Responding to Catholic Apologetics

I receive quite a bit of email from people who wish to comment on something they read in an article of mine. Such email tends to originate with Catholic writers and to be overwhelmingly in opposition to whatever I may have written concerning the goings on within the Catholic Church. Given the number of comments challenging the accuracy of what the writer had read, the generally offensive tone of some emails and the fact that I have a life apart from my keyboard, I do not reply to every communication that I receive. When I do reply, the humor of my response often reflects that of what I am replying to. What follows is the record of such an exchange.

A Catholic apologist--let's call her Mary--wrote:

Well, yes, we are saved by Christ alone. But doesn't our obedience count for something? I've read a book about Luther, "The facts about Luther," that says that he taught that we can sin all we want since we are saved and nothing we do changes that. This bothers me. And, if we really are dead to our former lives, why do we still sin in the same old ways? For me, it's like a broken tape. I get so frustrated!!

Sigh! I sure wish those who would defend Catholicism's heresies and blasphemies against the truth would learn that Bible-believing Christians do not consider the writings and opinions of the Reformers in the same way Catholicism considers those of the Early Church Fathers (ECF). The Catholic Church teaches that the selected works of selected ECF and the infallible utterances of the Magisterium constitute Sacred Tradition, which are of co-equal importance with the Sacred Scriptures.

While it might be argued that some in the extreme camp of the Reformed Church do consider some Writings of early Reformers in much the same way as does the Catholic Church, I believe it would be erroneous to consider them to be Christians. In my experience with the mainline Reformed Church and her apologists, they do not view these writings to be inspired in the same way as are the Sacred Scriptures.

For the Bible-believing Christian, at least the ones I know or am familiar with,the works of the ECF, the Reformers and other Bible scholars and commentators are nothing more than the informed opinions of mortal men. Certainly, I do not in any way consider them to be either infallible or comparable to the Sacred Scriptures. These writings are simply tools to aid in our studies, devotions and teaching.

That said, I would now turn to something else that I wish the defenders of Catholicism would learn. Martin Luther is not the non-Catholic messiah. Except for Lutherans and the Reformers, I don't know that Luther's works are given special significance. I am not a Lutheran; never have been. I am not familiar with Lutheran theology and I have no interest in becoming familiar with it. I am not a member of the Reformed Church. Except for citations from his writings, I have never read anything written by Martin Luther, nor do I anticipate ever doing so.

I ask all Catholic apologists who might read this to please stop swinging Martin Luther like a club. Doing so is ineffective and a waste of bandwidth. I am not aware of any Bible-believing Christian who would be greatly impressed by Catholic use of the name or work of Luther.

I now wish to address a comment that Mary made:

I've read a book about Luther, "The facts about Luther," that says that he taught that we can sin all we want since we are saved and nothing we do changes that.

Well, now, if Mary read it in a book, it must be true. Not so. Surely the author's background, pre-suppositions and purpose provide useful information to aid the casual reader in determining the credibility to be given to the work. The book in question was written by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Patrick F. O'Hare. This datum alone furnishes plenty of information concerning the author's beliefs, pre-suppositions and purpose; enough that I would be very cautious about accepting as reliable anything he wrote concerning Luther or his theology.

I went to a Lutheran page seeking a Lutheran view of O'Hare's book. Certainly, their background, pre-suppositions and purpose would be significantly different from those of Catholic O'Hare and, of course, would also demand caution when using, though they likely should be considered more reliable that the Catholic version.

Recently I have found the web site of Tan Books and on that site I found the 378 page paperback entitled THE FACTS ABOUT LUTHER by Msgr. Patrick F. O'Hare. Tan Books describes it in the following way:

A popular exposè of his life and work, based on Protestant historians. Incredible history; fascinating, damning evidence about him that is quite contrary to the popular image. Many quotes from his own mouth. Essential history!

In spite of the publisher's review, I have some serious doubts about the book. Tan Books is hardly a neutral source of information on a subject such as the Reformation. Nor is it a source that I could recommend.

Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. has as its motto "Dedicated to Preserving Catholic Classics." It gives the following purpose statement: "Our mission at TAN Books and Publishers is to provide the world with the best in Catholic literature in order to fortify souls in the Faith of our Holy Mother Church." Given that point of view I can hardly describe this source as one I would turn to if I wanted to consider material from an objective source.

For a popular assessment of Martin Luther I would recommend Luther the Reformer: the Story of the Man and his Career by James M. Kittelson. For a scholarly look at Luther and his work I would suggest the three volume set Martin Luther by Martin Brecht. Both of these authors have a reputation for providing a thorough examination of the Reformation which took place in the sixteenth century. Questions & Answers: Martin Luther, © Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Again, calling up Mary's words:

I've read a book about Luther, "The facts about Luther," that says that he taught that we can sin all we want since we are saved and nothing we do changes that.

How unfortunate that Mary did not provide the exact quote of Luther's words, in order that we might look at what he actually wrote, rather than a paraphrase. I wonder if Mary has read any of the works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Catholic Church. I doubt a month goes by that I do not read, in the work of some Catholic, Protestant or even heathen writer, the words attributed to Augustine; uttered in response to a question as to how we are to live: "Love God, and do as you will."

Don't those words, uttered by an early church father (ECF) whose work is respected by Catholic and non-Catholic scholar alike, convey essentially the same message as that alleged to Luther? Of course, the parallel would be easier to view had the remarks charged to Luther been paraphrased in a more gentle tone.

