeed, what else could Mark call Peter but "Father?") The only question that remains is: "Where is Babylon?" It's certainly not the literal Babylon in present day Iraq. During Saint Peter's time this literal Babylon in Iraq was a ghost town that was only very sparsely populated. There is no record of Saint Peter ever going there and indeed there would be no reason why he would. Peter's apostolic journey led him out of Jerusalem up north to Galilee, and then further north and west to Antioch. Finally he settled in "Babylon," which is nowhere to be found in Asia Minor. However, the ancient Christians did refer to Rome as "spiritual Babylon." Pagan Rome was the only ancient city that Scripture refers to as "Babylon" (Revelation 17:5). Could this be what Saint Peter meant in his closing farewell to the Christians of Asia Minor? This is the most likely explanation, and one that perfectly fits with the historical record. Peter was writing from "spiritual Babylon" (Pagan Rome) to Christians he used to shepherd himself in Asia Minor. Yes, Peter was in Rome. He lived there for about 25 years (AD 42-67) and he established his apostolic headquarters there, bestowing his full apostolic authority upon his successors.
Q: Maybe Jesus did invest his authority and power into his apostles, but does that mean these apostles could really transfer that authority and power on to their successors?
A: Let me rephrase this question. What is really being asked here is "did the apostles have the power to vest others with the same power Jesus gave them?" Let's look at what Scripture has to say about that. After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, while the apostles were waiting in the upper room for the feast of Pentecost to come and give them the power of the Holy Spirit, they decided amongst themselves who among the 120 lesser disciples would replace Judas Iscariot (the fallen apostle). They settled on Matthias and vested him with the full authority and power of an apostle, completely replacing the office that Judas abandoned (Acts 1:15-26). It was as if Jesus himself had ordained and consecrated him. So we know the apostles had the power to transfer their authority and power to others. We know the process through which this is done by the laying on of hands (1st Timothy 4:4 & 5:22). We have historical records that plainly lay out this apostolic succession from many of the apostles to modern times. No such record is more clearly documented then that of Saint Peter. So did the apostles have the power to transfer their same power to others. Yes! Absolutely! There is no logical or Biblical reason to doubt this. The direct successors of the apostles are the bishops of the Catholic Church.
Q: Why do we need apostolic successors when we have the Bible?
A: It is wonderful that we have the Bible today, but let us remember that the only reason why we have the Bible (in one complete volume) is because of the work of these apostolic successors (bishops) in the late 4th century. We also must remember that the Bible was never intended to be a catechism of systematic theology. It is a cross-section of Christian history and Tradition. It is not a concise encyclopaedia of it. We also have to remember what the Bible itself says about the bishops, specifically instructing us to follow their teaching (1st Corinthians 16:15-16; 1st Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17), and how it calls the Church (not the Bible) the "pillar and foundation of truth." -- (1st Timothy 3:15)
Q: How can the Catholic Church really be the Church Jesus established when there are scandals and corruption?
