Catholic Apologetics

The Christian Church (that founded by Christ) has always been the Catholic Church - they are one & the same.  An examination of the New Testament reveals that the Church Christ founded bears all the marks (visible, hierarchical, one in doctrine & structure, Apostolic, possessing an infallible teaching authority) that we see solely in (or claimed by) the Catholic Church.  From simple deductive logic we can readily conclude that this Church must still exist, and must still be the Catholic Church.

 

In addition and closely-related, the core Protestant tenet of sola scriptura, as well as being a logical impossibility without an infallible canon, can be shown to be directly contradictory to the characteristics of Christ's Church as defined in the New Testament: That Church itself, not anything produced by it, is the very "pillar and ground of truth".  It itself is the root of authority - an authority which, Scripture makes clear, is living, not static.

 

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This essay will begin by examining the second postulate above.  We will demonstrate that the doctrine of sola scripture is logically inconsistent and hence cannot be true.  Since sola scripture is false, and since there must be some final source of authority for Christians, that source must be the Church itself, which is what Scripture teaches and history attests to.  

 

Modern Catholic apologists have done an excellent job in demonstrating that sola scripture is un-Biblical; the Protestant "proof-texts" for this 16-century tradition of men are overwhelmingly weak and assert no more than the teaching that Scripture is holy and inspired by the Holy Ghost.  These things, of course, the Catholic Church has always completely embraced.  (And, in fact, it is the true Church that holds Scripture in the higher place, for she does not hold that individual men have the right or ability to modify the canon at their will, tossing out Scriptures that displeased them, as the early "Reformers" did, or asserting the preposterous notion that individuals can authoritatively interpret Scripture.)

 

So, we will not touch upon such matters here, considering them to be self-evident and well-known to Catholics.  Rather, we will explore the logical basis of sola scripture and reveal it to be nothing more than a circular system dependent upon the wishful thinking of its adherents.

 

In short, if the Protestant does not have an infallible definition for his Bible - for the books that comprise it - sola scripture becomes immediately nonsensical, since he therefore is unsure whether or not his books are all there is and even whether or not all his books are, in fact, the inspired Word of God.  And, try as he might, the Protestant has no infallible source for that canon save the one that actually exists: The Catholic Church.

 

The books that comprise the New Testament that all Christians have acknowledged since the fourth century were enumerated by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in a letter dated 367.  This is the earliest such list extant (thus, Christians were essentially without anything resembling a "Bible" for at least 300 years).  The same list was subsequently repeated by the Council of Rome, in 382, which was ratified by Pope Damascus I (although there is some dispute in this), and was again provided by the local councils of Hippo and Carthage in the last decade of the fourth century[1].  Finally, more than a thousand years later, at the Council of Trent, a full ecumenical council with Papal ratification, the canon was solemnly defined.  So, it was the true Church that Christ founded, the Catholic Church, the produced the Bible that the Protestant relies upon.[2]

 

The Catholic understands that that Christ founded a Church with the ability to teach infallibly, but the Protestant (by the very nature of Protestantism at its core, which asserts I will not serve, though we cannot speak to subjective culpability), who has cast-off his Mother, has no recourse but to assert, implicitly or not, his own infallibility, and this is exactly what we see in Protestant attempts to justify sola scriptura.

 

Non-Catholics generally use several arguments to prove a “self-attesting canon”, which they must do to have any hope of upholding the logical integrity of sola scriptura.  The most common of these is some variant of “the inner witness” – the notion that an individual knows which books are inspired because the Holy Spirit tells him so[3].

 

In the latter part of the 16th century, a young Capuchin priest named Francis de Sales ventured on a mission to the Calvinists of a region now encompassed by France and Switzerland.  Through his preaching, and, mainly, his written tracts, he converted over 70,000 heretics to the true Faith.  The body of work resulting from this effort touches upon virtually every aspect of Catholicism, and with great knowledge and skill he easily refutes every objection of the “pretenders”, as he calls them.  The Biblical canon – its origin, the logical necessity for an authority external to Scripture to define it, and the Protestants’ sacrilegious usurpation of that authority with their audacious new definitions – is among the topics treated.[4]

 

The saint has this to say regarding the “inner-witness” argument (emphasis mine): “… they throw themselves into the interior, secret and invisible persuasion which they consider to be produced in them by the Holy Spirit... Good heavens!  What obscurity, what dense fog, what shades of night!  Are we not now fully enlightened in so important and grave a difference!  The question is how one can tell these canonical books; we wish to have some rule to distinguish them, and they offer us something that passes in the interior of the soul, which no one sees, nobody knows save the soul itself and its Creator!”

