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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Fortifying Ourselves in the Defense of the Faith

Many anti-Catholics only speak in general terms and with isolated proof texts from Scripture. Why? I suspect that their lack of background is part of it. Personal inspiration is an element of his or her faith that makes every such believer into his own Pope. Anyone, who contradicts them, obviously in their own minds, is deceived and/or lost. Further, fundamentalism tends to discredit cultural and language elements, or else offers a narrow interpretation. Often believers are guilty of the very thing of which they accuse Catholics, parroting their ministers and the leaders of their bible study groups. An element of seduction associated with fellowship is also at work. This emotional quality can make any rational discussion difficult or impossible. History is also avoided or skewed so as to avoid the legacy of Catholicism and its contribution to our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Critics have sometimes challenged me for being too general in my arguments. Nevertheless, while on Internet message boards I always preferred a response to the deletion of a post. Of course, some comments are so vulgar and offensive that they must be deleted. These critics would then argue (no doubt from minimal experience) that such an approach was typical of Catholic priests who cannot answer and feel trapped regarding so-called biblical truths. What really troubled this priest was the total disregard for scholarship and objectivity in answers. I did not make them up; they were the conclusions of learned scholars of faith, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Many of the more vocal anti-Catholic fundamentalists claim a Catholic background. Often it is quite minimal or contrived. A number of them have bragged to me about receiving all the sacraments and even getting married in the Church. As in following a formula, the next thing they report is that doubts arose when they started to read the Scriptures. I always suspect that they had “some help” to come to their anti-Catholic conclusions. Such is frequently proven to be the case, although these facts are at first withheld.

There is a purported moment of personal awakening and they discover that the Bible teaches contrary to Catholic doctrine and practice. What are some of the alleged problems?

1. The claim of the Catholic Church that the Bible is a Catholic book written for Catholics only.

Well, we do believe that the Catholic Church today is one with the Christian community established by Jesus and that is chronicled in the New Testament. This much is true. However, we also believe that the Holy Scriptures may be efficacious for all: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. It is in a unique fashion, “our” book, but we as Catholics do not begrudge it to others; indeed, they may find true consolation and encouragement toward conversion in its pages. We are glad to have been party to its divine inspiration and composition. It is truly a gift to all humanity. An insistence that the Catholic Church (in union with our Orthodox brothers and sisters) had nothing to do with the development of the New Testament and the establishment of the canon (for both the Old and New Testaments) runs counter to the historical record. Insistence to the contrary remains unsubstantiated. Rather, the fundamentalist simply contends that the Catholic Church has sought to suppress the Bible. This sidesteps the early history of the Bible and the conflicts over errant translations.

2. They insist that there are only 66 books in the biblical canon as opposed to the 73 in Catholic bibles.

The fundamentalist stipulates that Catholics “added” books and yet what happened was that after fifteen hundred years, Martin Luther SUBTRACTED books from it. He says they show no degree of inspiration and that they teach false doctrine– in other words, things offensive to the Protestant reformers and their modern-day offspring in the world today. He says that Christians did not accept these “Catholic” books in biblical times (he must mean apostolic) and yet there is ample evidence that they did. Indeed, the Greek canon containing the disputed books was implemented whenever Jesus quoted the Old Testament in the Gospels.

The biased critic tells us that Palestinian Jews during the time of Christ had already determined the Old Testament canon. This is historically misleading because it dismisses the legacy of the many Jews of the Diaspora. The Pharisees of Palestine set up four arbitrary criteria for the biblical canon:

(1) They had to be in harmony with the Torah or Law as interpreted at that time;

(2) They had to be written prior to Ezra;

(3) They had to be in Hebrew; and

(4) They had to originate in Palestine.

