More from St. Augustine on Apologetics

So, I started to read the rest of the City of God not covered in my son's high school theology course.  I found this as I started to read Book 6 (this is from the preface).

"To be sure, those first five books are not enough to deal with all the extravagant folly and perversity of our opponents -- nor would any number of additional books suffice.  That is clear to all.  Stupidity glories in never yielding to the force of truth; that is how it effects the ruin of anyone who is under the dominion of this monstrous moral fault.  It is a disease proof against all efforts to treat it, not through any fault in the physician, but because the patient is himself incurable.  But those who understand what they read, who reflect upon it and weigh the arguments without any obstinate adherence to their old errors, or at least without excessive and exaggerated attachment to them -- such people will be ready to conclude that in the five books already completed our discussion has been more, not less, than the question demanded.  The ignorant try to bring odium to the Christian religion in connection with the disasters to which human life is subject, and the calamities and catastrophes that beset human affairs; and the learned not merely connive at this but even support those slanders, in defiance of their own conscience, possessed by a raging madness of blasphemy.  These judicious readers cannot doubt that such attempts are utterly devoid of any clear thinking or right reasoning and are composed of nothing but irresponsible frivolity and malignant spite."

Just a note here, for those who have never read or heard what the 'City of God' is about:  When he says, "The ignorant try to bring odium to the Christian religion in connection with the disasters to which human life is subject, and the calamities and catastrophes that beset human affairs..."  He is speaking of how the pagans were blaming the Christians for the fall of Rome in 410AD because many of the people of Rome had turned from their gods to the one true God of the Church founded by Christ.  In the first five books he speaks to the history of Rome and how it is full of disaster, full of calamities, full of double standards, and how Christianity is different from the old religion.  He speaks of how His Church has brought morality, civility, and humanity to Rome.

It seems an especially appropriate argument for the Church today.  Many, many opponents of His Church, those who call themselves Christian and the non-Christian alike, blame the Church for the splitting up of Christianity, for not preaching the truth, for violence in the world, for not making poverty disappear, for any number of odious happenings in the world.  St. Augustine's words are quite timeless, and timely.  The truth of Christianity has been preserved in and by His Church for 2,000 years.  "But those who understand what they read, who reflect upon it and weigh the arguments without any obstinate adherence to their old errors, or at least without excessive and exaggerated attachment to them -- such people will be ready to conclude that in the [Church's teachings] already completed our discussion has been more, not less, than the question[s] demanded."

Sola Scriptura - James White

Below is a response article I wrote back in 1998 regarding sola scriptura and James White's presentation of it.  I  don't believe he ever responded to it, so I thought I'd bring it up again...
Presented here is a rebuttal of Sola Scriptura as presented by James White in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy, (hereafter TRCC), specifically Chapter 5, "Sola Scriptura: God Speaks Clearly." In my past discussions with James he has accused me of not understanding the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, so in this undertaking I will be quoting him extensively.
I have color coded this page as follows:
  • Windsor's Words: Purple
  • White's Words: Blue
  • Outside Sources: Red

White opens with a quote from St. Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379), and he claims that this is what St. Basil used when encountered by opponents who claimed authority for their own custom and tradition:
If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly
competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which
obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow
them. Therefore, let God-inspired Scripture decide between us;
and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the
word of God, in favor of that side will be case the vote of truth.
(Letter CLXXXIX, as quoted in TRCC page 55).
Let us be clear on this point, " in harmony with" does not mean we must find it in Scripture, only that it cannot contradict Scripture. There is also nothing about the Scriptures "speaking clearly" in this text. White, however, goes on to say, "Basil was content to allow that divine document to stand as judge between him and his opponents." He also adds, "he referred to that which was binding on all Christians in all places at all times: the Scriptures." (ibid.). But, is St. Basil really saying all that White says? Let us look at another quote from St. Basil:
As for us, besides this open war of heretics, that, in addition, which
has been raised by those who have the appearance of being
orthodox, has reduced the churches to the last degree of
weakness. For which reason we stand in special need of
assistance from you (the bishops of the west), to the end that they
who profess the Apostolic Faith, having done away with the
schisms which they have invented, may henceforward be
subjected to the authority of the Church.
{T.iii.P.i.Ep.xcii. ad. Ital. et Gall. p. 266; quoted in: The Faith of Catholics, pg. 58).
Here we find St. Basil "clearly speaking" that the Apostolic Church is in authority, and he even turns to the bishops of the west to aid him in this show of solidarity against the heretics. So are we to be subject to the Scriptures or to the Apostolic Church? I submit that we are to be subject to the Church; we are subject also to the Scriptures, but only as they are interpreted by the Apostolic Authority that Jesus left us. "Clearly" if we look at more of the writings of St. Basil, he does not profess or teach the doctrine of Sola Scriptura that was invented by those who formed new churches and separated from the Apostolic Church in the 16th century.

