Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reflections on the Third Anniversary of the Arnobius of Sicca Blog.

(Yeah, I know I'm late by a day here… it's due to things I discuss below)

Who would have thought this site would still be going for three years?  I didn't.  I would have thought, back in 2007, that I would have given up by now.

Many topics were covered during these three years, though the main focus was always devoted to the defense of the Catholic faith expressing a belief that Christ did establish one Church and has continued to protect it from error.  I was fascinated with the use of Reason and Logic by the early Christian authors, as well as Peter Kreeft's "Socrates" series of books.  Both sources were helpful in looking at the claims of the world and asking "why should we accept this?"

The topics have been varied over the years, but have generally looked at the claims against the Church: the claims of dissenters, the claims of the state and of political parties, the claims of atheists and so on.  Generally, the claims sought to argue that the Church had no authority to make any authoritative statements which were binding on the faithful.

The comments have been relatively few compared to other blogs, but was generally positive, even when people disagreed with me.  I've only had to ban twelve people during those three years (two for proselytism, one for racial slurs and nine for offensive comments, personal insults and ignoring warnings to change their approach) but have met many more who were sincerely interested in dialogue, even if they disagreed with me, and for those people I thank you for coming by and sharing your thoughts.

Some of you might think this is a send off to an announcement that I will be discontinuing writing.  Well, not exactly.  I have taken on other obligations in my parish which will take up more of my time, and it feels as if God may be calling me to do other things.  So while in the past I tried for daily and then weekly posts, now I think it will be only a case of posting infrequently.

I hope to at least get the series on Papal Authority/Infallibility completed if time permits.

God Bless, and thanks for following the blog.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Article IIe): Peter and James

The Series Thus Far


One of the most common arguments against the leadership of Peter is based around a passage in Galatians 2:

11 And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.

12 For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised.

13 And the rest of the Jews (also) acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

14 But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Kephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

The argument is that because Paul withstood Peter to his face and because people came from James that Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentiles, it means Peter could not have been the leader of the Apostles.  These verses are often used to interpret other passages (such as James role in Acts 15) to claim it was James, not Peter, who was head of the Church.

Other Christians who deny any Apostle had leadership of the Church still use this passage, while overlooking the claims to the primacy of James.

The Issue to Be Explored

In Article IIc and IId I pointed out things from the Gospels and Acts which demonstrated some of the Scriptural basis for Catholic belief in the primacy of Peter, showing Christ's promises and Peter's actions once Christ had ascended to Heaven.

It stands to reason that any person wishing to argue the Primacy of James within the Church is just as obligated as the Catholic to demonstrate his position from Scripture and the understanding of the early Christians.  The person who would argue that Catholics have to "stretch" the meaning of Scripture to justify their position must meet the same burden of proof that he or she puts on the Catholic.

So the question is: Does such evidence exist, or is it nothing more than the fallacy of the fictitious question arguing that a thing could have happened without demonstrating that it did happen?

Let us then look at the person of James, sometimes called James the Just or James, brother of the Lord.

Who was James?

This isn't a facetious question here.  Since there were at least two James in the Bible (some scholars claim three), we need to be clear on which James we are talking about.

We do know that it was not James, son of Zebedee (Matt 10:17) and brother of John (Mark 3:17), because he was killed by Herod in Acts 12:2, while the James in question was at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

So the question is whether he was the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus (Acts 1:13), which some Biblical scholars believe or whether James the Just was another person.  Personally I find it interesting to note that Luther did not believe that James, author of the Epistle of James, was an Apostle, and seems to have used this belief to justify his dislike of the Epistle of James.

The reason some scholars are not certain on this, is St. James the Lesser is identified as "Son of Alphaeus" while James who wrote the Epistle of James identifies himself as "a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion" but not as an apostle as Paul and Peter both did.  I don't think it logically follows that his not identifying himself as an apostle proves he wasn't [That feels like an argument from silence to me].  I merely report this to show that the issue is not open and shut.  We aren't sure who this James was in relation to the Apostles.

And this is our first problem with the claim of James' primacy.  We're not even sure who he was.  We know who Peter was and who Paul was with no confusion, and have Scripture and Patristics speaking about them.  But James is mentioned so infrequently that one who wishes to argue James as the head of the Church needs to explain why nobody knows much about him.

What Did James Do?

Unlike Peter, who was the driving force of Acts 1-15, and Paul who was the driving force from Acts 16 on, James has a very small role in Acts, appearing in these situations:

  • In Acts 12:17, Peter tells the people gathered in the home of Mary, Mother of John Mark, to notify James of God's delivering him from captivity.
  • Acts 15:13ff has James propose a solution based on Peter's decree and Paul's testimony.
  • In Acts 21:18, Paul visits James in Jerusalem and tells him of what he experienced on his travels.

That's it.  The other mentions of James in Acts was of James son of Zebedee.

So the problem with trying to make James the head of the Church is that Acts says nothing which can support it.  Now silence neither proves a thing nor disproves a thing.  It merely means there is nothing said on the subject, and thus it cannot be invoked as evidence.

Now some people might argue that mentions of James in the Epistles indicate a greater role, but I believe this is an example of begging the question: assuming as true what needs to be proven, AND arguing in a circle.  James being seen as the leader of the Church on the basis of Galatians 2 is assuming Peter is not the head of the Church when reading these verses.  But that is what the person who is claiming the primacy of James has to prove.

The only thing that Galatians 2 tells us was that Peter, James and John met with Paul and gave him the mission to the gentiles, and that Peter, wishing to avoid controversy with people from James, ate apart from Gentiles.

The Unavoidable Contradiction

To those who argue that Peter was acting this way because James was head of the Church, a contradiction comes into play here.

