Applying what happened to Rachel Dolezal to other things…

First, I want it known that I don’t think you have to be black to head an NAACP chapter.  Some may, I don’t.

But this isn’t about that.  It’s about someone who’s one thing portraying themselves as another.  And I want to say up front that I’ve been guilty of this in the past, as have most people, whether we tell fish stories, or lie about being somewhere we weren’t, or the like.

Rachel Dolezal portrayed herself publicly as something she’s not, and tried to change her appearance to suit how she felt.  I’m not holding that against her, other than that she lied to people.  But my point to make, here, is this…Isn’t this the same thing that transgender people do?  They feel like they’re not whatever gender they are, and so they change their outward appearance to suit how they think they feel inside.  But they have not changed what they really are, and that’s my point.

People should embrace who they are, however they are.  Then they should seek God’s guidance into how they should live, and go forth and live that way.  If someone feels that they’re a woman in a man’s body, they can embrace that, but they need to also embrace that they are genetically male.  Seek from God what to do with your plight, and then go and do it.

Very short message, but I think it’s important.

What I didn’t know when I stopped having sex-


By Tori Vissat | Guest Blogger

Photo credit | Donna Irene Photography

I want to make him happy. 

I enjoy it too.

I love him.

I’m just having fun.

My friends will think I’m weird if I stop.

I have said each of these and more. For years, I believed that the only thing I could offer a guy was my body. That somehow I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough or fun enough for him to love me for me. Maybe I didn’t know how to have a normal conversation with men? I laid awake in bed and felt it down in my core: a deep longing in my heart. The voice of my heart was screaming to be held. I’ve been held before, quite often actually, for many years, but never in the way that I’d truly desired.

Night after night in a dazed state of drunken confusion, I’d laid in bed with a man whom I knew I didn’t like, let alone love, wondering the next morning how I got there or what I even did. Or maybe I did remember. That was worse. It was never right; the causal nature of it all, how common it was to share that intimate moment with a stranger. It was never right. There was always something that didn’t feel okay. How did I get to this point? The girl at 13 who started to be physical with her boyfriends was now tossing herself at a different guy each weekend. For what? I was having fun right?

I could have never guessed years later I would be seething in pain from the loss that accompanied giving away a part of my heart each time I succumbed to having sex. Each time I allowed him to come over past 10pm even though I knew where it would lead. And I know that many women continue to do it, with someone who isn’t their husband, and I get it. I really do. I get the need to be cherished, desired, held and mostly, to be loved. To hear someone tell you the things your heart longs for. Yet, it was not until 3 years after I stopped having sex that I realized the way my heart really felt; bruised, crushed & angry. Really angry.

Angry with men and I had no idea why. No one told me that sleeping with that guy from the bar would leave me feeling more empty than I thought possible. No one told me that it would make me feel more unworthy and more alone. No one told me that with each one-night stand, my heart was building up walls that would keep everyone out. That allowing men access to my body would make it seemingly impossible to receive a hug, hear someone tell me I’m beautiful, or let myself be loved. I stopped having sex and you have the freedom to stop as well.

In college, thanks to God’s intervention, I realized that the lie I was living needed to end. That despite what the world was telling me, I could stop having sex. I could save it for its proper context and I could regain the part of me that is so precious. My heart could remain with God until He asks me to give it away. Meeting God in the depths of my heart and hearing His voice was for me the start of the battle to change.

The battle to claim a new life in Christ and to shed away the masks of false identity. And it was scary, really scary. Would I find someone who would love me for me? I was graced with the presence of many influential women at the time who continue to show me that living with dignity and strength comes from my knowledge of who my Father is, and who I am: His daughter. I learned that while on His cross, the Lord saw all those lonely nights I lay in bed wondering if this is as good as it gets. He bore the pain of my wounds and today allows me to live in the freedom, which He has promised. The wounds that sometimes still feel open and raw I have slowly and gently placed into the Hands of Him who speaks the truth of my goodness to my heart. He is my Father and yours, First let Him in and He will do the rest.