This immediately eliminated Judith (Aramaic); Wisdom, 2 Maccabees (Greek), Tobit, parts of Daniel and Esther (Aramaic and outside Palestine), Baruch (outside Palestine), and Sirach and 1 Maccabees (written after Ezra). All Jews did NOT generally accept this canon until a century AFTER Christ. There is evidence that the rabbinical redactor was also motivated by a concern to make the Hebrew Scriptures distinctively different from the canon used by Christians. From the earliest days, the Christian Church accepted the Jewish canon from the Greek-Roman tradition, the ALEXANDRINE CANON. As I have said before, Jesus himself quoted from this bible and the canon was not seriously challenged until the Protestant reformation. It should be noted that Martin Luther also rejected New Testament books. It is interesting that while Protestants accept Luther’s abbreviated Hebrew canon, they replaced the books he stripped from the New Testament. What did he remove? He eliminated Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation (Apocalypse).

[GOOD SOURCE:  Notes to the Fireside New American Bible (2011), p. xiv-xv.]

3. The anti-Catholic fundamentalist routinely claims that it is easy to prove the non-existence of the Catholic Church in the earliest days and yet they offer no real proof whatsoever.

Why? It is because it cannot be done. Rather, he attacks elements of the Church that have organically developed over time. This is like saying the boy did not exist because he did not yet resemble the man.

NO POPE? – Except regarding “fatherhood” (papa/pater), the word was not used, but this does not dismiss the role of Peter and his successors. Their authority remains, no matter what they are called.

NO PRIESTS? – There is ample evidence of men who participated in the one priesthood of Christ.

NO SACRIFICE OF THE MASS? – Here is the utter dismissal of the command of Christ at the Last Supper to perpetuate it “in remembrance” of him. The cultic and sacrificial language of the setting is unavoidable.

NO NUNS? – Of course, there were holy women who from their purses aided Jesus and the apostles and later others like St. Paul.

NO MONKS? – St. Paul himself advises a celibate life and imposes severity upon himself. The evangelical counsels are in effect.

NO CONFESSIONAL? – Jesus and then his apostles would make possible the forgiveness of sins. Even today, no special room is absolutely required.

NO PRAYERS TO MARY? – And yet, there are Scriptural examples of orations to consecrated figures or spiritual messengers from God.

NO PURGATORY? – Although Jesus offered ample evidence in his statements that some would need to be purified by fire and pay the last penny.

The anti-Catholic critic throws out one issue after another, making a concerted response on any one topic difficult to impossible. He needs no evidence, the charge itself is a proof in his own reckoning and unfortunately, enough to influence weak minds.

Catholics agree that those who had a saving faith sought baptism. However, he speaks about the various local congregations as if there were no unity with one another. Just as today, in reference to the many parishes and dioceses, the Catholic Church is one. Jesus established a Church, not many churches.

He contends that bishops were only the local pastors; and yet, the history of the matter would show that as the churches grew, so did their jurisdiction. These “episcopoi” were literally the successors to the apostles and shared in the high priesthood of Christ. There were many helpers, even though many human elements of the true Church would have to develop over time. Catholicism, for instance, admits that the papal electors (cardinals) represent a later adaptation to insure the smooth transition of authority and the effective running of the Church. There is no need for an absolute return to primitive Christianity. Indeed, because of the size of the Church, it would not work.

Protestant communities which wipe out the gains from most of Church history are forced to reinvent the wheel in this regard.

The assertion that Peter never went to Rome is a denial of archeological evidence, extra-biblical testimony, and the living tradition of the Church. Since it does not appear in the Bible, such fundamentalist critics assume that it could not have happened. The anti-Catholic critic mentions the rebuke and difference of opinion from Paul toward Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, but says nothing about the fact that Peter gives the decisive decision regarding the initiation of the Gentile men at the council in Jerusalem. He confuses impeccability with infallibility. Papal infallibility does not mean that popes are sinless or that every opinion they have is necessarily right. It is peculiar that anti-Catholic critics will often grant the Pope more authority in their arguments than he actually possesses. Of course, the critics save the final say for themselves.

