Dealing With A
Catholic Apologist

The Question: I have been corresponding with this Catholic for quite some time. Would you give me some answers for him if you have the time?

The Response: No problem. When you engage a Catholic in an apologetic discussion, it helps to remember that you involve yourself in an impossible situation. I have been discussing points of Catholic doctrine and practice with defenders of Romanism—since 1993. Early in the game, I used to go at them hammer and tongs, just as they often are wont to do when challenging Christians. Once it became clear to me that such behavior neither glorified God nor benefited anyone, I changed my approach to one involving the presentation of a preponderance of facts in support of the Christian antithesis to a Catholic doctrine.

I soon learned that tactic would usually not be effective because my Catholic antagonists would simply discount my information because it had not originated with Catholic sources. I tried another approach to such discussions. This technique involved using Catholic sources as much as possible. Unfortunately, this technique also is only marginally successful when attempting to demonstrate to a Catholic apologist that a particular RCC doctrine or practice is not biblical.

When Romanists discount arguments from Catholic teaching, they argue that “You just don’t understand Catholic teaching.” Then I explain that I was born and raised Catholic, at which point they assure me that things have changed since Vatican II.

I still try to use Catholic sources as much as possible to support my arguments. However, these days I generally inform my Catholic antagonist that I have no wish to debate and that, should he care to explore a particular issue with me, my participation will be limited to no more than two or three exchanges of email. Beyond that point, one usually is beating a dead horse.

In looking over your correspondent’s email, I see a number of favored Catholic tactics. First, he apparently is playing with word definitions and interpretations. This is a much-favored approach that serves Catholics well. The underlying principle here is that Catholicism does not understand many words and phrases in general use as does the Christian apologist. Many of the word definitions they use hark back to Greek philosophy and generally are only understood in the Romish sense by students of philosophy and Romish theologians. I have and use a number of Catholic dictionaries, encyclopedias and reference books to help me get the sense of the Catholic understanding of a term, but even they at times seem to be of no value to my efforts to penetrate the confusing verbiage of Romish documentation. For this reason, when my Catholic antagonist begins to play the definitions game, I generally halt the proceedings and demand that we establish and agree on definitions of a number of terms elemental to the discussion in progress. This usually causes progress on the topic to grind to a complete stop as the RCC apologist attempts to lead the discussion down a variety of alternate paths.

Switching topics, running down bunny trails, building and burning straw men, tossing out red herrings, etc., is standard game play for Rome’s apologists. The only way to block such moves, I have found, is to absolutely refuse to accept the bait, instead compelling the Catholic go back to the original topic at hand.

And now to address issues in the Catholic’s email (red text):

Thanks for the correction regarding summarized. I stand corrected as I left out a step. So I'll restate it in a clearer manner.

First one reads something and as he is reading it he interprets its meaning, then if one so chooses he summarizes the content. One cannot summarize without first interpreting it. It may be that one interprets immediately as he is reading but interpretation has to take place or he would be unable to summarize. This is the human condition. Furthermore, having the ability to read does not guarantee a correct interpretation therefore, can lead to an incorrect summary. (If you so desire I can give an example of this in a future e-mail)

I doubt I would continue to discuss the meaning of ‘summarize’ with this guy. What I would do is throw his own words back in his face: Furthermore, having the ability to read does not guarantee a correct interpretation therefore, can lead to an incorrect summary. That being the case, why should we believe ANY summary presented on ANY subject by ANY person, including the Magisterium or even the Pope himself? How are we to know WHO is capable of rendering a correct interpretation; WHAT subject matter he is CAPABLE of correctly interpreting; WHEN he is capable of rendering a correct interpretation and HOW shall we KNOW these things?

At this point, he may argue that Christ protects His church from teaching error. Whereupon you might ask him to prove that point from a source that both Catholics and Christians consider to be authoritative: The Bible. He probably will throw out some stuff about Peter and the Catholic Church, etc. Simply require him to prove his point, using something other than Catholic doctrine. He won’t be able to, so he’ll blow smoke. Break off the discussion of that issue.