P.S. You are enough.

Why is the Left so hostile to the Duggars?

I don’t know the Duggars, I don’t watch their show, I have no vested interest, whatsoever.  I heard about something going on with them last week, but didn’t care to know more, until I watched Fox News last night, and found out what all the hullabaloo was about.

I mean, let’s face it.  An adolescent boy touched his own sisters inappropriately.  Outside their clothes.  They didn’t even know he did it until he admitted it.  I’m not saying that what he did isn’t wrong.  What I am saying is that the family dealt with the issue appropriately.  They had him counselled, they made him go to the police and confess it, and they set up rules in the home so it wouldn’t happen again.

What I don’t like about all this is the left’s reaction, especially LGBT types saying that the Duggars should not cast moral judgement because they, themselves, have morality problems.  I know that people hate it when someone condemns their own personal proclivities.  But just because one Duggar did something wrong does not mean that they can’t hold an opinion about the LGBT lifestyle.  One does not exclude the other.

If the Radical Left had their way, nobody could say a word about anyone else’s ills.  And that’s just not acceptable. Or possible.  Everyone has some sort of sin.

The Body God gave us doesn’t lie by Msgr. Charles Pope

The latest tragic twist in the “Bruce Jenner saga” (more on that below) illustrates yet again one of the great errors of our day: the rejection of the truth that our bodies have something to tell us about who we are and what we are called to do and be. Most moderns see the body as merely a tool of sorts. Assertions are made that one can do as one pleases with one’s own body, and that a person’s sex (male or female) is purely incidental—merely an arbitrary quality one “happens to have.” Many say that our sex should not speak to anything deeper than genitals and that other “mere” physical differences are to be set aside to one degree or another. In effect, it would seem that our bodies have little or nothing to say to us. According to modern culture they are incidental.

The rejection of the body as instructive or in any way determinative has reached its zenith in the attempted normalization of homosexual activity, the redefinition of marriage, and now, sexual “reassignment” surgery.

As regards homosexual acts, any non-ideological analysis of the body will indicate that the man was not made for the man, nor the woman for the woman. Rather, the man is made for the woman and the woman for the man. This is set forth quite clearly in the pure physicality of things. St. Paul calls homosexual acts παρὰ φύσιν (para physin), meaning “contrary to the nature of things.”

As regards so-called sex “reassignment” surgery, I must point out that the soul is the form of the body. Now of course I can hear the objection that somehow we are not only physical beings and thus to use simply physical arguments is not proper. While this is true, but the body cannot be ignored. The soul is the form of the body. That is to say, our soul, its essence and abilities, gives rise to the structure and physical attributes of the body.

What is meant by saying that the soul is the form of the body? Consider for a moment a glove. What is the form of a glove? What determines how a glove is formed, shaped, and designed? Well, of course, it is the hand. It is both the shape of the hand and its capacities that give rise to the design and function of the glove. A glove with only three fingers or one with eight fingers would be a poor glove indeed. The proper form of the glove is the hand. And it is not just the shape of the hand that dictates the design of the glove, it is also the required functioning of the hand. Fingers need to move and work together for the hand to achieve its purpose. A glove that was extremely stiff and permitted the fingers no movement would be a poor glove. A good glove protects the hand but also permits it to achieve its proper end. Thus the fully functioning hand is the form (or blueprint) of the glove.

In the same way, the soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body. Our bodies have the design they do because of the capacities of our souls. We are able to talk because our souls have something to say. Our fingers are nimble yet strong because our souls have the capacity to work at tasks that require both strength and agility. We have highly developed brains because our souls have the capacity to think and reason. Animals have less of all this because their souls have little capacity in any of these regards. My cat, Daniel, does not speak.  This is not just because he has no larynx; Daniel has no larynx because he has nothing to say. The lack of capacity in his animal soul (or life-giving principle) is reflected in the design of his body.

