- the sacrament of confession,
- the sacrament of confirmation, and
- the sacrament of the Eucharist.
All of these were the first time I had partaken in these sacraments.
Since converting, I tend to get questions mainly from two types of people:
- From Catholics, I tend to get questions such as, “What caused you to convert to Catholicism?”, “What did you read to become Catholic?”, “How did the sacraments play a part in your conversion?”
- From Protestants, I tend to get questions such as; “Who do you worship Mary?”, “Why can’t Catholics just believe the Bible?”, “Why do you need to confess your sins to a Priest?”, “Why can’t you just confess your sins to God?”, “Why do you pray to saints?”, “Why do you worship images?”, “What is a patron saint?”, etc.
To Protestant friends reading, this is both a warning and an invitation – the below details may start you on a path that shakes you to the core and undermines the foundational elements of your belief system. But the truth is the truth, so be warned. That said, if you proceed and find yourself shaken and wanting to investigate further, I invite you to get in touch and I will assist you if / where I can based on my experiences.
I was also catechised as a youth in Sunday School, where we were taught questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I still remember the first question without any prompting, “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
- It taught me the importance of the Word of God in the life of the believer.
- It taught me the importance of infant baptism.
- It taught me the fear of the LORD, which is the beginning of all wisdom (Provers 1:7).
- It taught me the importance of professing the faith (in Catholicism the equivalent is being confirmed) before partaking in communion.
- It taught me that to eat and drink of the body and blood of the LORD in an unworthy manner is to eat and drink judgment upon one’s self, as this was read out each time we partook in communion (1 Corinthians 11:26-29 – which unfortunately is not in the current Catholic liturgy, but is in the Catechism).
I didn’t know at the time that his answer was a presuppositionalist response (and thus logically flawed), but I did leave that conversation thinking to myself, ‘I call myself a Christian but I have never read the entirety of the book I claim to believe in.’ I decided to read through the Bible cover-to-cover for myself. I almost think there was a hint of planning to disprove the Bible in the process, but in the end I found myself coming to the conclusion at the end of the book of Deuteronomy that the Bible was true.
- Sola Scriptura – the belief that the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith in the life of the believer.
- Sola Fide – the belief that Faith alone in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour is sufficient for salvation.
- How many books should there be in the Bible? Protestants generally nowadays believe in 66 books making up the canon of the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. But Martin Luther and some Lutherans believe that some these New Testament books were Antilegomena (disputed), and are therefore similar to the Apocrypha (not inspired). John Calvin allegedly didn’t affirm the book of Revelation as Canon. The compilers of the first Geneva Bible included ‘The Prayer of Manasseh’ as a book within the Canon, making for a total number of 40 Old Testament books. Furthermore, most rejected Old Testament books such as the books of Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, etc., but some such as the Anglicans thought they were acceptable for use on life and instruction of manners, but not for establishing doctrine.
- Should infants be baptised, or only adults? Baptists denied baptism to infants.
- Is Jesus God? Jehovah’s Witnesses denied this.
- Are images idols? The Lutherans and some Anglicans denied that they were.
- How many sacraments are there? Most denominations say two, Lutherans and Anabaptists say three, the latter including foot washing as one.
- Was communion literally or spiritually Christ, or just a memorial meal? The Lutherans, Presbyterians and Baptists respectively held differing views.
- Have the Spiritual gifts ceased, or do they continue until today? The charismatics believe they continue, the cessationists do not.
- When Christ returns, will he setup a millennial kingdom to reign on earth for 1,000 years, or will it just be the final end of the world?
- He referred to the Church already in the 300 – 400s (AD) as Catholic.
- He believed in the power of the keys (the power of priests to bind and loose sins in the life of a believer).
- His mum had asked for prayers to be offered for her at the ‘altars’.
- His mum asked for these prayers to be offered for her after she was dead.
- He affirmed Baptismal regeneration.
- He didn’t necessarily see Genesis as a literal 6-day creation story.
- He mentions approvingly of his mum making offerings at the shrines of the martyrs.
- The Didache, believed to have been written between 60 – 100 AD
- The Letter of St Clement to the Corinthians, written circa 96 AD
- The Letters of St Ignatius, circa 106-110 AD
- The Martyrdom of St Polycarp
- The Epistle of Barnabas
- The Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus
- Fragments of Papias
- Portions of the writings of St Justin Martyr
- Portions of Against Heresies by St Iraneous
- Further material from Augustine, including his Enchiridion
- Portions of Eusebius’ Histories
- Athanasius On the Incarnation
- Portions of material written by Origen
- Portions of material written by Jerome
- Canons and other related pieces of information from the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
- Had a threefold office of Bishops, Priests and Deacons
- Referred to itself as the Catholic Church
- Used to have set times for daily prayer and weekly fasting
- Prescribed alternatives to immersion only baptism
- Affirmed baptismal regeneration
- Affirmed the possibility of losing one’s salvation
- Quoted from books of the Apocrypha as though they were Scripture
- Saw the communion service as sacrificial in nature, rather than merely as a memorial / spiritual meal.