In Acts 15, James proposes the solution to the gentile Christians.  Peter, before the arrival of James' disciples, was doing what the Apostles had decided on.  Therefore, if Peter withdrew from eating with gentiles because he feared the authority of James, it means James was enforcing something contrary to what he allegedly "decreed" (if you accept the interpretation of the authority of James over the Church).

Could This Encounter Have Happened Before Acts 15?

Some might argue in response that perhaps this was before the Council of Jerusalem.  This is not entirely impossible.  After all, there are two cities called Antioch in the region, and one of them is in Galatia, but since Paul sailed to Antioch from Attalia in Acts 14:26,  it would have to be the Antioch in the province of Syria, since the one in Galatia is in the middle of Turkey, and one gets there from Attalia by going north by land

Indeed, when Paul travels from Antioch (where "they spent no little time with the disciples") to Jerusalem, he travels south through Phoenicia and Samaria, which indicates they are in Syria heading south, not in Galatia, where he would have to take a ship.

So geographically, it seems that when this issue arose over Gentiles needing to live as Jews, Paul was not in the Antioch of Galatia, but in the Antioch of Syria.  Therefore, prior to Acts 15, the incident in Galatians 2 could not have occurred.

There is another problem with arguing Galatians was written before Acts 15: if this be the case, and James had not yet "ruled" on the issue (which presupposes James led the Church), then Paul had no basis on which to withstand Peter to his face.

It is only if the issue of accepting Gentiles as Christians had already been settled, that Paul could have any basis for withstanding Peter to his face.

Galatians Assumes the Authority of Peter

However, once this is accepted we have to recognize that the one who settled the issue of admitting Gentiles as Christians was settled by Peter in Acts 10:48.  So the only reason Paul could object to Peter's actions would be if he was failing to practice what he himself had taught was acceptable.

Now, from a perspective of infallibility, if Peter was not infallible when commanding the gentiles be baptized, then he could have made an error then instead of in Galatians 2, which would make Paul in the wrong.  Only if one accepts the notion of God protecting Peter from error do we have the assurance that Peter did not make a mistake.

However, since infallibility does not mean sinlessness, Peter could indeed teach something infallibly and live in a way contrary to what he taught without contradicting the belief in infallibility.

Misunderstanding Authority, Infallibility and the Catholic Church

Now I have read some who challenge the Catholic position because "If Peter were Pope, Paul would not have opposed him."  Matthew Henry argues something similar in denying that Peter could have been head of the Church in Antioch based on Paul's reaction for example.  Such a view demonstrates a lack of knowledge of Catholic history and teaching.  Most notably, a lack of knowledge of St. Catherine of Sienna, who challenged the Pope strongly to leave Avignon and return to Rome (encouraging him to do what was right) in ways which are similar to Paul withstanding Peter to his face.

Believing the Pope has authority over the Church does not mean we believe he is sinless in his life, or is infallible in making decisions concerning civil government.  There can be and have been examples of sin in the lives of Popes, and saints have called on such Popes to live as they ought to live.

So this kind of argument does not disprove the Catholic claim.  It merely displays a lack of knowledge of what the Catholics claim.

Patristic Interpretations of Scripture and the Problems with Citing Eusebius

Since there is no Scriptural evidence to justify the primacy of James, some try to look for Patristic discussion of Scripture as evidence.  The problem is, there is no Patristic evidence for the claim either, though some try to make it work.  When one searches for Patristic writings to justify the primacy of James, usually they make reference to one statement from Eusebius which indicates James the Just was chosen bishop of Jerusalem by the Apostles.  This section reads as follows:

2 Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the brother of the Lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ, because the Virgin, being betrothed to him, “was found with child by the Holy Ghost before they came together,” as the account of the holy Gospels shows.

3 But Clement in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes writes thus: “For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem.”

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. I. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. (104).

"Bishop of Jerusalem" is significant here.  Since this is distinguished from the Church itself, it seems to indicate a local leadership.  At any rate, it does not prove universal leadership over the Church.

Moreover, those who would cite this as rejection of Petrine authority have to deal with some other interesting claims of Eusebius, such as his denial that it was Peter who Paul rebuked in Galatians 2:

2 They say that Sosthenes also, who wrote to the Corinthians with Paul, was one of them. This is the account of Clement in the fifth book of his Hypotyposes, in which he also says that Cephas was one of the seventy disciples, a man who bore the same name as the apostle Peter, and the one concerning whom Paul says, “When Cephas came to Antioch I withstood him to his face.”  [Emphasis added]

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. I. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. (99).

So, to accept Eusebius (who cites Clement in both instances) as a source to reject the Primacy of Peter means to reject the main verse of Scripture which is used to deny the primacy of Peter: After all, if Cephas was a person distinct from Peter, then this verse cannot prove Peter was subject to James, and the argument collapses.

Likewise, if one wants to invoke Eusebius here, one must also accept Eusebius when (in speaking about the canon of Scripture) he says:

8 And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,’ has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful.  [Emphasis added]

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. I. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. (273).

Since Eusebius merely says that James was made bishop of Jerusalem (the reader is reminded that Paul appointed bishops and presbyters as well wherever they went), and acknowledges Peter as the rock Jesus will build His Church on, one who cites Eusebius against the Catholic claims are trapped into accepting that the rock in Matthew 16:18 was Peter as well, and thus is left with the obligation to explain how Peter could be the rock on which the Church was built but James led the Church.

(An aside for those who will ask.  At the time of Eusebius' writing, the canon of Scripture was not yet formalized and some doubted the canonicity of 2 Peter).  It was not until the Church defined the canon of Scripture in AD 381 that the issue was settled which books of the Bible were recognized officially.  While an important point in the issue of Bible and Church concerning authority, this is outside the scope of this article).

Quite simply, this selection of Eusebius does not justify a claim that James was the leader of the Church, and a reading which claims otherwise is based on the assumption that it could not be Peter.

