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.

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.