Who's On First?

I have been examining the many heresies of Catholic doctrine and contending with Romish apologists on the Internet, the IRC and in newsgroups for some 20 years. In that time, I have seen some incredibly imaginative arguments put forth in defense of Mother Church. And I have witnessed some incredibly inept performances from people who make their living explaining to Catholic laity what the Catholic Church really teaches and defending those doctrines against all challengers.

A friend of mine, Timothy Kauffman, wrote an article in which he examined the efforts of a couple of fairly-well known Catholic apologists. That article was included in Theo-Illogical, a journal he co-published with Robert Zins and appears below.

Primal Fear

by Timothy F. Kauffman
Originally published in Theo~Logical, 3rd Quarter, 1997
Used by permission

Those of our readers who have purchased the two-tape video set, "The Boston Debate on Popery," have had the opportunity to witness Scott Butler, a Roman Catholic apologist, in action. Since that debate in April of 1995, Mr. Butler has published a new book called Jesus, Peter and the Keys: A Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, ©1996, 400 p). Butler co-authored the handbook with Norman Dahlgren and David Hess, and the three have received the approval of Scott Hahn, who calls it a "simply staggering compendium of useful and pertinent data," warning that “whoever ignores it consigns his own work to irrelevance" (JP&K, back cover). The book has also received the adulation of Mitch Pacwa, a Roman Catholic priest, as well as a host of ecumenically minded Protestants. Pacwa states, “After gathering rich information, the authors push the data to the logical conclusions about the role of the Papacy. The information is invaluable and the conclusions inevitable" (JP&K, back cover).

One might expect the editors of Theo-Logical would take exception to the lauds which are being conferred on this book, and we do, but we wish to make it clear that our intent in criticizing it is to demonstrate that Pacwa's praise for this handbook is gratuitous at best. That is, the data do not yield any of Butler's "logical conclusions." Despite Pacwa's assertions, the conclusions are far from inevitable. This we shall demonstrate.

Peter, We Were Counting On You...

The handbook begins with a quote from Michael M. Winter's book, Saint Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helicon. 1960), which makes an argument for Peter's primacy by counting the number of times Peter is mentioned in comparison to the rest of the Twelve.

Winters writes, “A statistical analysis of the Gospels and the Acts shows that among the Twelve the name of Peter occurs no less than 195 times, whereas the rest of the Apostles can muster Only 130 nominations” (JP&K, pg.4). Butler himself expands on this approach later in the handbook, and comes to the same conclusion: “ How often does Peter appear in the story of the founding of the Church? Peter's name appears 53 times in the first 12 chapters of Acts. Peter is the leader of the Church” (JP&K. pg. 89). We find this method of exegesis in the handbook particularly interesting since this very issue was addressed in the Boston Debate on Popery, a debate in which Scott Butler teamed up with Robert Sungenis, another Roman Catholic apologist, to prove that the Papacy, as it exists today, can be supported from the Scriptures. But in that debate, which took place a little more than a year before Butler's handbook was completed, Butler and his partner Sungenis expressly denied that the frequent occurrence of a name can be used to support papal primacy. How this denial came about is as interesting as the fact that it was so quickly reversed in time for the publication of Butler's handbook.

Arguing the negative in the Boston Debate were Robert M. Zins and James White. Zins and White anticipated the faulty reasoning of Sungenis and Butler, and humored them by is making a facetious argument for Pauline primacy. They reasoned that since Paul is mentioned more frequently than Peter in the book of Acts, a book that chronicles the birth of the Church, therefore Paul was a more likely candidate for pope than Peter was. Sungenis took them to task for this, saying,

'“Paul is mentioned more than Peter,' was the claim. So what? Paul has a mission to do from God. Peter had his mission to do from God. Frequency is not a criterion for leadership. It's nor a criterion for papal primacy.” — Sungenis, The Boston Debate, Tape I, first rebuttal (emphasis added)

Of course, Zins and White already knew this, but Sungenis' claim that frequency is not a matter of consideration in determining primacy casts an interesting light on a comment he makes later in the debate. Zins and White pressed the frequency issue further and noted that at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), while Peter did in fact speak to the issue, it is James who very authoritatively closes the council by saying, "Therefore, I judge..." (v. 19). It is true that James is hardly ever mentioned in the New Testament, but since frequency is not a criterion of leadership, Zins observed, was it not possible that James was considered of greater authority than even Peter at the Jerusalem council? But Sungenis would have none of this. He replied, "Why would James stand up and speak? Because he's the bishop of Jerusalem--I hope he would have something to say. But you know, that's the only time that James says something in the New Testament. [b]He's only mentioned four times, and the other three are just in passing. This is the only time he says something, and it's in support of his pope, Peter." Sungenis, The Boston Debate, Tape 1, second rebuttal, 1 (emphasis added)