On the other hand, the Catholic claim is not threatened by Eusebius, as we believe James was head of the local Church in Jerusalem, but not of the universal Church.

There is No Case for James

The problem with the case for James is it simply does not exist.  If we do not know whether James was an Apostle or not, If we do not know what he did outside of these verses, if the witness of the Early Christians do not attest to any actions of James in the history of the Church, then one cannot claim it is proven that James led the entire Church and Peter was subordinate to him.  There simply is no evidence for James being head of the Church, and any claim to do so is based on an attempt to reject the Catholic claim to Peter.

On the other hand, the Catholic claims for the primacy of Peter is backed by Scripture and patristic writings, so as it stands, the Catholic case remains standing against the challenges that it is unbiblical and the challenges that it was James who led the Church.

People may disagree with the Catholic teaching, and I understand this.  However, the counter theories also require evidence in their favor if they are to be considered credible.

These counter-theories however do not provide evidence.  They merely depend on a personal interpretation of the Bible that presupposes Peter could not be head of the Church.

Conclusion: The Dilemma Summed Up

Here is the dilemma which faces one who seeks to use this argument to deny the Catholic belief must face: Do you believe James was head of the Church or do you not?

If one believes that James was head of the Church, then it stands to reason that his teachings must be heeded.  Yet, the idea of faith alone goes directly against what James taught, when he said, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone," in James 2:24. 

Now I am not here to debate beliefs like Sola fide in this article.  Rather, I wish to show there is an inconsistency among some who claim James was head of the Church while asserting something which James specifically rejected. 

So if James was head of the Church, why do those who claim he and not Peter had leadership of the Church (and remember, that by accepting the premise that James decreed the decision in Acts 15, one accepts he had authority to do so) fail to keep his teaching against faith alone?

Yet if he did not have authority to lead the Church and impose this decision, then the case for James entirely collapses.  Either he had the authority to make the decision in Acts 15 or he did not.  If he did, it follows he had authority to bind in other areas.  If he did not, he had no authority to compel Peter or Paul in Galatians.

Beliefs have consequences.  If I believe Jesus gave Peter the authority to tend His sheep then it follows that I need to give heed to his successors.  If I do not believe this, any counterclaim I have may be judged based on how I act.  Do I act as if I believe it or not?

To invoke the idea of James being head of the Church requires us to look at the beliefs of the one who claims it.  From what I have found, the arguments used to make this claim compared to the beliefs of the individuals making it indicates that the one who uses the claim to James does not really believe it, but merely seeks to deny the Catholic claim about Peter.

For the Next Time

I think I've covered Peter enough for now.  I can now move on to Article III and look at the claims the Catholic Church makes about the authority and infallibility of the Pope.  I think it is important to look at this because the claims of the Church are so often misunderstood or misrepresented.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Article IId): Peter, Leadership in the Church and Acts

The Series So Far

Preliminary Warning

That Non-Catholics readers will probably disagree with Catholic belief in this area is expected.  However, please spare me comments that verse X:XX of the Book of Y "proves" me wrong.  The reader's personal interpretation of a Scriptural verse means nothing.  How the early Christians understood the Scripture is what matters if one wants to argue that the Catholic Church imposed the papacy later.

The Non-Catholic may disagree with this article.  However, the question is whether it can be established that their understanding of Scripture was believed in the early Church.


As I pointed out before in this series, the challenge to show "Peter was the first Pope" made by some is the wrong question.  I wrote:

…asking the question “Was Peter the first Pope?” is the wrong way of framing the question. If one believes it, one looks for evidence to show the answer in the affirmative. If one does not believe it, one looks for evidence to disprove it.  Each side grows frustrated with the other side and assumes they are acting from ignorance or obstinacy.

A better question would be, “What was the role of Peter in the early Church?” This is a question which can be answered by the data of scripture and of history of the earliest Christians.

The challenge is made with the thought in mind to demand proof that Peter did the same things as Pope Benedict XVI does, with the belief that since Peter did not do certain things the current Pope does (this usually has to do with the trappings of the office) it means Peter was not the first Pope.

This sort of challenge demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Catholic belief.  The real question is, whether there is evidence of Peter displaying leadership over the Church.  If Peter was leader of the Church, then it seems that the differences certain people object to is nothing more than the difference of governing the Church when it was small (3,000 people) and governing the Church when it had a billion people.  Of Course the leadership of the Church must necessarily take different forms as the situation changes, but this does not change the fact of leadership existing.  Bill Gates may have run things differently when Microsoft was a small business than when it became a massive corporation, but it does not follow that the institution in 2010 was a different entity than what called itself Microsoft in 1975, and the current institution has no connection to the group of 1975.

Thus to argue that the Pope does X, but we see no mention of Peter doing X is entirely irrelevant to the point.  The question is, "did Peter display behavior which shows leadership of the Church as it existed at that time?"

In past articles (IIa-IIc) I have discussed Peter and the promises and actions made by Christ which indicates a role of primacy for Peter.  Obviously, in the consideration of Acts we will need to see whether the behavior of Peter and the behavior of the Apostles indicate a role of leadership for Peter as the Catholics believe.

The Fallacy of the Fictitious Question

Historian David Fischer has written about what he terms the fallacy of the fictitious question.  He describes this as: "an attempt to demonstrate by empirical method what might have happened in history as if in fact it actually had.

Fischer uses an example of some historians using certain data from the 19th century to argue that railroads were not as important to the development of the United States as  previously thought, using data such as prices to ship by rail compared to by water.  Fischer points out that this data does not change the fact that railroads did become prominent in 19th century America.  In other words, the best theoretical case means nothing if it did not in fact happen this way.