Sexuality is more than skin-deep. When it comes to sexuality in the human person, our sex (or as some incorrectly call it, gender, (gender is a grammatical term that refers to the classification of nouns and pronouns))  is not just a coin toss. Our soul is either male or female and our body reflects that fact. I don’t just “happen” to be male; I am male. My soul is male; my spirit is male; hence, my body is male. So called “sex-change” operations are a lie. Cross-dressing is a lie. “Transgender” and other made-up and confused assertions cannot change the truth of what the soul is. You can adapt the body but you cannot adapt the soul. The soul simply says, “Sum quod sum” (I am what I am).

The modern age has chosen simply to set all this aside and to see the body as incidental or arbitrary. This is a key error and has led to a lot of confusion. We have already seen how the widespread approval of homosexual acts has stemmed from this, but there are other confusions that have arisen as well.

Consider for example how the body speaks to the question of marriage. That the body has a nuptial (i.e., marital) meaning is literally inscribed in our bodies. God observed of Adam “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  This fact is also evident in our bodies. I do not wish to be too explicit here but it is clear that the woman has physical aspects that are designed to find completion in union with a man, her husband. Likewise the man has physical aspects that are designed to find completion with a woman, his wife. The body has a “nuptial” meaning. It is our destiny; it is written in our nature to be in a complementary relationship with “the other.” But the complementarity is not just a physical one. Remember, the soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body. Hence, the intended complementarity extends beyond the physical, to the soul. We are made to find completion in the complementarity of the other. A man brings things to the relationship (physical and spiritual) that a woman cannot. A woman brings things to the relationship (physical and spiritual) that a man cannot. It is literally written in our bodies that we are generally meant to be completed and complemented by someone of the “opposite” (i.e., complementary) sex. And this complementarity is meant to bear fruit. The physical complementarity of spouses is fertile, fruitful. Here, too, the body reflects the soul. The fruitfulness is more than merely physical; it is spiritual and soulful as well.

It is true that not everyone finds a suitable marriage partner. But, from the standpoint of the nuptial meaning of the body, this is seen as less than ideal rather than as merely a neutral “alternative” lifestyle called the “single life.”  (Uh-oh, there I go again.) If one is single with little possibility of this changing, then the nuptial meaning of the body is lived through some call of love and service to the Church (understood as the Bride of Christ or the Body of Christ), and by extension to the community.

Another consideration in this has to be the question of celibacy in the Church and of the male priesthood. If the body has, among other things, a nuptial meaning, whence do celibacy and virginity for the sake of the Kingdom find their place? Simply in this: priests and religious sisters are not single. A religious sister is a bride of Christ. She weds her soul to Christ and is a beautiful image of the Church as bride (cf Eph 5:21ff). Fully professed sisters even wear the ring. As a priest, I  do not consider myself a bachelor. I have a bride, the Church. She is a beautiful, though demanding, bride! And do you know how many people call me “Father”?  The religious in my parish are usually called “Sister,” but the Superior is called “Mother” by all of us. And here, too, our bodies reflect the reality of our call. A woman images the Church as bride. A man images Christ as groom.

It is another error of modern times to say that a woman can be a priest. Jesus Christ didn’t just “happen” to be a man. He is the Groom of the Church; the Church is His Bride. The maleness of the Messiah, Jesus, was not just the result of a coin toss. Nor was it rooted merely in the “sociological requirements of the patriarchal culture of his time.”  It is not merely incidental to His mission. He is male because He is groom. The priests who are configured to Him are also male because the body has a nuptial meaning and the Church is in a nuptial relationship to Christ. Christ is the groom; the priests through whom He ministers to His bride are thus male. To say that a female can image the groom is, frankly, silly. It demonstrates how far our culture has gone in thinking of the body as merely incidental, rather than essential and nuptial.

