A Catholic Miscellany

Call no Man Father Upon this Rock
Where the Spirit Is The Temple of the Lord
Purgatory Sow the Wind
Once and for All Authority Figures
Forbidding to Marry Transubstantiation
On the Altar Immersion
End Times The Thirty Thousand
Geocentrism Socrates the Christian
Sistine Ceiling

Thriceholy Radio

Call no Man Father

"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven." (Matthew 23:9).

LogoLivy records that pagan priests were called 'Pater,' 'Father': "The envoy then returns to Rome. It was customary for the king immediately to address the senate in approximately these words: 'Concerning the demands, the disputes, and the claims which the 'pater patratus' (the fetial priest) of Rome has announced to the 'pater patratus' of the Ancient Latins, which demands they have not fulfilled as it was fitting for them to do, say (he addresses the man whose opinion he asks first) what you think should be done.'" (Livy, History of Rome, Book I, 32).

Perhaps pagan converts to Christianity saw no more harm in calling a priest 'Father' than we see in calling a judge 'Your Honor.' The only problem is, Jesus said not to. In this case, as in so many others, the gospel contended against Rome, and, in the long run, Rome prevailed.

On its face this verse legislates against Roman Catholic practice, as do many others. Their practice establishes rank. Jesus' instructions to His people generally run against hierarchy: "The guiding rule for a follower of Jesus is to avoid high rank: 'For everyone lifting himself up will be abased, and anyone abasing himself will be lifted up' (Lk. 14.11). There could not be a clearer injunction against hierarchy of any kind. 'The last will be first, the first will be last.'" (Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant, p. 45). Eventually the Roman Catholic church would embrace hierarchy, borrowing from the gnostics their division of the church into the 'perfect' and the hearers: "The order of those made perfect is that of the monks who live a single-minded life. Thus, our own hierarchy is blessedly and harmoniously divided into orders in accordance with divine revelation and therefore deploys the same sequence as the hierarchies of heaven." (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Chapter Six, III,  Section 5, p. 248).

At this, Roman Catholics begin tallying up those who have called someone, whether their own biological male parent or another, 'father.' There are several such, for instance Elisha, who said, evidently to the departing Elijah, “And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, 'My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!'” (2 Kings 2:12). The Roman Catholic categorical imperative runs, it would seem, 'If anyone has at any time done anything, whether this behavior is described in the Bible or outside the Bible, Jesus cannot have intended to legislate against this behavior, because this would mean He expected people to do something other than what they already were doing.' Jesus, to the contrary, finds Himself competent to tell the people new things: "Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery." (Matthew 5:31-32).

There is no instance in the New Testament of a minister addressed by his congregation as 'father.' There are, however, analogies drawn by authors who describe their relation to those they have mentored in the faith as like to that between a father and his child. Roman Catholics assume therefrom that these teachers also demanded to be addressed as 'father.' Do they assume likewise that Paul asked his students to call him 'Mommy,' because he likens himself not only to a father...but to their mother?: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you." (Galatians 4:19-20). Nor do I think it likely Jesus wants His followers to address Him as 'Clucky the Hen,' because He likens Himself to a mother hen gatherings her chicks under her wings: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37). So I think there is a meaningful difference between likening oneself to something, and demanding to be addressed as if one were that thing. Isn't it simpler to obey, rather than to search out Philadelphia lawyer style exceptions and exemptions?

Whom might Jesus have had in mind as the likely culprits? Who was guilty of this offense? Who in that world applied the title 'father' to benefactors generally? The Romans were ever calling those who had given patriotic service 'the father of his country.' As already noticed, there were numerous 'fathers' by legal and customary title in that society, over and above biological ones. Augustus Caesar had the title permanently applied to him, as a matter of law: ". . .and he also received the title of Father, with binding force (for previously he was merely spoken of by that name and no decree had been passed." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 55, Chapter 10). When Julius Caesar was saluted as king, he refused the title, explaining, "He answered that Jupiter alone was king of the Romans and sent the diadem to him to the Capitol, yet he was not angry and caused it to be inscribed in the records that the royalty presented to him by the people through the consul he had refused to receive." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 44, Chapter 11). This was good answer, too bad that it was not sincere. Perhaps Jesus was concerned about this bad habit bleeding over into Judaea and Galilee.

Even the pagan peoples could realize that God was a better father than the rapacious step-fathers who came forward only to steal the inheritance. Upon a change in emperors, the crowd cried out, ". . .they uttered many lamentations, asserting that they alone of all mankind were destitute of a leader, destitute of a king; and they invoked the name of Jupiter, declaring that he alone should be their leader and uttering aloud these words: 'As a master thou wert angry, as a father take pity on us.' . . .But they stretched out their arms toward the sky and exclaimed:. . .'this is the Roman Augustus: having him we have all!'" (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 79, Chapter 20).

According to the Bible, 'Father' is God's name: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. . ." (Ephesians 3:14-15). Caesar Augustus noticed the throng of 'fathers' had something it common with his own exalted self, the father of his country: "Therefore, men,— for you alone may properly be called men,— and fathers,— for you are worthy to hold this title like myself,— I love you and I praise you for this. . ." (Augustus Caesar, addressing the married men, quoted in Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 56, Chapter 2). Augustus holds out to the unmarried men the promise that they can share in 'his' title: "How could I any longer be rightfully named your father, if you rear no children?. . .Thus you may yourselves share this title and also render me well named." (Augustus Caesar, quoted in Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 56, Chapter 9). Actually it's the other way around, properly it's a divine title, and it doesn't belong to a tyrant at all. Not only did the pagan Romans over-apply God's name of 'Father,' but they actually addressed priests as 'father,' as seen above, just like Roman Catholics do.

Before the gospel call ever rang out through its streets, pagan Rome already had well-defined traditions respecting its religious establishment, for instance that the body of the priesthood was a closed, self-governing corporation: "The priesthoods, — particularly those politically most important, the colleges of men of lore — according to ancient custom filled up the vacancies in their own ranks, and nominated also their own presidents, where these corporations had presidents at all; and in fact, for such institutions destined to transmit the knowledge of divine things from generation to generation, the only form of election in keeping with their spirit was cooptation." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Book III, Chapter XI, Kindle location 15016). When the form of church institutions, the 'clergy' in this case, starts to change, from an original form in the New Testament going back to synagogue precedent which is quite different, to a completed form which however looks very much like what was the normal way of doing business in pagan Rome, then one must ask whether the ongoing process is following an internal logic, or the promptings of the Holy Spirit, or is simply a process of acculturation, whereby the church ends up conformed to the (pagan) world around it.

Upon this Rock

"Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'" (Matthew 16:17-19).

To hear Roman Catholics tell it, Jesus was talking, not to Peter standing there right in front of him, but to their bishop, whoever he may happen to be at the time! Just as the Dalai Lama is always the same individual, though in different reincarnations, the bishop of Rome is always 'Peter.' This popular interpretation makes this verse one of the foundation-stones of the modern Roman Catholic system.

Modern-day bishops of Rome make astonishing claims, assuring the public they possess more than merely human faculties, including the ability to speak infallibly. The modern Catholic apologetic enterprise presents these claims, not as an embarrassment, but as a main selling point of their religion. Scriptural arguments which are at best suggestive, like the 'Peter is the Rock' formulation, are pushed forward aggressively as if they were water-tight proofs. What could be better than inspiration on demand? Consult the Bible book of Judges to see the inconveniences that follow upon waiting for God to inspire and raise up leaders. So why wait?

But how credible are these claims? Does history confirm them?:

New Testament Fathers Know Best
Upon this Rock Heretic Popes
Popes in Hell Beatific Vision
Renaissance Popes Anders Behring Breivik
The Pope

Water cannot rise above its own level, and Peter, according to Augustine, was a Judaizer:

"Just as no one is so insane as to set himself up as surpassing the merits of the Apostle Peter, because, taught by the epistles of the Apostle Paul, and confirmed by the custom of the Church herself, he does not compel the Gentiles to Judaize, as Peter once had done." (Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book IV, Chapter 6, Section 9).

If the Bishop of Rome were the successor of Peter,— and there is no reason to suppose he was ever designated as any such thing, certainly no contemporary observer describes him like that,— then how did he inherit an infallibility that, according to Augustine, Peter himself never possessed?

The history of Rome is long, but also chaotic. During its Christian experience, the city has been both mistress of the world and also back-water. The victorious barbarians depopulated the once-great city. However compelling the arguments for the pre-eminence among the churches of the mistress of the world (and this was the beginning of the Roman bishop's rise to power), the same arguments can hardly 'work' for the back-water. Nor have the popes always been at Rome. The bishops did not remain in the city whose purported connection to Peter is their claim to fame, but removed to Avignon for a time, leaving any connection between the medieval institution of the papacy and the city of Rome tenuous and hypothetical.