It is an important distinction to make.  What might have been the case is worthless.  What was the case is what we are concerned with.  Many people have tried to argue for James as the head of the Church for example.  However, to argue that James could have been the head of the Church based on one passage in Acts 15 is not establishing that James was head of the Church. (I will look at this issue in Article IIe, the conclusion of Part II in this series).

Therefore, someone who asserts James as head of the Church to reject the Catholic claim of Peter is just as obligated to demonstrate a consistent portrayal of James' leadership to prove their assertion. 

The Fallacy of the Argument from Silence

The Argument from Silence is a fallacy that claims that since there is nothing against a certain interpretation, it must therefore be true, or alternately since there is nothing for a certain interpretation it must be false.

For example, the Bible Commentary by Matthew Henry offers this interpretation of the Apostles and the records:

When, upon the conversion of thousands, the church was divided into several societies, perhaps Peter and John presided in that which Luke associated with, and therefore he is more particular in recording what they said and did, as afterwards what Paul said and did when he attended him, both the one and the other being designed for specimens of what the other apostles did.

Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Ac 3:1). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Now, we don't have a record of most of what the other Apostles did.  We see John mentioned in passing, and James mentioned in Acts 15.  It would be an argument from silence to either argue that the others did the same things or that it means they did nothing.

All we know from Acts is what the author chose to emphasize, and that in believing Scripture is inspired, that what was included was important for us.

Argumentum ad numerum (Appeal to numbers) fallacy

The Argumentum ad numerum fallacy is also sometimes employed in Acts.  I've seen some people object to the Catholic belief in the primacy of Peter on the grounds that Acts (concerning Paul) and Paul's epistles fill up more of the Bible than Peter's role in Acts and Peter's epistles.  Mere volume is not proof of importance.  It is what role is presented that indicates authority or not.

Peter v. The Apostles?

It would be incorrect to assume Catholics believe that Peter's authority was in opposition to the Apostles.  So appeals to actions of the other Apostles does not demonstrate a case of disproving the Catholic claim.  Nor does a reference to the Apostles being in agreement mean that there was no head of the Church.  It merely means that the apostles were in agreement on how the Church should handle an issue

Jesus v. Peter?

Now, before one tries to make a Jesus v. Peter contrast, let me say this.  In a Church that believes that Jesus is risen and is Lord, of course any human leader of the Church will be subordinate to Christ.  We do believe the Pope must follow Christ and is not free to make teachings which go against Christ.

Now, as I pointed out in the "Preliminary Warning" section, I recognize non-Catholics do believe that Catholic teachings "contradict" the Bible.  However, the issue to establish this is whether the non-Catholic interpretation of the Bible can be shown to be held by Early Christians as opposed to a 16th century interpretation of the Bible.

Defining Leadership

Of course, we ought to define what it means to lead before continuing on.  Otherwise we can end up at cross purposes here. 

The definition of "leader" is: "the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country."  "Lead" is defined as "be in charge or command of, cause to go with one by drawing them along."

So right now in this discussion, the question is whether Peter displayed behavior in Acts which demonstrated leadership.  Generally speaking, a leader has the role of guiding the group he leads, setting the policies, drawing the line where debate ends, establishing penalties for the people who break the rules of the group.

Peter's Acts in Acts

The question is, do we see Peter taking a role of leadership over the whole Church?  We do, in several examples from Acts 1 through Acts 15 (After Acts 15,  the emphasis is on Paul's missionary work).  Now, taking one of these instances alone might seem like a stretch to claim that Peter was head of the Church.  However, once viewed in totality, we can see that the actions of Peter do confirm the behavior of the leadership bestowed by Christ.

It certainly seems that Luke's writing indicated the reader of Acts (Theophilus and others) had an understanding about Peter's role within the Church and wished to speak of the actions of Peter, just as he would speak about Paul's missionary journeys later in the book.  This indicates Peter was important enough a person to write about.

Now, if the role of Peter is portrayed to be a role of leadership, then perhaps it is reasonable and Scriptural for Catholics to recognize the authority of Peter in the Church.  If one wishes to deny this, can evidence be found for an alternate interpretation which is not merely personal opinion?

Peter Decrees the Succession of Judas

In Acts 1, we see that Peter announces the office held by Judas as an apostle was to be replaced (1:15ff).  There is no mention of consultation with the apostles or the others present.  He simply decrees that another is to be appointed in the place of Judas.  The response is not whether they should do this.  Rather it is how to carry it out.

This is also something to consider in terms of infallibility.  Was Peter right to make this decision?  Did he make a lucky guess?  If he ought not to have made this decision (which indicates that the Church can appoint successors to the apostles), then we have an example of the Apostles teaching error right from day one.

Only if we believe Peter protected from error in matters of doctrine and moral teaching can we be assured he did not err here.

Peter Speaks for the Twelve

After Pentecost (Acts 2), it is Peter who speaks to the people of Jerusalem, telling them what they must do to be saved.  The author of Luke and Acts saw fit to record the actions and speech of Peter, and only mention the rest of the apostles in passing.

Here is the dilemma.  If one wants to downplay Peter's role, and one wants to appeal to Scripture alone, one has to answer why Luke saw fit to emphasize only Peter's role, while the rest of the apostles are mentioned merely in passing.  If one appeals to Scripture alone and cannot support the view from Scripture alone, this is a contradiction.

Peter Works the First Miracle in the Church… and Defends the Church against the Sanhedrin.

In Acts 3, we see Peter heal a crippled man.  This becomes the lead in to Peter again speaking before the crowds and then to the Sanhedrin.  Again Luke emphasizes the action of Peter, and again the one who would downplay this needs to ask why Luke is emphasizing Peter, and not giving John an equal role?  It should be noted that the crowd and the Sanhedrin look to Peter as the spokesman.