The body does not lie. Our culture lies and distorts, but the body does not. Many today choose to consider the body incidental, a mere tool that can be refashioned at will. But the Church is heir to a well-tested and far longer understanding that the body is essential, not incidental, to who we are. Our differences are more than skin deep. The soul is the form (or blueprint) of the body and thus our differences and our complementarity are deep and essential. Our dignity is equal, but our complementarity cannot and should not be denied. God himself has made this distinction and intends it for our instruction. The body does not lie and we must once again choose to learn from it.

Bruce Jenner needs our concern, not our applause. He cannot undo his maleness by amputation and silicone bags. There is something deeply sad here in him and those like him. They need real help to accept themselves as God made them. Some years ago, Johns Hopkins Hospital stopped doing these surgeries since many of the staff there were uncomfortable cutting off healthy organs and mutilating bodies. Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins explained recently why it is better to understand this issue as one of mental illness that deserves care not affirmation:

This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken–it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.” [Elsewhere in the article he notes the high suicide rates, etc.]

The transgendered person’s disorder, said Dr. McHugh, is in the person’s “assumption” that they are different than the physical reality of their body, their maleness or femaleness, as assigned by nature. It is a disorder similar to a “dangerously thin” person suffering anorexia who looks in the mirror and thinks they are “overweight,” said McHugh. [**]

There is something equally sick in the so-called “transabled” movement, wherein people cut off their own limbs because they “feel” that their body is “supposed to be” disabled. They disown certain limbs and use power saws to cut them off. Please tell me the difference between those who cut off limbs and those who mutilate their genitals or cut off their breasts. More on the “transabled” movement can be found here: Choosing to be disabled.

We are in a time of grave distortion and even the loss of simple common sense. It doesn’t seem that things can get much more confused than “gender reassignment.” I am sure, however, that things are going to get a lot more confused. But this confusion is not for us, fellow Christians. Our bodies are not ours to do with as we please. They are not canvases to be tattooed with slogans or endlessly pierced; they are not to be used for fornication, adultery, or homosexual acts. Neither are they to be mutilated or carved up into apparently new forms.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Do not be deceived. Do not be confused. God was not “mistaken” in the sex He made you. Whatever internal drives, temptations, or disturbing thoughts one might have, the body was not made for sexual immorality or to be mutilated based on any internal rejection of our self. The call for every human being is to be chaste and to love our body as from God.

Here is a quirky and clever video that turns the table on the question of ordination. It also goes a long way to say that we cannot, in the end, simply pretend to be what we are not. Our bodies do not lie, even if we try to.

(My comment) there is a video which goes with this post which will not come over in copying.  Go to the link to see it.)

Been a long journey…

So where have I been, and what have I been doing the last several months?

Keeping very busy, to say the least.  As I’ve written before, I’ve been dealing with kidney stones, the large variety that would never pass the normal way.  Over the past year, I’ve had many treatments to dissolve them, blast them, and so on, but finally, they had to go in and extract them.  That’s been done over the last two months, and I’m finally free, but still recuperating.

Secondly, I’ve been discerning for the diaconate.  The month of June is the culmination of the process to see if they’ll accept me for the next step, which is 5 years of bi-weekly school days  Needless to say, I may need all my creativity and time to keep up with the school schedule.

This has been enough to keep me busy.  And, of course, there’s family activities.  I have a granddaughter who is stationed with her sailor husband in Nagasaki now.  And now comes the summer, with family coming in and out.  And I’m going on a pilgrimage this summer, to Majorca, Barcelona and Compostela.  Always busy, me. :)

Why I’m Catholic: Sola Scriptura isn’t Historical part III



The question we’re asking in this series is the most fundamental of questions. How does an individual Christian know that what he or she has come to accept as the “teaching of Christianity” is true?

There’s the Roman Catholic Church. There’s the Coptic Church that split off in the 5th century. There are the Eastern Orthodox churches that split off in the 11th century. There are the Protestant churches that split off in the 16th century and have since fragmented into a whole host of denominations and sects and independent movements. Between them, nearly every doctrinal issue is in dispute. There are brilliant and holy pastors and teachers in each of these churches. How does a believer know?