A: This is a fair question. Before I answer it however, I should point out that much of the historical record concerning scandals and corruption in the Church is tainted by those who wrote the history. In predominately Protestant countries, like the United States for example, history is told in such a way that often favours Protestant churches over the Catholic Church. Case in point, after years of critical review, we now know that much of the stories we were told about the inquisitions were untrue. While abuses obviously did happen, a good portion of what most people commonly hear was made up propaganda put out by the English crown (which was Protestant) to defame the Catholic Church and bolster the Protestant Church of England. We know now that much of what we are told about the crusades is only half of the story. The crusades were actually a military retaliation for hundreds of years of Islamic jihad against Christianity much in the same way the United States retaliated against al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the 9-11 attacks in 2001 AD. We now know more about the details of the Galileo affair, in which we've learned that Galileo was tried for heresy because he attempted to reinterpret the Bible, not because he taught the heliocentric theory on the motion of planets. (That theory was also taught by many priests and professors in universities at the time who faced no such inquisition.) Further investigation into the World War II records of Pope Pius XII reveal that he did more to help European Jews escape Nazi persecution than any other world leader at the time, and that no real and substantial cooperation ever existed between the Third Reich and the Holy See. Furthermore, evidence has surfaced that Hitler actually tried to have Pope Pius XII kidnapped multiple times. Finally, a detailed investigation of the recent sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has revealed that less than 5% of all clergy were involved in this either directly or through coverup. While this statistic is painfully high, it is no higher than the statistic of similar sexual abuse cases found in all other churches and denominations. (Let us never forget the 95% of good Catholic and Protestant clergy who had nothing to do with this!) It is also significantly lower, many times lower, than the type of sexual abuse of minors that is often found in secular (non-religious) institutions, such as public schools for example. The United States Department of Education commissioned educational researcher Carol Shakeshaft to investigate the incidence of sexual abuse and coverup in America's public schools. The " Sexual Misconduct Report" was the first of its kind and a watershed event in this field of research. According to a 2006 National Review Online opinion column, Shakeshaft said: "the physical sexual abuse of students in [public] schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by [Catholic] priests." So the point I'm making here is that while scandal and corruption are a real part of Church history, it is often the case that these things get exaggerated either for government propaganda reasons, or for reasons of sensationalist journalism. Scandals and corruption are real. The sensational exaggeration that surrounds them is often not real. So with that being said, are we to believe that the Church Jesus Christ established would be free of scandal and corruption? Let's take a look at ancient Israel before Christ. We know that the priests of ancient Israel once offered child sacrifices (Jeremiah 32:32-35). We know that a cult of Pagan prostitutes once inhabited the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (2nd Kings 23:7). Did this change the identity of ancient Israel? Did Israel cease to be Israel when these things happened? No. Israel remained Israel. Nobody went out and tried to start a "new Israel" somewhere else. Scandals and corruption were just part of the game. That's what happens when you put human beings in charge of things. In spite of this, Saint John the Apostle wrote that "salvation comes from the Jews" -- (John 4:22). Would Jesus' Church then be free of such corruption? Don't tell Jesus that, for he (knowingly of course) appointed the worst form of thief and traitor (Judas Iscariot) right into the highest levels of management within the Church at its most embryonic stage! (Mark 14:43-46) Then of course, we have the cowardice of Peter, King Jesus' own prime minister (Mark 14:66-72). Later we see the hypocrisy of this same prime minister in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-21). All of this is typical and expected. This is what happens when human beings are put in charge of things. The Church did not cease to be the Church at this point. Nobody went out and tried to start a new Church because the old Church was "too corrupt." Nobody can reform an organisation from the outside. Through all of this, the Catholic Church retained her identity as the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). For the Bible tells us that in spite of man's unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to the people and institutions he established (Romans 3:3-4 & 2nd Timothy 2:13). Jesus himself warned us that this would happen when he told us about the parable of the "weeds and the wheat" (Matthew 13:24-30) and the "net" that collects both good fish and bad fish (Matthew 13:47-48). This is what it means to be part of an institution established by God but run by men. The occasional infidelity of the Church's leaders does not in any way nullify the Church's message of the gospel, nor does it in any way alter its identity as the Kingdom of God, the "New Israel" and the one Catholic Church established by Jesus Christ.
As you can see, Catholics have good reasons for believing what we do, and the Catholic Church really is based on sound Biblical teaching. Though we could just as easily say that the Bible itself is based on sound Catholic teaching. Many Protestants have converted to Catholicism in recent years, and in many cases this is for profound Biblical reasons. Such was the case with myself after intense prayer and study. In many ways Catholics were the first "Bible Christians" and remain as such today, so it is fitting that we should make our home in America's Bible Belt and flourish here. I hope this Question and Answer (Q&A) article has been of use to you. God bless.
Copyright © 2013 by Shane Stephen Schaetzel
All Rights Reserved
Please contact the author for permission to copy and redistribute.
Please contact the author for permission to copy and redistribute.