I went on to read nearly every article published by them at the time (about 2013). The main thing though was that some of their articles undermined one of the key principles of the Reformation – Sola Scriptura.
The article asks, ‘By what criterion do we know which texts comprise the Bible?’ This is a very important question, as the Bible is not one book, but a collection of books. The Protestant Bible has 66 books, the Catholic Church has 73 and the Orthodox have 76, with some other minority groups having one or two extra (I.e. 4 Maccabees and the Book of Enoch). If the criterion by which we know which texts make up the Bible is wrong, we could have the wrong list of books in our Bible, by either having too many or not enough.
Because there is no list in the Bible of which books make up the Bible, this means there is no way of knowing with infallible certainty under Sola Scriptura which books make up the Bible. We can rely on an outside infallible source, but this completely demolishes the principle of Sola Scriptura. And without a list within the Bible itself, there is no argument that suffices to prevent this from being a self-refuting theory.
That said, the New Testament in its entirety was not likely completed at the time of Paul’s writing, meaning Paul was not referring to a set list of New Testament books known to all. And even if he was, the verse itself does not specifically list which texts are / are not Scripture. I thought 2 Timothy 3:16 resolution for a few days when I realised it included a New Testament book as scripture, until I noticed that Sola Scriptura still didn’t stand up to scrutiny without a list of books within the inspired text of the Bible itself.
- A second infallible source is required outside of Scripture itself (thus violating the principle that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith, and making a case for the Catholic Church’s position of infallible sources outside the Bible in tradition, the teaching of the Magisterium, etc), or
- We cannot know with any certainty that the books we have are actually the books which we are to rely on for faith (R.C. Sproul refers to this as having a ‘fallible collection of infallible books’, which is absurd). There could be extra books or less books than we have in the 66 book canon, or
- A set list of scripture is not a rule of faith that requires infallibility, meaning I can choose to believe in whichever books I want to, either excluding books from the 66-book canon, or adding books such as the Gospel of Judas or my personal diary or whatever else I feel inclined to include (which is utter absurdity).
- The self-attesting nature of scripture and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit: Quoting the Belgic and Westminster Confessions, it is shown that this test is unreliable and subjective, as any two Christians that disagree on the canonicity of the Bible whilst both claiming to have the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit undermines this principle, as it relies on something outside the Bible but also subjective. Martin Luther and John Calvin both had different lists in their canons whilst claiming they had inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The question necessarily becomes, ‘Who legitimately has the Holy Spirit?’ In the process, they show misstatements of the Catholic position in Calvin, and why his position is flawed. Refined views such as Herman Ridderbos’ are also critiqued and rejected.
- The Original Hebrew Old Testament: Reviewing the methods put forward by Dr. Harris and rejecting them as violating the arguments put forward by Ridderbos, Called to Communion show how the claim that there was a consistent Hebrew canon is non-verifiable, that it pushes back the question to, ‘How the OT canon was verified?’, that not one single Early Church Father that was in favour of the using a Hebrew text have a list directly corresponding to that of the current 39-book Protestant Old Testament, and that Jerome (among others) cannot be used as a source to substantiate a view supporting the Protestant position when compared with his writings support a larger canon.
- New Testament Apostolic Authorship: They use Ridderbos’ arguments to show why arguments put forward re: Apostolic Authorship are insufficient.
- Widespread acceptance by the Early Church: It is proven that there was no universal text that was accepted across the whole Church until the 4th Century at the earliest, unlike the claim that this was the case.
- That which preaches Christ: Luther’s argument for canonicity of books. But he rejects 2 Maccabees and Esther (the latter of which is in Protestant Bibles today) as having too much Judaism and no little heathen vice. W. G. Kummel’s understanding of Luther’s argument is shown to also be flawed, as it results in a circular argument.
Finally, the article shows that even answering the question fails the principle of Sola Scriptura, because the individual seeking to answer the question must try to interpret the answer using their own fallible intellect.
There are alternatives to Sola Scriptura, but they are only held by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. But looking into those arguments would come later for me. The damage had been done as to my belief in which books made up the Bible as per the Sola Scriptura paradigm.
A related point – Understanding Scripture and “Hermeneutics”
The understanding of Scripture is primarily through its interpretation. This is referred to as ‘Hermeneutics’.
The Protestant way of understanding the Bible is usually one of twofold:
- The Bible is needs to be interpreted with an understanding of the literal, historical and grammatical aspects of the text, or
- The Bible has a twofold interpretation, with there being both a literal and a Spiritual sense.
- “The Literal Sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1, 1, 10, ad 1.)
- The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
- The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognising their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign of type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:2)
- The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction.” (1 Corinthians 10:11, cf. Hebrews 3-4:11)
- The anagogic sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem (Cf. Revelation 22:1-22:5).” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 115-117)
With one principle of the Reformation destroyed (Sola Scriptura, arguably the most important), the principle of Sola Fide very quickly becomes shaky territory. “How can I know that Sola Fide is correct, when I can’t even know that the books we use to support the argument are the right books?” is a very challenging question to ask oneself.