As I am sure you have observed, Catholic apologists like to keep their opposition off-balance and on the defensive. They do this by asking a lot of questions and then pressing you to prove your responses. Don’t play the game. Turn it around and do the asking yourself. Back this guy up with a number of questions of YOUR choice, and then repeatedly demand that he prove his responses to YOUR satisfaction. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Attending to other comments:

It is not possible for one man to prove something is true and then another prove that the exact opposite is true. If [Scott] Hahn can prove that Sola Scriptura is false then it is false. If another scholar can prove that it is true then it is true. (remembering, of course, that proving something to be true does not make it true, it is true in its own right)

I would deal with this one quickly, for it is just a smoke screen. It certainly is possible for one man to prove something is true and then another to prove the exact opposite is false. Just a few examples involve the widely-held, well-proved belief that the world was flat, as compared with the voyages of Columbus or Magellan, which proved the world most definitely was not flat, but spherical. Galileo demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the solar system, but traditional teaching, as upheld by the pope, had plenty of ‘proof’ that it was. The ‘proofs’ one can bring to an issue are only as valid objectively as are the sources from which they are drawn are objectively valid. How those ‘proofs’ are understood and interpreted, and in what context, is another factor bearing heavily on the outcome of a study.

To illustrate the importance of agreeing on the context and conditions of a study, and the definition of terms, I offer this a case in point. We know, from our studies of plane geometry, that the circumference of a circle may be described as C=2pr, where C = circumference, p = pi, and r = radius. Using this equation, one can mathematically prove that the circumference of any circle with a radius of 3 will be 12.8496. That is true. Yet I am able to prove, again with mathematical precision, that the circumference of a circle with a radius of 3 can be greater or smaller than 12.8496. And that also is true. How can two different results to the same problem be true?

Here’s how:

Here is Einstein’s explanation. The ancient Greek result holds true for circles drawn on a flat surface. But just as the warped or curved mirrors in an amusement park fun-house distort the normal spatial relationships of your reflection, if a circle is drawn on a warped or curved surface, its usual spatial relationships will be distorted: the ratio of its circumference to its radius will generally not be two times pi.

For instance, Fig. 3 compares three circles whose radii are identical. Notice, however, that their circumferences are not the same. The circumference of the circle in (b), drawn on the curved surface of a sphere, is less that the circumference of the circle drawn on the flat surface in (a), even though they have the same radius. The curved nature of the sphere’s surface causes the radial lines of the circle to converge toward each other slightly, resulting in a small decrease in the circle’s circumference. The circumference of the circle in (c), again drawn on a curved surface—a saddle shape—is greater than that drawn on a flat surface; the curved nature of the saddle’s surface cause the radial lines of the circle to splay outward from each other slightly, resulting in a small increase in the circle’s circumference. These observations imply that the ratio of the circumference to the radius of circle in (b) will be less than two times pi, while the same ratio in (c) will be greater than two times pi.--Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, (c) 1999, W.W.Norton & Company, pp. 64-65

Since, in the above illustration, no mention was made of the condition or context, it was entirely possible to prove that three differing solutions to the same problem, C=2pr, are all true. That is why I consider it so important to establish rules and a common ground before engaging in apologetics with Catholics.

I loved Catholic’s next points, which included one of the favorite red herrings of Romish apologists:

Also, your statement that some can prove that the "RC church" (and by that I interpret your meaning to be the Catholic Church) was not found at the beginning of Christianity, is false. No one, scholarship notwithstanding, can prove otherwise.

I wish I had a nickel for every time a wiseacre Catholic apologist smugly informed me that his church has NEVER called itself the “Roman Catholic Church” or the “Roman Church.” When shown innumerable instances of Catholic churches and churchmen identifying themselves as Roman Catholic, Mother Church’s champion will toss out a disclaimer along the lines of, “They are not in line with Church doctrine.” At that point, I rather enjoy firing back a few examples, taken from dogmatic definitions by popes and general councils, which so identify their church.

