Catholic Apologetics

In Part I of this article, we exposed the Protestant tenet of sola scriptura as the un-Biblical, ahistorical, illogical fallacy it is.  If Scripture is not the primary rule of faith and source of authority for the Christian, what is?  Of course, the answer to that question is “The Church”: the visible, hierarchal, infallible, perpetual Church that Christ founded as His Bride.

 

If the Church is indeed the source of authority for the Christian, there are at least three attributes it must possess: visibility, perpetual existence, and infallibility (which implies immutability of doctrine).  The Church must be visible so the Christian can identify her doctrines and her rulers, it must be perpetual if it is the rule & guide God has established on Earth, and it must be infallible so that the Christian can have moral certainty of its doctrines.

 

Protestants[1] flatly deny two of these attributes, of course; we will examine all three here.

 

Authority In The New Testament

 

Scripture is full of examples[2] of the Apostles, led by Peter, as the first bishops, and the bishops they themselves appoint:

 

  • ·      Demanding obedience from Christians
  • ·      Speaking on behalf of Christ
  • ·      Settling disputes
  • ·      Making authoritative doctrinal & juridical decisions (ratified by Peter, of course)

 

Perhaps this passage best exemplifies the authority that Christ willed to His Church:

 

He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me; and he was despiseth Me, despiseth him that sent Me. (Luke 10:16)

 

We can establish from this passage alone that the Apostles themselves were given the authority of Christ; we will see below that this authority was given to the office, not the men, and continued in perpetuity.

 

Visibility

 

If the Church is indeed the source of authority it must of necessity be visible; an invisible Church (defined as the unseen collective of those with faith in Christ, etc.) cannot promulgate doctrine or issue juridical commands and decisions.  Yet, Christ Himself ordered the first disciples to make use of the Church to settle disputes, presuming its visibility:

 

But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.  And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.  And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Matt 18:15-17)

 

In fact, the New Testament is filled with passages illustrating the visible Church[3]; all Catholic doctrines are present in Scripture in at least embryonic form, but this is one (of many) that requires either a priori bias or selective reading to miss.[4]

 

One of the more striking allusions Scripture uses to stress the visible, corporal (we might say Incarnational) nature of the Church is its likening to a human body, something that Paul does in his epistles to the Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians;[5] here is the relevant passage from 1 Corinthians:

 

But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.  For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ.  For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink. For the body also is not one member, but many.  If the foot should say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

 

And if the ear should say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?  If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?  But now God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.  And if they all were one member, where would be the body?  But now there are many members indeed, yet one body.

 

And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you.  Yea, much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body, are more necessary.  And such as we think to be the less honourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour; and those that are our uncomely parts, have more abundant comeliness.  But our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour, that there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another.

 

And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member.  And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. (1 Cor 12:11-28)

 

Paul’s analogy illustrates that the Body of Christ, like a human body, has both parts that exist individually as well as a whole that is the sum of those parts and yet more.  Different parts have functions unique to them, yet all are necessary for a properly functioning Body.  The Body cannot be subdivided without injuring it as a whole; the Body relies on the proper functioning of each part.  Furthermore, a hierarchy of rank & function is implied, exactly analogous to the Church, which has formed a hierarchy since its inception.

 

The Church must have a Head (Christ) as does a human body; as with a human body, the Head is the most important part - all others are subordinate to it.

 

St. Paul would not have placed so much emphasis on such a visible, corporal description of the Body of Christ were she not visible and corporal in actuality.

 

The traditional interpretation of the stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) is the Church; many Protestant exegetes have no argument.  However, how can a stone that “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth”[6] be invisible?

 

If the Church were not, in fact, both visible and One, the many Scriptural exhortations against schism (unity) – and the ecclesiastical penalty of excommunication proscribed by in Matthew referenced above – would be nonsensical.  Excommunication is by nature visible, corporal, and communal; it has no meaning whatsoever in an invisible “church”[7].

 

Various Protestant scholars have asserted that the visibility of the Body of Christ is not an essential feature, but only an accidental one, intended by God to cease at a certain point in time.  Such an argument at its outset would seem to come dangerously close to special pleading, given that the New Testament itself gives no such indications whatsoever, but, in addition, the fact that apostolic succession is a fact of the early Church – and one enshrined in Scripture at that – neuters the argument.