The Pattern of Authority in the New Testament and Beyond

When we looked into the New Testament we saw that Christians living during the time of the apostles had (1) Scripture, (2) tradition and (3) an authoritative Church.

In other words, (1) they had what the apostles had written. (2) They had the teaching of the apostles as it was preserved within the churches — as when Paul instructed the Thessalonian believers to hold fast to the “traditions” they had received “whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15) or when Paul instructed Timothy to “guard by the Holy Spirit” everything Timothy had “heard” him teach so that he could entrust it to faithful men who would be able to teach others (2 Timothy  1:14, 2:2).

And then (3) when there were important issues that needed to be settled, individual believers had a Church that could meet in council, decide the issue and send out a decree informing them of what the Holy Spirit had led them to decide (Acts 15).

If you will, “authority” was conceived as a kind of three-legged stool where Scripture, tradition and the authority of the Church combined to provide a secure knowledge of what was to be believed.

OK, so now we’re looking at Christianity after the time of the apostles and asking the same questions: How did an individual believer living during the second, third, fourth and fifth centuries of Christianity know that what he or she had come to accept as the “teaching of Christianity” was true? How did Christians imagine important disputes within the Church should and would be settled? Did they switch from thinking in terms of the three-legged stool to thinking in terms of Scripture alone?

In our last two lessons (here and here) I presented three lines of evidence that I think make it hard to believe that the early Church “switched” from thinking in terms of this pattern of Scripture, tradition and an authoritative Church to thinking in terms of sola scriptura.

But the strongest evidence of this (and here’s my fourth argument) is that we do not see the early Church teaching or practicing sola scriptura. Instead, what we see in the writings of the early centuries is a continuation of the basic pattern we saw in our study of the New Testament.

Sacred Scripture

Of course Protestant apologists will insist that this is not the case.

They will insist that the fathers of the Church did in fact hold to sola scriptura, and to demonstrate this they will quote passages from early Church writings that speak of the authority of Scripture and how all true teaching must conform to Scripture and be supported by Scripture.

For instance, from the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem:

For concerning the divine and Holy mysteries of the faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures

This is a good passage because it gives me a chance to emphasize something that Protestants reading this may not know. Catholicism teaches that there is a “primacy” that pertains to Scripture as the inspired revelation of God. Vatican II described Scripture as “the speech of God as it was put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” There is nothing like Scripture, and because of this Christian teaching must conform to Scripture and be supported by Scripture.

The problem is that the inspired Scripture has to be interpreted.

Scripture doesn’t, for example, leap up and say, “By the way, all those passages in the New Testament about justification and faith and obedience and whether salvation is something that can be lost? This is how you put them all together and make sense of them!” No. Someone has to read the Bible and interpret everything being said and draw out from it the teachings of Christianity.

And because of this, while we find the Church fathers speaking eloquently of the inspiration and authority and, as in the quotation from Cyril, even the primacy of Scripture, we also find them speaking of the authority of Tradition as the lens through which Scripture must be read and interpreted.

Sacred Tradition

When I first read the fathers of the Church and began to run into passages like the following from Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and the greatest biblical theologian of the second century, I recognized right away that I was being exposed to a mindset that was very different than mine as an evangelical.

When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life…

What, then?  If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question?  What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us?  Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom them entrusted the Churches?

When I was a evangelical Protestant minister, I can assure you that if I had preached a million sermons over the course of a million Sundays I would never have thought to describe the truth as something the apostles deposited in the Church like a rich man deposits his money in a bank.

I would have said they deposited the truth in the writings of the New Testament. Period.

I would never had said that “everything which pertains to the truth” can be found in the Church and drawn from the Church. I would never ever have implied that even if the apostles had left us no writings Christians could know the truth in “the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom [the apostles] entrusted the churches.” No way!

And finally, my congregation would never have heard me utter words like these: “If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question?”

And yet, this is what Irenaeus says. In fact, this is the way all of the Church fathers speak. And the way they speak reveals a mindset that just doesn’t sound like Protestantism.

