Catholic Apologetics 102

Not too long ago, I was involved in an exchange with a Catholic apologist who provided a few wonderful examples of the strong-arm tactics favored by some who would defend the Church of Rome. Our engagement took place on two difference message boards and in email.

This exchange began with a challenge issued by an RCC apologist on another board. He tried to post the challenge here, but it was, as he should have anticipated, blocked. The challenge was prompted by an article I had written in response to a question by a recent convert to Catholicism.

In response to my having written, "Always, God preserved a remnant of the true Church, even through the most difficult times. Always it was men who strayed," an RCC apologist wrote:

An obvious question I must ask: could you name some of those remnants in the early centuries after the death of the Apostles? Was St. Augustine part of the "remnant" ? Was St. Irenaeus? Who can you name (be specific) as being part of this "remnant of the true Church" say in the first 1000 years of Christianity?

It seemed to me to be a baited question; one this apologist surely had employed in the past, apparently with some success. Clearly, in that no one can know the mind of God and only God can read the heart, it is not possible for any human to declare with absolute certainty that anyone is or was numbered with the elect, with the exception of those named in Hebrews Chapter 11, for God Himself has told us that they are saved. The Apostle Paul mentions the remnant in Romans 9:27 and 11:5; and the Apostle John writes of them in Revelation 12:17.

We might strongly believe that so-and-so is or was a saint, but there is absolutely no way to be 100% certain. I believe as strongly as is within my ability to know that the Twelve Apostles, Mary, Joseph, James the Just, Jude and Luke certainly are in Heaven. As to those my antagonist, I shall call him Mr. Brown, named, he no more knows with absolute certainty that they are in Heaven than he can know the eternal situation of the guy who takes his money at the local gas station. His challenge is a ploy, designed to discomfit his opposition and, I should imagine, set them into a defensive mode .

How does one deal with such a challenge? With such loaded questions? One might rise to the bait, of course, and then discover himself to be in a defensive stance thereafter. He might choose to face his challenger and denounce the questions for what they are. He might argue that there is no way one's response might be verified beyond question, so to respond would be an exercise in futility. Or he might elect to respond to the challenges in the manner they merit--with ridicule. My initial response, posted on this board, was a combination of the latter three of the above options.

I don't think that's such an obvious question. Actually, it appears more a question intended to create doubt rather than solicit information. Assuming I were to answer the question, how would you know whether I were telling the truth or not? Have you a certified list of every true saint who lived between, say, the years 100 and 400 AD, against which you could check the names I might provide? I think not and, therefore, it would seem likely that any information I might provide would still be considered unconfirmed by you and any who read it. Nevertheless, I shall present a short list of the members of the True Church in early times:

There was Andronicus Sapperstein, Upseticus Stomachus, Joe-Bob Flavius, and all the boys in the Circus Maximus Bowling League. Now, I charge you to prove me wrong.

Posting his reply on that other board, Mr. Brown did a little victory dance based on his interpretation of my response. I do not doubt for a minute that he was prepared in advance and likely had spent a few hours working on his dance steps – long before my response appeared in cyberspace. In other words, he "knew" my answer before he saw it. If that were so, then he either is clairvoyant or he knew the questions were worded in such a way as to force any response I might make to be viewed as a victory for his team. In that I had anticipated this, I had included these possibilities in my original response.

He then referred to the opening paragraphs in my response, a statement that I was not there to debate, before discounting what I had said and pressing his issues.

All right, I understand. I was responding to your message on the PTG board with a few pertinent questions to determine whether your take on Church history and the "true Church" can be validated. With your humorous answers to my questions, I think you are conceding you cannot answer my questions. There were in fact no other true Christians in those early centuries but Catholics. One could clearly distinguish the orthodox Catholics from the "heretics." You already conceded the "true Church" never went astray, that the Holy Spirit of truth would be with Christ's Church to the end, and that the "true Church" is indefectible (meaning that it would never be destroyed or cease to exist), based on Matt 16:18f; 28:20; John 14:16f; 16:13; 1 Tim 3:15; etc.

Note also how he forces my assertion that the true church never went astray and my statements concerning the Holy Spirit and the indefectibility of the church in another article to be interpreted as pointing to the Catholic Church, which never was my intention. I consider this dishonest, but not unheard of from RCC apologists.