From the earliest times, even after the rise of the monarchical bishop, popes and anti-popes have abounded at Rome. Three bishops were serving in office at the same time, when a church council, the Council of Constance, found itself unable to sort them out and so started over. The importance of the bishop of Rome began inflating along with Rome's immense secular standing, but then Rome fell. Reversing field, the power of the popes grew upon the power vacuum in the West. Now they were feeding on Rome's weakness, not her strength. Realizing that keeping the secular power weak was in their interest, though not in the interest of Europe, the popes acted in their interest.

In spite of all the changes this city and this institution have undergone, Roman Catholic apologists see a continuity other, weaker eyes cannot. Both prince and prelate, his claims first founded on forgery,— a 'Donation of Constantine' which bequeathed to him the whole world,— the bishop of Rome made himself into a 'Wizard of Oz' figure. This historical oddity, the papacy, is nevertheless still viewed by Roman Catholic apologists as a positive.

But in historic fact, the popes are responsible for some of the great crimes of history, including the Albigensian Crusade. Those who wish to defend this system must explain how possession of a reliably God-inspired oracle turned out so poorly. To judge by results, this institution is of merely human origin and inspiration.

Early church interpretation of this passage does not confirm the later Roman Catholic understanding. For instance, Origen takes it for granted that the reference cannot be to one individual, much less to a purported successor:

"But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, “Upon this rock I will build My church”? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them?. . .And if any one says this to Him, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto Him but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was." (Origen, A Commentary on Matthew, Book 12, Chapter 11, ECF_0_10, p. 765).

This exegesis is not 'Protestant,' but one possible unbiased interpretation.

Where the Spirit Is

"For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 24.1).

How might we ascertain where the Spirit is and where He is not? The Shepherd of Hermas, a book Catholics like, offers a helpful answer:

“'How then, sir,' say I, 'will a man know which of them is the prophet, and which the false prophet?' 'I will tell you,' says he, 'about both the prophets, and then you can try the true and the false prophet according to my directions. Try the man who has the Divine Spirit by his life. First, he who has the Divine Spirit proceeding from above is meek, and peaceable, and humble, and refrains from all iniquity and the vain desire of this world, and contents himself with fewer wants than those of other men. . .Thus, then, will the Spirit of Divinity become manifest. Whatever power therefore comes from the Spirit of Divinity belongs to the Lord. Hear, then,' says he, 'in regard to the spirit which is earthly, and empty, and powerless, and foolish. First, the man who seems to have the Spirit exalts himself, and wishes to have the first seat, and is bold, and impudent, and talkative, and lives in the midst of many luxuries and many other delusions, and takes rewards for his prophecy; and if he does not receive rewards, he does not prophesy. Can, then, the Divine Spirit take rewards and prophesy? It is not possible that the prophet of God should do this, but prophets of this character are possessed by an earthly spirit.'”

(Shepherd of Hermas, Book Second, Commandment Eleventh).

LogoIt need hardly be pointed out that this rules out the luxurious Renaissance popes, men who included in their number murderers, adulterers and possibly even a homosexual. Who could dare to insist the Holy Spirit must inhabit such unclean vessels?

The Temple of the Lord, The Temple of the Lord

When Jeremiah warned his compatriots of judgment to come, they weren't worried, because they trusted that God would never abandon His own temple:

"Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these. . . But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not; Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh." (Jeremiah 7:4-14).

They trusted in vain. They misunderstood God's promise; He had not bound Himself to a particular place or people in such a way that, no matter what they did, He would never leave them. John the Baptist likewise warned his compatriots of judgment, telling them,

"Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Luke 3:8).

The church has likewise been warned of the danger of apostasy:

"Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (Revelation 2:5).

In fact the church of Rome itself is warned, in the letter addressed to this church, that her branch can be broken off:

That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off." (Romans 11:20-22).

Jesus promised to be with the church till the end of time: ". . .and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:20). Roman Catholics interpret this promise just as did Jeremiah's hearers, and just as did John the Baptist's: that God is bound to a particular group of people, residing at a particular spot (or at Avignon maybe), regardless of what they do. They misunderstand, and they fail to hear the warnings. There is no group of people given this kind of blanket immunity, so that God is tied to them unconditionally. Rather, God is with His church, whoever they may be. He will make up His jewels from the stones on the ground if need be.


Where did the idea of purgatory come from? Not from the Bible: "Purgatory is an idea that is found in many religions (also in Greek and Roman literature, in Plato and Virgil), but not in the Old or New Testament Scriptures..." (Hans Kung, Eternal Life?, p. 137). Augustine offers the idea as speculation:

“And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it.”

(Augustine, Enchiridion, Chapter 69).

LogoThe matter is "doubtful" in that scripture nowhere teaches these things. It's no accident the pagan poet Virgil guided Dante through purgatory, a foreign territory to any Bible author:

"Therefore they undergo the discipline of punishments and pay In penance for old sins: some hang full length to the empty winds, for some the stain of wrong is washed by floods or burned away by fire. We suffer each his own shade. We are sent through wide Elysium, where a few abide in happy lands, till the long day, the round of Time fulfilled, has worn our stains away, leaving the soul's heaven-sent perception clear, the fire from heaven pure." (Virgil, The Aeneid, Book VI, 994-1002).

Those western Latin-speakers who believed in remedial post-mortem punishments were simply continuing to believe what their pagan grand-parents had believed. The history of the Roman church can seem at times the story of how Rome triumphed over Christianity. Just as Nikita Krushchev said, 'We will bury you,' meaning 'we will outlast you, we will be left standing in the end,' so beliefs like purgatory persisted though without Biblical foundation.

The early church theologian Origen refined this persisting pagan expectation into a vision of hell which was remedial, not punitive, whose fires only refined and purified. It was natural for Origen, a Platonist, to see, or to think he saw, what was already familiar to him in the Biblical teachings about death, and every Platonist was familiar with the idea of post-mortem correction: "But the others receive judgment when they have completed their first life, and after the judgment they go, some of them to the houses of correction which are under the earth, and are punished; others to some place in heaven whither they are lightly borne by justice, and there they live in a manner worthy of the life which they led here when in the form of men." (Plato, Phaedrus, 249). These Platonic post-mortem "houses of correction" were intended to purify the inmates and remedy their imperfections; the course of punishment did not stretch on forever. Catholics liked his idea so much that, while they discarded Origen's universalism, they added his purgatorial hell to the real thing and came up with their composite system.

Some Catholics, however, believe they find Purgatory in 1 Corinthians 3:13:

"Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

However, the "day" of verse 13 is the Day of Judgment, not the day of each individual's death. There is a long and regrettable tradition in Catholic thought of individualizing and scattering eschatological references, scaling these cosmic events down from their Biblical unfolding upon the stage of the universe to the personal death-bed of each individual. The Day of Judgment is, in the Bible, a world-ending event; it does not re-occur every moment saint or sinner dies. Though Catholics have never ceased to recite the Nicene Creed with its promise that "He shall come again with glory," the theme of the second coming is today rarely heard in Catholic preaching. From this change of focus comes the possibility of interpreting a verse like 1 Corinthians 3:13 as referring to an ongoing process subsequent to every single person's death.

Paul tells us that some people, though saved, will find the fire of the Day harrowing. Some will slink into Paradise as if through a side door, scorched air still clinging to their garments. Some people will barely make it, because their works were of no account. How do the defenders of 'faith plus works' handle the situation here described, of saved people who presented no works that stood the test of fire? The invention of purgatory solves an otherwise insoluble problem for the 'faith plus works' theory and allows sinners to stream into the Kingdom. But it remains an invention. Better to correct the underlying error.

The Lord comes in judgment with fire:

"The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him." (Nahum 1:5-6).

Popular Catholic thought portrayed purgatory as a place of fire for many centuries. Modern defenders substitute a minimalist formulation, retreating from any 'where' or 'when.' The Day of Judgment, on the other hand, is undeniably a spatio-temporal event. Thomas even tells us where it will happen:

"On the contrary, It is written (Joel 3:2):
“I will gather together all nations and will bring them down into the valley of Josaphat, and I will plead with them there.”
[...]"— I answer that, We cannot know with any great certainty the manner in which this judgment will take place, nor how men will gather together to the place of judgment; but it may be gathered from Scripture that in all probability He will descend in the neighborhood of Mount Olivet, even as He ascended from there, so as to show that He who descends is the same as He who ascended." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement to the Third Part, Question 88, 'Whether the judgment will take place in the valley of Josaphat?', P(4)-Q(88)-A(4)).

This is a real event, and a Biblical event. Keeping in mind when and where the fire is will forestall creative interpretations of 1 Corinthians.

Sow the Wind

In recent years the Roman Catholic Church has bought into the same liberal Bible interpretation which has desolated so many main-line Protestant churches. They imagine this draught which proved toxic to others will be to them instead an invigorating tonic. Even seeing strewn about them the carcasses of dying Protestant churches who drank this lethal poison, they continue. Will liberalism work its church-emptying magic here as elsewhere?