On the other hand, it does sound an awful lot like the mindset expressed in the Constitution on Divine Revelation from Vatican II:

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.  It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.

Bristling with Plausible Quotations

But why the need to look to Scripture and Tradition? Since Scripture is the only “inspired” record we have of what the Apostles taught, why not look to Scripture alone?

Well, I’m sure Irenaeus believed that this is what the apostles actually taught the Church to do. But there was also a very practical reason. Christians don’t always agree on what exactly Scripture is teaching. And in the early Church there were heretical teachers. Orthodox Christians could argue passages of Scripture, but the heretics could argue passages of Scripture as well. And unless the Church wanted to simply divide and fragment to where there was a church for every sincerely held viewpoint, there had to be some method of testing whose interpretation was right and whose was wrong.

Saint Vincent of Lerins discusses this exact problem in his Commonitoria, written in the early fifth century. The quotation here is a little lengthy, but it needs to be read in full.

He begins by saying, essentially, “Imagine you ask one of the heretics…”

What ground have you for saying that I ought to cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church?  He has the ready answer: “For it is written.”  And forthwith he produces a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the apostles, from the prophets, by means of which, interpreted on a new and wrong principle, the unhappy soul may be precipitated from the height of Catholic truth to the lowest abyss of heresy… Do heretics appeal to Scripture?  They do indeed, and with a vengeance.  For you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture… Whether among their own people or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavor to shelter under the words of Scripture… You will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old.

Now, I read this and I had to admit that it reminded me of my experience as a Protestant — especially with those believers most committed to the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura.

The evangelical Protestant world is filled with Christians and Christian communities, churches and denominations who have cast overboard what St. Vincent refers to as “the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church.” And on what basis? Because, each of them would say, “it is written!”

There are Christian churches led by 28 year-old men who will admit — even make it their supreme boast — that they aren’t theologians, have never read the early Church and have no idea what someone like Irenaeus or Vincent or Augustine or Aquinas might have believed and taught. And yet there they are week after week casting away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church, and leading others to do the same, on the basis of their “opinion” of what this or that passage of Scripture is saying.

And of course it’s easy to bring forth “plausible” quotations from the New Testament to support any number of contradictory positions. This is precisely why there are within Protestantism so many denominations and sects and independent churches — each claiming to stand on Scripture alone.

In sharp contrast to all of this, when we read the writings of the early Church, we discover a mindset, a way of thinking, that is simply not how Protestants think. We find the writers of the early Church saying things you would never hear someone say who was committed to sola scriptura.

Here’s Origen, writing around 220 A.D.

The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.

Here’s Tertullian, again writing around the same time as Origen in the early third century:

Moreover, if there be any (heresies) bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of the Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origins of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles…. Then let all the heresies….offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic.

And then, here’s another quotation from Saint Irenaeus, writing around A.D. 180.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house.  She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth.  For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the Tradition is one and the same.

An Authoritative Church

As I read the fathers it was just apparent that they did not think as I thought. As an evangelical Protestant I talked about Scripture. The writers of the early Church talked about Scripture. But they also talked about Tradition. Finally, I found them talking about the authority of the Church.

Now, because I’ll be coming back later to deal with this issue in some detail, I leave you here with one last interesting, troubling, thought-provoking quotation from St. Irenaeus.

In his work Against Heresies, he’s talking about the Church and the Tradition, how the apostles deposited the truth in the Church and how in matters of dispute we must look to the Tradition, and so forth. In this context he begins to talk about apostolic succession. And this is what he says:

But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the succession of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church that has the tradition and the faith that comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic Tradition

We’ll pick up here next week.

Why I’m Catholic: Sola Scriptura isn’t historical, part II

why i’m catholic: sola scriptura isn’t historical, part II



In this section of our series on sola scriptura, we’ve been looking at what the earliest Christians living in the decades and centuries after the apostles can teach us.