Leaving aside your definition what the "true Church" is -- If there were only Catholics in those early centuries, and they all claimed to belong to the "Catholic Church" (which they did), and they believed Catholic distinctives in doctrine (which they also did), etc. that means the Catholic Church indeed was the Church Jesus was referring to in His promises, since it was the only Church that survived. That appears to follow logically.

He makes a claim that he cannot validate -- that "There were in fact no other true Christians in those early centuries but Catholics." In that he cannot possibly know all who were members of the early church during its first millennium, there is no way he can effectively support his declaration. In any event, what he presents is a false conclusion not supported by any evidence, in spite of what he claims. Even if it were true that there were only Catholics in the early centuries, and they all claimed to belong to the Catholic Church, and they all believed Catholic doctrinal distinctives, that in no way means that the Catholic Church "indeed was the Church Jesus was referring to in His promises." It will take more than Brown's declaration that it appears to follow logically to make it so.

What about his allegation that "One could clearly distinguish the orthodox Catholics from the "heretics"? We have the witness of Scripture which tells us that apparently it was not so easy to identify heretics in the early church. That people were busily attempting to introduce false concepts into the theology of the early church is cleaerly shown in letters written by Paul, John and Peter. Apparently, folks in some of those early congregations had been receiving false teachers and self-proclaimed prophets and their heretical teachings with open arms. Just a few references to those heretics and their lying doctrines may be found in these passages: 2 Corinthians 11:13, 26; Galations 2:4; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1.

Mr. Brown went on to present a few specious arguments based on a flawed interpretation of Matthew 16:19 (Again!) to support his conclusion that:

The Catholic Church mentioned in the Creeds (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church) must be the one Jesus was referring to since it was the only Church that survived (for purposes of discussion, I would include the Orthodox branch…)

Clever move. By including the Orthodox Church within his definition of "the only Church that survived," he apparently hoped to eliminate many examples of other Christian churches that indeed did manage to survive. The Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Latin) churches have been disputing over the issue of filioque -- the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds equally from the Father and from the Son -- from the moment a local council in Toledo (589) inserted the word into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Though initially resisted by the Roman pope, the use of filioque spread into many areas of the Western church and was finally inserted into the Creed by Benedict VIII in 1014. This soon led to the Eastern Schism of 1054. Since then, the Eastern Churches have not been in submission to the Roman Pope and, therefore, surely do not qualify to be considered as part of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

How different are the various Eastern Churches from that of Rome? Look at the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, for example. The theology and doctrine of this church is not based upon the teachings and ministries of Paul or Peter, as is the RCC. Rather, it is based on the teachings of the Apostle Mark, who brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of Nero in the 1st century – which makes it a contemporary of the church at Rome. Interestingly, Rome refers to the head of the Coptic Church as "Patriarch," but the Copts call him their Pope, or the Pope at Alexandria, and the latest in an unbroken succession leading all the way back to Mark. Sound familiar? Wouldn't you just love to see dueling unbroken apostolic successions? My unbroken apostolic succession can beat up your unbroken apostolic succession, etc. When fantasies collide, I reckon it is easier to maintain the fantasy of being ruler over all the Christian Church if one denies the title of pope to his competition and calls them patriarchs instead.

No, Sir, Mr. Brown, I will not accept your inclusion of the Orthodox Church in your definition and, in so doing, stand on the separate survival of the Orthodox churches in Alexandria, Constantinople, Serbia, etc. You get the idea, I am sure.

It's difficult to get a good hand when playing poker with guys like Brown, for they seem always to stack the deck in their favor.

In the event I should dare to disagree with his arguments, which clearly I do, Mr. Brown provided an alternative challenge:

If you disagree with this argument, once again: can you provide any evidence to the contrary? Not humorous responses, but something I can check. In other words: Who represented "true Christianity" in say the first 1,500 years of the Church? Can you point to anyone? Surely there must be someone. And what Church did they belong to, if any?

At this point, weary of dealing with Brown's seemingly monomaniacal fascination with his tactic of the day, which was to force an admission that there were no non-Catholic Christians during the period of interest and, thereby, establish his "victory" in his own mind, I was gratified that Mr. Brown posted a statement of limits that I had posted previously.