The liberals read the Bible in a primitivizing fashion, finding therein all manner of gross theological error. The New Jerome Bible Commentary finds even polytheism...in the Bible!:

  • "The heavenly court is the Israelite equivalent of the ancient Near Eastern pantheon..." (Psalm 89).
  • "In Israel explicit monotheism is probably to be dated to the 6th cent. The Psalter contains several references to gods other than Yahweh...To 'attribute glory and might' to Yahweh here may mean to acknowledge his royal supremacy among the gods." (Psalm 29).
  • "In the ancient Near Eastern view the human world was ruled by the supreme deity in concert with lesser gods." (Psalm 58)."
  • (New Jerome Bible Commentary).

The New Jerome Bible Commentary is a highly respected Roman Catholic production. Needless to say, this is not how the early church viewed these psalms.

These liberal Roman Catholic commentators reach back to the early gnostics and anti-Christian polemicists like Porphyry, who argued that the correct interpretation of the Bible is polytheistic: if the 'other' or 'strange' gods are not real gods, then of whom is God 'jealous'? These commentators reject the early church writers' counter-protest that the Bible's 'other' gods are spurious.

Is this Biblical? How many gods are known to the Bible, anyway? Only One:

How Many Gods?

How many Gods?

Only One God Henotheism
What did the pagan polytheists believe? Witnesses
Finis Jennings Dake Origen
Who are they?

Who are the "other gods"?

Strange Gods Gods of Wood and Stone
Is a 'fake rose' a rose? Worship Him!
Counterfeit Bills Dark Matter
None Like Thee So-called Gods
God of this World Moses
El Stars
Prince of Tyre Psalm 82
Lower than the Angels Before the gods
Only One God

Only One God

Worship One One Jehovah One God

Ye are Gods

Does Psalm 82 report an assembly of pagan gods in the heavenlies,— a privy 'council' of lesser divinities,— to whom the chief god said "Let us make man"? Do the 'fathers know best,' or the modern liberals?

"For it begins, "God stood in the synagogue of gods" (ver. 1). Far however be it from us to understand by these Gods the gods of the Gentiles, or idols, or any creature in heaven or earth except men; for a little after this verse the same Psalm relates and explains what Gods it means in whose synagogue God stood, where it says, "I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High: but ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." In the synagogue of these children of the Most High, of whom the same Most High said by the mouth of Isaiah, "I have begotten sons and brought them up, but they despised Me," stood God. By the synagogue we understand the people of Israel...But I think that the Psalm intimates something that took place at a particular time, by God's standing in the congregation of gods..."God," therefore, "stood in the congregation of gods;" that is, He who said of Himself, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The cause too is mentioned; "but in the midst, to judge of the gods."..." (Augustine, Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm 82).
Ye are Gods

The bishops of the fourth century stood their ground on the foundation-stone that there can be only one God, because the Bible knows of only one. Yet modern liberal Roman Catholic Bible scholars have rejected their understanding, finding all manner of 'gods' in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, Roman Catholics are obliged to accept the conclusion that these fourth century bishops drew from their monotheist starting-point: that God is triune. Though they disbelieve the premise, they still accept the conclusion that follows logically therefrom,— because fourth century bishops, who accepted the now discounted premise, drew from it the correct conclusion!

It is not possible to read the Bible as do these modern Catholics, and also share the high view of scripture held by Bible students of the past like Leo the Great:

"And although we may not in a single word dissent from the teaching of the Gospels and Apostles, nor entertain any opinion on the Divine Scriptures different to what the blessed Apostles and our Fathers learnt and taught, now in these latter days unlearned and blasphemous inquiries are set on foot, which of old the Holy Spirit crushed by the disciples of the Truth, so soon as the devil aroused them in hearts which were suited to his purpose." (Leo the Great, Letters, Letter 82 to Marcian Augustus, Section 1).

The modern teachers who prepared the New Jerome Bible Commentary do make bold to "dissent" in more than "a single word" from the teachings of the Bible: they impute polytheism to the Psalms, but they are not polytheists. Thus they dissent, in a major doctrine, from the Bible, as they interpret it. The 'Catholic' church is 'catholic' no more; they do not teach what has been believed at all times, but modern novelties such as the liberty to dissent from the Bible.

To see what depths of apostasy modern Roman Catholic Bible interpretation leads to, read Reza Aslan, who is closely dependent upon these authors. This young man's problem is that he believed what he was taught; does he even still believe a local council held at Hippo canonized the New Testament in 398 A.D.? (p. 230, Zealot, Reza Aslan). He even still believes that Peter was the first bishop of Rome: "Peter's role as the first bishop of Rome and his status as the chief apostle made him the ideal figure upon which to base the authority of the Roman Church." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 218). Here is Peter's announcement that he is going to Rome!: "And he departed and went to another place." (Acts 12:17). . ."in which Peter, before being forced to flee from Jerusalem, tells John Mark to inform James of his departure to Rome." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 308). Perhaps the Roman Catholics think that debunking the Bible is the perfect antidote to Sola Scriptura, but all they are producing is this wasteland:

Reserved for Sedition Conspiracy Theory
Reimarus Name That Zealot
The Messiah Mythology
Ancient Literacy Prophecy Impossible
Apollonius of Tyana Sic et Non
Judge Judy The Census
The Vineyard The Third Day
Contradictions: Bible vs. Koran

This strange blend of credulity and skepticism is distinctly characteristic of the Roman Catholic contribution to the genre of Bible-debunking literature so popular today. Another example: the second century pagan polemicist Celsus ridiculed the Christians of his day for their cross obsession:

“And in all their writings (is mention made) of the tree of life, and a resurrection of the flesh by means of the ‘tree,’ because, I imagine, their teacher was nailed to a cross, and was a carpenter by craft; so that if he had chanced to have been cast from a precipice, or thrust into a pit, or suffocated by hanging, or had been a leather-cutter, or stone-cutter, or worker in iron, there would have been (invented) a precipice of life beyond the heavens, or a pit of resurrection, or a cord of immortality, or a blessed stone, or an iron of love, or a sacred leather! Now what old woman would not be ashamed to utter such things in a whisper, even when making stories to lull an infant to sleep?” (Celsus, On True Doctrine, quoted in Origen's 'Against Celsus,' Book 6, Chapter 34, p. 1164 ANF_0_04).

Celsus is a bit confused, though perhaps he had heard a sermon in which the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was taken for a type of the cross. To be sure, had Jesus suffered capital punishment in another form, Christian rhetoric would need tweaking. But one popular modern Catholic author has discovered that no one much cared about the cross before Constantine's mother Helena discovered the True Cross:

"To him [Eusebius], the Resurrection is what counts. He has no interest in Golgotha, site of the crucifixion. As for the True Cross — like most Christians, he'd have regarded it as a token of shame, not an object to be sought out and revered." (James Carroll, Constantine's Sword, p. 198).

It is certainly true the early Christians did not display the foolish fondness for mislabelled items in boxes that would later appear, but there has never been a time Christians have not said, with Paul, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2), and "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Galatians 6:14). Constantine, the first nominally Christian emperor, was a magnet for legends and even outright forgeries like the 'Donation of Constantine' so important to the expansion of the medieval papacy. Our author realizes the story of Constantine's mother Helena discovering the True Cross is a bit 'iffy,' and indeed has no real place in a book advertised as history, but he can't let go of it, because his mother taught him these fables, and his long trail of tears commenced upon his expulsion from the womb:

"It would be years before my understanding could match that feeling — the grief I'd felt from the moment I left my mother's womb, a grief that, since I was no longer hers she was already no longer mine. This is he slap from which we never recover. . ." (James Carroll. Constantine's Sword, p. 158).

How strange that all of human history should pivot around an event that never even happened! A true, if aging, flower child, our author is convinced his own personal reactions and experiences are endlessly fascinating and immeasurably important, though understandably the reader cannot follow him in this. This habit of swallowing camels and straining at gnats is characteristic of modern Roman Catholic Bible-denigrating literature, which combines contempt for the Bible with utter credulity for very unlikely ideas, for instance that from the earliest days, people mistook the Bishop of Rome for Peter the fisherman. One is hard pressed to imagine what motivates an author like this; it seems these people's fondest dream is, not to create, not to build, but to wreck what others have built.

This author's excuse for the long and sordid history of Roman Catholic antisemitism is 'He made us do it:' i.e., the New Testament, which Roman Catholic research has ascertained to be a tissue of lies, must be tossed out, so that their penultimate antisemitic accomplishment will be to still the voice of the Jewish Jesus. One could go on with examples, but the general tendency is plain. Liberalism has emptied out the Protestant 'mainline' churches; whether it also desolates the Roman Catholic Church, or only creates monsters, remains to be seen.

Why Roman Catholic parents are willing to sacrifice their children to the Moloch of their church's educational system is beyond me:

Once and for All

"For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself." (Hebrews 7:26-27).
"For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation." (Hebrews 9:24-28).

LogoThough the Bible says that the Lord was sacrificed once and for all, that's not enough for some: "The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: 'The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.' 'In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.'" (1367, Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Another relevant verse is Daniel 9:27,

"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. . .And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." Daniel 9:25-27).