How did those closest to the apostolic age think about the relationship between Scripture, tradition and the authority of the Church? How did they think important disputes would be settled?

My goal here is to present four basic arguments or lines of thought that I think taken together demonstrate conclusively that sola scriptura was not the faith of the Early Church.

The first was our subject last week. It goes like this.

1. Evidence that sola scriptura was not in the minds of Christians living in the post-apostolic period is that there isn’t a hint in the writings of the apostles, who established and taught the earliest Christians, that it would be

There’s no mention of the idea that once the apostles died what they had written would serve as the sola and sufficient infallible rule of faith and practice for the Church.

There’s no indication that the apostles were preparing the churches this.

In short, there’s no evidence in the writings of those who actually authored the New Testament that they thought like Protestants think about the question of how their teaching would be faithfully preserved and passed down within the Church. For the evidence, see last weeks lesson.

In this lesson we’re going to hit arguments two and three.

2. Another evidence that sola scriptura was not the faith of the early Church is the simple fact that the Church took so long to formally define the canon of Scripture.     

Take a moment and think carefully about the situation of the earliest Christians. During the time in which the apostles were still living, believers had Scripture, Tradition and an authoritative Magisterium.

They had everything the apostles wrote (Scripture). They had a basic knowledge of the apostolic doctrine preserved in the churches the apostles founded and instructed (Tradition). And then, when needed, the Church’s leadership could meet in council to authoritatively settle disputes and issue decrees on matters of Christian teaching (Magisterium).

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).

And then — at least according to the Protestant view of history — the day comes when the apostles are all gone and the early Christians begin to realize that everything has changed. Tradition can no longer be trusted. It’s losing its authority by the hour. What Timothy “heard” from Paul and guarded by the Holy Spirit and passed on to other faithful men who would be able to teach others?  This has become essentially worthless. Because, after all, it’s not infallible.

Church leaders can continue to meet in council but their decisions are no longer binding. After all, they’re not infallible either. Only Scripture is infallible and therefore only Scripture is binding.

From now on, it’s scripture and scripture alone.

Question: what would you do if you were a bishop in this post-apostolic Church?  What would you do? I’ll tell you exactly what you would do: You would move immediately, if not much sooner, to assemble the leadership of the Church in every city, launch a massive inquiry into which apostles wrote what and to whom, gather the apostolic documents and formally define the canon of New Testament. The identification of the inspired writings would become your number one priority.

So is this what happened? Surely this is what the bishops did. No?

Nope. Instead, the Church went for years and decades and even centuries without taking up in a serious way the issue of the canon of Scripture (“canon” from a Greek word meaning “rule,” or “measuring stick”). In fact, it wasn’t until the latter part of the fourth century that councils were convened to clearly delineate and formally define which books the Church accepted as apostolic, inspired and authoritative: the councils of Hippo and Carthage and Rome.

And even then it was in response to heresies that had arisen in the Church!

There was Marcionites who attacked the integrity of the New Testament by cutting out a number of books he decided were too Jewish and not written for Christians. There were the Gnostics who attacked the meaning of the New Testament with their New Age interpretations (New Age “Christians” are essentially modern day Gnostics.)  And then there were the Montanists who claimed to be receiving new revelation from God that could, at least theoretically, be added to the New Testament.

In response to this, the Church moved to settle the issue of which books exactly were to be regarded by Christians as inspired and canonical and provide a formal list.

In other words, if it had not been for this situation, the Church would have waited even longer. It might have gone on forever without feeling an intense need to settle the question definitively.

Now, this is at least understandable on the Catholic premise that the Church didn’t view Scripture as the end-all and be-all for its ability to know and preserve the apostolic teaching.

But it makes no sense whatsoever on the Protestant premise that the Church viewed Scripture as the ‘sole and sufficient infallible rule of faith and practice.’

In his book Answers to Catholic Claims, Protestant apologist James White talks about this bit of church history without without realizing the implications it has for his view that the Church at that time was a Church that believed in and was practicing sola scriptura.