Peter Passes Judgment

There are two distinct stories here.  One involving Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).  The other, Simon the Magician.  In the first case, Ananias and Sapphira have resolved to sell property and give the proceeds to the Church.  Then they keep part of the money, while pretending to give all of it.  Now, as Peter points out, the property was theirs.  When they sold it, the money was theirs to do with as they wished.  However, claiming to donate all of it, while holding back some of what they promised to give was their sin.

Peter proclaims their sin which they thought was secret, and both fall down dead.  What we see here is an example of what Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16: "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  God's action demonstrates Peter does have the power to pass judgment within the Church, and that judgment will be bound in Heaven.

In the second case, Simon Magus (Acts 8) tries to buy the authority to impose hands and call down the Holy Spirit.  Peter condemns his unworthy motives.  The result is that Simon the Magician asks Peter to pray for him that what he said will not happen to him.  This seems to be an odd reaction unless it was recognized that Peter spoke with authority in doing so.  Simon does not appear to believe that Peter merely lost his temper.  He recognizes that Peter speaks in deadly earnestness, and has the authority to call this down on him.

The Baptized Do Not Receive the Holy Spirit Until Peter Imposes Hands

Here is an interesting account which shows the difference between the ministry of the apostles and the ministry of the deacons.  Peter and John go to Samaria (Acts 8:15) to pray for the Holy Spirit to be bestowed on the people.

This demonstrates a view of a hierarchic Church, not a democratic Church.  The apostles have the authority do do this, the deacons do not.  Certainly for Peter to be able to bestow the Holy Spirit indicates that Peter is not acting contrary to God's will.

Peter Baptizes Gentiles

This one is a rather important incident.  After having a vision, Peter goes to the house of Cornelius and meets a God-fearing gentile who believes.  Peter makes the decision that Gentiles can be baptized.  Peter recognizes that God makes no distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised, and from this makes a decision which will affect the entire Church: In Acts 10:48, "He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ."

The word Προσέταξέν (Prosetaxen) means to command, to give orders, to decree.  In this case, there is no ambiguity in the Greek text of the New Testament.  This is something done by one in authority, and it is obeyed.  This is strong evidence for showing Peter as leader in the Church.

In Acts 11, some believers did disagree (and in Acts 15, we will see this disagreement did not go away) and some challenged Peter on account of this.  However, this is revealing.  The fact that they were bothered, and spoke to him, indicates a recognition of his authority to make such a decision.  If Peter did not have the authority to give such a command, the circumcised believers simply could have ignored Peter's "opinion."

Instead, Peter demonstrates this ruling was not on a whim, but carried out based on what God willed.

We also have strong evidence for infallibility in this section.  If God did not protect Peter from error, it means Peter could have made a mistake and thus just because the Holy Spirit descended on the Gentiles did not mean God wanted them baptized.

Considering the possible differences between what God intended and what Peter did, the only assurance we can have that Christians do not have to be Jews first is if Peter was protected from error in what he decreed.

God Saw fit to Deliver Peter from Captivity

In Acts 12, Herod executes James the brother of John, one of the Twelve, and imprisons Peter with the intention to do likewise.  God delivers Peter from captivity through divine assistance.  Now I don't argue that this means James was less of a Christian than Peter.  We are not arguing about personal holiness here.

Rather it indicates that God had a purpose in keeping Peter alive.  God does not do things for an arbitrary reason.  We as Christians believe God is perfectly good and just, and does all things for a reason.

So the question for the person who seeks to downplay Peter is: Why did God choose to deliver Peter from the hands of Herod, but not people like James and Stephen?

Peter at the Council of Jerusalem

It is a common assumption among those who reject the Primacy of Peter that James and not Peter was the head of the Council in Acts 15 and it was James who made the decision on how to treat with the gentile believers.

This is not supported by the text, and is in fact a reading based on the a priori assumption that Peter could not be Pope and is searching for an alternate to permit this denial.

The facts of the case are as follows:

  1. Certain Jewish Christians argue that one must be circumcised to be Christian.
  2. Paul disputes this and is sent to Jerusalem by his congregation to inquire about this.
  3. After some debate, Peter arises and tells them of what God revealed to him, and tells the members of the circumcision party they are wrong.
  4. The assembly is silenced (The Greek Ἐσίγησεν [Esigēsen] indicates that they were stilled by Peter before Paul spoke)
  5. The assembly (subdued) listens to Paul's presentation on what God has done among the Gentiles.
  6. James voices agreement with Peter and suggests a pastoral solution based on what Peter has said.
  7. The Apostles and presbyters send Paul with their instructions on how Gentile Christians are to behave, pointing out that the Circumcision party did not teach with the permission of the Church.

One of the common arguments in favor of James leading the Church is that he proposed the solution, with the word in 15:19 of κρίνω (krinō).  The problem is, unlike Peter's command (Prosetaxen) when he baptized Gentiles, krinō can be used for suggestions as well as judgments.

Claiming that James ruled the Church on the basis of this passage is to take the passage of Scripture further than can be justified.  Since James is agreeing with what Peter has said, which silenced the assembly of Apostles and presbyters, and with Paul said, proposing a solution in line with Peter's decree and Paul's testimony, it seems he is offering a pastoral solution which reflects the doctrinal decree of Peter and the testimony of Paul.

Those who disagree with this need to demonstrate why Luke placed such an emphasis on Peter in Acts, but mentions James (who was not an Apostle) only three times in Acts (12:17, 15:13 and 21:28), and why James is mentioned three times in Galatians and once in Jude, and is believed to be the author of the Epistle of James. 

Now I don't want this to be an appeal to numbers here.  Luke also thought it important to discuss Stephen (the first Martyr of the Church) and the deacon Philip.  I am not arguing more verses proves authority.  Rather I am pointing out whom Luke saw as most important in his account on the early Church.  It seems his main focus is on Peter and Paul, and while the description of Paul shows him in his activity as a missionary, the description of Peter demonstrates one who is leading the Church.