 

Another traditional Protestant objection to the visible Church is that it consists only of the elect, and thus is of necessity not visible (or at least not completely visible.  Of course, this yet again contradicts Scripture, for Christ makes it clear that the elect and the reprobate will exist in the Church on Earth.[8]

 

Eternal Existence

 

Was the Church made to endure forever?  This, actually, is a question on which (at face value at least) Catholics and Protesters have no disagreement per se.  However, on a practical level, since Protestants deny that the very visible, hierarchal Church that Christ founded is the one & only true Christian Church, there is little common ground.

 

We saw above that it is incontrovertible that it was the Church itself that was made to hold & exercise authority.  It would seem to be almost self-evident that the leadership of the Church, meaning the threefold hierarchia ordinis evident in the New Testament, was not meant to simple cease to exist with the deaths of those original office-holders.

 

Apart from the extremely extensive historical record of apostolic succession[9], Scripture itself answers this question by demonstrating that the offices of the Apostles are just that by demonstrating succession/ordination:

 

  • ·      In Acts, Matthias is ordained to replace Judas[10].  There is no discussion recorded as to whether Judas should be replaced; it is taken for granted; “his bishopric let another take”.
  • ·      
  • ·      
  • ·      
  • ·      

 

The Church is the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, which was promised to be eternal:

 

I will establish the throne of thy kingdom over Israel for ever, as I promised David thy father, saying: There shall not fail a man of thy race upon the throne of Israel (1 Kings 9:5).

 

Luke assures us that Christ is this eternal King:

 

Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.  And of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)

 

Protestants do not deny that Christ reigns on David’s throne; however, they misunderstand His kingdom, which is the Church. The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is used by Christ dozens of times, usually referring to the Church in the present age - thus it is “in your midst”, “among you”, etc.  In addition to the direct implications of the language used, Christ’s analogies, such as that of the mustard seed[11], specifically stress the radical, outward change the Kingdom will undergo – since the Kingdom in its end state (Paradise) will be immutable, clearly this refers to the Church on Earth[12]

 

The Apostle James, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Church council in that city invoked the prophet Amos’[13] prediction of the restoration of David’s kingship as being fulfilled then, by the Church:

 

Simon hath related how God first visited to take of the Gentiles a people to his name.  And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written:

 

After these things I will return, and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and the ruins thereof I will rebuild, and I will set it up:  That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all nations upon whom my name is invoked, saith the Lord, who doth these things (Acts 15:14-17, emphasis mine – we see the universality of the Church here as well).

 

Thus do Peter’s Keys refer not to the literal door of paradise, but to power over the Kingdom in the present – the Church on Earth.  There is only one other place in Scripture where “keys” are used in reference to a Kingdom, which is, again, that of David’s[14], where the keys were instructed to the King’s steward.  We see who fulfills this role of steward in the New Covenant:

 

And Peter said to him: Lord, dost thou speak this parable to us, or likewise to all?  And the Lord said: Who (thinkest thou) is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord setteth over his family, to give them their measure of wheat in due season?  (Luke 12:41-42)

 

We do not have the space here to do justice to this fascinating sub-topic, which could be an essay in itself.

 

Most clearly, Christ established a perpetual Church, one over which the “gates of Hell” would not “prevail”.  This Church is visible and hierarchal, governed by the leaders He put in place and the successors they appointed by the authority He gave them, as recorded in Sacred Scripture.  Just as in the Old Covenant where the office of the Seat of Moses existed to guide the people of God, in the New He has not abandoned us.

 

Infallible

 

We see the charism of infallibility implied by Christ for His Church in a single verse:

 

Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven (Math 18:18).

 

If the Apostles (and by logical necessity and historical fact, their successors) have the ability to promulgate teachings (bind the faithful to them) that Heaven endorses, they must be true, since God cannot endorse error.

 

As another Scriptural example, at the Council of Jerusalem – the first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church[15] - after the Apostles had made the determination (ratified by Peter) that Gentile Christians are not under the bounds of Mosaic Law, they observed that

 

…it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us… (Acts 15:28)

 

The Apostles made a binding doctrinal decision, on their own, noting that it was endorsed by the Godhead and thus infallible.

 

Ephesians 3:10-11 informs us that even the angels in Heaven learn via the Church!

 

That the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church, According to the eternal purpose, which he made, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Dr. Ludwig Ott points out, citing John 14:16 and Matt 28:20, that “Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Ghost for the fulfillment of their teaching task… The perpetual assistance of Christ and of the Holy Ghost guarantees the purity and the integrity of the promulgation of the faith of the Apostles and their successors”[16] (emphasis mine).