Next White discloses that "Few Protestants today can define sola scriptura briefly, succinctly, or even accurately." (TRCC, p. 56) So, in essence he is saying that most Protestants do not even have a clue about this doctrine that is supposed to be one of the very foundations of the "Reformation." (I detest that word, it is a Protestant word to make them feel better about what they did, no from the Catholic perspective it was a Formation, and from here after it will be referred to as such). Many of the founders of the Formation claimed that if it could be shown that any of the doctrines of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide or Sola Gratia, were false, they would come back to the Catholic Church, would White do the same? What if we can show the weakness of this doctrine of Sola Scriptura? White goes on to conclude this thought with, "I have obse rved that many of those who have moved into Roman Catholicism from evangelical churches have done so because they could not defend sola scriptura." (ibid.)

Next White proceeds to tell us:
"What Sola Scriptura Is Not."
His first statement is: "First and foremost, sola scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge." (ibid.). He goes into a little litany of what he means by this, but I believe we are in agreement here so I won’t belabor the issue.

Second, he says, "Sola scriptura is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge." He then freely admits that the Bible itself asserts this fact in John 21:25. Again, we agree on this point, but he attacks the words of Karl Keating in this section. Since I am rebutting White's book, I will also defend Karl’s words here. He quotes Karl’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 136:
The Bible actually denies that it is the complete rule of faith.
John tells us that not everything concerning Christ’s work is in
Scripture (John 21:25), and Paul says that much Christian teaching
is to be found in the tradition that is handed down by word of mouth
(2 Timothy 2:2). (quoted on pg. 57 of TRCC).
White elucidates: "Keating equates John’s statement that the Bible does not record everything Jesus did with a denial that the Bible is the complete rule of faith." (ibid.). After repeating that this is a misconception of the teaching of sola scriptura, he starts getting a bit ridiculous saying: "Do we need to know the color of Bartholomew’s hair for the Bible to be sufficient source?" He also tries to make Keating’s words to mean that we need to know the daily menus or descriptions of clothing of the Apostles for the Bible to be a sufficient source. No, Karl merely cited the SAME verse that White cited regarding the fact that the Bible is not an exhaustive source. What White leaves out of this section of Keating’s book is a bit more condemning of sola scriptura, continuing where White left off:
He (Paul) instructs us to ‘stand fast, and hold to the traditions which
you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle’ (2 Th 2:15).
We are told that the first Christians ‘were preserving the doctrine of
the apostles’ (Acts 2:42), which was the oral teaching that was given
long before the New Testament was written and centuries before the
canon of the New Testament was settled.
White did not deal with either 2 Thessalonians 2:15 or Acts 2:42, which Keating cites in the same paragraph that James is attacking. Anyone who reads the context that James cites from Catholicism and Fundamentalism can clearly see that Keating is vindicated by his own words.

Let us now go on to White's third commentary on what sola scriptura is not.
Sola scriptura is not a denial of the authority of the Church to teach
God’s truth. Quite often a dichotomy is presented: one has either the
Bible or the Church, but not both. Many Protestants, reacting against
what they see as an overemphasis on the Roman Catholic theology,
end up going too far in the other direction, and downplay the vital
(and biblical) role the Church is given by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
Wow! I was impressed to read this from White! Actually admitting that the Church has authority, given her by Christ! I’ll say it again, wow! Now we must ask White, where did this "true church" go for nearly 1500 years while anyone who claimed to be a Christian was a Roman Catholic? The dawning of the "Formation" wasn’t until, at the earliest, in the 1400’s to 1500’s, so where was the Church all this time?