I have decided to accept one representative request for interaction in the hope that my responses will send the clear message that when I assured the readers on that Catholic board that I was not there for debate, that was what I meant.

Mr. Brown responded with another word game, as though designating our exchange as something other than a debate would make it possible to continue as before.

Okay, we don't have to see this as a "debate." Just a series of questions/answers to get at the truth. You made quite a number of claims in your posts to Bill and Matthew, and in the articles at your LazyBoy site, and I thought I would ask for some verification or documentation of those claims.

Sigh! The man was back to riding his one trick pony. I am having none of it. My exchanges with other defenders of Catholicism were just that, exchanges with other defenders of Catholicism.. I have no interest in stroking the ego of every Tom, Dick and Harry who comes strolling down the pike with an urge to play Monday morning quarterback. I had written, in my initial response to him:

Assuming I were to answer the question below, how would you know whether I were telling the truth or not? Have you a certified list of every true saint who lived between, say, the years 100 and 400 AD, against which you could check the names I might provide?

Silly me. Of course he would be able to produce such a list and, using it, immediately know whether the persons I named indeed had lived in those times and were true saints. Sure he does, for he told me so.

The answer here is definitely yes, since modern patristic scholarship gives us enough evidence who the early Christians were and what they believed. This doesn't mean we have documentation on every Christian who ever lived in those early centuries, but that is not the point. We have enough evidence to show us who these early Christians were, and what they believed, and I am simply asking you to point to someone who you would include in the "true Church." You have read some Durant, and some Schaff I can see, so surely you should be able to name someone.

To put the challenge another way: name someone who wasn't a Catholic in belief, practice, worship, in those early centuries. If you provide the name of someone who really existed, we can check the documentation on them.

So Yes, I can tell whether you were telling the truth, and whether you were playing a joke on me.

Well, well. Seems Mr. Brown doesn't really have a certified list of every saint who lived between 100 and 400 AD, after all.

One more time; my questions to Mr. Brown had been quite specific :

[H]ow would you know whether I were telling the truth or not? Have you a certified list of every true saint who lived between, say, the years 100 and 400 AD, against which you could check the names I might provide?

Mr. Brown's response also was quite specific:

The answer here is definitely yes...

What he actually has is "modern patristic scholarship" that he claims can make it possible to know who the early Christians were and what they believed. That is not the same as a list of names against which he might match the names I provide. Read that to mean he can identify a few who were and what that few believed. Dodgy, Mr. Brown.

I could almost feel his hand patting the top of my head as he patronized me at the end of his assurances. Really, Mr. Brown, I should think that someone of your vast experience and long service in apologetics should be able to do better than that. Oops! Was I being patronizing?

He used the list of names from my first response.

Nevertheless, I shall provide a short list of the members of the True Church in early times: There was Andronicus Sapperstein, Upseticus Stomachus, Joe-Bob Flavius, and all the boys in the Circus Maximus Bowling League. Now, I charge you to prove me wrong.

Sonuvagun! He found me out. At least he claims he did. His argument is a simple one: We have no record of them, ergo, they did not exist, or something like that. But how in the world could he have run a list of all the people in the Mediterranean world and Western Europe in so short a time? Those folks who lived nearly 2,000 years ago must have computerized all their personnel records. After bursting my balloon, he again gave me a little pat on the head and hinted that I might wish to visit a few places on the Web that he could suggest. Silly fellow. There is no way any of those places would have a master census covering 300 years or more of Christianity.

Simple: you are wrong since we know those folks didn't exist. There is no record of them. Produce the records for them and I'll believe they existed. I know you made them up, since I can see your sense of humor is as warped as mine. Hint: there are good sources online for the early Christians, Fathers, Bishops. . .

Like a pit bull, he would not let go and continued to press me to write what he wanted me to write. He also seemed to assure me of the great respect he has for my wishes in the exchange by informing me we don't have to "debate." All I need do is write what he wants me to write. He was very gracious and promised not to hound me too much; even gave me license to ask him "similar" questions. Sigh! I so wanted to ask some non-similar questions. Oh, well. I did get two pats on the head this time.

When you have time, you can attempt an answer to my questions. Again, we don't have to "debate" but simply answer questions, hopefully seriously. I won't try to hound you too much. If you have similar questions to ask, go right ahead.