In the early history of the church there were events and people that gave impetus and rise to the formalization of the canon list. These things could be viewed as being used of God to prompt his people, the Church to give serious consideration to providing to all concerned a listing of the books which the Church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, received as authoritative.

Now, if you don’t stop to think about what James White is saying here, sounds reasonable enough. But if and when you do stop to think about it, what he’s saying is almost hilarious.

How so? Well, he’s casually talking about how a Church that, according to him, based its entire teaching on Scripture alone, waiting four hundred years to decide for sure which books belong in Scripture!

And even then, he’s proposing that the Church needed to be “prompted” by God to give “serious consideration” to providing “to all concerned” this list of the inspired books. In other words, not everyone was concerned to have such a list. But some were. And to those who were, the Holy Spirit used the crisis created by these heresies to essentially put a cattle prod to the Church’s rear end and get it to provide all Christians, and all the churches, with a New Testament!

All I can tell you is that if I were a bishop in the time of Peter and Paul, and I believed that after their death what the apostles had written would become the sole rule of faith and practice for the Church, I would have been “concerned” from the day the first apostle showed up with a runny nose and cough.

By the time I was attending my first apostolic funeral, the burning concern of my life would have been the work of identifying and collecting the inspired writings of every apostle!

When you really think of it, it verges on the incredible to conceive of a Church, committed to sola scriptura, waiting nearly four centuries to formally define its list of inspired and infallible writings. And only doing it then because it was prompted to do so by circumstances.

It would be like someone building a skyscraper and then sixty years later thinking, “I wonder if we shouldn’t give serious consideration to putting a foundation under this thing. You know, at least for those who may be concerned!”

The Church’s actions in this regard don’t fit a people holding the Protestant view of sola scriptura.

On the other hand, its actions fit quite well a people who believed that the basic doctrinal content of their Christian faith was preserved and handed down within the Church, and that while it was of course reflected in the inspired writings of the apostles, it wasn’t based solely on those writings.

In other words, the Church’s actions fit a people holding the Catholic view.

3.  A third evidence that sola scriptura was not the faith of the early Church is the simple fact that the earliest Christian Creeds say nothing at all about Scripture.

When you look at the Creeds and Confessions that came out of the Reformation, you notice something right away: They all begin with a strong statement on the inspiration, authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Essentially, they all begin by asserting their belief in sola scriptura.

For instance, both the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (written in 1646), and the Baptist Confession of 1689 — begin with chapters titled “Of the Holy Scriptures”.  I’ll quote from the Westminster, but the Baptist Confession is nearly identical.

The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.

You find this same pattern in all of the major creeds of the Reformation.

And of course this makes perfect sense. After all, the Reformation was all about rejecting the authority of the Church and standing on the principle of sola scriptura. Obviously, when drawing up a Creed to describe in clear and systematic terms what their particular Church believed, it would make sense for them to begin with the foundational issue of Scripture’s inspiration, authority and sufficiency.

Now, it seems to me more than interesting to compare and contrast this with what we find when we look at the Creeds of the early Church.

For instance, if we look at the earliest of all Christian creeds, the Apostles Creed. we find that while it contains an article on the Church (“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”) there is no mention of the Bible. There’s not a word about it’s inspiration, or its authority, or its sufficiency as the sole basis for Christian belief and practice.

And then, if we look at the Nicene Creed, which came out of the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), we find the same thing. While it contains, this time an expanded article on the Church (“I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church…”), again there isn’t a word about the inspiration and authority of sacred Scripture.

Now, assuming the early Church was Protestant, this is hard to understand.

Again, it fits the Catholic view of things, where the emphasis is on the deposit of faith being preserved by the Holy Spirit and passed down within the Church. But it doesn’t fit the Protestant view of things.


These two arguments, lines of thought, bits of evidence — whatever you want to call them — they don’t constitute a proof of the Catholic position. What they do, however, is provide evidence of a mindset that I think clearly fits much better the Catholic worldview than it does the Protestant.