 

And thus, indeed, is the inner-witness argument agreeably convenient for the Protestant: it is unfalsifiable, and thus oblivious to reason.  Yet, such an argument is undone if for no other reason than that one can scarcely find two Protestants who agree on all points regarding the canon of Scripture and doctrine.  Only one set of beliefs – those which are true – come from the Holy Ghost, and only the Catholic Church is and has always been One in doctrine, as Christ Himself declared.  As the saint says, “How comes it then that Luther throws off the Epistle of St. James, which Calvin receives?”[5]

 

[As is widely known, in addition to rejecting the deuterocanonical books, which Christ Himself referenced[6] (the Septuagint, which contained them, were the source of some 60% of the Old Testament quotes in New Testament books), Luther relegated James, Hebrews, Jude and Revelation to the back of his newly-published Bible, declaring, with utmost arrogance, that “Dr. Luther will have it so![7]]

 

But revelation does not come from Dr. Luther, who had no apostolic mission whatsoever.  In all of salvation history, God’s revelation has always been top-down, not bottom-up.  God provides an authority structure and endows it with the ability & responsibility of teaching (and correcting) His people.  So we see in the Old Covenant the Seat of Moses, the lawful occupiers of which Christ ordered the Jews to respect and obey.[8]

 

St. de Sales again, again with my emphasis: “Then what reason is there that the Holy Spirit should give inspirations as to what every one must believe to nobodies, to Luther, to Calvin, they having abandoned without any such inspiration the Councils and the entire Church... Indeed, if God had 1,000 times revealed a thing to a private person we should not be obliged to believe it unless he stamped it so clearly that we not be obliged to believe it… It is to the Church General that the Holy Spirit immediately addresses his inspirations and persuasions, then, by the preaching of the Church, he communicates them to private persons.”[9]

 

Many of those who believe in a self-attesting canon are sincere, of course; in fact, in my experience most Protestants never seem to get around to carefully examining the issue at all.  However, those who do and who cling to such an explanation of the “burning in the bosom sort” simply mistake human emotion for divine revelation.  Just like the Egyptian eunuch in Acts, whether they like it or not, they cannot decide the meaning of Scripture infallibly for themselves much less define what Scripture is.

 

There are several other arguments extant in the field of ‘classical’ Protestant apologetics that attempt to undo the obvious need for an authority external to Scripture to define the canon.  The next most common of these is probably some variant of “quotation defines canonicity”: books that are quoted by New Testament authors are inspired, but others are not.  Firstly, clearly this relates only to the Old Testament; the more pressing (where more disagreement existed historically) question of the New Testament canon clearly could not be resolved by this method.  But that is no difficulty, since it does not work for the Old Testament either: the list of Old Testament books never quoted by New Testament authors is long.[10]  Even worse for this argument is the fact that New Testament authors reference, directly or indirectly, not only, as we have seen, truly canonical books such as Maccabees, but also truly apocryphal works such as The Assumption of Moses as well as pagan Greek poets.[11]

 

Nor were all the books of the New Testament written by apostles (Mark and Luke combined are responsible for more than 25% of the New Testament), nor do they all claim inspiration (by any stretch), nor do all inspired books strike the typical reader with a swell of emotion (how about Numbers?).  Yet these are other arguments put forth by serious Protestant apologists.

 

If the canon of Scripture were self-attesting, or in any way determinable by fallible men, there would have not been substantial debate and gross regional differences in which books were accepted until the Church finally spoke authoritatively on the matter.  As noted above, the regional councils of Laodicea[12] (363-364) and Rome (382) were the first to define a canon; the same was affirmed at Hippo and Carthage later in the 4th century.

 

As late as the early 200s, more than a century and a half past the Resurrection, after many thousands of Christians had given their lives in martyrdom, much of the canon was essentially settled (meaning it was considered Scripture by every major church) but there was still serious disagreement on a number of books: James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation.  Conversely, there were at least a dozen books that did not make the canon considered Scripture in certain areas: 1 Clement (the fourth Pope’s letter to the Corinthians, ~95 AD), the Didache, the Gospels of the Hebrews, Egyptians, Mattathias, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Preaching of Peter, the Revelation of Peter, the Protoevangelium of James, Acts of James, Acts of Paul, and the Shepherd of Hermas.  For instance, the canon used by the Church in Egypt (as given by Clement of Alexandria) included all of these in addition to the four canonical Gospels and most other books of the New Testament.[13][14]

 

 

We will now contrast the Protestant’s authority structure with that of the Catholic Church.

 

For the Protestant, the sole, or at least final, authority in matters spiritual is Scripture, even though Scripture asserts no such role for itself and even though there is no record of anyone subscribing to such a position before the 14th century at the earliest.  However, the Protestant’s (entirely vain) appeal to Scripture itself to prove sola scriptura is a most direct example of circular reasoning, from which his emotional appeal of “I Have the Spirit” cannot rescue him.  Reason and faith, the Catholic knows, are two complimentary, independent spheres, never conflicting, for God Himself cannot be but perfectly rational.  The person who uses his God-given ability to reason must reject the Protestant system.[15]

 

In contrast to the illogical model of the Protestant (which the skeptic rightly rejects), the structure of Catholic authority has been described as “spiral”[16]; to paraphrase:

 

1) We start by approaching the New Testament with no assumptions, like any other text - not as inspired or infallible.