Catholic author Girolamo Savonarola concedes this verse refers to Christ,

"Therefore Daniel says, "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'week'." This means, that Christ would, by His death and His preaching, along with that of His Apostles, confirm the covenant of the New Testament. This was not to all, (because all would not believe), but to many in one week; the last week, "In the middle of the 'week' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering" because in the middle of this week Jesus Christ was crucified." (Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross, Book 4, Chapter 5).

The prophecy does not say one sacrifice will be replaced with another recurring sacrifice, but that an end will be put to sacrifice. In a similar vein, the author of Hebrews explains the ultimate futility of the daily offerings of the priesthood:

"And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:.." (Hebrews 10:11).

In time, the developing Catholic church would come to understand their elders, the presbyters (a Biblical office), as correlates to the Old Testament priesthood. Is it not apparent that the author of Hebrews does not share this understanding? He does not seek to differentiate between the priesthood of the New Covenant, of which he would have had no concept at all, and the priesthood of the Old Covenant, but lays all priests, "every priest," under the same condemnation of futility, that of offering up the same sacrifice "which can never take away sins." If communion is a sacrifice as the catechism claims, and if those offering it are priests, then the author of Hebrews has neatly discredited the Catholic system by pointing out that these daily offerings "can never take away sins." Any priestly, sacerdotal understanding of the Lord's Supper must therefore postdate the letter to Hebrews.

Authority Figures

Roman Catholics claim to regard early church writers as authoritative. Protestants by contrast do not regard these believers as having any special privileges over other believers, but quote their writings for their value as historical evidence, and for the hit-or-miss insights you will find on browsing the shelves of any Christian book-store. Often enough the views of the earliest church writers are closer to evangelical opinion than to modern Roman Catholic teaching. Take, for example, premillenialism — the expectation that Christ's Second Coming will occur at the start of the "thousand years" of Revelation Chapter 20, rather than at its close:

"But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 80-81).
"Observe, children, what 'he finished in six days' means. It means this: that in six thousand years the Lord will bring everything to an end, for with him a day signifies a thousand years...'And he rested on the seventh day.' This means: when his Son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one and will judge the ungodly and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day." (The Epistle of Barnabas, 15:4-5).
"And then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and 'will perform signs and wonders'...And 'then there will appear the signs' of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead — but not of all, rather, as it has been said, 'The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.' Then the world 'will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.'" (Didache 16:6-8).
"But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that 'many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 30.4).
"But He, when He shall have destroyed unrighteousness, and executed His great judgment, and shall have recalled to life the righteous, who have lived from the beginning, will be engaged among men a thousand years, and will rule them with most just command." (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book 7, Chapter 24).

Later this early view would be denounced as the heresy of 'Chiliasm.' The Roman Catholic Church prefers Augustine's fifth century system of prophecy as set forth in 'The City of God' to the early church belief — while also claiming to regard these early writers as authoritative! Shouldn't it be the other way around: with evangelicals embracing the daring, but Biblical, later theory, while Roman Catholics hold to solid early precedent? It would seem that Roman Catholics regard these writers as authoritative,— when they agree with them!

Of course it is no mere coincidence that Baptist churches look more like the early church than does the Roman Catholic Church. By deliberate policy these churches model themselves after the church of the apostles. They resemble the church of the early Christian centuries when that church persevered in the apostles' way. They reject the usages of the church of the first few centuries, such as the monarchical bishop, when those usages depart from the practice of the apostles. They reject innovation, in other words. In the New Testament, 'bishops' and 'presbyters (elders)' are the same thing. These two offices had diverged by the time of Ignatius; following the apostles requires abandonment of this innovation. It is astonishing how few 'Roman Catholic apologists' realize this; they persist in the strange belief that Baptists, who model themselves after the New Testament church, are nothing like it, but are some sort of modernists, whereas they imagine their own church, filled with innovations that only developed during medieval times, must be exactly like the New Testament model which they long ago abandoned. How can you keep innovating: embracing novel ideas like the Immaculate Conception, transubstantiation, Marian visitations and other unheard-of things,— and still be exactly the same as you were before you introduced all these innovations?

The trouble with church 'fathers,' councils and other extra-Biblical sources of information is that they provide an embarrassment of riches. Which church council to believe: the "blasphemous" Synod of Ariminum with its Arian confession, or Nicaea? The Synod of Hieria which condemned idolatry...or the 'ecumenical council' of Second Nicaea which established it? Best to go with God and His word, the Bible, and formulations of merely human inspiration only insofar as they accord with that original: "Whether it is suitable for the Articles of Faith to be embodied in a Creed?...The truth of faith is spread throughout Holy Writ, under various modes of expression, and sometimes obscurely, so that, in order to gather the truth of faith from Holy Writ, one needs long study and practice, which are unattainable by all those who require to know the truth of faith, many of whom have no time for study, being busy with other affairs. And so it was necessary to gather together a clear summary from the sayings of Holy Writ, to be proposed to the belief of all. This indeed was no addition to Holy Writ, but something taken from it." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II of Second Part, Question 1, Article 9).

Thomas offers a prudent caution in his 'Questions on Truth:'

“We believe the prophets and apostles because the Lord has been their witness by performing miracles, as Mark (16:20) says: '...and confirming the word with signs that followed.' And we believe the successors of the apostles and prophets only in so far as they tell us those things which the apostles and prophets have left in their writings.” (Thomas Aquinas, On Truth, Question 14, Article X, Answers to Difficulties 11.).

It is an excellent idea to believe the successors of the apostles and prophets only thus far.

Forbidding to Marry

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

Roman Catholic priests are 'forbidden to marry,' though the ministers of the early church were commonly expected to be married:

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);..." (1 Timothy 3:2-5). Paul, though he did not exercise it, insists he had the "right" to marry: "My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?" (1 Corinthians 9:3-6).

Catholics retort that their ministers are not 'forbidden to marry,' but freely undertake a voluntary discipline. Those not called to celibacy can freely volunteer...not to be ministers. This confronts God with an obstinate human will. A man called by God to the ministry cannot exercise that calling if married. What a loss it would be if Peter had been disqualified from the ministry, by human whim. He had a mother-in-law:

"And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever." (Matthew 8:14).

As noted in 1 Corinthians 9, Peter continued to travel about with his wife in his Christian ministry.

During the time-frame when this discipline was enacted, the Catholic church was in competition with gnostic groups. These groups often had a celibate class, the 'perfect,' and gained prestige from this structure; the public in those days was impressed by asceticism. This discipline would seem to be a case of keeping up with the Joneses. Instead of trying to outdo the gnostics, the church should focus on its own calling and follow the instructions it was given.


“Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (Council of Trent, DS 1642, quoted Catechism 1376).

Wow, did Jesus actually say that: 'I am offering my body under the species of bread'? Well, not exactly. . .

Bible Background History
Substance and Accidents Literally Speaking
Thomas Aquinas Bishop Berkeley
Vines and Branches Fathers Know Best
Figure Where is it?
The Mouse and the Dog Part and Whole
Eternal Life Miracle Sign
Failure to Communicate

"For in respect of His majesty, His providence, His ineffable and invisible grace, His own words are fulfilled, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” But in respect of the flesh He assumed as the Word, in respect of that which He was as the son of the Virgin, of that wherein He was seized by the Jews, nailed to the tree, let down from the cross, enveloped in a shroud, laid in the sepulcher, and manifested in His resurrection, “ye will not have Him always.” And why? Because in respect of His bodily presence He associated for forty days with His disciples, and then, having brought them forth for the purpose of beholding and not of following Him, He ascended into heaven and is no longer here. He is there, indeed, sitting at the right hand of the Father; and He is here also, having never withdrawn the presence of His glory. In other words, in respect of His divine presence we always have Christ; in respect of His presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples, “Me ye will not have always.” In this respect the Church enjoyed His presence only for a few days: now it possesses Him by faith, without seeing Him with the eyes."

(Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 50, Section 13).

LogoThis deservedly controversial doctrine is distinctive to the Roman Catholic Church and remains a cause of division and scandal.

On the Altar

Thomas' monumental life work, building upon his predecessor Albertus Magnus, synthesized Christianity with Aristotle's philosophy. Many had thought this couldn't be done; the pagan philosopher Aristotle, after all, believed in the eternity of the universe versus the Biblical doctrine of creation; he doubted the soul's ability to survive separation from the body, endangering the Christian doctrine of the 'intermediate state;' moreover, in some of his writings, Aristotle's first god would seem to be. . .a really big sphere. Thomas forged on through all these difficulties, crafting a purported conflict between 'reason' and 'faith' (Aristotle = reason, Bible = faith), and patched the thing together. The resulting 'theory of everything' proved irresistible to many. But as Martin Luther complained,

"It is false to say that no one can become a theologian without Aristotle. I state this in opposition to common opinion." (Martin Luther, 'Disputation Against Scholastic Theology,' No. 43).