Well, after he admits the Church has authority, he switches the subject a bit and quotes 1 Timothy 3:15, saying that some Protestants are troubled by the description of the Church as the "pillar and support of the truth." Here again, he states that this description of the Church is "thoroughly biblical and proper." But he qualifies this with, "There is, of course, a vast difference between recognizing and confessing the Church as the pillar and bulwark of truth, and confessing the Church to be the final arbiter of truth itself." (TRCC, p.58). So who then is "the final arbiter?" White argues that the Church "upholds the truth, but is subservient to it. The Church remains the bride of Christ, and as such, she listens obediently and intently to the words of her Lord Jesus Christ, and those words are found in Scripture itself." (ibid.). Again, we can go back to Karl Keating’s point, and ask, "Are all Christ’s words to be found in Scripture?" If all can be found in Scripture, then what are the oral traditions that the Scriptures themselves refer to?

Again, who is the final arbiter of the Scriptures? One cannot say that the words speak for themselves. If this were true, then there could only be one way to interpret the Scriptures, and if this were true then we would by default have only one church. However, left to the devises of men, the scriptures have been interpreted in many different ways. Subsequently, we are left with thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations (the last figure I heard was 28,000!) each one claiming to have the true interpretation. I am a bit confused by White's next explanation: [my comments in brackets]
While Rome has gone far beyond the biblical parameters regarding
the roles and functions of the Church, [no citations of this!], many
Protestants have not gone nearly far enough in recognizing the
divine order laid out in the New Testament. The Apostles
established local churches
[we call these parishes].
They chose elders and deacons, [we call them priests and deacons]
and entrusted to these the task of teaching and preaching the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. Those chosen
of God to minister the Word to the congregation are worthy of
double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). There is no warrant for the ‘Lone Ranger
Christian Syndrome’ so popular in Protestant circles these days.
(TRCC, p. 58)
So, what does this make White himself, if not one trapped in "Lone Ranger Christian Syndrome?" White has given a very good argument for why it is necessary to have One Church as the final arbiter and interpreter of the Scripture. I would concur, the Bride of Christ is still subservient to the Word, but not the Word as interpreted by James White, nor any other individual interpretation and especially not the interpretation that comes from a schismatic and/or heretical group.

White's final two proclamations of what sola scriptura is not we agree with, so I will close this section with his summary on page 59:
Sola scriptura is not a
    1. claim that the Bible contains all knowledge; (we agree)
    2. claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge; (we agree)
    3. denial of the Church’s authority to teach God’s truth; (we agree)
    4. denial that God’s Word has, at times, been spoken; (this summary alone defies the doctrine!)
    5. rejection of every kind or use of tradition; (we agree)
    6. denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church. (Amen and amen!)