 

We note that we have far more copies of the documents - over 5,000 - than any other work of antiquity, and with only very minor textual variations.  So, we know we have accurate copies.  The earliest copies date only several hundred years after the originals (compare our oldest copies of Plato's works at 1,300 years after him for contrast).

 

The New Testament details the death & resurrection of Christ, as well as multiple miracles.  Over 500 people witnessed the risen Christ simultaneously, it claims, and most of these people were still alive when Paul wrote of this event to the Corinthians.

 

The death & (at least claimed) resurrection of Christ are corroborated by hundreds of Christian writers from the first two centuries AD as well as dozens of non-Christians such as the well-known Josephus.  We thus have perhaps the best-documented event in the history of the world.

 

So, we can now conclude it is certain that Christ lived and turn to arguments that his resurrection did not actually occur.  Do they pass logical muster?  No.  All but one of the apostles was murdered - in most cases tortured to death - rather than deny their Master.  This is also historical fact for the rational person, for these events are attested to by many non-Christian sources.  How could such a thing occur? Before their deaths they lived as servants, not kings (like modern cult masters).  So, they were not schemers - but could all of them have suffered the same delusion, to the death?  That is also patently absurd.  Unless they actually witnessed the risen Christ beyond all doubt their behavior would be completely inexplicable.  Inexplicable behavior by one person occurs all the time, but we do not see 11 men who we know to be completely rational suffer from an identical delusion.  So, the rational conclusion is that the Resurrection did occur.  (On the other hand, it is irrational to simply deny the possibility of miracles out of hand.  Such a view is not “scientific”, since miracles are outside the domain of science, by definition.)

 

2) Scriptures declares that Christ founded an infallible Church.  (On Peter, and that it would never fail – thus, Peter must have successors.)

 

3) This Church says that Scripture (the canon it defined, that is) is inerrant.

 

Again, this is a logical structure that builds upon itself in a way that might be described as spiral, but it is definitely not circular, as the conclusion is not stated in the premises in any form whatsoever.

 

One thing that should be obvious is that Protestantism and Catholicism are fundamentally incompatible at their very roots.  What, then, can or should be the purpose of dialog with non-Catholic Christians other than to persuade them to renounce their errors and return to the true Church that Christ founded?  There should be no other purpose, as all pre-conciliar pontiffs taught most clearly, but as we know, this tragic era of diabolical disorientation is nothing but one of “dialog”, dialog with no truly Catholic purpose at all.  It is even directly stated by the upper hierarchy that dialog is an end in itself and that conversion is no longer the goal.  Thus is this ecumenitis[17] admitted by its proponents themselves as fundamentally un-Catholic.

 

 


[1] Some modern Protestant apologists have tried to assert that the set of books defined at Hippo and Carthage is not the same as that of Trent – this is based on confusion surrounding the naming and “packaging” of the books of Ezra, which can be a slightly confusing topic – however, when the relatively simple facts are known, it is clear that  there is no case whatsoever.  See http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=137641 and http://cathapol.blogspot.com/2007/04/canon-catholic-response-to-webster.html for example.  Furthermore, if they were correct on this question it would do nothing at all for their argument against Catholic authority: the canon was not officially closed until it was dogmatically defined at Trent.  If what they assert were true they would succeed only in demonstrating that the canon is far from self-attesting.

[2] Just as She has also given the Protestant, via Nicea, Fourth Lateran, and Florence, the Christological dogmas and that of the Trinity that he accepts without question.

[3] What the Mormon calls the “burning in the bosom” that tells him (infallibly) that the Book of Mormon is inspired is but another variant of this.

[4] Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (TAN Books, 1989), 64-78.

[5] Ibid, 75.

[6] He celebrated Hanukkah, referenced only in Maccabees; his self-description of “set apart” is another allusion to Maccabees which describes the Temple the same way; Hanukkah was a type of His own consecration.

[7] AcinarLuther’s Own Statements (Benzinger Brothers, 1884), 25

[8] Matthew 23:2

[9] de Sales, 76.

[10] See, for example, John Salza, The Biblical Basis For Tradition (ACLA Press, 2010), and Steve Ray, Crossing The Tiber (Ignatius Press, 1997)

[11] Ibid.

[12] de Sales in particular makes reference to this council in regards to the canon.

[13] Certain New Testament books – such as the four canonical Gospels – were considered “primary” as they were accepted by all, with those in dispute considered “secondary”.  However, as de Sales and others have pointed out, such a distinction was artificial and undone by the dogmatic definition of the canon.

[14] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03274a.htm

[15] The founder of the first branch of this miserable heresy famously described reason itself as “the devil’s whore”.

[16] Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (Ignatius Press, 1988), also referenced by Salza

[17] Dietrich von Hildebrand may have coined this term.