Catholic Sophistry 101

If nothing else, devoting as much time as I do reading the literature of the Roman Catholic Church has introduced me to the finer points of sophistry. What is sophistry?

1. Plausible but fallacious argumentation.
2. A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument.
(The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 Houghton Mifflin Co. Electronic version lic'd from and portions © 1994 InfoSoft Int'l, Inc. All rts rsvd.)

The Roman Catholic Church traces its origins all the way back to the day when Jesus asked His disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?"(Matthew 16:13).

The disciples answered, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." (Matthew 16:14).

Jesus then asked, "But whom say ye that I am?" (Matthew 16:15)

Peter responded from faith, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16). The term "the living God" was an Old Testament name of God. It is used in Deuteronomy 5:26, Joshua 3:10 and Daniel 6:26, for example. The living God is sometimes contrasted with dead, dumb idols, as in Jeremiah 10:8.

Christ's response marked the first time He had explicitly taught Peter and the others the fullness of His identity. Always before, He had used subtle references to Old Testament prophecies and miraculous works to substantiate His messianic claims. On this occasion, however, He was crystal clear when He confirmed Peter's words: "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 16:17)

God had opened Peter's heart to a deeper knowledge of Christ by faith. Peter was not simply stating an intellectual opinion concerning Jesus' identity. His words were a confession of personal faith, which could only have been made possible by a regenerated heart.

And it was to this faith that Jesus referred when He said to Peter, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

As has been written here so many times, in making this statement, which fulfilled a prophecy He had made on the occasion of His first encounter with Peter (John 1:42), Jesus made a little play on words. The word here translated "Peter" is Petros, which stands for a small stone (cf. John 1:42). The word petra, which is translated as "rock," is used for foundation boulders, as in Matthew 7:24 and 25. Throughout the New Testament it is made abundantly clear that Christ is both the foundation (e.g., Acts 4:11and 12) and the head (cf. Ephesians 5:23) of the church, it clearly is a mistake to use this exchange to assign either of these roles to Peter.

Certainly, the Apostles played a foundational part in building the church (cf. Ephesians 2:20), but primacy is reserved to Jesus Christ alone. It is not, nor was it ever, assigned to Peter. Jesus words in this passage would be best understood as a play on words showing that a boulder-like truth came forth from the mouth of man called a small stone. In his first epistle, Peter himself explained the imagery when he wrote that the church is built of "small stones" (Peter 2:5) who confess, as did Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And that Jesus is the "chief cornerstone." (1 Peter 2:6 and 7).

When Jesus said "My church," was He not declaring that He alone is its Architect, Builder, Owner and Lord? What is the rock on which Christ will build his vast temple? Not on Peter alone or mainly or primarily. Peter by his confession was furnished with the illustration for the rock on which His church will rest. It is the same kind of faith that Peter has just confessed.

This is not, of course, the interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church. Here we have one of those interesting cases where the RCC, which rejects the very concept that the Scriptures are the sole authority against which doctrine is to be measured, points to Matthew 16:18 as proof of the primacy of Peter and the authority of her popes, who are heirs to his throne according to an unbroken succession.

So we teach and declare that according to the testimonies of the Gospel the primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church of God was promised and was conferred immediately and directly upon the blessed Apostle Peter by Christ the Lord. For the one Simon, to whom He had before said: "Thou shalt be called Cephas" (John 1:42), after he had given forth his confession with those words: "Thou art Christ, Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16), the Lord spoke with these solemn words: "Blessed are thou, Simon Bar Jona; because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say unto thee: That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…To this teaching of Sacred Scriptures, so manifest as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, are opposed openly the vicious opinions of those who perversely deny that the form of government in His Church was established by Christ the Lord; that to Peter alone, before the other apostles, whether individually or all together, was confided the true and proper primacy of jurisdiction by Christ; or, of those who affirm that the same primacy was not immediately and directly bestowed upon the blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through this Church upon his as the minister of the Church herself. (Pius IX, Dogmatic Constitution I on the Church of Christ, Chap. 1., First Vatican Council, Session IV, July 18, 1870; Denzinger 1822)

There you have it: a dogma infallibly defined by a General Council of the Roman Catholic Church and affirmed and promulgated by a reigning pope. This is serious stuff for Catholics; stuff to which Catholic faithful are to assent de fide. For those who might question the seriousness with which the RCC takes this teaching, what follows is are canons from the same source:

"(Canon). If anyone then says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not established by the Lord Christ as the chief of all the apostles, and the visible head of the whole militant Church, or, that the same received great honor but did not receive from the same our Lord Jesus Christ directly and immediately the primacy in true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema." (Pius IX, Dogmatic Constitution I on the Church of Christ, Chap. 1., First Vatican Council, Session IV, July 18, 1870; Denzinger 1823)

"(Canon). If anyone then says that it is not from the institution of Christ the Lord Himself, or by divine right that the blessed Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in the same primacy, let him be anathema." (Pius IX, Dogmatic Constitution I on the Church of Christ, Chap. 2., First Vatican Council, Session IV, July 18, 1870; Denzinger 1825)

The Roman Catholic position on the primacy of Peter and his successors may be expressed in a syllogism. For those who may not be familiar with this word, it is defined as:

"A species of reasoning by which from the fact that something particular is seen to be comprehended under something more universal it is concluded that the predicate of the more universal agrees or does not agree with the particular: Thus:

Every animal is sensitive;
But man is an animal;
Therefore man is sensitive.

The principles upon which the syllogism is founded are, "Said of all" and "Said of none."" (Donald Attwater, Ed., A Catholic Dictionary, The Macmillan Company:New York (1942), p. 511; w/Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur)

How would a syllogism on papal primacy be worded? Perhaps as:

Christ gave Peter primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church;
Bishops of Rome are Peter's successors;
Therefore Bishops of Rome have primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church

I suppose that to some this would appear to be a proper syllogism; a proper expression of a true doctrine. In reality, it is not. Rather, it is a sophism, which is:

"A captious argument which is a true syllogism and therefore distinct from paralogism, which has only the appearance of the syllogism; but it tells a lie because truth is not contained in its premises and cannot therefore be deduced from them…" (Donald Attwater, Ed., A Catholic Dictionary, The Macmillan Company:New York (1942), p. 497; w/Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur)

Read your Bible. Learn the truth through study of the Scriptures, not the self-serving and pretentious imaginings of vainglorious men.

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