The Central Issue

In the comments, one writer asked me the following question:

Could you be “wrong about Rome”? Could the Catholic Church truly be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church she claims to be?

yes or no.

My response is in the comments, but I want to respond here, too. 

I am not wrong about the Roman Catholic Church. I know, the implication of that is to say that you [as a Catholic] have been deceived; you have been led down a wrong path. I am quite confident in saying that. A lifetime of my own honest inquiries have not just persuaded me, but convinced me. The brief testimonials of [other] individuals [who have gone down the same path] have further served to underscore that I followed a good path in this.

I’ll quote Sherlock Holmes (more recently picked up by Spock in the Star Trek movie. There may be other sources for this):

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth?”

What is Rome’s story? Adrian Fortescue, in his work “The Early Papacy,” (written and published in 1920), discusses some of the early historical work that I point to, and rejects it thoroughly. He says,

We believe in a Church that exists and lives all days, even to the end of the world, guided by Christ, infallible in faith and morals as long as she exists. We have exactly the same confidence in divine guidance of the Church in 1870 as in 451…

That is, the assumption about some “organic continuity” from the time of Peter to 451 to 1870 to today exists.

He repeatedly makes this assertion: “The criterion of faith about the papacy for us is what the Catholic Church teaches today. We shall never get forward in discussion with people on any one dogma till we agree about this: that the authority of the Church today is the criterion for all dogmas. But this does not mean that we refuse to discuss early texts about the papacy. On the contrary, we are always doing so, and we claim that these early texts confirm what the Church teaches today. The main proof, the most efficient in every way, the proof that is the real motive for every Catholic, is simply that this dogma is taught now by the Church of Christ, that Christ has given to his Church his own authority, so that we can trust the Church as we trust Christ himself. ‘Who heareth you, heareth me’ (Luke 10:16).”

You have cited that verse to me. But it is one thing for Jesus to say such a thing to all of his disciples (“the 70”) in person. It is quite another thing for Rome to just assume this is true about itself. But that is what it does.

We don’t know everything about the history of that early church period, but we do know enough to say that it has no resemblance to the story that Rome offers about its own authority. There is not only little comparison. There is NO comparison.

We know enough about the history of the early middle ages to reconstruct the precise strands of the Roman Empire out of which the papacy grew.

We have done too much exegetical work on the book of Matthew, Luke, John, and the rest of the New Testament to allow such things as that the proof-text given above  has any relevance to the Roman church today.

If Rome wants to make such assertions as Fortescue made (and he was a loyal reporter and a writer of the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” and so his assertions are very close to the official assertions), then it is not enough for Rome to assume that “what it teaches today as dogma is the real proof” for such things. Nor must it merely spit out a spoof-text that “kinda-sorta, in some way, looks like the story” that Rome tells. It must apply the exegetical practices that are common not only among Protestants, but Catholics and secular biblical scholars, to its own positions. Anything less than this is to put the beliefs of the Roman church into the realm of fairy tale.

The story that the Roman Catholic Church has told over the centuries has been eliminated as impossible. The historical record bears this out. I do not know enough to build a precise reconstruction, but the reconstructions that we do have, of thousands of different strands of history — Peter’s life, Paul/Acts/Paul’s letters, the church in Rome, etc., are quite thorough.  

Just as we know from history that Benjamin Franklin was not the first president of the United States, we know that Peter received no such commission as he is said to have received.

And all the rest of Roman Catholic dogma rests on that.

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

2 replies on “The Central Issue”

  1. I’ve been reading your archives on RCC/Protestant questions and have found them interesting and helpful.

    What would your top two or three recommended readings be for someone processing these issues?


    1. Hi Ross — thanks for your comment.

      This is a very big area, and I’m not sure what your particular interest is. Just as a general introduction, James White’s “The Roman Catholic Controversy” is a good place to start. I’d say that understanding the role of Scripture is very important, and in that regard, William Webster and David King’s work “Holy Scripture” (the three volume set) are very effective at addressing Roman Catholic claims about the role of Scripture in the early church. This is important, because Webster and King argue (quite effectively) that the Reformers restored the kind of thinking about Scripture that had existed in the early church, but that had gotten lost over the centuries.

      I’m trying to read, and write, more systematically in a couple of areas. Obviously I think that the history (or rather, non-history) of the early papacy is also very important when it comes to evaluating claims made by Catholicism. As well, I’ve got various works handy on the topic of justification — there are many aspects to this, from works on the early understanding of grace and faith, Augustine’s interactions with Pelagius, the muddying of certain concepts, the Reformation’s re-discovery and re-articulation of Paul’s theology of justification. Tied in with this are various other concepts such as the New Perspective on Paul.

      I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking for. But if you have any specific questions I’ll be happy to answer them.


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