We find it rather interesting how arbitrarily Butler's partner applies the rule that frequency is not a factor in determining the degree of importance. And arbitrariness is precisely what is at issue here, both in the Boston Debate, and also in Butler's Jesus, Peter and the Keys, where he returns to the same errors which his team claimed to forsake in the Boston Debate. Butler revisits the error when he cites the number of times Peter is mentioned in Acts: “Peters name appears 53 times in the first 12 chapters of Acts.” But why the arbitrary decision to stop at chapter 12? Butler doesn't explain, but we have a clue: starting in chapter 13, Peter's name is mentioned only twice more in the rest of the book, while Paul's name, by now four chapters old, is mentioned 182 more times. It seems that mentions of Peter dropped off considerably after chapter 12, and Butler, rather than “push the data to the logical conclusion,” opts to stop counting!

We believe that Winters makes the same error when he compares the number of Petrine references with those of the other eleven apostles. But we see no reason to limit the count to just the Twelve. After all, Paul was “...not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5); let's include the apostle Paul in the count. And while we're at it, we'll arbitrarily make the count from Acts 13 to the end of the Bible. To borrow from Michael Winter, a statistical analysis shows that among the apostles the name Paul occurs no less than 212 times, whereas Peter can muster only 14 nominations. Of course, we jest (and we have no explanation for why we started at Acts 13), but no Roman apologist who succumbs to Butler's logic can find fault with our reasoning. We have found that just such arbitrary delimitations are the standard fare among them.

Peter's 15-day Algebra Lesson With Paul

One of the solutions to the problem of the frequent mentions of the apostle Paul is to demonstrate that, despite his apparent prominence, he submitted to Peter unconditionally. If this can be demonstrated, then the frequent occurrences of his name become immaterial. Butler pursues this solution to the problem, a problem of his own making. Regarding Paul's visit with Peter in Galatians 1:18, he writes, “Would Paul consider the meeting with Peter important because of Peter's role as the leader of all Christians? Yes, Paul unashamedly went to Jerusalem to meet with St. Peter, and probably learn from him, for a period of fifteen days, thereby evidencing his submission to Peter's authority…. What was accomplished when Paul spent fifteen days in Jerusalem conferring with Peter? We will never know for sure. Paul may have examined Peter in great detail concerning the Christian faith.” (JP&K, pg. 110,113, emphasis added).

We find this to be a fine example of the Roman tendency toward speculative theology. Butler's whole discourse on Galatians 1:18-19 is replete with such pointless speculations. To sample the many sources Butler draws on: “'Paul was induced to visit Peter by the same feeling from which many of our brethren sojourn with holy men'; 'We know then of one kind of information for which St. Paul would go to St. Peter rather than St. James: information about Jesus' teaching and ministry'; 'Two weeks provided ample time for both Peter and Paul to discuss whatever was uppermost in their minds, including such topics, we must presume, as the Lord's supper and other matters, ...including the resurrection'; 'And the only object of this journey was to visit Peter, thus he pays due respect to the Apostles, and esteems himself not only not their better but not their equal”' (JP&K, pp. 1 10-113, emphases added).

We emphasize this sampling because it highlights Butler's utter disregard for the report of Scriptures, in deference to what we absolutely cannot know, e.g., of all things, what Paul was feeling. The Scriptures say nothing of why Paul went to see Peter. For all we know, and for all Butler knows, Paul could have taken a quick 15-day course in mathematics with him. What we do know from Scripture is that Paul precedes the whole narrative on the visit by explaining quite clearly that the gospel he preaches he did not learn from Peter. "For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12). In plain sight of Galatians 1:12-17, Butler practically rewrites Galatians 1:18 and actually asserts that Paul's visit was "probably to learn from" Peter -- the exact opposite of the point Paul himself was in the middle of making: namely that the integrity of his message comes from the fact that he did not consult with flesh and blood on the issue of the Gospel. What sort of logic is this that presumes that immediately after Paul had received a direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), he would need to go to Peter to get “information about Jesus' teaching and ministry, the Lords supper and the resurrection”, and to examine “Peter in great detail concerning the Christian faith”? We find it almost humorous to see Butler wishfully attribute to Paul the distinctively Roman Catholic trait of discarding infallible revelation in favor of the fallible and unreliable impulses of a man. We are also amused by Butler's speculation that Paul's visit was to pay due honor to the apostles and to show himself as the apostles' subordinate. Paul had just written in the two previous verses that immediately after this direct revelation from Christ, “I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me,” (Galatians 1:16—17) and had elsewhere written, “I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5). Paul is careful throughout the narrative to keep from assigning any of the credibility of his message to the merits of anyone on earth. When he finally has himself submitting to anyone, it is to a plurality of elders in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:2). He makes it clear that paying honor, respect and homage to them was the last thing on his mind because that was not the purpose of his visit, for he writes 'As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me” (Galatians 2:6).