Let me repeat, at the first council of the Church in Jerusalem,  after the debate about ritual circumcision, it is Peter who resolves the matter. The mere fact that Paul and Barnabas had come to Jerusalem illustrated their confidence in the apostolic authority there. As in any council, there was debate and dialogue; however, in the end it was Peter who stood up and supported Paul in his refusal to impose the Mosaic Law upon the Gentiles– they would not have to become Jews before becoming Christians. Citing the work of God’s Spirit in Cornelius and his household, whom they knew and accepted, Peter summarizes the core proclamation of salvation: “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they” (Acts 15:7-11). We are told that the whole assembly was reduced to silence. The issue was resolved. Paul and Barnabas then enthusiastically recounted how God had used them as instruments to reach the Gentiles.

Many distinctions need to be made about Peter. He is certainly much altered after the Christ has suffered, died, and risen. The Holy Spirit on Pentecost grants him a special charism of authority and infallibility.

This did not mean that either Peter or his successors would be impeccable and unable to sin. The miraculous truth in the long history of the Church is that even weak and sinful men have seemed changed by the office of Peter. Without such an authority, we would suffer from the same endless fragmentation and deviation from Gospel truth that other religious communities experience. We believe we have Christ’s Rock to preserve and protect the deposit of faith. Given to Peter, this gift of infallibility is for the entire Church. We see its execution observed when the Holy Father makes a formal proclamation of dogma as the universal shepherd (the Vicar of Christ) on a matter of faith or morals. Neither the Pope, nor the bishops, nor an ecumenical council can manufacture new beliefs– they define something which has always been taught and believed, but reformulate it in a more concise and solemn way. A papal declaration along these terms is an exercise of his Universal Extraordinary Magisterium.

The unanimous teaching of all the world’s bishops in union with the Pope is called the Universal Ordinary Magisterium. This latter expression of infallibility is much more common. The laity and the religious of the Church also enter into this mystery. The Sensus Fidelium (sense of the faithful) among Catholics who have informed their consciences according to Church teaching and who live out the faith also touch upon this mystery of faith. (Admittedly this latter aspect is usually only mentioned by dissenters these days; however, they cite people who have largely rejected the deposit of faith and the Christian life– the ones to whom it does not really apply.)

Anti-Catholic fundamentalists often contradict themselves. For instance, they might argue, contrary to accepted biblical interpretation, that Peter went to the actual Babylon but not to Rome (1 Peter 5:13). However, if he at first disputes that “Babylon” was the designation for Rome coined by early Christians; he next acknowledges it in regards to the Popes and prophesies about the antichrist in the book of Revelation. Of course, now he is confusing the pagan Rome of the old empire with the Christian Rome of the Church.

Obviously, as a good anti-Catholic apologist, he denies the practice of asking angels, saints, or Mary to pray with and for us. Even those who were formerly Catholic seem ignorant of the fact that Catholicism teaches that all prayer has as its proper object, almighty God. Indeed, upon a host of issues, the former Catholics seem to develop a convenient amnesia about the truths and practices they once embraced. Instead, they attack “straw man” arguments, caricatures of a largely false or distorted Catholic faith, which were probably spoon-fed into them by the Church’s enemies.

These critics usually accept the divinity of Christ, something that others (as in cults) often reject. We can at least agree upon this point. He also acknowledges the Trinity. Although, he will fight the Catholic about the term itself since it is not in the Bible.

I remember one fundamentalist arguing with me by shouting a double negative, “We don’t need no mediator except Christ in going to Father!” What he actually means, and Catholics agree, is that Jesus is our Mediator before God and brings our offering and prayer to the Father. The discussion turned to the subject of worship and he said rightly that the Bible prohibits the “worship” of graven images. Unfortunately, he wrongly accused the Catholic Church of doing so. The economy of images is altered by the incarnation, and thus pictures and statues for Catholics are venerated as depicting holy personages or themes, but they are NOT WORSHIPPED. Only God is truly given divine worship.

