Catholic Apologetics

When I was a kid, my friends and I sometimes played a game we called "Pass It Along." To play the game, we would first sit side-by-side on the curb. Then, the kid on one end would whisper some "secret" message into the ear of the child sitting next to him, telling her to "pass it along." The second child would whisper the message into the eear of his neighbor, and so on. When the whispered message reached the last player, she would announce the message that she had received. Almost always, the announcement would evoke gales of laughter, for it almost never matched the message that had started the game. Adults are still playing that game.

As a Christian, I sometimes find myself called upon to defend or prove the Truth of Christian doctrine in a process referred to as "apologetics." In doing this, I call upon the one infallible and unchanging source of spiritual truth, the revealed Word of God — The Holy Bible. To me, as it must be for every true believer, the Bible is THE authoritative source of doctrine.

The Roman Catholic also looks to his Bible, which includes several books not accepted as canonical by Christians. This Bible, however, is considered an incomplete source by the Roman Catholic Church, which also appeals to what she calls Holy Tradition. This so-called Holy Tradition is claimed to be the unwritten teachings passed on by the Apostles to their successors in the Roman Magisterium:

"5. Now this supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal church, as declared by the sacred council of Trent, is contained in written books and unwritten traditions, which were received by the apostles from the lips of Christ himself, or came to the apostles by the dictation of the holy Spirit, and were passed on as it were from hand to hand until they reached us." -- Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap. 2, On Revelation, Vatican I, Session 3: 24 April 1870

Essentially, what this says is that the Bible is incomplete and is to be supplemented by the so-called unwritten traditions passed along first by word of mouth and then committed to paper by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. This position is based upon passages in the Bible (of all things) in which the writers make mention of tradition, the apparent favorite one being 2 Thessalonians 2:15: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."

What "traditions" did the Apostles teach? Why, like Jesus, who taught them, they taught from Scripture, which was fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 5:17). This tradition included no arcane knowledge, no secret revelation. It was nothing more than the Law, the Prophets and the Writings: the sacred Scriptures. There is no teaching, no doctrine, in the New Testament that did not have its origins in the Old. There is no "special revelation" in what the RCC refers to as Holy Tradition that only she is qualified and, in fact, permitted to interpret.

"100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him." --Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (c) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, p. 30

The RCC in effect bases her argument concerning the validity of what she calls unwritten Tradition on the very document she considers incomplete — the Bible. Though she does point to a verse or two to support the authority of this tradition, she pointedly ignores other passages that warn of the way traditions of men can pervert the intent of Scripture.

"Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me~ And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." -- Matthew 15:1-6

"Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with tinwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do." -- Mark 7:1-8

"And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me~ he shall be free. And ye sutier him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye." -- Mark 7:9-13

"And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:" -- 1 Peter 1:17-19

Roman Catholicism, which often appears to contradict itself, declares that God has completed His revelation.

"65 "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." [26] Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him He has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:

"In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say.. because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Op. cit., p. 22

Having said that revelation is complete, she then goes on to explain how it hasn't really been spelled out. In other words, the Magisterium has to fully develop what God revealed in order to make it comprehensible to the common herd.

"66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." [28] Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Op. cit., p. 23

Having declared this, the Catholic Church then muddies the waters by declaring that there indeed have been what she terms "private revelations." Not to worry, though, for the Magisterium is on the scene to deal with these as well.

"67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

"Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain nonChristian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations"." -- Ibid.

This teaching has the effect of legitimizing the supplemental "revelations" provided by saintly visitors in visitations to selected individuals (such as Faustina, Juan Diego, Teresa of Avila, etc.) over the centuries while rejecting similar "revelations" which do not conform to the Catholic program.

So much of the Magisterium's effort to "make completely explicit" what God has revealed appears to be quite plastic, morphing over time and apparently conforming to the needs of the moment. Such "flexibility" of dogma has not been universally appreciated by at least one infallible pope who, in his battle against what he called "Modernism," promulgated an oath, "To be sworn to by all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries" (Denzinger 2145) This oath included these words:

"I reject the heretical invention of the evolution of dogmas, passing from one meaning to another, different from that which the church first had; and likewise I reject all error whereby a philosophic fiction is substituted for the divine deposit…" -- Sacrorum antistitum, Motu Proprio of Pope Pius X, Sept. I, 1910, Denzinger 2145

The Apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said it a bit more succinctly, when he wrote:

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." -- Revelation 22:18—19

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