Don’t Let Your Hatred of the Catholic Church Be Greater Than Your Love for Christ

The martyrdom of Saint Margaret Clitherow, March 25, 1586.

A reader writes,

It sends shivers down my spine to contemplate the sheer wickedness of you uniting with those who persecuted and killed my ancestors for the good confession of their faith.

We have received similar comments from others, too, referencing the persecution Protestants experienced at the hands of Catholics. That persecution was, indeed, contemptible. I have no intention of disputing that. Wes Bredenhof recently posted a letter from the Reformer Guido de Bres to his wife on the eve of his execution by hanging. It is a powerful testimony to the sincerity of de Bres’ faith, and reading that letter as we do, from within a world where executing someone for heresy is unthinkable, it is difficult not to be incensed with those who killed him.

The problem, though, as demonstrated by the above comment, is that this standard is too often applied only one way. In Proverbs 11:1 we read, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” [ESV]. That clearly has implications beyond buying and selling, and is no less instructive for our words and judgments. Do we use the same weights for all actions, or only for those that benefit our cause?

For example, John Calvin, during his ministry in Geneva, had a man named Michael Servetus executed for his beliefs. Servetus was a heretic from any Christian perspective, and considered himself a free thinker. There are many people today who would call themselves free thinkers, and who would identify with Servetus’ cause and ideas. If one of them were to convert to the Reformed faith, would my correspondent make the same appeal to his spine shivers, and comment on the “sheer wickedness” of a free thinker joining with those who once executed his ancestors for their beliefs? Of course not.

But let’s bring this closer to home. When the English crown embraced the teachings of the Reformers, the Protestant authorities set about hanging, drawing, and quartering any priests found practicing their faith. This wasn’t a quick, neck-breaking hanging like the one de Bres would have had. No, this was a slow hanging, in which the priest was strangled to death. And while he choked, his executioners would cut off his genitals, slice open his belly, and burn his intestines in front of him. After his death, they would decapitate him, chop his body into four pieces, and send the pieces to various parts of the realm to be put on display. That was the cost of being a Catholic priest in Reformed England. Is your spine shivering?
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More Work than It’s Worth?

I’ve entered into a busy season of life, having started in September a full-time position as the senior theology and religious coordinator at a Catholic high school. There is so much I’d like to write about, and hopefully will write about, especially now with the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation putting the Catholic/Protestant divide at the forefront of people’s minds. I thank my readers for their patience, and I appreciate all the correspondence that has come my way over the last year. I ask that you would continue to be patient, and take the time to study and pray about these issues. The devil hates the truth, and hates the pursuit of the truth, making it seem like it’s more work than it’s worth.

But the truth has a human Face. And in that Face we find “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” [He.1:3], words almost too wonderful to grasp. Seeking the truth is why we were conceived and born to begin with, for seeking the truth is seeking communion with the Father through the Son. And in the light of that fact, the devil’s sniveling attempts at obscuring the truth and making it offensive are simply pathetic. Those attempts seem intimidating at first, but that is merely to disguise the fact that they are devoid of power. They are lies, opposed to the truth, and as such have no substance at all. The truth has been revealed from on high for all to know, that all may be drawn out of sin and rebellion to the glory of the Father, and that truth has a name: Jesus Christ. He is the reward for all who seek Him in faith.

It’s because of these things that I have argued here for the Catholic Faith. I believe that it’s the truth, and that when all the evidence is laid out on the table, all the arguments considered, and all the objections answered, the truth of it is overwhelming, for it is nothing other than the truth of Jesus Christ. To that end, I plan to post answers to some of the questions and objections I’ve been challenged by over the last year. Arenda had done that in her “Becoming Catholic” post, and it proved an effective way to directly address the questions Reformed people have. People have asked me about the papacy, Catholic and Protestant editions of the Bible, worship, justification by faith alone, and Mary, among other things. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me. But again, I ask your patience as I address these issues.

On Becoming Catholic

Here is Arenda’s account of becoming Catholic, from her blog, The Upcast Eye.

The Upcast Eye

The winter of 2015-16 was one of the strangest seasons of my life. Jeremy was halfway through his fourth and final year at seminary, and the end of seven long years of studying was finally within sight. Up to that point, everything had led us to believe that Jeremy would make a good pastor, and he was being contacted by various churches who were interested in calling him when he completed his Master of Divinity. We were looking forward to some stability in life: a steady income, knowing where we’d be living for the next five years, and getting to know the congregation Jeremy would be pastoring.