How, indeed, can anyone compel a Christian to believe in the philosophy of an unregenerate pagan like Aristotle? There are many competing schools of philosophy; some doubt them all. Why is this one to be made obligatory for Christians? But the manifest outrage of demanding that all Christians follow Aristotle did not stop Pope Leo XIII from so doing:

 Pope Leo XIII 
Aeterni Patris

Thomas' unified theory of everything, founded on two pillars, the Bible and Aristotle, satisfied the Roman Catholic Church's Promethean ambition to stock within its storehouse the answers to all questions. Unfortunately, this project resembles the misbegotten venture of legend, of yoking a cart to two horses, one of them immortal, the other mortal. The venture goes splendidly at first, while the mortal horse charges forward, displaying all the vigor of youth. But after a while the immortal horse must add to its other chores the task of dragging around a decaying carcass. With Aristotle drafted into the fold, the church could answer those who wondered whether matter was continuously divisible or whether it might at some level resolve itself into discrete packets, i.e. atoms. The answer was, indefinitely divisible. How did this answer become part of the lawful patrimony of the church? The Bible nowhere addresses this physical question, the apostles did not touch upon this topic in their teaching. But that was Aristotle's answer. Giordano Bruno thought otherwise; he was burned at the stake, at least in small part owing to this departure from Aristotelian physics. While Giordano Bruno was a pantheist, certainly Galileo Galilei held no heterodox theological opinions; yet merely for discrediting Aristotelian physical science, he was held under house arrest. What a Faustian bargain the Roman Catholic Church struck: it acquired the answers to all questions, but many of them,— in particular, those contributed by Aristotle,— turned out to be wrong.

Aristotle reacted against his predecessor, the pagan philosopher Plato, who thought only the soul could perceive what was most real, and that there was something shabby, second-rate and derivative about the physical world. Aristotle thought that what was real must be physical. But Thomas carved out an exception, allowing non-material entities like the Christian God, angels, and a human soul with sufficient independent subsistence to survive the 'intermediate state' between death and the resurrection in the flesh. Since he was willing to allow exceptions to Aristotle's equation of the real with the physical where Christian doctrine required, he should have likewise understood real communion need not involve a physical change. Why insist on this equation at this point, when it has been abandoned already elsewhere?

To make matters worse, once the Christian gospel had been translated into Aristotelian psychology,— where 'virtue' is a 'habit,' etc.— some could no longer hear in this new language the gospel proclamation, the story of the sinner who "was lost, and is found," (Luke 15:32). The Aristotelian recasting struck some as backwards:

"We do not become righteous by doing good deeds. Rather, having been made righteous, we then do good deeds. I state this in opposition to the philosophers." (Martin Luther, 'Disputation Against Scholastic Theology,' No. 40).

Martin Luther honed in like a laser on those novelties of doctrine and practice which had Thomas' finger-prints on them, like indulgences. He must have thought they would not go to the wall over Thomas, they would not create a schism for the sake of this one man. He was wrong:

"But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the 'Summa' of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration." (Pope Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, Section 22).

They willingly put the text upon the altar which had to be upon the altar for Martin Luther to be condemned as a heretic. But why did the pagan Aristotle, identified as 'reason' in this tome, belong on any Christian altar? The intervening centuries have not burnished Aristotle's image, nor explained why everyone who wants to be a Christian must adopt his psychology nor his anti-democratic political science. At least they've given up on his astronomy.

What ultimately is wrong with baptizing Aristotle? It adds to God's word. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day sought to put a hedge around the law. Because the law did not lay down every little detail,— exactly how far you can walk on the sabbath, for instance,— they helpfully invented rules spelling everything out. But Jesus did not praise them for taking the trouble, he demanded to know why they bound heavy burdens which went beyond what was laid out by scripture: "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." (Matthew 23:4). In like vein, why do Catholics think they can legislate Aristotelianism when not all Christians are Aristotelians? Bishop Berkeley was a devout Christian, yet he invented an extreme form of idealism. Who's to say he wasn't free to do that? One can criticize his philosophy, which is very odd, but not his commitment to Christ. He actually thought he was rescuing philosophy from God-denying materialism when he invented his system.

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for adding to God's word, because God's word did not command any of those things they added in their zeal: "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Mark 7:7). Why then did Pope Leo have the right to make one school of philosophy mandatory for Catholics, when there are many schools which might attract adherents if the matter is left in the same freedom in which God's word leaves it?


In the early centuries of the church, baptism was by immersion:

"This grace was not in part, but His power was in full perfection; for as he who plunges into the waters and is baptized is encompassed on all sides by the waters, so were they also baptized completely by the Holy Ghost." (Cyril of Jerusalem, The Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 17:14).

In some cases triple immersion:

"After these things, ye were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulcher which is before our eyes And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and ye made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ." (Cyril of Jerusalem, The Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 20:4).

"And as regards emerging in baptism, I know not why it came upon you to ask, if you have accepted that immersion fulfills the figure of the three days. For it is impossible to be baptized three times without emerging as often." (Basil the Great, Letter CCXXXVI, p. 201, Loeb edition, St. Basil, The Letters, Volume III.)

This was so as late as Leo the Great: ". . .for in the baptismal office death ensues through the slaying of sin, and threefold immersion imitates the lying in the tomb three days, and the raising out of the water is like Him that rose again from the tomb." (Leo the Great, Letters, Letter 16, To The Bishops of Sicily, Section IV.) Immersion maintains the similitude with death, without which there is no rebirth.

The fifth century author who wrote under the by-line of 'Dionysius the Areopagite,'— fooling no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas,— knows of baptism by triple immersion with triple invocation: "Then the priests guide the man to the water and there he is handed over to the hierarch who, standing on a more elevated spot, immerses three times the initiate whose name is called out across the water by the priests to the hierarch with each immersion. Each time the initiate is plunged into the water and emerges, the hierarch invokes the three persons of the divine blessedness." (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, The Ecclesiastical Hierarch, Chapter Two, II - The Mystery of Illumination, Section 7, p. 203). Pseudo-Dionysius explains the meaning of immersion as a symbol of burial: "And the body is hidden in earth and undergoes a change from its corporeal shape and is withdrawn from its human appearance. Now because of this it is quite appropriate to hide the initiate completely in the water as an image of this death and this burial where form is dissolved." (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, The Ecclesiastical Hierarch, Chapter Two, III, p. 208).

John Chrysostom remarks on the ease with which water parts, an irrelevance if sprinkling is used:

"Not only on this account did he call death a baptism but also because of the ease with which he would rise again. For just as one who is baptized in water easily rises up because the nature of the water poses no hindrance, so, too, Christ rose with greater ease because he had gone down into death." (John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily VIII, p. 226).

This practice went out of fashion in the West. Perhaps it was inconvenient with infants, who became the main subjects of baptism. As is often found to be the case, the church which claims the early Christians as members doesn't do things their way. Why not? There is no room for improvement:

"You must not forsake the Lord's commandments, but must guard what you have received, neither adding nor subtracting anything." (The Didache, 4.13).

End Times

A central theme of the New Testament is the second coming of Jesus Christ. In the Nicene Creed, Christians confess their hope that "He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead..." Yet evangelical Christians often hear Roman Catholics with whom they discuss this topic interpret scriptural promises of the second coming as referring only to individuals' personal death. What's going on here?

Is it simply inattention?: "Despite the centrality of the Second Coming to the Catholic faith, despite how deeply embedded it is in Scripture, doctrine, and liturgy, Catholics by and large are amazingly ignorant about this important reality, this completion of the basic gospel message. Very seldom is this reality taught or preached clearly in all its richness and all its glorious implications." (Ralph Martin, 'Is Jesus Coming Soon? A Catholic Perspective on the Second Coming,' p. 7). Or is liberalism, having already hollowed out the historic mainline Protestant denominations, now working its magic on the Roman Catholic household as well?

There is an 'intermediate state' described in the Bible, subsequent to personal death but prior to the general resurrection. This condition is a temporary vestibule to eternity, not eternity itself, and should not monopolize attention as it is prone to do in Catholic preaching:

LogoThe Bible prophesies future events, including the second coming, the resurrection, the millenium, and judgment, without offering in any one passage a 'master calendar' putting each of these events in its place. Consequently interpreters have offered, it would seem, every possible permutation of the sequence. Historically Roman Catholics, as also conservative Calvinists and Lutherans, have accepted Augustine's Bible prophecy calendar. This system identifies the present time as the thousand years of Revelation: "But while the devil is bound, the saints reign with Christ during the same thousand years, understood in the same way, that is, of the time of His first coming." (Augustine, City of God, Book XX, 9.). The future events this system looks toward are the rise of a personal antichrist, the second coming, the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth. This system does not deny the 'rapture' of the saints, but times its occurrence as coincident with the second coming.

Ironically, the dispensational system popularized in the 'Left Behind' entertainment series achieved broad acceptance amongst evangelicals by positioning the 'competition' as liberalism, not as any of the competing prophecy calendars. Against competing prophecy calendars dispensationalism offers few advantages but obvious disadvantages such as extreme complexity and lack of direct Bible testimony. Yet the churchmen the dispensationalists debated early in the twentieth century were not ultimately interested in defending any competing system of Bible prophecy. Rather, they had heard the siren song of liberalism, and did not really expect Jesus Christ to return to earth in any observable fashion. Thus the strange result ensued, that evangelicals came to believe the only way to defend the clear New Testament teaching of the second coming and agree with the traditional Christian confession that "He shall come again with glory" was to adopt a dauntingly complex system of Bible prophecy first expounded in the nineteenth century.