Anyone but me notice a tinge of irony there? Perhaps a touch of bitterness? I wonder if Mr. Brown weren't becoming a bit frustrated with me for failing to play the game by his rules on an uneven playing field? Hmmm. Could be. I wrote something else he wished to deal with:

I get so confused. I think that the point you are attempting to make is that the visible church is the true church except that sometimes it is not true in that it numbers among its membership peoples who aren't the elect of God. Yeah. Sure. I understand. Black is the same as white except when it isn't cuz its got some gray in it. No problem.

I suppose those words were not what he wished me to write. Again. I just am not worthy, I reckon, or just too plain dumb to comprehend. Mr. Brown was kind enough to explain things for me.

I say equating the "true Church" solely with the elect is a false notion of the nature of the Church. That is known as the "invisible church" concept and was unknown before the 16th century. It is a human tradition you have received from the Protestant Reformers. The early centuries did not know of any distinction between the "invisible" and visible Catholic Church, since the visible Catholic Church WAS the true Church, the Church spoken about in the Creeds as being One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Mr. Brown rolled out that Roman Catholic theology for me and soon was singing a chorus of the Magisterium Blues. It's that word meanings thing again. He clearly appears to believe that "true Church" and "Catholic Church" are synonymous. On the other hand, I don't. Since I am exchanging -- remember, it isn't a debate because he changed the name – with a defender of the Roman Church, it is incumbent upon me to yield my ground and join with him. Why? Because that is the way the RCC has always operated: Join with me or else. I reckon it's gonna be the "or else," because this country boy isn't buying that the church at Rome is the true church.

Mr. Brown explained that the idea of equating the true church only with the elect is a false notion. Well, since he says it…. He informed me that this is known as the "invisible church" concept. Glad to hear that, seeing as how that is the way I have often referred to the true church. Actually, I agree with him. No place in Scripture have I found a statement that ONLY the elect can be saved. It's nice to have a Catholic seal of approval on my word choice. Our God said it first, however:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.--Hebrews 11:6

Then he informed me that this was an unheard of concept unknown before the 16th century. Well, Glory be! And then he told me it was a tradition of men – this from a spokesman for the church that is a monument to the traditions of men gone wild. I decided not to believe him. After all, he really offered no proof, though he continually hounds me for proof. I might have been willing to entertain his argument, had he been able to demonstrate to me, beyond any shadow of a doubt that no one ever thought of the "invisible church" concept before the 16th century. Oh, sure. He might trot out a few quotes from the patristic writings and claim to have made his point. Those will not be enough, however, to cover all the thoughts and all the theology of all the men who lived from Pentecost to the beginning of the 16th century. I think that's fair, for it parallels the demands he makes of me.

At this point, Mr. Brown took it upon himself to educate me on who are members of the true church (read Catholic Church) and how they attain that status. And he brought along a hired gun.

A person who was baptized, received the sacraments, believed on Christ, and obeyed their Bishops was a member of the true Church. Whether such a person ultimately was "saved" and went to heaven (hence one of the elect) was something God judged. But the elect, while included in the true Church, was not the Church since the true Church was a visible institution with visible sacraments and visible leaders. Everyone knew what the true Church was, and where they met for worship. Here's a quote from JND Kelly, a respected Anglican scholar of Church history and patristics:

"What these early Fathers were envisaging was almost always the empirical, visible society; they had little or no inkling of the distinction which was later to become important [in the 16th century] between a visible and an invisible Church." (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, page 191)

Nice quote. I admire and respect Kelly's work. In fact, I have a copy of his Oxford Dictionary of Popes on my bookshelves.

Okay now. To be a member of the true church (as defined by Mr. Brown) one need but be baptized, sacramentized, believe on Christ, and obey his bishop. Whether or not he was one of the elect was something God JUDGED? Why would God second-guess Himself? Oops! I keep forgetting. For Catholics, the Bible isn't sufficiently authoritative to be a reliable source of doctrine and, apparently, God isn't powerful enough to carry out His decisions. I suppose that means that all that silly stuff in John 3:14-18 and 5:24 is unreliable because the Apostle dared to publish it without first getting a Censor to go over it to make certain it contained nothing against faith and morals and then securing a bishop's Imprimitur. How silly of the Apostle John to have considered that the words the Holy Spirit inspired were more authoritative than those of the Extraordinary Magisterium. I wager he's still sizzling in Purgatory for his audacity.