But by the end of 2015 that vision of the future had crumbled. Rather than discussing questions like, “Which of these calling committee inquiries sounds more interesting?” and “Would you ever consider moving to Australia?” I was wondering, “Can I really believe in…

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Flashes, Thunders, and Shakes: The Bible on Prayers to Saints

I was having a discussion recently with a Reformed person about the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints. It’s this doctrine that informs the Catholic practice of venerating and praying to saints, especially to Mary. But this Reformed person insisted, as Reformed people all insist, that this practice is unbiblical.

I aim to show here that this simply isn’t the case. But first, what does it mean that something is “unbiblical”? Or what does it mean that something is “biblical”? It is certainly true that the Bible never commands us to seek the intercession of Mary and the saints. The Bible says very little about what to think about the faithful departed at all. Yet the Catholic Church teaches that this practice is indeed biblical; and what’s more, it’s a practice that Christians since the early Church, including the Church Fathers, believed was biblical. So, what do we mean by the word, “biblical”?

My Reformed conversation partner also brought up the topic of children who die in infancy. According to Reformed teaching, believing parents whose children die in infancy, regardless of whether those children are baptized, can be certain that those children are in heaven. However, the Bible does not say this. In the same way that you will search in vain for a Bible text that teaches that we ought to pray to Mary, so you will search in vain for a Bible text that teaches that believing parents of unbaptized children “ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy” [Canons of Dort, I.17]. The reason Reformed people believe this, though, is because of what they believe about the covenant. They draw conclusions from Scripture about the covenant, and from those conclusions they infer that children of believers who die in infancy, regardless of baptism, will go to heaven.

I mention this because of its significance for the meaning of the word, “biblical.” The Catholic Church teaches that prayers to saints are biblical for the same reason that Reformed people believe that canon I.17 is biblical. That is, while there is no text that commands praying to saints, from everything the Bible says about the communion of saints the Catholic Church infers that the saints in glory hear our pleas for their intercession and bring those intercessions before God. That’s how the Catholic Church has always understood the word “biblical” – as referring to a teaching that isn’t necessarily mentioned in Scripture, but that nonetheless follows from, and is in perfect accord with, everything that is mentioned in Scripture. Just like Reformed people believe about canon I.17.

I. On the word, “prayer.”

Before looking at the biblical evidence, I should say something about the verb, “to pray.” It often causes confusion in these discussions, and no discussion can be successful without defining our terms. When Catholics use the verb “to pray” with regard to saints, they are using it the way it was once always used in the English language, back when people might have said to each other, “Please pass the pottage, I pray you.” That is, the word “pray” in English means “ask,” or, “petition.” You can find this usage of “prayers” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit:

“But help came swiftly; for Bard at once had speedy messengers sent up the river to the Forest to seek the aid of the King of the Elves of the Wood. . . But the king, when he received the prayers of Bard, had pity, for he was the lord of a good and kindly people. . .”[1]

That’s the meaning Catholics use when they talk about prayers to saints. I realize that prayer can also mean much more than petitioning. Time spent in prayer with God is often a time of worshipping Him and basking in His love. But my point here is that the word “pray” doesn’t necessarily entail worship – it has (or had) a much more pedestrian use in the English language, and that’s the use that is relevant to this discussion.
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The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold: A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof

A page from the Wenceslas Bible, written in the German language in the 1390’s.

Over at his blog, Yinkahdinay, Dr. Wes Bredenhof has written a post, “True and False Catholicism.” He argues there that the Reformed are “the true Catholics,” and that the Catholic Church, in contrast, “represents the spirit of Antichrist.” To demonstrate this, he points to three areas where Catholic and Reformed teaching is at odds – authority, the doctrine of man, and worship – and concludes that in all three areas the Reformed are correct and the Catholic Church wrong.

I’ve responded to Wes’s arguments about authority over at Called to Communion: The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold: A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof.

Fragrant Mary on the North Wind

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden that the spices thereof may flow out.
– Song of Solomon 4:16 (KJV).