Thirty Thousand

LogoThe accusation is commonly heard from Catholic apologists that there are 30,000 Protestant denominations, and that this multiplication is in consequence of sola scriptura. In this pamphlet, for example, "Protestantism" is identified as one of the "Great Heresies:"

"Protestant groups display a wide variety of different doctrines. However, virtually all claim to believe in the teachings of sola scriptura ('by Scripture alone'—the idea that we must use only the Bible when forming our theology) and sola fide ('by faith alone'— the idea that we are justified by faith only).

"The great diversity of Protestant doctrines stems from the doctrine of private judgment, which denies the infallible authority of the Church and claims that each individual is to interpret Scripture for himself. This idea is rejected in 2 Peter 1:20, where we are told the first rule of Bible interpretation: 'First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.' A significant feature of this heresy is the attempt to pit the Church 'against' the Bible, denying that the magisterium has any infallible authority to teach and interpret Scripture.

"The doctrine of private judgment has resulted in an enormous number of different denominations. According to The Christian Sourcebook, there are approximately 20-30,000 denominations, with 270 new ones being formed each year. Virtually all of these are Protestant."

('The Great Heresies,' Catholic Answers web-site).

LogoOn a somewhat related note, the philosopher Hegel said,

"If, on the one side, the Protestant Church develops the essential principle of confidence, as already stated, it thereby involves on the other hand the recognition of the validity of the element of feeling to such a degree as gives encouragement to unseemly varieties of caprice. Those who adopt this standpoint maintain, that, as everyone may have his peculiar way of viewing things generally, so he may have also a religion peculiar to himself. Thence the splitting up into so many sects, which reach the very acme of absurdity; many of which have a form of worship consisting in convulsive movements, and sometimes in the most sensuous extravagances. This complete freedom of worship is developed to such a degree, that the various congregations choose ministers and dismiss them according to their absolute pleasure; for the Church is no independent existence — having a substantial spiritual being, and correspondingly permanent external arrangement — but the affairs of religion are regulated by the good pleasure for the time being of the members of the community. In North America the most unbounded license of imagination in religious matters prevails, and that religious unity is wanting which has been maintained in European States, where deviations are limited to a few confessions." (G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of History, Kindle location 1812).

As Hegel notes, the issue is "freedom of worship;" there is nothing in the doctrines of the Reformation which inherently leads to fissure. . .excepting only insofar as 'freedom of religion' is itself inherently Protestant.

'Protestant' as used by Catholic apologists is one of the those annoying terms, like 'non-white,' which would never occur to those thus categorized. 'Protestant,' as used by Catholic apologists, means simply 'non-Catholic.' Just as no 'non-white' person ever thought of using 'white' persons as the index group with whom all others are to be compared, no 'Protestant' ever thought of including a group like the Mormons within their own category. Though no doubt listed in the denominational handbook, the Latter-Day Saints do not believe what they believe because they hew to sola scriptura. Rather, they have their own scripture contributed by their 'prophet,' Joseph Smith. Certain passages within the Doctrine & Covenants counting a plurality of gods present an obstacle to fellowship between Latter-Day Saints and others, but these obstacles did not arise due to sola scriptura.

The most common ground of schism in twentieth century Protestantism was the split between liberals and fundamentalists. But only one side in this dispute has any leanings toward sola scriptura; the liberals do not, like the fundamentalists, take scripture as the sole grounds for resolution of doctrinal disputes, because they do not consider scripture to be God-breathed. The liberal viewpoint has by now permeated the Roman Catholic academic establishment. These folks did not conclude the Bible is not inspired because they interpreted the Bible to say so. The Bible does not say so, and no one ever thought that it did. The liberal opinion that the Bible is not reliably inspired is extra-Biblical in origin.

LogoIn what sense was sola scriptura the cause of this dispute, when only one party to the dispute has any basis for adopting any such rubric? The liberal main-line churches, Unitarian Universalism, and Unity, do not stand where they do because they have concluded the scripture allows them no other option. The existence of these denominations is not a function of sola scriptura.

There is one entry for the Roman Catholic Church in my handbook of denominations, yet many for Orthodox churches: Russian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc. Is this a manifest proof of the superiority of Roman Catholicism, or only a reflection that churches which stress local church autonomy, or espouse a congregational form of church government, or resist hierarchy other than voluntary conventions of autonomous local churches, will not display one, unified administrative structure filling the whole globe?

These Roman Catholic critics take their own church structure as normative. They assume every other church wants to be their church: it wants to be one entity coincident with the visible church. Other churches do not share that vision. At least part of the reason why there are numerous Baptist conventions, is that no one sees any reason why there should be only one. When the dividing line between one church and another is not doctrine but only geography, i.e. a fellowship of English Baptists versus American Baptists, this is neither a problem nor has sola scriptura got anything to do with it.

Intractable doctrinal disputes which persist amongst Bible believers, such as the quarrel between Calvinists and Arminians, are not so much the product of private interpretation, much less interpretation "of one's own," as what happens when the finite human mind tries to wrap itself around vast ideas like eternity and freedom. Similar doctrinal disputes exist within the Catholic fold, yet do not trouble 'Catholic Answers'. Why not? If the Catholic disputants are still in communion with one another, so are the Calvinists and Arminians. The discussions most resistant to closure, like the question, 'which is the best model of church governance?', are rarely considered salvation issues. There is room in Christ's body for freedom of conscience on these points: "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Romans 14:5).

Incidentally, if these authors seriously believe that "virtually all" Protestants believe in "sola fide," then how do they categorize those churches, like the followers of Alexander Campbell, who essentially agree with Catholic doctrine on the point in dispute, salvation by faith? Did these groups go wrong by failing to offer interpretation "of one's own"?

For a certain period, the Roman Catholic communion achieved the appearance of agreement. They did it by adopting the simple and effective method of eliminating those who did not agree. Since modern sentiment no longer allows them to do that, this advantage, if ever it was such, ended some time ago. Absent the Inquisition, whether in the early church era or our own, no church leadership structure can prevent dissension. The early church was prolific in spinning off sects, as is modern evangelicalism. Sects arise even in a Catholic environment, such as the Ugandan Holy Spirit movement of Alice Auma Lakwena. It is no more or less fair to blame the Catholic church for aberrations like the Solar Temple cult or Santeria than to blame 'sola scriptura' for sects that arise in majority Protestant countries.

Consider the mass murder which took place in Uganda in the wake of a failed prophecy that the Virgin Mary would transport church members to heaven on March 17, 2000. When that didn't happen, church members were transported to whatever destination awaits them by a more traditional route: arson:

"Before the tragedy, Kibweteere allegedly said that he overheard a conversation between Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Mary had stated that the world would come to an end unless humans started to follow the Ten Commandments closely. . .Later, he taught that the Virgin Mary would appear on March 17 and take the faithful to Heaven. Devastation would then descend upon the world and the remaining six billion people in the world would be exterminated. . .The movement was founded by excommunicated Roman Catholic priests: Joseph Kibweteere, Joseph Kasapurari, John Kamagara and Dominic Kataribabo; two excommunicated Roman Catholic nuns; and Credonia Mwerinde, an ex-prostitute. . .Their own rules came from the Virgin Mary, as channelled through Mwerinde. The leaders taught that the Ten Commandments needed to be restored to their original importance. . .There was one initial report, never confirmed, that the members had applied gasoline and paraffin to their skin before the explosion and fire. . .It is now almost certain that the tragedy was a mass murder, not a mass suicide. Several news sources reported that the doors of the church were nailed shut from the inside." (Odd Gods, edited by James R. Lewis, pp. 170-171).

It would be foolish and unfair to blame Roman Catholicism for this atrocity, which took the lives of around one thousand persons. After all they had excommunicated these people; what else could they do? Roman Catholicism does not require that communicants report bogus conversations with the Virgin Mary, and it most emphatically does not recommend they commit mass murder when the people become skeptical about these conversations. A milder example of the same phenomenon of exuberant cult formation within a Catholic matrix is the Legio Maria movement of Kenya. Founded by the late prophet Simeo Ondeto, who is now considered the Messiah, and his mother Maria, this movement is taking Catholic themes in a novel direction.

At a bare minimum, their 30,000 denominations must be collapsed to reduce those groups doctrinally identical to each other but of differing geographical jurisdiction. History and geography have birthed as many denominations as doctrinal disputes potentially rising from sola scriptura. Once the number has been reduced to hundreds if not dozens, then it might be productive to discuss the proposal that, 'to reconcile these quarrels, you must all surrender your minds to our authority.' Or maybe not, since mind-surrender works less well when not backed up by the Inquisitor's torch.