All who, regarding the sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, or regarding baptism or the confession of sins, matrimony or the other ecclesiastical sacraments, do not fear to think or to teach otherwise than the most holy Roman Church teaches and observes; and in general, whomsoever the same Roman Church or individual bishops through their diocese with the advice of the clergy or the clergy themselves, if the episcopal see is vacant, with the advice if it is necessary of neighboring bishops, shall judge as heretics, we bind with a like bond of perpetual anathema.--Pope Lucius III, Council of Verona 1184, The Sacraments (against the Albigenses), Denzinger 402

By the heart we believe and by the mouth we confess the one Church, not of heretics but the Holy Roman, Catholic and Apostolic (Church) outside which we believe that no one is saved.–Pope Innocent III, Profession of Faith Prescribed for Durand of Osca and His Waldensian Companions, from the letter Eius exemplo to the Archbishop of Terraco, December 18, 1208, Denzinger 423

…Therefore, wishing to remove such scandal from the Church, on the recommendation of the Sacred Council, we strictly command that they do not presume such things in the future, conforming themselves as obedient sons to the holy Roman Church, their mother, so that there may be “one flock and one shepherd” [John 10:16]. If anyone, however, shall presume any such thing, struck by the sword of excommunication, let him be disposed from every office and ecclesiastical favor.–Pope Innocent III, Lateran Council IV 1215, The Trinity, Sacraments, Canonical Mission, etc., Chapter 4, Denzinger 435

Just one more, from the third session of the Council of Trent:

This sacred and holy ecumenical and general Synod of Trent, lawfully assembled in the Holy Spirit, with the three legates of the Apostolic See presiding over it, in consideration of the magnitude of the matters to be transacted, especially those which are comprised under these two heads, the extirpation of heresies and the reform of morals, because of which chiefly the Synod was convoked…, has proposed that the creed of faith, which the Holy Roman Church utilizes, in as much as it is that principle, wherein all who profess the faith of Christ utilizes, inasmuch as it is ithat principle, firm and sole foundation, against which the “gates of Hell shall never prevail” [Matt 16:18], be expressed in the very same words in which it is read in all the churches. This creed is as follows:--Pope Paul III, Council of Trent 1545-1563, Session III (February 4, 1546), The Creed of the Catholic Faith is Accepted, Denzinger 782

To read a few more infallible statements that mention the “Roman Church,” see also: Denzinger 449, 460, 570a, 703.

All references to Denzinger are to the 30th edition of Henry Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum (The Sources of Catholic Dogma), 1957, Marian House.

I will deal with the Romanist’s argument concerning the origins of the Catholic Church in a follow-up post.

Finally, your comment: It is logical to believe that God would not ordain one man to be infallible in doctrine.

It is not logical because the Author of logic (God) has done so, several times.

He chose Moses to disseminate His truth to the Israelites. He did the same with many OT patriarchs and prophets. He had fallible men (fallible in their natural life) write infallible Scripture.

This is sophistry. God indeed did empower individuals to speak His oracles to the Hebrew people. Certainly Moses was one of these, as were Elijah, Malachi, Amos, etc. The Scriptures also tell us there were many false prophets, claiming to speak God’s oracles, during biblical times. To even suggest that, because God empowered Moses, Elijah, Malachi, et al, to pronounce His oracles to the Hebrew people, therefore the extraordinary Magisterium or the Pope, speaking ex cathedra, have received the charism of infallibility is preposterous. One should bear in mind that God provided a test to make it possible for the Jews to know whether what a prophet said was from God. The test involved two prophetic statements, one near-term, the other at some time in the future. If the near-term prophecy came to pass, then Israel believed that the in-the-future prophecy was from God. If the near-term prophecy failed to come to pass, the false prophet was taken out and stoned. One has to wonder how willing the pope would be to make a few prophecies while standing near a rock pile.

And all the foregoing just HAD to end up here:

But most of all he ordained Peter to lead the flock and do so infallibly!

Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16: 17-19)

I have not figured out whether Catholic theologians came up with this very flawed understanding of the rabbinical act of binding and losing innocently, or whether it is a deliberate distortion of rabbinical reality. Personally, I am strongly leaning toward the latter possibility. I have responded to this foolish claim perhaps a bazillion times, maybe more. It is the biggest shot in the Catholic apologetic gun. I addressed this fallacy in my article Catholic Sophistry .101.


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