I believe in pointing out instances of Peter speaking and acting demonstrate examples of leadership compatible with what Catholics believe Jesus promised.  We have shown that Catholics are not ignorant of Scripture in believing that Peter was the leader of the Church.

Now, some will argue based on certain limited verses that Peter was not head of the Church, and will use these verses to claim that James led the Church.  Now, while I touched on this briefly in my discussion on Acts 15, I recognize this needs a deeper investigation, especially in light of the references made to Galatians, Peter and Paul opposing him to his face.

The consideration of James and Peter will be the topic of Article IIe, which will (I hope) be the end of Part II of this series.

Monday, August 30, 2010

St. Augustine Says it Best

While writing to the Manichaeans (Of the Morals of the Catholic Church Chapter 10.  #16), this quote from St. Augustine pretty well rejects the attacks against the Catholic Church from numerous assailants:

…you act impertinently in trying, though vainly, to attribute to us views and opinions altogether unlike the wholesome and profitable doctrine we really hold. Nor can your silly and profane discourses be at all compared with the expositions in which learned and pious men of the Catholic Church open up those Scriptures to the willing and worthy. Our understanding of the law and the prophets is quite different from what you suppose. Mistake us no longer. We do not worship a God who repents, or is envious, or needy, or cruel, or who takes pleasure in the blood of men or beasts, or is pleased with guilt and crime, or whose possession of the earth is limited to a little corner of it. These and such like are the silly notions you are in the habit of denouncing at great length. Your denunciation does not touch us. The fancies of old women or of children you attack with a vehemence that is only ridiculous. Any one whom you persuade in this way to join you shows no fault in the teaching of the Church, but only proves his own ignorance of it.

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV. St. Augustin: The writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists. (46).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reflections on Dissent within the Catholic Church

Preliminary Disclaimer: This is not part of the series on infallibility. 

Non Catholic readers are always welcome here of course, but should be aware that this article presumes the authority of the Church is binding on the faithful, and that logically if one disagrees with this, one cannot call themselves a faithful member of the Catholic Church.

Obviously not all who dissent do so from malice.  No doubt some may feel trapped in a hopeless situation.  To those individuals, I ask them to trust in God and to seek help in understanding what they are called to do, and I pray for them.  Any reader who believes I am judging them personally has missed the intent of this article.

Introduction: Yesterday, when doing the Office of Readings, I came across this passage from St. Louis of France, writing to his son:

"You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin."

This statement is a masterpiece of simple truth.  If Mortal sin be understood as willfully doing a thing which is a grave offense against God, we ought to prefer death to choosing to offend our Lord.

The Problem of Dissent

Unfortunately, there is in the West, a spirit of laxity which leads to spiritual weakness and hostility to anyone who challenges this attitude.  The spiritual laxity seems to run along these lines of assumption:

  1. God doesn't want me to be unhappy
  2. Situation (X) would make me unhappy.
  3. Therefore God opposes Situation (X)

Situation (X) can be any sort of negative situation.  Usually when dealing with dissent, Situation (X) is what the dissenter thinks must happen if they have to follow Church teaching on an issue.  Thus, the Church is accused of going against God.

The problem is in the major premise, "God doesn't want me to be unhappy."  This is to misunderstand God and to limit Him to providing material happiness.  Such a view forgets that God desires what is truly good for us.  When we form an attachment to something harmful to ourselves, sometimes He must play the role of the dentist, causing us discomfort as He removes the cavity.

Since the greatest good is to spend eternity with God, and since our task is to know, love and serve God, we must realize that when this greatest good is at stake, if what we want is incompatible with this greatest good, we must accept God's correction.

Self Deception, Self Centered, Self Serving

St. Josemaria Escriva once said:

[Y]our own spirit is a bad advisor, a poor pilot to steer your soul through the squalls and storms and across the reefs of interior life. (The Way #59)

We need to recognize that not everything that seems good to us is good in the sight of God.  Yet often the arguments made on why one should be permitted to dissent from Church teaching are phrased in a way which is intended to sound altruistic but is in fact self centered and self serving.  It's like the old saying, “When someone says 'it's not about the money, it's the principle' it's about the money.”  The invocation of a tragic situation to which the dissenter invokes a theoretical, almost always involves a situation the dissenter is in or wants protection from in the future.  Thus we see the same tired arguments trotted out again and again:

1) The person who wishes to legitimize contraception may invoke an image of hardship: The family with 10 children or the mother with medical problems.  They say it is "unreasonable" for the Church to insist on periodic or total abstinence from sexual acts instead of permitting contraception.

2)The person who wants to legitimize abortion may invoke an image of financial or health hardship.  They may invoke the imagery of rape or of a deformed child.  They point to these things as a reason why abortion should be allowed in all circumstances, and accuse the Church of being cruel or irrational for saying that the unborn is a person and therefore may never be killed.

3) The person in a valid marriage who wants the right to divorce and remarry invokes the image of the unfortunate spouse "denied happiness" for life and "damned forever" if they remarry outside the Church.  The Church is then called unjust for saying that if the marriage was valid, she has no authority to end it and permit another.

The problem is, the dissenter is *not* speaking out on behalf of these individuals.  The dissenter is making use of the appeal to pity fallacy and the underlying principle the dissenter is making in the above cases is:

  1. I want access to contraception if I need/want it.
  2. I want access to abortion if I need/want it.
  3. I want access to divorce and remarriage if I need/want it

Since the Church opposes the legitimacy of these things, saying it goes against what one is required to do in knowing, loving and serving God, the Church is accused of being wrong, and often maliciously wrong on each subject.

The Argument by Proxy

There is another tactic the dissenter uses, which I term the argument by proxy, which is both a red herring and a non sequitur when it comes to the issue in question.