I have encountered that statement attributed to Augustine a number of times. I have seen it used by Catholic pilemics in their attacks on the doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved. I have also seen it used by Christian apologists in defense of the doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved. Every time I have seen a reference to this supposed comment by the Bishop of Hippo, it has been misquoted and wrongfully applied.

Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: [Latin: "dilige et quod vis fac."; falsely often: "ama et fac quod vis."] whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good. [My comment not in text] -- Rev. H. Browne, Translator, St. AUGUSTIN: Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Tractate 7, paragraph 8, in Philip Schaff, NPNF1-07. St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John; Homilies on the First Epistle of John; Soliloquies

What did Augustine mean by the remark attributed to him? Did he mean that "we can sin all we want since we are saved and nothing we do changes that?" I doubt it. Read in context, it seems clear that what he was seeking to communicate was that one who loves God does not need a set of rules to show him how to live out his life. If he truly loves God, then it will be the desire of his heart to please God, even as we seek to please those humans whom we love. Wishing to do what is right and pleasing in God's eyes will be as natural as breathing to those who truly love Him. Living perfect lives is not possible and so, it is to be expected, we will at times sin. However, these sins will not change our saved relationship with God anymore than disobedience to our earthly father will sever the relationship with him. I urge Mary to read Chapter 12 of the Book of Hebrews, which explains what happens to the relationship between God and believers when we offend Him.

Augustine himself, in a number of his writings, offers clear explanations that would apply to his statement cited above; e.g.;

Further, if in this life, as no religious person doubts, the more we love God, so much the more righteous we certainly are, who can doubt that pious and true righteousness will then be perfected when the love of God shall be perfect?Aurelius Augustine, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Book 3, Chapter 21; in Vol. 5 of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ed. By Philip Schaff

It does appear that the Catholic Church agrees with Augustine and, it would appear, Luther, that those who love God will seek to live in such a way as might be termed godly:

1809. Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: 'Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.'(Sir 5:2 ; cf. Sir 37:27-31 .) Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: 'Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.'(Sir 18:30 .) In the New Testament it is called 'moderation' or 'sobriety.' We ought 'to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.'(Titus 2:12 .)

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only (God) (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence), (St. Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331.)Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

I have addressed the issue of faith 'and' obedience being necessary for salvation a number of times; on the newest version of my Delphi message board, and only God knows how many times on earlier incarnations of that forum. The number of Internet sites where one might read other opinions, of every conceivable nature, concerning what is necessary for salvation must number in the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands.

Mary claims to accept that salvation is by Christ alone, but then goes on to raise the issue of obedience:

Well, yes, we are saved by Christ alone. But doesn't our obedience count for something?

Do these two sentences appear to be self-contradictory to anyone other than me? Look at what she wrote. In the first sentence, she seems to agree that salvation is by Christ alone. The phrasing of her next sentence, however, seems to challenge the foregoing statement. If one is saved by Christ alone, where does obedience enter into the salvific picture? If obedience were a requirement for salvation, then one must do something. If one must do something in order to be saved, then, ipso facto, salvation cannot be by Christ alone. And what support does Mary offer for her position? Why, the fact that she read a book about Luther that was written by a Catholic priest and a paraphrased rendering of something Luther allegedly uttered. Hardly convincing evidence.

Then Mary wrote:

If we really are dead to our former lives, why do we still sin in the same old ways?

I wonder whether Mary considers the Apostle Paul to have been saved. If she does, then perhaps she would find the answer to her question by reading chapters 6, 7 and 8 of his letter to the church at Rome. In this chapter, the Apostle explains the differences between being alive in the spirit and dead in the flesh and how one might desire to do good in the spirit but in his flesh continue to sin. After explaining how one might be saved and yet continue to sin and lamenting his own inability to live a sin-free life, Paul wrote these inspired words:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 8:1-8

Reading three chapters in the Book of Romans provides a long answer to Mary's question. The short answer is that though in spirit we are forgiven and justified before God, our fleshly body continues to live and we continue to commit sins in our flesh. No matter how we might try to please God, it is inevitable that we cannot please Him in our flesh. That is why God's grace is necessary if we are to be forgiven and saved.

Though she had denied being an apologist, Mary's comments conformed to a method often used by Catholic apologists/polemics writing in Christian forums on the Internet. In responding to sometimes lengthy and usually well-documented postings from Bible-believing Christians, they attempt to cast doubt on their arguments and positions with simple, seemingly inoffensive statements or rhetorical questions. Such tactics demand little of the Catholic apologist, who need only toss out a challenge. There is no need for extensive study or research, nor even a detailed exposition of one's understanding. The entire burden of carrying the discussion falls to the non-Catholic. Such an apologetic technique is very economical of the Catholic apologist's resources, freeing him or her to flit about the Internet, laying challenges against a number of non-Catholics who, if they wish to respond in meaningful ways, must devote considerably more time to their replies than he or she does in generating the challenge.

This shotgun approach to apologetics also serves to cloud issues and to draw the opposition away from the subject at hand and down some new rabbit trail, thereby keeping him off-balance and compounding the amount of effort necessary to deal with the Catholic's challenges. The usual counter to this tactic, and one that I find particularly successful, is to hold the Catholic to a single issue, never allowing oneself to be distracted by red herrings, straw men, rabbit trails, etc. When the Catholic apologist applies a variation of the shotgun apologetic by posting a number of different challenges on a number of different threads, the wise response might be to not attempt to deal with them all.

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