It is true that, immediately upon the proclamation of sola scriptura, Protestantism splintered into dissenting sects, offering wares both new and old, things both good and bad. Catholics, when they sit back and try to guess what their critics may be saying about them, often volunteer that their critics accuse them of hide-bound traditionalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no church so open to innovation is this one; do a gaggle of children say they have seen Mary? Accepted doctrine must therefore be up-ended. They are enthusiastically open to the reductive Bible criticism which has emptied many main-line Protestant churches. Why? Because it's new, and they like new things. Even Freudianism, a strange and ungodly mythology, appealed to them for a time as a 'cure' for child-molesting priests, although it is nothing but quackery. The historic Protestant cry has been, out with the new, back to the old: "In his polemics Calvin accused the medieval church not of traditionalism but of a craving for innovation and novelty. In contrast with the ancient fathers, the medieval church was adding 'strange fire' to God's prescribed worship, multiplying ceremonies, regulations, and superstitions." (Michael S. Horton, For Calvinism, Kindle location 2468). But in fairness the accusation can be turned around; certain figures, in spite of their horror of innovation, innovated:

It was an axiom of Medieval political thought that one-man rule fosters unity. . .or if it does not, at any rate it ensures that disunity dare not openly raise its head and remains subterranean. Appointing an autocrat, a Pope, to resolve disputes may indeed promote unity if the system is accepted and if the Pope retains power beyond friendly persuasion. However if what is desired is, not unity for unity's sake, but unity for the sake of the truth, the papal system has been an abysmal failure. Instead of preserving the purity of Christian doctrine, the popes have sought popularly by endorsing every aberrant novelty such as Mariolatry. Church unity, Jesus' own prayer, tragically remains a goal out of reach; certainly autocracy, an evil in itself, is not the path that leads there.

Henry Ossawa Turner, The Annunciation

LogoOne big area of controversy regarding Roman Catholics is their veneration of Mary, which reminds outside observers of pagan prototypes. Is giving this degree of attention to a created human being Biblical?:


LogoIn the category of 'Can Life get any Stranger' comes a new entry, a Roman Catholic astronomical system of geo-heliocentrism borrowed from the Lutheran Tycho Brahe. Author Robert Sungenis wants it understood that the Church's condemnation of heliocentrism at Trent was not an error. Is geocentrism Biblical?:

LogoThe Italian astronomer Galileo was ordered by the Roman Church in the seventeenth century to stop teaching, indeed to stop believing, the Copernican system of astronomy:

"The Most Illustrious Lord Cardinal Bellarmine having given the report that the mathematician Galileo Galilei had acquiesced when warned of the order of the Holy Congregation to abandon the opinion which he held till then, to the effect that the sun stands still at the center of the spheres but the earth is in motion." (Minutes of the Holy Office of March 3, 1616, quoted p. 197, Robert Bennett and Robert Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right, Volume II.)

Galileo was ultimately imprisoned and forced to abjure. Instead of seeing this event as an embarrassment, an historic wrong to be righted, our authors see it as a glorious chapter in church history. What is most disappointing about this endeavor is the conspiracy-theory style of thought revealed in the authors' explanations for modern astronomy:

  • "By this time the reader should be able to see very clearly the driving force behind the inventions of these men. Their deep and uncompromising desire to safeguard Copernican cosmology could not be stated more forcefully. Apparently, they will say or do whatever it takes to remove Earth from the center of the universe. Of course, those of us on the other side know why: deep down, Hawking, Bondi, Hoyle, et al., know that the Creator exists, but they choose to suppress that knowledge, and thus they concoct whatever cosmological theories they can in order to convince themselves, even if only temporarily, that not only does He not exist, but that He is not even needed."
  • (Robert A. Sungenis and Robert J. Bennett, Galileo Was Wrong, the Church was Right: the Scientific Case for Geocentrism, p. 339).

LogoNo doubt modern atheists 'spin' the Copernican universe in their favor, as they spin whatever else catches their fancy; and no doubt contemporary astronomers gauge the plausibility of ideas by their conformance to their world view, as people are prone to do. But to project atheist motivations back into sixteenth and seventeenth century astronomy is grossly unfair. A desire to disrespect God cannot be what motivated Copernicus, a cathedral canon, or Galileo, whose daughters were nuns, or Isaac Newton, fairly described as a religious fanatic. Nor was a desire to honor God what inspired Thomas Aquinas to import Aristotelian astronomy into Christian thought. Aristotle was a pagan! Nevertheless Thomas ported in this man's entire system of physical science, borrowing wholesale from a completely non-Christian source, with only a few small corrections to remove the grosser pagan elements. Whatever is going on here, it is not what these authors represent.

The authors employ legal-style reasoning inappropriate to the subject matter. For instance, according to Einstein's Special Relativity, no frame of reference is privileged over another, so, they claim, geocentrism cannot be criticized. Yet Mr. Sungenis despises relativity theory! It is one of those noxious modern things he would wish to discard. This is an ad hominem argument, albeit a non-abusive one, as when one parries a charge that 'hunting is immoral' with, 'but you eat meat.' Further muddying an already opaque pool, Mr. Sungenis quotes with favor geocentrists who embrace relativity, which he would rather discard. What this book is not is astronomy done by people who actually care about astronomy.

In spite of the failure of their own astronomy, the authors do raise a very pertinent point in reminding us that the Roman Catholic Church placed the full weight of its authority behind Ptolemy's geocentrism. The Church at Rome knew the outermost sphere revolved around the earth, indirectly carrying the sun with it, because not only did the pagan philosopher Aristotle say so, but as Cardinal Robert Bellarmine helpfully pointed out, anyone with eyes can plainly see that it is so: "But in respect to the sun and the earth, there has never been any wise person who felt a need to correct such an error, because one clearly experiences that the earth stands still, and the eye is not mistaken when it judges that the sun moves, just as it is not mistaken when it judges that the moon and the stars move." (Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, quoted in Robert Bennett and Robert Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right, Volume II, p. 175). The Ptolemaic view turns up, not only in the church's original condemnation of Galileo, but in various doctrinal pronouncements of the kind reputed to be miraculously kept free from error. Belatedly, John Paul II reopened the matter, so it is now 'safe' for a Catholic to be a heliocentrist. Oops. So much for infallibility. The problem is inescapable:

"In short, no one can deny this simple logic: if those of the past can err, then those of the present can err. To be more specific, if the popes of the seventeenth century who approved the condemnations against heliocentrism could err, then current popes who approve the reigning opinions of modern science can also err. Ironically, the modern Church is ‘hoist by its own petard,’ for if the Holy Spirit, who does not lie, was not guiding the aforementioned popes and their Sacred Congregations during the inquisition of Galileo on an issue of such great pastoral importance, how can we be sure the Holy Spirit is guiding the present pastors of the Church? In fact, we are left with an even more haunting question: if the Holy Spirit was not guiding the pastors of the past, then who was guiding them?" (Robert Bennett and Robert Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong, the Church was Right, Volume II, p. 129).

Who, indeed?

Eyre Crowe, Milton Visiting Galileo in the Prisons of the Inquisition

LogoOne must wonder where Roman Catholic theology is headed with insights like,

"Since the Earth does not move, God can remain at rest above it." (Robert Bennett and Robert Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right, Volume II, page 79.)

How nice, a place for God to sit, just what Protestantism lacks. The erring scientific ideology for which the Roman Church threw away its authority and credibility is, of course, the Ptolemaic system as outlined by Aristotle, known as "The Philosopher" to Thomas, and not the 'Neo-Tychonian' system as lately invented by these geniuses. This novel system's main selling point is that it is, supposedly, not falsifiable, which is not a virtue in science, which would be relevant if this endeavor were science. The reader who sticks it out to the end is rewarded by the discovery that the true cosmology was discovered by Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval visionary, and features rings of black fire and neat stuff like that. The earth begins its career surrounded by a sea of ice: "Consequently, the Earth of the First day of creation was like a seed in the middle of a vast frozen ocean. We can assume that once the light was created its heat melted the ice." (Robert Bennett and Robert Sungenis, Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right, Volume II, page 332). It ends with the outermost fire ring imploding. In the interim, the mechanism is water-cooled, preventing a melt-down: “If these values were not maintained, then, as Hildegard says, the universe would 'melt.'” (Sungenis, Volume II, p. 337). Further insights include the information that 'wind' makes the firmament revolve at its unimaginable speed: "According to this, the entire universe is put in motion by the cosmic winds. They supply the unimaginable propulsion energies for the rotation of the firmament." (Sungenis, Volume II, p. 340). This rotation, according to Hildegard, only began with the fall, and will end with the judgment: "Before the fall of Adam the firmament was immovable and did not rotate." (Sungenis, Volume II, p. 350.) Though to the outsider, Hildegard's fiery visions sound like a premonition of melt-down at the nuclear power plant, to Robert Sungenis, they are the very last word in scientific cosmology. However it must disappoint those readers who had thought we had moved beyond the "four elements of fire, earth, water, and air." (Sungenis, Volume II, p. 334).