 

We have seen above that the offices of the Apostles, and their head, Peter, were continued beyond those initial holders (as offices are, essentially by definition); clearly, then, this infallible teaching ability continued as well.

 

Because Christ demands our fidelity to the true faith as matter of salvation, it is necessary that there exist a body endowed with the ability to preserve and define this faith without the possibility of error

 

 (As with all Catholic doctrines, the seeds of the infallibility of the Church are present from its beginning (and from the beginning of Scripture, which came much later).  Even some well-known and well-respected[17] Protestant polemicists have made assertions as preposterous as that this doctrine was an “invention” of the Church that came some 1,000 years after her inception.  In reality, as the Fathers of the Church amply demonstrate with every Catholic doctrine, it existed from the beginning:

 

“Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence Apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, 256 AD)[18]

 

 

St. Francis de Sales had this to say regarding the novel (in his time) notion that Scripture, rather than the Church that Christ founded, is the very “pillar and ground of the truth” as Scripture Itself says (1 Cor 3:15): “They answer that we must decide the interpretation of Scripture by collating passage with passage and the whole with the Symbol of faith.  Amen, amen we say, but we do not ask how we ought to interpret the Scripture, but – who shall be the judge?... Ah, whoever says that Our Lord has placed us in the bark of his Church, at the mercy of the winds and of the tide, instead of giving us a skillful pilot perfectly at home, by nautical art, with chart and compass, such a one says that he wishes our destruction.”[19]

 

Protestants (and when I use this term, I use it primarily to refer to Protestant leaders & polemicists) did not and do not wish for destruction, but their revolution of sola scriptura and (concomitantly) private interpretation bring just that, at the individual and communal levels.  In fact, the fragmentation of the Protesters came so early and so violently that it startled even the innovators themselves.[20] 

 

Scripture does make laws, but it cannot interpret them, and it cannot apply them; that is why Jesus Christ established a Church, which produced, guards, and infallibly interprets them.

 

Protestantism at its root (and as the name even implies) is non servium; it is a protest against the Church that Christ founded and against Christ Himself.  Of course, we cannot say anything subjectively about individual Protestants, as it may be that (especially in modern times when the truths of the Church have become so obscured that even prelates at the highest levels ignore or even contradict them) a great many, if not most, are ignorant of the errors they embrace (invincibly or not).

 

 


[1] They generally do at least for the purposes of defining Catholic authority.  Some assert the Church was visible at one time but no more, etc.; as with all things Protestant, there are few absolutes, as there are almost as many variations of teaching as there are denominations.

[2] See, for example, http://scripturecatholic.com/apostolic_succession.html#apostolic-III

[3] And http://scripturecatholic.com/the_church.html#the_church-V

[4] See the papal encyclicals Satis Cognitum and Mystici Corporis Christi

[5] In addition to the passage from 1 Cor we examine here,  see Rom 12:4-5 and Eph 4:15-16

[6] Daniel 2:35

[7] Nor in a universal church comprised of a set of completely autonomous congregations, which many Protestants insist is the New Testament model.

[8] The parable of the wheat & the chaff, Matt 13:24-30.  The “chaff” Christ was referring to was a type of rye that was considered a weed yet resembled wheat, giving the parable real depth.

[9] There is a large body of patristic evidence we do not consider here.

[10] Acts 1:20-26

[11] Matt 13:31-32

[12] Thus is Protestant longing for the “simple church of Christ” ill-placed, if well-meaning; Christ told us that His Church would change form; He foresaw its transformation from underground & persecuted to the day when its “great branches” conquered Babylon itself.

[13] Amos 9:11-12

[14] See Isaiah 22:15-23

[15] The phrase “Catholic Church” may have been first used by St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, in the early 2nd century.

[16] Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (TAN Books, 1954), 298

[17] Rev. J.A. Wylie, for example, who wrote many anti-Catholic essays in the 19th century still cited by Protestants today.

[18] William Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers (Liturgical Press, 1979)

[19] Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (TAN Books, 1989), 109-111

[20] John Calvin wrote to Luther’s theologian, "It is indeed important that posterity should not know of our differences; for it is indescribably ridiculous that we, who are in opposition to the whole world, should be, at the very beginning of the Reformation, at issue among ourselves."