Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reflections on Anti-Catholic Claims

Preliminary Note on Terms

[The reader should note when I speak of "certain Protestants" I make this qualification because there are differences in beliefs.  Not all hold the same beliefs on things like "Once Saved Always Saved" for example.  The Protestant reader who does not hold to the issues discussed should be aware that I am not making a blanket statement of all Protestants.  I do know of several Protestants who, while I disagree with them, I do not consider anti-Catholic, and I am certain there are many I do not know who share the charitable attitudes of those I do know.]

The Issue to Consider

It is always interesting to see the claims of the anti-Catholics out there.  They seem determined to save us and to show us our "errors."

The problem is, the "errors" they want to save us from are errors the Catholic Church does not even hold.  It is always a distortion of what we believe or else something which is entirely false.

What Is "Anti-Catholic"?

That Protestants disagree with Catholics is not, of itself, an act of anti-Catholicism.  What makes a person anti-Catholic is not that he believes differently than the Catholic Church, but that he believes he must attack the Catholic Church, and often justifies uncharitable behavior on the grounds that he is "saving" us from damnation.

The Wisdom Of Fulton J. Sheen

I think Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said it best when he said in 1938:

“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is of course a different thing.  These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics "adore statues"; because they "put the Blessed Mother on the same level as God"; because they say "Indulgence is a permission to commit capital sin"; because the Pope "is a fascist"; because the "Church is the defender of Capitalism."  If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them.  It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth.  As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.”

This is an important distinction.  The Church is not hated for what she believes, but is hated for what she is falsely accused of believing.

Distinguishing between Dispute and False Charges

That Catholics and Protestants disagree on certain issues is an unfortunate reality.  There have been close to 500 years of separation which causes misunderstanding, and sadly even hostility among certain members.  With those 500 years, rifts have been built up, which will take reliance on God and prayer to take down.  This is a dispute.  Some of these Protestants may misunderstand Catholic beliefs, but they do not behave in a hostile manner to us.

In such cases, explanation helps the two of us to understand each other, even when we disagree with each other.

However, certain Protestants [Yes, anti-Catholics come from sources other than Protestant, but in America the largest amount of attacks come from certain groups of fundamentalist Protestants] attack the Catholic Church with accusations of idolatry and "spiritual bondage" which is not a case of a mere misunderstanding.  These are false charges, whether the individual repeating them believes them or not.

If Catholics are to be denounced for what they believe, one should make every effort to understand what Catholics believe, and not make false accusations against the Church, because it is unjust to accuse us of what we do not believe.  The accuser should be certain that the error is not on their part.

"Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness"

The 10 Commandments condemn the bearing of false witness.  False witness can take two forms:

  1. Either I can Lie about an issue
  2. or I can repeat a false claim without verifying it is true.

In the first case the false witness is guilty of what he or she has directly done.  In the second case, he or she has not done: checking to see if a thing is true before repeating it.

In the first case, it is on the conscience of the liar.  We who are Catholic can refute them of course, but the individual is deliberately seeking to make a claim to mislead.

In the second case, there is still fault in failing to do what we ought.  Many people may believe that a false accusation is true, but we are not free to believe that just because it is repeated.  If someone relates to me that in the famous tale of Luther flinging an inkpot at the Devil was actually about Luther flinging excrement [which someone once claimed], I would be obligated to research such a claim before repeating it as true.  Otherwise I assist in passing on a falsehood, whether I believed it or not.  (To the best of my research, this "excrement" claim has no basis, and I do not believe it to be true, but is rather a malicious rumor).

Getting the Truth From the Source

If the Church is accused of holding a position, then justice requires finding out what the Church actually teaches and not what one who is hostile to the Church claims it teaches.  Jack Chick, for example, claims that the Catholic Church is secretly a paganization of Christianity, seeking to introduce teachings from Babylon.

The thing is, in all of Chick's tracts, all the sources he claims come from his own publishing, and no serious historian believes that "The Vatican" sought to create Islam as a plot to control the Holy Land.  No serious historian believes that the Catholic Church was established by Constantine.  Anyone who studies the history of Christianity will see that there was no "original Church" supplanted by the Catholic Church.  Claims which are asserted need to be researched.

Likewise, when someone accuses the Catholic Church of "inventing a doctrine" it is obligatory to show the source of the claim that it may be verified.  If someone claims Pope Leo XIII said the Death Penalty was good for keeping the heretics in line, the source for such a quote needs to be given.  It is not enough to say "This guy's book had the quote in it."  The question is, which document of the Church was it said in?  Where?  When? 

(It is interesting to note that most so-called Papal quotes which are cited by Anti-Catholics either come from documents which do not exist… meaning the person citing is merely parroting from another source, or else when the document is found, the quote is taken out of context).

If the Church "imposed" a belief (as it is often accused of doing), where did the belief begin?  Where is the evidence of so-called "real Christians" objecting?  (It is interesting to note that here the common claim is "The Church burned the evidence," which is an admission of no evidence).  We can identify real heresies, and who started them.  We know who led the fight against them.  Why does no similar evidence exist when the Church is accused of inventing beliefs?

What Does the Church actually say?

Anyone who wants to attack what the Church teaches is obligated to research what the Church teaches instead of taking the word of one hostile to the Church, to make sure that what is said is in fact true.  

For example, if I wanted to take issue with Luther's famous comment that he could commit fornication a hundred times a day and not have it affect his salvation, I would be obliged to look up what he in fact said (from what I have read, it seems more that he was using an extreme exaggeration to bring home a point, and it did not mean it was ok to sin freely.  The statement he made is full of all kinds of problems to be sure, but it is often taken out of context).