Peter, Paul and Peccability

Despite Butler's repeated lapses into illogic, we must confess that when it comes to the matter of papal infallibility, he demonstrates the value of good sound reason. If Popes can sin, and they have and do, then how can we know for sure when they are being infallible? Their judgment of their own infallibility may he compromised by their sinfulness at precisely the time they claim to be infallible. Though Rome emphatically denies it, we believe that the logical conclusion of the doctrine of papal infallibility is the attribute of impeccability. If popes are not impeccable, then we have no reliable means of determining when they are being infallible. History has borne out this thesis; Rome cannot and will not produce an infallible list of infallible papal decrees. Nobody denies this, and that is why Butler, et al, must begin a discussion on infallibility with this caveat: “Impeccability, the absence of or inability to sin, is not and never was a part of the definition of infallibility. Popes have made mistakes, have even been sinful” (JP&K, pg. 202).

But we simply ask, “Could a pope be mistaken when he says that he is speaking infallibly? Could he be making a terrible mistake and have a sinful motive in announcing that he is speaking infallibly when, in fact, he is not?” We ask this only to underscore the point of impeccability and not to grant for a moment that we believe the necessity impeccable. Sensing this conundrum, Butler tries to soften Peter's sin in Galatians 2:1 1-14; “Paul had good grounds to believe that Peter had acted insincerely, even hypocritically. Is that a sin?” (JP&K, pg.206). Butler knows, as we do, that to maintain Peter's infallibility leaves little or no room for any error on his part. Thus Peter's sins must be downplayed and his follies must be minimized. Butler has truly arrived at the inevitable end to which he has pushed his logic.

This is resonant of the statement made by Butler's team in “The Boston Debate on Popery.” To support Butler's position on Paul's confrontation of Peter in Galatians 2, Sungenis makes this amazing explanation: “Peter is not doing what Paul had accused him of. He is not perverting the gospel, Paul is overreacting to Peter” --Sungenis, The Boston Debate, Tape 1, second rebuttal. We should like to know from Sungenis why it is an “overreaction” to rebuke Church leaders who walk not “according to the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). Yet Sungenis must state such things in order to minimize the sins of—and thereby protect the infallibility of — “pope” Peter.

Butler and Sungenis use similar reasoning to minimize Peter's opposition of Christ in Matthew 16:23, where Christ says to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.” On page 150 of Jesus, Peter and the Keys, Butler quotes Sungenis' resolution of the confrontation: “Since Peter did not have the specific knowledge of Jesus' ultimate mission, therefore he is not to be faulted for initially trying to prohibit Jesus from such a course of action.” We are dumbfounded and we hasten to add that it was Christ Who found fault with Peter's initial response in the first place! When hypocrisy and insincerity are no longer sins, when defending the Gospel of Christ is an overreaction, and when Christ Himself needs to be corrected by men for finding fault with Peter's rebuke, our greatest fears have been realized, and we say that Rome has paid too high a price to protect the primal role of Peter and has “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:25). Despite Butler's Herculean efforts to reconcile papal depravity with the doctrine of infallibility, he and Sungenis find themselves with no option but to sacrifice the truth and the glory God in order to defend the very thing they would deny: Peter's impeccability.

No, Thank You

We have uncovered only a small portion of the amount of information contained in Butler's new book. We would say more. But these few samples of Butler's attempt to compile a defense of his religion reveal that underlying his forgone conclusions on the Papacy is a desperation to protect his own beliefs from the light of Scripture. He does not stop short of correcting Christ in order to preserve his beliefs, and even attempts to redefine sin in order to reinforce his tenuous position. This is where Scott Hahn's “simply staggering compendium” has taken us. This is where Mitch Pacwa's “excellent resource” and “rich information” has gotten us. The Introduction to Jesus, Peter and the Keys was, to summarize, an invitation to unity, asking the reader to consider the implications of Butler's research and conclude with him that the Church must be one under the Pope. We understand well the implications of Butler's research, and we decline the invitation.

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