Mr. Brown mentioned what "everyone knew" in those old days. I am in awe of his remarkable ability to know what "everyone knew" over an extended period of time, in an extended geographical area, far distant from the state of Florida where he resides. It should be noted that his "hired gun" did not definitively declare that no one in the early church ever considered the concept of the invisible church. Global statements tend to give me the runs – and that is about all they are good for. However, as long as we are talking about what "everyone knew," I might just add a few other things that some folks knew during that time frame; things like ringing church bells would knock flying witches off their broomsticks and breathing night air would make one ill. Weak argument made even weaker by going global.

Poor Mr. Brown. He just cannot seem to grasp the difference between that humongous bureaucratic monstrosity squatting in in the Vatican and the Body of Christ. Those Catholic blinders must fit really tightly.

But enough of that. Mr. Brown is not finished parading his one-trick pony.

The "true Church" as you have defined it cannot be identified (whether now or in the past), you admit you cannot point to anyone belonging to it (except perhaps yourself), and you concede no one knows who or what the "true Church" is except God alone. My contention is that is not the Biblical notion on the nature of the Church, nor is it the historical belief of the early Christians, Fathers, Bishops, Saints (we have plenty of documentation what was believed in those early centuries, etc).

Let's see now. Actually, what I concede is that no one can know with certainty who is saved and, therefore, no one can know with certainty who might be included in the roster of the true church. I am quite clear as to what the true church is. It is the Body of Christ, that body of true believers, living and passed, to whom our God has given the gifts of salvation and eternal life. It is Mr. Brown's contention that what I understand the true church to be is not the biblical notion. Well, my contention is that it is. I reckon that's deuce. He continues to press. (My, but that man does go on.):

The Catholic on the other hand can point to a visible Church (the Catholic Church centered in Rome), can trace his visible leaders (the Bishops) straight back to Christ and His Apostles, and can identify specific people as belonging to this Church throughout Church history. For example, here's a short list. . .

At this point, he trotted out a laundry list of a couple of dozen names of Early Church Fathers. I snipped it. After all, anyone who has a set of Schaff's Fathers (I do) knows the names already. I reckon the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt can also trace its visible leaders (bishops) straight back to Christ and to His Apostles. They can also call up a list of specific people throughout church history. BTW, they have had only half as many popes as the Roman Church. I suppose that is because they elect their popes at a younger age. Wow! Two churches with essentially the same claims to legitimacy. Can you see two popes fighting for world domination? Naah. Can't happen. The Coptic Church eschews political involvement and, unlike the Roman Church, is not into telling people what to do.

Mr. Brown continued:

Many more could be listed. There is no evidence that they belonged to any other Church but the visible "Catholic Church" founded by Christ and established by His Apostles and the early Bishops and Saints.

I noted with interest that the list did not include the names of Marcion, Arias, Sabellius, Pelagius, etc. These guys were baptized, sacramentized and believed on Christ and they likely obeyed their bishops – at least for a time. But then they went wrong and were anathematized or simonized or something and were no longer in the Catholic Church, so it could again be claimed that every Catholic was a good and true believer. Hogwash! I do not doubt that there were plenty of folks, even in the dark ages when the specter of a punishing Mother Church loomed darkly over towns and countryside, who missed the salvation boat. In other words, Mr. Brown, I am not buying what you're selling.

At this point, Mr. Brown decided, finally, to end his post. In so doing, he again patted me on the head patronizingly, and closed with an open invitation to continue the exchange.

Sorry if this was so long. I have presented to you quite a full argument for the Catholic Church being the true Church, taking premises from your past posts and articles. Hope this was of benefit. We are both interested in truth, and I think this board will let you hear a little more of the Catholic position. If you can point out flaws in my logic, errors in my understanding of the Bible or Church history, please do so.

I just can't see myself playing Eliza Doolittle to Mr. Brown's Henry Higgins, so I don't reckon I shall be taking him up on his invitation to come out and play.

Home | More Apologetics | Catholic Stuff | My Delphi Forum
(C) 1991-2010 Ron Loeffler