Firstly, the term ‘Faith Alone’ (Sola Fide) is not in the Bible at all. Some Bibles translate James 2:24 using the term ‘faith alone’, where Scripture says, ‘you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone’. The Latin translation of the Bible here however did not use ‘Sola Fide’, but rather ‘Fides Tantum’, ‘Faith only’, which could at first glance be deemed to support a Protestant understanding. That said, Calvin interprets the Hebrew as ‘Fides Solum’, which is much closer to Sola Fide. Further study of the related passages relating to faith is therefore required.
Martin Luther added the word ‘alone’ after the word ‘faith’ in his German translation of the verse in Romans 3:28, which reads as follows:
The question that one needs to ask is, “How can these two statements, which seem to contradict, be reconciled?”. Martin Luther answered by removing the book of James from the canon of scripture. The typical Protestant answer today however is that Paul and James are referring to different types of faith or justification.
It is worth mentioning here a document published by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 titled, ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.‘ This document outlines how the view of Sola Fide can be recognised as legitimate when understood with certain qualifications This document has since also been signed by the World Methodist Council in 2006, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches in 2017 (500 years after the commencement of the reformation). The Anglican Consultative Council has also affirmed this document. Collectively, these three bodies represent close to 240 million of the world’s 900 million protestants, a sizeable number. There is naturally a lot more to the argument, but this is a great starting point for someone interested in the attempts made to reconcile this difference.
From a Scriptural standpoint, Protestants when they define faith believe that true faith necessarily results in good works, but that these works are not contributing to one’s justification. Rather, as John Calvin puts it, men are justified before God by faith alone, but justified in the eyes of men before God.
- The Mosaic Law (Romans 2:12-13), the law provided by Moses.
- The Natural Law (Romans 2:14-15), the law written on the hearts of all by God.
- The Law of Faith (Romans 3:27), which is our synergy, cooperation via faithfulness with God’s.
- The Law of Sin (Romans 7:25, 8:2), which is the power of the sinful passions in our human mortality, passions that can result in overindulgence or incorrect use, such as food, sex, praise, possessions, etc.
- The Law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2), which is the power and life of the Holy Spirit active in those who by faith in Christ live out their baptism. This is also referred to elsewhere as ‘The Law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2) and “The Law of Liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12).
- In Genesis 12:1-3, when Abraham is 75 years old, he receives a call to forsake all and follow God.
- In Genesis 15:6, when Abraham is almost 85, after he has proven his faith through years of renouncing his land, family, property, and privileges, God promises him that he will ultimately regain everything he has given up. Abraham’s faith in God’s promise is “accounted to him for righteousness.” God fulfils Abraham’s faith by making a covenant with him, an OT [Old Testament] liturgical and sacramental act.
- In Genesis 22:1-19, Abraham is at least 110. He has been tested for years concerning God’s promise of a son. Now, after the covenant sacrament of initiation (circumcision) has been given in Genesis 17, comes Abraham’s supreme test: the sacrifice of Isaac, his son of promise (Genesis 15:6). James [2:20-24] reveals that Genesis 15:6 is fulfilled in Genesis 22. This is a crucial lesson for us in our understanding of justification by faith. Neither Abraham’s faith not his justification is merely momentary, static, or once-and-for-all. It is dynamic, a growth process that finds its natural and normal realisation in good works. Far from being point-in-time, Abraham’s justification covered at least 25 years after God first declared him just. It is living and active faith that saves!” (The Orthodox Study Bible)
- The Bible (with Deuterocanonicals or Apocrphya)
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church
- The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Summa Contra Gentiles by Thomas Aquinas (selections)
- Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas (selections)
- Contra Errores Greacorum by Thomas Aquinas (selections)
- The City of God by St Augustine (selections)
- The Belief of Catholicism by Ronald Knox
- The Sunday Missal and the Weekday Missal
- The Divine Office, Volumes 1-3
- An Essay on the Development of Doctrine by John Henry Newman
- The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware
- The Church of Apostles and Martyrs Volume 1 by Henri Daniel-Rops
- Jesus of Nazareth Volume 1 by Pope Benedict XVI
- Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine by Archbishop Michael Sheehan (selections)
- The Orthodox Study Bible
- The Ignatius Catholic New Testament Study Bible
- A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture
- The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a’Kempis
- Catholicism for Dummies
- The Catholic Controversy by St Francis De Sales
- The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks
- Plato: The Republic
- Plotinus: On Beauty
- Virgil: Eclogue 4
- Almost every article at www.calledtocommunion.com
- The Catholic Religion: A Course of 20 lessons by The Catholic Enquiry Centre
- Many articles at www.stpaulcenter.com
- Youcat: a Youth Catechism
- Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI
- Humani Genesis by Pope Piux XII
- Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler
- Mary According to the Bible (blog post by an Orthodox) – http://orthodox-apologetics.blogspot.com/2010/07/mary-according-to-bible.html