The argument by proxy is to take another issue (Which I will term [Issue A]) which the dissenter believes is easier to attack as a way to justify disobeying the Church on the issue they want to dissent from (Which I will call [Issue X]).  They attack the Church on [Issue A] to justify dissent on [Issue X].  The dissenter claims (but does not prove) that because the Church is wrong on [Issue A], they need not listen to the Church on [Issue X].

This simply does not logically follow.  Even if one wished to invoke Issue [A] to claim that the Church teaching is not binding in all things, this overlooks two things:

  1. The Argument that the Church is wrong on [Issue A] needs to be proven and defended against objections.
  2. Even if the Church were wrong on [Issue A] (which needs to be proven see #1), that has absolutely no bearing on whether the Church is wrong on [Issue X]

What the Dissenter Fails to Consider

What the dissenter fails to consider is the possibility that he or she is in error instead of the Church.  If we recognize that human beings are sinful, and if as Catholics we believe the Church magisterium has the authority to bind and to loose and what it binds and looses on Earth will be bound and loosed in Heaven (See Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 for example) we are forced to consider this: The dissenter who ignores the possibility of their own error does so to their own peril.

If we recognize that the Church does not teach as it does out of malicious error, but because she believes she must teach this way to be faithful to God, the self-centeredness of the dissenter who demands change becomes clear.

Remember, we are not speaking of the actions of the individual churchman who acts wrongly.  We are speaking of the Church teaching itself, that certain behaviors are incompatible with being a Christian, and the Church has no authority to permit such behaviors.

Serving God as He Wills

St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote:

When I made you a present of that Life of Jesus, I wrote in it the inscription: "May you seek Christ.  May you find Christ.  May you love Christ."

These are three very distinct steps.  Have you at least tried to live the first one? (The Way #382)

To follow these three steps also means seeking to learn what He wills.  We should remember Psalm 111: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom."  We do not dictate to God what we will do.  To be faithful to God means doing as He commands.  We should consider the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16.  Saying, “Enough from you! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the LORD is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the LORD’S congregation?” (Numbers 16:3), they refused to accept the leaders appointed by God.  God however made clear He is not to be approached on man's terms, but on His terms.

Scripture teaches:

  • If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15)
  • If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. (John 15:10)
  • If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17)
  • He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10:16)

As Catholics, we believe that obedience to the Church is a part of following Christ, and the Catholic who claims the Church is wrong and may be disobeyed must ask themselves this:

On what basis do you claim the Church is in error while you are in the right?  How well do you understand the teaching of the Church which you oppose?

If one's sense of right and wrong are based on the fear of suffering discomfort or feeling something "just is" wrong, this is living by one's passions and emotions which cannot be trusted.  Otherwise anyone who acts on strong feelings has equal claims to right and wrong.

Of course people can be led to do great wrong in the name of their feelings (what "seems right"), even if they are sincere, and often do contradictory things and even harmful things in this respect.


As Catholics we do believe that truth is knowable and is objective, and that which is true will never contradict what God teaches.  As Catholics we believe that Jesus established the Church, promising to be with her always and protecting her, and making obedience to her necessary.

If one does not accept this, then the question arises, "Why be Catholic?"  If one believes the Church teaches falsely, why remain in a Church which teaches falsely when one is required to seek and do what God commands?

Conversely, if one believes the Church is the true Church, why be so cavalier in choosing to pick and choose what to obey?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reflections on Scripture Disputes Between Christians

Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death! (Proverbs 16:25)

(I think this article needs to be written before going on with my Infallibility series, based on certain accusations that Catholics "ignore" Scripture)


There is an old joke which runs as follows:

Two ministers of rival denominations found it necessary to share a cab, and as they travelled, they began to converse.  Both were surprised to learn they shared mutual interests and they had a pleasant conversation.

Arriving at the first destination, the first minister said, "You know I don't see why we can't get along.  After all, we're both trying to serve the Lord, aren't we?"

Getting out, the second minister said, "That's true.  You serve the Lord in your way, and we serve the Lord in His."

There is a truth to this anecdote which we would do well to remember, and that is we must serve the Lord in His way and not in ours.  Who accurately interprets Scripture and who errs?  Remember that with contradictory claims, one must be wrong and the other right, while with contrary claims, both can be wrong, but it is possible neither is right.

Now, between Catholics and Protestants, and between different denominations of Protestants, (or for that matter between Christians and Jews concerning the Old Testament) there are disputes over the meaning of Scripture, where conflicting claims are made as to the teachings, and such disputes are a stumbling block for the world to whom we have been required to preach the good news to.

A Common Assumption

There are times when I receive comments from a person who is quite sincere in his or her belief attacking the Catholic position on the grounds that the Catholics "ignore" certain passages of the Bible.  The problem is, this accusation makes a certain assumption:

  1. When I [Read the Bible] I see [Teaching X]
  2. [Catholics] don't believe [Teaching X]
  3. Therefore, [Catholics] don't [Read the Bible]

Why is this assumption a problem?  Because it assumes [Teaching X] is true, when this is actually a matter to be proven.

The question is: Is [Teaching X] true?  If Catholics [Read the Bible] and don't see [Teaching X], then it comes down to an issue of who is authorized to interpret Scripture to make a decision on [Teaching X].  Catholics believe the Church in communion with the Pope has that right.  Other denominations deny this, and insist on things like the Plain Sense of Scripture and Personal Interpretation.  However, just as Catholics are called on to prove their position, it follows that those denominations who deny it must prove their own position on the authority to interpret Scripture.


I don't expect this article will lead people to accept one view over another.  Rather, I post this in the hopes that when it comes to comments to articles, people will realize that the issue under dispute is ultimately over the issue of interpretation and not over accusations of "You're ignoring verses x:xx from the Book of Y in the Bible."