Context here means everything. Otherwise, one would have to say that the Word of God contradicts itself. The invisible God of the Hebrews absolutely forbid the making of images for purposes of divine adoration. However, he did not prohibit images as such. Indeed, in the case of the ark, they were mandated. Of course, given the inclination of the early Jews to fall easily into idol worship, it is no wonder that the prohibition was often extended and made more severe.

Making a secular comparison, many of us adorn our homes with statuary, paintings, and photographs. We have them for beauty and for sentimental reasons. Is a picture of one’s child or a grandmother vain idolatry? I think not. Neither are depictions of saints and other holy personages.

The anti-Catholic critic condemns the Church for its many volumes on the liturgy and upon doctrine; and yet he makes no qualm about the many words his kind employs to attack us. Why would they deny Catholics the right to share their insights and spiritual reflection upon the Gospel? Any view that does not agree with his own, he considers consider a twisting of Scripture. The anti-Catholic fundamentalist becomes his own final (and flawed) authority.

Such enemies of the Church condemn Catholic remembrance and prayer for the dead, dismissing the second book of Maccabees. And yet, such a practice finds other Scriptural support and is an ancient Christian practice derived from an even older Jewish one.

Almost always their demagogic diatribes must include certain castigation against the role of works in Catholic theology. No mention is made that many modern-day Lutherans and Catholics have come to a consensus regarding justification by faith. They create false parodies of Catholic faith to tear them down. They are surprised to hear that Catholics also teach and preach Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

Salvation is a gratuity from God. The work that saves is the self-offering of Christ. Apart from Christ, we cannot save ourselves. If divine grace is alive in us then our Lord can continue to work in our lives. Everything done by Christ has value or worth.

Toward the end of nasty debates and/or vicious diatribes, many anti-Catholic critics will try to disguise their animus of hatred by saying that they love Catholics or that they do not condemn the Catholic Church. Do not believe them. When they have finished, damning the Church is precisely what they have done.

At points the anti-Catholic critic spouts silliness. He suggests that the Catholic Church disregard all its doctrines for the so-called true Gospel. And yet, her doctrines represent the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Catholics would agree with fundamentalists that men inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. God is the principal author of Sacred Scripture. Differences in this regard would be that Catholics do not see such inspiration as a passive dictation but as the use of the whole person with his culture, understanding and language as part of the equation. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? I do not believe so.

Catholics would agree that Jesus is our one Mediator who makes possible our entry into heaven. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? Again, such a teaching is an essential element of the Christian faith. Jesus makes all the difference. The fundamentalist anti-Catholic critic might wrongly claim however that the “Catholic Jesus” is not the same Jesus with whom they have a personal relationship and encounter in the Gospels.

Catholics contend that Jesus rose from the dead. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? But Catholics also believe that the risen Jesus is present in the Church and the sacraments. While he might acknowledge a presence in God’s Word, the fundamentalist critic focuses upon the Second Coming as if Christ’s presence is either locked into the past or waiting in the future. Catholics not only have faith in Jesus, but know his substantial or real presence behind the accidentals of bread and wine.

Catholics contend that Jesus is God and man. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? Some of the anti-Catholic cults fall prey to the old Christological controversies which plagued the Church in the early centuries. I have heard ministers argue that the Jesus on earth is different than God’s Son or the Christ in heaven. Others subscribe to a faulty Adoptionism as if Jesus was somehow conscripted into being the Messiah and Lord. Others speak about Jesus like the Gnostics of old, certainly divine but pretending to be a mortal man. The Catholic Church possesses the full truth: Jesus is a divine person with a complete human and divine nature. Jesus was the pre-existent Logos or Word who entered human history as one of us.

The anti-Catholic critic paints with broad strokes and condemns what he does not understand. Many Catholics in the past were poorly instructed and their ignorance became fair game for religious bigots and fanatics. It is truly sad. Hopefully this book will help fortify Catholics against such assaults in the future.

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