Catholic Apologetics

As most Christians are aware, the Catholic Church (or the “Roman Catholic Church”, if you prefer – Peter founded the See of Rome and it has been prime since his time) claims to be the actual, visible, hierarchal Church founded by Jesus Christ. 

Whether this is true and thus that the Catholic Church possesses divine authority - authority that all Christians must submit to, to be obedient to Christ – should be a pressing question for any Christian.  

In fact the existence of such a Church and its authority can be established from the New Testament.  In this brief essay I will demonstrate that the New Testament asserts the following:

1) Christ established a Church that He claimed would endure against evil until the end of the world.

2) He gave this Church - its leaders - complete authority, His very authority - on earth and in Heaven.

3) If this Church was to last forever its first leaders - the apostles - would have to appoint successors to their offices.  The fact that they did this is evident in Scripture.

4) The Catholic Church demonstrates an unbroken line of succession back to the apostles - this includes the office of Peter (the papacy) as well as apostolic succession of every priest and bishop.

Thus, the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ – visible and specific – and all faithful Christians are bound to submit to her.  This essay is designed to demonstrate, as briefly as reasonably possible, the truth of this statement.  (It presents only a small slice of the available evidence – enough to whet the appetite at the least.)

1) Christ established a Church that He claimed would endure until the end of the world.

This is fully established in a single passage: 

"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." (Mt 16:18-19)

Of course, there's really nobody who disputes that Christ founded a Church; it's the nature of this Church that is important (and that nature, specifically, is one, holy, universal (catholic), and apostolic).  But it is important to note that we have Christ's promise that evil will never prevail against the Church - if this Church ever officially taught error in faith or morals then it would be impossible to assert that Christ's promise had held, for such a Church would be worse than useless.  

Another important (and rather amazing) takeaway from this passage is that Peter[1] is given authority that even Heaven respects.  Later, in Mt 18:18, this transfer of authority is repeated and this time all of the apostles are included.  The endorsement by Heaven of the Church’s teaching implies infallibility, for God cannot endorse error.

2) He also gave the apostles full authority in that Church.

That Christ ceded to His Apostles full and complete authority in His Church - His very authority, which in turn originates with the Father - is evident from the passage above alone.  And there are many more examples that demonstrate that the leaders of the Church carry real authority from Christ and, furthermore, that obeying them - obeying the Church - is identical to obeying Christ:

"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (Mt 10:40) 

"He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me." (Lk 10:16)             

There are many other examples in Scripture of the apostles' authority: see, for example,  Luke 9:1, 10:19, and 22:29, John 7:16-17, 8:28, 12:49, 13:20, 14:10, 16:14-15, 17:18 and 20:21, Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 2:25.  See also http://scripturecatholic.com/the_church.html and http://scripturecatholic.com/primacy_of_peter.html.

Now the immediate (and facile) objection here goes something like "The apostles have nothing to do with the modern Catholic Church - the Catholic Church did not inherit this authority."  But that is entirely untrue.  As we will see shortly, the apostles made it a specific point to appoint successors to their offices, and it is historical fact that the pope and bishops of today's Catholic Church trace their lineage through an unbroken line of ordination to the Twelve and thus to Christ.  (As do also the priests and bishops of the Orthodox churches in schism.)

Continuing with examples of apostolic authority in Scripture, we have the account given in Acts of the first Church council, where the question of whether or not pagan converts had to be circumcised according to the Old Law or not was decided.  We know the decision that the apostles reached.  Several points regarding this decision and how they came to it are noteworthy:

- Without explicitly stating it, the apostles are exercising their God-given authority to govern the new Church - they're undoing a law handed down from Moses.  One must try to put on the mindset of a first-century Jew to begin to understand the weight such an issue carried with the apostles.

- They stated that their decision came from the Holy Spirit himself (v 28) even though there was no explicit divine revelation - there is the implicit realization that the Holy Spirit guides the Church through the actions of Her clergy.

The epistles likewise demonstrate apostolic authority, of course.  In fact, if the apostles were not consciously fulfilling their role to guide and rule various local churches the epistles would not exist.  This is what has been called the occasional nature of Scripture.  It is entirely clear that the epistles did and do not constitute an all-encompassing 'manual for the faith'.  Only certain topics are dealt with - in general, topics where there was confusion or disobedience among the common Christians of the day.  Teachings that were basic and well-known were often not touched upon at all.  The epistles were meant to supplement the oral teachings (Tradition) of the apostles that Paul commanded his subjects to obey.  No, the 'manual of the faith' is the living Church that Christ founded - the 'Church of the Living God' that is the very 'pillar and foundation of truth' (1 Tim 3:15).

3) If the Church would last until the end of time the apostles would have to appoint successors.