I.
In November of 2015, I was well into my Catholic ordeal. Arenda’s parents had come to visit for a few days, and we were saying farewell when James came bounding into the room saying, “Look, Mom, I found a necklace!” He jumped onto the couch and showed us a circlet of beads with a cross dangling from the end. What on earth? I thought. That’s no necklace – that’s a rosary. I was taken aback by it, and as soon as my in-laws had left I asked James were he’d found it. He took me to the basement, to the small workshop room, and showed me the nail on the wall shelves where it had been hanging. We’d lived in that house for four years and gone into that room countless times, and I’d never seen a rosary hanging there. The previous homeowners had been Polish, so I assumed that they were Catholic and had forgotten the rosary there. But why, at that tender point in our lives, had we suddenly found a rosary hanging in plain sight that we’d never before seen? I didn’t know what to think of it. I was nowhere near becoming Catholic at that point, much less willing to pray to Mary, so I left it as just one of those things in life. But I did say to Arenda, “If we start finding more rosaries hanging about the house, I’m going to take it as a sign.”

The interior of Notre Dame, "Our Lady", Cathedral in Paris, France. Courtesy, Traveldigg.com

The interior of Notre Dame, “Our Lady”, Cathedral in Paris, France.
Courtesy, Traveldigg.com

We didn’t find any more rosaries. I did, however, return often to the question as to why we’d found it. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was everything. But the whole question about Mary remained one of the biggest obstacles in my acceptance of the Catholic faith. From what I know of other converts from Protestantism, this is often the case. There are usually two major objections: first, the Catholic teachings on Mary are not found in Scripture; and second, they obscure the work and glory of Jesus Christ. Even after I’d accepted that the Catholic Church was who she said she was, the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, I still found myself holding out against her Marian teachings. How could Catholics say the exalted things they said about Mary? And what was the point of it all, anyways?

Because of this, I turned a good chunk of my attention to studying those teachings. And I doubt I’m alone in having found that looking into their scriptural and theological foundations has been among the most rewarding parts of the journey to the Catholic faith. Mary is a living sermon about Christ and the sheer gratuitousness of His love. But since Rome’s claims about her are perhaps the primary obstacle to embracing the Catholic faith, I thought I’d respond to my former objections. In this post I’ll address the second of the above objections: that the Marian teachings detract from Christ’s work and glory; and in a future post I’ll address the scriptural foundations.

II.
May as well dive right in with some of the Reformed-beard-sizzlers given to Mary by the Catholic Church: Queen of Heaven, Mother of Mercy, gracious Advocate, Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces. These offend Reformed ears because they appear to confer on Mary glory that belongs to Christ alone. Christ is our advocate [1Jn.2:1], the source of grace [Ep.4:7], the source of mercy [Ro.9:18], our Redeemer [Ep.1:7], and our royal Head [Ep.1:22]. These verses, and many others, proclaim these wonderful and rich truths about Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church, too, teaches those things about Christ, for she confesses every word of Scripture to be breathed out by God and binding for all men. But how on earth could she claim to uphold Scripture, honour Christ, and yet confer similar titles on Mary?

First of all, it’s important to be clear what is meant by these titles. Take “Mediatrix” for example. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy,

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all [1Ti.2:5,6 ESV].

How can the Catholic Church call Mary a mediator when Scripture says we have only one mediator? We can see in the above Scripture quotation what Paul meant by referring to Christ as our “one mediator”: He was the one “who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Christ stood in the middle, between God and man, as payment on behalf of man to God for the sins of the world. That’s not what the Catholic Church means in conferring on Mary the title, “Mediatrix.” She did not give her life as a ransom to God for our sins. Rather, what the title means is that Mary intercedes on our behalf to Christ. She brings our requests to her Son and by her intercession wins every grace that God is pleased to grant us. In fact, the very mediating work ascribed by Rome to Mary is commanded of us by Paul only a few verses earlier: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” [1Ti.2:1]. If Mary’s mediating work detracts from Christ’s work, then so do our intercessions.
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Called to Communion

1%d0%b3_ugolino_di_nerio-_the_last_supper_metropolitan_mus-_n-yThe most influential resource for me in becoming Catholic has been the website, Called to Communion. The authors are former Reformed/Presbyterian pastors, seminary students, and laymen who have all converted to the Catholic faith and who started the site in order to discuss the obstacles that exist between Protestants and Catholics, being motivated by Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17. They’ve written on pretty much every contentious issue out there, and the debates in the comments section are perhaps the site’s most valuable feature. It was reading through those debates late into the hours of many nights that helped to change my mind.

Anyways, they’ve been kind enough to host my “Thitherward” post, and you’re welcome to leave comments. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll open comments here or not, as it could mean a lot of extra work on my part. We’ll see.