One needs to recognize the truth of what Bertrand Russell once said on slanting the language: "I am firm, you are stubborn, they are pig-headed."  Also, the wisdom of GK Chesterton: "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."

It is easy to assume one who disagrees with you is wrong.  However, the question which must be asked is, On what basis do you hold you are right?

This is the real dispute between Christians.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Interlude): Clarifying Certain Terms

The Articles so far:


While I was hoping to go on to the Book of Acts and the Epistles, due to certain accusations against the Church which demonstrated a lack of understanding of what Catholics actually believe, I thought I should take the time to write this to clarify what certain concepts mean.

Infallibility and Impeccability

Having had to deal with and delete certain comments from an individual who has accused me of denying historical and Scriptural claims (I haven’t. Merely objected to the propagandistic distortion of them), I thought I should begin this article with a rejection of a certain attack against the Church. While I’d prefer to deal with it in Article IV (looking at what the Church claims about herself) it seems I need to deal with it now, and that is in relation to the claim of people who were in authority in the Catholic Church and did wrong.

The difference is between Infallibility and Impeccability. Infallibility means to be unable to err. Impeccability means to be unable to sin. Catholics do not believe the Pope is impeccable. The Pope, being a human being, is a sinner just like the rest of us. Therefore to point to certain sinful acts which the Popes may have carried out have no bearing on what they teach.

Infallibility needs to be broken down further to recognize that we do not believe everything the Pope says and does is unable to err. Infallibility deals specifically with the formal declarations on matters pertaining to salvation. We don’t believe that the Pope is some sort of prophet or that his writings are on par with Scripture. We simply believe that when it comes to formally teaching on matters of salvation in a binding fashion, God protects the Pope from teaching error.

In other words, we do not believe that the Pope has this ability because he is a “better” person than us. We believe that God protects Him from error when He teaches for the good of the Church.

Doctrine and Discipline

Also we need to distinguish between doctrine and discipline. Doctrine is the teaching of the Church, which one must believe if one is to be considered a believer at all. Disciplines are calls to obedience on issues which we are bound to obey but can be changed for the good of the faithful. Belief in the Trinity and the belief Jesus is God are doctrines. They have not been contradicted (though some who misunderstand what was being said think there is contradiction).

Celibacy in the Western Church is a discipline. Jesus said that those who could keep this life should do so. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church recognize that a married man can validly become a priest. The reverse is not true. Neither the Catholics nor the Orthodox believe that a Priest may marry without being dispensed from their vows and are usually required to stop using their priestly functions. However, at this time, the Latin rite chooses only to call to the priesthood those who can keep to the life of celibacy. The Church can make an exception, and has done so. Fr. Ray Ryland and Fr. Dwight Longenecker are examples of men who converted to the Catholic Church as married men and were permitted to be ordained.

Other examples of Disciplines are things like receiving the Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand, or receiving the Body alone or the Body and the Blood.

Depending on the needs of the faithful, the Church can bind or loosen the discipline. They cannot however loosen a doctrine. You’ll never see a Pope permit fornication.

The “Bodycount” Argument

Some people like to point to the bloody centuries of Christendom and argue that the Church ordered the execution of people they didn’t like. Therefore the Church can’t be infallible.

This is a non sequitur argument and is also a Straw man argument. The Straw man is to say that the Church ordered executions and did so arbitrarily. This overlooks the fact that during the time that the Papal States were an independent government, there were people living there who were under the civil laws. A person who was a murderer could be executed for example under the civil laws of the Papal States, just as they could in other places.

Heresy was a civil crime, on par with treason. The Inquisition was intended to investigate charges of heresy. The most common verdict was “Not Guilty” actually. When a person was guilty of heresy and refused to either leave or cease teaching heresy, they were guilty of a civil crime which the state punished.

This gets muddled in nations where the head of the state interfered with the Church. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, was a matter of excessive government control, and Torquemada was censured by Rome for his actions and warned to be merciful. We see this in Elizabethan England and in the divided Holy Roman Empire as well. When the ruler made himself the head of the Church, the acts against that ruler as head of the Church was at times seen as acts of treason. This is why the Catholic Church has always resisted the attempts at state control (called Caesaro-Papism).

So here is the reason the “Bodycount” argument doesn’t work. When the Pope was head of a state, his infallibility was not extended to his temporal rule of a nation. We wouldn’t consider Pope St. Pius V to be any more infallible in governing the Papal States than we would consider President Obama to be infallible in governing America today.

However, when a Pope decreed something that was binding on those who were in communion with the Catholic Church, it was believed that this decision was binding and was to be obeyed.

Context is Key

What one must remember when looking at Church history is that the times were different then. Capital Punishment has varied in some areas. Until the latter half of the 20th century, Rape was a capital crime in the American South for example. Different forms of punishment were used in the past which seem barbaric today. The Guillotine is barbaric today, but was used in France until it was abolished in 1981 (the last execution using it was in 1977). Burning at the Stake and the like are indeed horrible things, and it is right to feel horror at its use.

However we must remember it was not invented by the Church. It was a pagan invention, which was kept around as the barbarians (mostly the Germanic nations) were Christianized, and only gradually rejected (it lasted until the 18th century in Europe, and was not outlawed in England until 1790). It was used as Capital Punishment in both Catholic and Protestant nations.

Conclusion: So what’s the Point of It All?

So why do I bring this up? Mainly to stress that while Europe has indeed had a bloody past, this bloody past was not something which the Church made an infallible teaching about, and thus to make use of such claims is to misapply the belief of infallibility. Likewise when the Church makes a change in discipline, the change does not mean “from wrong to right,” but rather takes a discipline and looks at it in each age to see if the keeping of it benefits the faithful or whether it becomes viewed as a mere rule which brings no spiritual benefit.

For the Next Time

Assuming no more clarifications need to be made, the next article will be IId: On Peter in Acts and the Epistles.