The first noteworthy act recorded in Scripture subsequent to the Ascension is the first implementation of apostolic succession: Acts records that Matthias is ordained by apostolic authority:

'For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 'Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.' And: 'May another take his office.'  Therefore, it is      necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection'"  So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  Then they prayed, 'You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chose to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.'  Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:20-26)

It's also noteworthy that there is no recorded discussion of exactly why Judas had to be replaced: it seems that the apostles recognized the existence of Judas' office, which existed apart from him and his death.  And, once again, the apostles recognize that their official actions as Church leaders receive the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Acts also makes it clear that ordination was a requirement to make a man a presbyter (priest) of Christ.  When the existing clergy were insufficient to meet the needs of the people more were ordained:

At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.  Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."  The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.  They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.  (Acts 6:1-6)

"Laying hands" refers to the sacrament of ordination. 

Note that there are no cases in the New Testament of any clergy "spontaneously" sprouting up without having been ordained by an apostle or a man ordained by an apostle: the chain of apostolic succession is kept intact.  Even Paul, who was given the enormous grace of a vision of Christ Himself, still had to be ordained:

So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.  Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. (Acts 9:17-19)

If any passage attests to the absolute need for sacramental ordination it is this one.

We can also easily discern from the New Testament the concept of the office of bishop: an office, by its very nature, is greater than and survives any particular occupant.  Since Paul, for example, refers to his position as occupying an "office" it is implicit that it would have other occupants:

This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. (1 Tim 3:1)

And we see that the Church is a 'foundation':

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. (Eph 2:19-20)

In fact, it is the very pillar and foundation of truth.  (The Church is the "pillar and foundation of truth".  The Bible, which the Church created, is part of this truth.)

But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15)

Now, the early Church (that is, where Acts leaves off) has preserved for us hundreds of examples of apostolic succession in action in a hierarchal Church led by Peter's successors in Rome at the head in union with all bishops of the world.  Here are just a couple of documents from the early Church that demonstrate these things:

"And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture a certain place, 'I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.'  Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry... For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties." Pope Clement, Epistle to Corinthians, A.D. 98.

"For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ off God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop? And what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as…Anencletus and Clement to Peter?" Ignatius of Antioch, To the Trallians A.D. 110.

[Some Protestants claim that the Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with the early Christian Church.  These are, to be frank, the most ignorant, who have no knowledge of Christian history, which according to many former Protestant ministers (such as Steve Ray) is very common in Protestantism.  However, the original "reformers" (that is, revolutionaries, as in the spirit of the first of their kind who declared "I will not serve") all acknowledged that the original church was, in fact, the Catholic Church.  They did so because that is absolute plain fact to anyone who knows the early Church at all.

These "reformers" held the position that the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ but that it "went bad" at some point.  The first major problem with this teaching is that it makes Christ a liar: He told us that His Church would endure until the end of time and be protected from error (that is, divinely protected from officially teaching error in faith and morals).]

4) The Catholic Church demonstrates an unbroken line of succession back to the apostles - this includes the office of Peter (the papacy) as well as apostolic succession of every priest and bishop.

Suffice it to say here that Peter’s papacy in Rome and the unbroken line of popes succeeding him is historical fact, supported by hundreds or thousands of ancient documents.  (There are at least 300 references to Peter leading the church and dying in Rome, for example, in the writings of the Fathers.)  This is a historical fact acknowledged even by secular historians.  See this essay for more detail:http://www.catholicthinker.net/peter-the-papacy.

...

In conclusion, it is apparent from Scripture alone that Jesus Christ founded a visible Church, gave its leaders completely authority on earth over all Christians, and promised that this Church would endure until the end of time.  Since it would endure until the end of time there must have been a method to propagate its authority, and this is in fact illustrated by the New Testament as well: sacramental ordination of priests and bishops maintaining the line of apostolic succession.

At this point any Christian must realize that Christ's Church - a visible, hierarchal Church - must still exist today.  If it does not than Christ was wrong - period.  And there is only one Church that even claims to be the very specific, visible, hierarchal Church that Christ founded: the Catholic Church.  The historical record demonstrates the unbroken line of authority from the first pontiff in Rome, Peter, to the current one, and also demonstrates very thoroughly that the teachings and practice of the early Church were identical in all crucial ways to current Catholic teaching (however surprising and shocking this notion is to most Protestants).

As a brief aside, it should be apparent that there is a need for authority and authoritative teaching in the life of Christians, and that it would thus be very strange if God did not provide this.  The Old Covenant Jews had their source of living authority - the interpreters of the Torah, the Pharisees.  (The uniformed might claim that Christ put down the Pharisees.  But, of course, he rebuked some of them for their hypocrisy while making it clear that the Jews were bound to obey them: The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you.  That is, they carry Moses' authority - this “Seat of Moses” being an oral teaching of the Jews not found in any Scripture.)

The Jews needed a living authority partially because the Torah could not possibly address every single practical question in the life of every Jew - any more than the Bible addresses directly every practical issue of today.  If it did, we wouldn't have Christians who could challenge the most basic moral laws that have been part of Tradition since apostolic times. 

[1] See http://www.catholicthinker.net/peter-the-papacy/ for refutations of all the common (and contrived) objections against what Scripture plainly teaches here: that Christ’s Church was founded “on Peter”.

[2] Growing understandings of doctrine allows the Church to move from more general to more specific understanding of truth.  Dogma – the formalization of doctrine – implies a very specific understanding, not the origination of a teaching.