Likewise, when the Catholic Church stands accused of worshipping Mary, one is obligated to see what the Church itself says, and not what Jack Chick says (that it is secretly a Babylonian deity).

I've never once seen an attack on the Catholic Church where the accuser had an accurate understanding of the Catholic teaching.  This is a problem because what is attributed to us is false, and to falsely accuse someone is bearing false witness.

The Issue of Authority to Interpret

Some attacks against the Church are not rooted in malice of course, but in the issue of authoritative interpretation.  Some anti-Catholics argue along the lines of:

  • The Bible teaches X is condemned
  • The Catholic Church teaches X
  • Therefore the Catholic Church teaches what the Bible condemns.

There are two potential problems which need to be examined before such a claim can be considered true.  Each deals with one of the premises.  If the premise is false, the argument cannot be shown to be true.  Both premises have to be true for the condemnation of the Church to be proven true:

  1. Does the Catholic Church teach X?
  2. Is the Bible properly understood by the accuser?

Point #1 has been briefly discussed above.  If the Catholic Church does not teach X, then the syllogism is untrue.

The second point is what I wish to discuss now: Is the Bible properly understood?

Historical Conflicts and "The Bible Alone"

One of the problems with the idea of sola scriptura is the view that everyone can freely read and comment on Scripture influenced by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is, when people come up with contradictory opinions, they can't both be true.  If the Bible teaches Baptism is necessary, it can't be merely a symbol and vice versa.  If the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it can't also be "merely a symbol" and vice versa.  If God is a trinity, He cannot also be only a monad.

Now we know these disputes exist.  Luther and Zwingli disagreed on the nature of the Eucharist.  Anabaptists and Calvinists disputed the nature of Baptism.  Trinitarian Christians and "Oneness Pentecostals"  dispute the nature of God.

The problem is all of them claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and claim the other is in error.  So who do we believe?  Who do we appeal to to make the decision?

This isn't even merely a "Protestant" issue.  We have the Sabellians of the early Church who denied that there was a Trinity, claiming "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" were merely masks worn by the One God.  We have the Arians who denied that Jesus was God, but claimed instead that Jesus was created by God as an archon (essentially God's greatest creation… but still a creature).  These individuals pointed to Scripture and claimed they understood it while the Church did not.

The Authority to Interpret

So how were the Arians and the Sabellians rejected, while the disputes over the Eucharist, Baptism and the nature of God are still disputed among certain Protestants?  In the early Church, the idea of Sola Scriptura did not exist.  It was the successors of the Apostles (the Bishops) in communion with the successor of Peter (the Pope) who were considered as having the authority.  Bishops who belonged to heretical groups were not considered having the authority to teach on Scripture… not just any man who came along.

The understanding of Scripture had to be consistent even when understanding deepened.  So with the Church long understanding the teaching of the apostles to believe Jesus was God, a person who came along claiming "Jesus was man" held a view which was not in keeping with the Apostles.  If a view came along which was contrary to what was always taught, it was rejected.

[EXCURSUS: This is why the accusation of "The Church invented X" has no real basis.  When heresies came along, the Church fought them hard as being counterfeit, and one of the things they would reject a heretical idea under is whether it was new.  It stands to reason that if the Catholic Church made heretical changes, the real Christians would denounce it.  Yet the real Christians (the Patristic authors) not only did not denounce the Catholic beliefs… they held the Catholic beliefs.  Which means that essentially if the Catholic Church was wrong, it was wrong all the way back to the time of the Apostles.  The person who argues the Catholic Church supplanted the "true" Church needs to explain where the "true" Christians went when these "errors" were introduced.]

The Problem With Sola Scriptura

Once you deny the authority of the Church however, the issue of interpretation becomes more muddy.  The issue isn't with Scripture.  We all accept the authority of Scripture (yes, even we Catholics), but if one denies an authority who can interpret, the interpretation becomes nothing more than "I said so.  If you don't like it, then leave."

All of such individuals claim the Holy Spirit guides them, but God cannot contradict God.  So if two of such people claim the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and they contradict, who is right?

This is why, when confronted with anti-Catholicism [as opposed to simple error in understanding what the Church teaches], I try to get the person to come out and explain why they feel they have the authority to interpret Scripture in a way which they deny to the Church.  Usually it comes down to "It's the plain sense!" [Meaning "It's how I read it."]

The Catholic View

We Catholics accept the authority of the magisterium, not because they say so, but because we believe CHRIST says so,  The Catholic Church trusts in the promises of Christ to be with the Church until the end of the world, and the gates of Hell will not triumph over it, and it shall have the authority to bind and loose (Matt 16:18-19; Matt 18:18).  Christ equates hearing the Church with hearing Him (Luke 10:16), and if one will not heed the Church, they are to be treated as an outcast (Matt 18:17).  We believe that Christ has given the Church the authority to teach in His name (Matt 28:18-20).

If we did not believe that Church was not given authority by Christ to carry out His work, we would not be Catholics.  We believe the εκκλεσια mentioned by Christ was the Catholic Church, from whom others broke away.

To be sure other churches may claim that the Catholics broke away, but the question is: on what basis can they establish this to be?  Where is this so-called Church that existed before AD 313, given that Christ promised the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church?

The Conclusion

Anti-Catholics often assume we are ignorant of Scripture and of Church history and they hold the truth which we need to accept to avoid Hell.  For those of us who hear and reject their arguments, we are often labeled as "reprobate."

Yet the reason we refuse to accept their claims is because we do know what the Church teaches and we know our accusers speak falsely.

If we are in agreement that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the light, speaking falsely cannot be considered a work in keeping with Christ.

If one hears horrible things about what Catholics are to believe, let them ask an educated Catholic who believes the teachings of the Church if the charges are true, and not ask one whose hatred for the Church is well known.

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