Socrates the Christian

Catholics claim to consider early church writers like Justin Martyr as authoritative. A more realistic outside appraisal is that they consider these people to be authoritative, except when they do not. Why? Does anyone walk into a Christian bookstore today and say, 'I'll accept as authoritative the first book that falls down from the shelf?' Some odd consequences have followed from this fitful practice, such as the notion that a place must be cleared in Limbo for pagan philosophers like Socrates, and indeed that a place must be cleared for Limbo, otherwise unknown. Socrates, you see, was reputed to have been a Christian before Christ, although no one can claim he was, or wanted to be, covered by the shed blood of the lamb:

LogoIn a similar vein, Roman Catholics today are instructed to consider Muslims as marching alongside them to the same heavenly destination:

"In its Constitution on the Church (1964) the Second Vatican Council quite unequivocally declared: 'Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.'
"Explicit mention is made here of those who, by virtue of their origin, have most in common with Jews and Christians through believing in the one God and doing his will, the Muslims: 'But the plan of salvation also incudes those who acknowledge the Creator; in the first place among whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful, God, the merciful, mankind's judge on the last day.'
"According to Vatican II Muslims, too, need no longer 'fall into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;' they can 'attain eternal salvation.' That means that in the Christian view too Islam can be the way to salvation." (Hans Kung, Islam, Past, Present & Future, pp. 55-56).

This means that people who believe in a purported 'revelation of God' that explicitly and intentionally denies the deity of Jesus Christ can be saved. This means that people who disdain to trust in Jesus for salvation, but trust rather in their own works to be 51% good, 49% bad, can rely on their own works to save them. Are either of these assertions Biblical?:

"I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:24).

". . .for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." (Galatians 2:16).

Here we have come to a definite fork in the road. The Bible sets forth one way to salvation:

"Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:10-12).

There is no doubt that the people who drafted this language and imposed it upon the Catholic Church meant every word of it:

"Following the guidelines of Vatican II, the old exclusivism should be avoided, and a complete, consistent reevaluation made of Islam as away of salvation, of Muhammad as a prophet, and of the Qur'an as God's word." (Hans Kung, Christianity and the World Religions, p. 110).

However this modern Catholic idea of the Koran as God's word generates cognitive dissonance for Bible-believers. After all the Koran explicitly and intentionally denies the deity of Jesus Christ and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity:

LogoHow to reconcile two different schemes of salvation, one premised on the sacrifice of the Son of the God, the other denying any such thing every happened, or that there even is any such party? By adopting a sub-Nicene understanding of who Jesus is. What do you know, it turns out the Koran is correct, Jesus was a Muslim:

"In discussing it, people continually forget that Jesus himself was a Jew and phenotypically much closer to a present-day Palestinian Arab than to all our Byzantine, Italian, Spanish, or German images of Jesus. This Jewish Jesus had no more notion than a Muslim in our time would of weakening faith in the one God (breaking the First Commandment). 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone' (Mk 10:18) was his reaction when addressed as 'Good Teacher.'" (Hans Kung, Christianity and the World Religions, p. 117).

By the way, the doctrine of the Trinity does not, in fact, violate the first commandment, although those who took up stones to stone Him when He said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30) imagined it did. Why would Jesus, as much a Jew as Sabbatai Sevi, say such things? This Catholic teacher resorts to the old Unitarian dodge that He says He is God, not because He really is, but because He so accurately represented God's character: "In everything he said, in his preaching, his conduct, his fate, in his entire person, the man Jesus proclaimed, manifested, and revealed God's word and will. In other words, God's word and will took on human form in him. . .According to the New Testament, then, what we have here is a unity of knowledge, will, action, and revelation between God and Jesus." (Hans Kung, Christianity and the World Religions, p. 119). So much for Nicaea's unity of substance.

How have Catholics taken this wrong turn, and where are they going? Where does this path lead? They started down it with good intentions. Like many other Europeans, this author has no conception of the American idea of religious liberty; for it, he substitutes something vaguely similar, like the French idea of secularism. They think, rightly, that religious tolerance is a good thing, but they can imagine no possible basis for it other than indifference. If discerning religious truth is important, then surely it must be a government function; perhaps the government can appoint a commission to determine this weighty matter. They cannot fathom why discerning religious truth from falsity would be left to the individual conscience, if there were indeed such a thing. To them religious toleration is tolerable only if all paths lead to the same destination. They want to think the French Revolution invented religious toleration, even though all the French Revolution actually accomplished in that sphere was to invent its own bizarre and ludicrous religion, while meanwhile confining religious dissenters to the hold of ships and then scuttling the ships. I think America must be to them something like Mars.

Not to worry, it turns out Hans Kung might be open to the possibility that the God described in the Nicene Creed actually exists. What we are then left with, rather alarmingly, is a true God who does not realize He is God. How such a nescient, amnesiac god is to be presented to Muslims, or anybody else, is left unexplained. Jesus, you see, really is God incarnate, but He does not know this, because He is Jewish.

Incidentally, this modern Roman Catholic teaching of inclusivism is a good test case for the claim sometimes made that the Roman Catholic Church has taught the same things for 2,000 years; as if, indeed, anything resembling this modern institution had even existed in the early era. Instead one must wonder if there is any other church so open to innovation, whether it comes from European children claiming to have chatted with the Virgin Mary, or from theologians who have declared the Law of Contradiction obsolete:

Sistine Ceiling

LogoWilliam Blake, a gnostic who thought the realm of nature was Satanic, greatly admired Michelangelo What might he have found to like in the decorations of the Sistine Ceiling? The visitor, on walking through the entrance, is greeted by two scenes: the crucifixion of Haman, and the lifting of the brazen serpent. One does not commonly see the wicked Haman's execution, found in the book of Esther, depicted in Christian art. Our translations are apt to say that Haman was hung on a 'gallows,' though Michelangelo's assumption that live hanging, on a cross, was in view is also possible.

The devoted Bible-reader learns to love the interconnectedness of the holy scriptures; nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, familiar themes turn up again and again with new twists and variations. But some connections are dropped, by the orthodox. The connection between Jesus and the brazen serpent, made by Jesus Himself, rarely goes anywhere, and certainly not to the lengths of identifying Jesus with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Taking Haman's crucifixion as a type of Jesus' death is just never done, because Haman was wicked. But there is a strain of gnostic thought which redefines the bad guys of scripture, like Cain, as really the good guys, because the gnostics' creator god is an imposter, a bungler. Those who defy him are consequently heroes. Michelangelo cannot have been unaware of gnosticism, because his education included input from Christian Kabbalists like Pico della Mirandola. The Kabbalah is at a minimum heavily influenced, at a maximum simply a continuation of ancient gnosticism, and is not a novel creation of its time of origination in the middle ages.

Certainly no one can ever prove that there is any reason why Michelangelo included the scene of Haman's crucifixion, or thought it relevant that the wicked man was crucified. Certainly no one has any reason to wonder why he made Boaz, an ancestor of Christ, look like a dangerous lunatic. But if you do start to think about it, it all fits together. These scenes are so familiar we cannot place ourselves in the position of the first generation of spectators, who were flummoxed. The creation scene corresponds to nothing in the Bible. To what does it correspond?:

"Man, too, was the workmanship of angels, a shining image bursting forth below from the presence of the supreme power; and when they could not, he says, keep hold of this, because it immediately darted upwards again, they exhorted each other, saying, “Let us make man after our image and likeness.” He was accordingly formed, yet was unable to stand erect, through the inability of the angels to convey to him that power, but wriggled [on the ground] like a worm. Then the power above taking pity upon him, since he was made after his likeness, sent forth a spark of life, which gave man an erect posture, compacted his joints, and made him live." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 24, Section 1, p. 691, ECF_1_01).

That certainly fits: notice that Adam is already created when God comes on the scene. No Christian artist had ever previously depicted creation like this. Guided by the Bible, you are looking for forming and breathing, not transmitting a spark to an already created (by others), but languid and inert, being. Who did see creation that way? The gnostics.

Several early Christian writers employ a daring polemical strategy: they defend their views by quoting, not their own authorities, but pagan authorities. These admissions contrary to interest, that for instance there is only one God, are then presented as the truth itself compelling testimony from the unwilling. To the Renaissance thinkers who wanted to synthesize pagan and Christian thought into one comprehensive whole, making plenty of room for astrology, alchemy and adventuresome approaches to living, this strategy offered an open door. But who were the Sibyls? Jewish ladies. And, unremarkably, they were monotheists who expected a Messiah. This material was in the custody of the pagan government and thus not subject to wholesale Christian fabrication. Why the pagan governing authorities collected and conserved this material is anyone's guess. Verisimilitude might suggest depicting them as Jewish ladies, or at least ladies. What place putti and ignudi have in the Catholic heaven is unclear, though it is plainly well-populated, as any pantheon ought to be.

Something of this artist's attitude and approach can be inferred from the remarks of his friend, Sebastiano del Piombo, in a letter referring to another project, "'Our Lord [viz., Pope Clement VII] leaves it to you to do what you like. I think the Ganymede would look nice there, you could give him a halo so that he would appear as St. John of the Apocalypse carried to Heaven.'" (quoted in Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, pp. 212-213). This artist had a religion but it is not quite Christianity.