What Sola Scriptura Is
  1. The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient
  2. to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church. The emphasis here is on the nature of Scripture. The Scriptures are, as God-breathed revelation, sufficient to provide the "rule of faith" necessary for the Church’s mission in this world. Further, the Scriptures provide an infallible rule of faith, one that cannot err, one not affected by personal whims, social trends, or any other outside force. While the Church faces a myriad of challenging situations over time, the Scriptures themselves do not change and therefore provide the Church with a firm foundation.
    Well, again we agree on this! Yes, the Scriptures are indeed sufficient to provide a, if not the, regula fidei. The problem is that nowhere within the Scriptures can we find that they are to be the sola regula fedei! Again I must ask, even if the Scriptures were the sole rule of faith, who interprets? Who is the final arbiter?
  3. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in the Scripture, and no other source.
  4. Now, if this were one of the rules for a Christian, and sola scriptura is the sola regula fidei, would not one expect to find this rule within the confines of the Sacred Scriptures? If there is to be "no other source" then why do the Scriptures themselves refer to an oral tradition? (2 Thes. 2:15).
  5. That which is not found in Scripture either directly or by necessary implication is not binding upon the Christian. [Says who!?] To be more specific, I provide the definition I used when I first defended this doctrine in a public debate:
  6. The Bible claims to be the sole and sufficient infallible
    rule of faith for the Christian Church.
    [Where does it
    claim to be the sole rule of faith?]
    The Scriptures are not in
    need of any supplement; their authority comes from their
    nature as God-breathed revelation; their authority is not
    dependent upon man, church or council. The Scriptures
    are self-consistent, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating.
    The Christian Church looks to the Scriptures as the only
    infallible and sufficient rule of faith, and the Church is always
    subject to the Word, and is constantly reformed thereby.
    The next thing White quotes is the Westminster Confession of Faith, which I will not deal with since it is clearly extra-scriptura and thus is self refuting for White's purpose (to prove SOLA scriptura). I must challenge though, his words above. "The Scriptures are self-consistent, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating." How is this possible? Again, IF this were true, we would not have the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations which differ, some greatly, on their interpretation of Scriptures. If the Bible were self-interpreting, there could then only be one logical truth. If the Bible were self-authenticating, then why did it take nearly 400 years before there was a final canon of Scriptures? And, why would there be a discussion at all about the deutero-canonicals of the Old Testament? The Catholic Canon of Scriptures includes these books, and always has. This is based on the fact that Jesus and the Apostles, when they quote from the Old Testament, quoted from the LXX, or Septuagint, which also includes these books. The Protestants reject these seven books based on the Jewish canon, that does the same. Now, as a Christian, would it not make more sense to accept the books that came from the same edition that Christ Himself and His Apostles used as opposed to the edition that was accepted by those who rejected Christ!
  7. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation.
  8. Again, we can concur on this point. Then Jesus also demanded in the Bible that the Apostles:
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
    them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy
    Spirit, teaching the to observe ALL that I have commanded you;
    and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
    (Matthew 28:19-20, NAS).
    As I said, we concur on this point and we also concur that there are more things that Jesus said and taught than are contained in the Bible, at least White said earlier that he accepted this fact. So, if we are to be taught ALL that Jesus commanded, and not ALL these things were found in the Bible, not to mention the Bible would not be written for decades after He said this, nor compiled into one official canon of Scripture for centuries! What did all these Early Christians do prior to the Bible being written? How did they know which books were authentic prior to the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the late 4th century? Back to the point of self-authenticating, why did it take so long for the Bible to self-authenticate itself, and if this had already been done, why did these councils have to declare the canon (which differed from earlier declarations of canon by individuals)?
  9. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.
White jumps to page 68 for his explanation of this one. He quotes Matthew 15:1-9, which deals with the Jewish "tradition of the elders" and relates this to the Catholic Traditions, which we received from Christ and the Apostles. White argues though that "no matter what its alleged pedigree, (the tradition) is to be tested by the known standard, the Holy Scriptures" (TRCC, p. 69). This is all well and good, but how do we interpret this standard? Even the scriptures themselves warn us against private interpretation. "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20).
We need an infallible interpreter to guide us on these matters. Sure, we can test Traditions with the Scriptures, but who validates the test? To say the Scriptures validate themselves is a circular argument. We need the Church, as guided by the Holy Spirit, to be final arbiter in these, and all, matters.

Again, we’ll use White summaries to conclude this section:
To summarize sola scriptura:
    1. Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith. (Self-refuting, this is not found in Scripture!)
    2. No other revelation is needed for the Church. (Scriptures refer to an oral tradition, 2 Thes. 2:15).
    3. There is no other infallible rule of faith outside of Scripture. (Repeat of #1).
    4. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation. (Scriptures say we must be taught "all things" yet they also refer to this oral tradition, so by necessity and even according to Scriptures, there is this oral tradition that is outside the Scriptures).
    5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture. (The Church consists of the Written Tradition and the Oral Tradition. They are inseparable and the ultimate arbiter of both is and has been the Church. The Church settled on the Canon of Scriptures in the late 4th century and has made rulings on Traditions throughout her history).

On pages 62 through 67 White presents "The Biblical Basis of Sola Scriptura." Well, try as he might, there is no biblical basis. White cites 2 Timothy 3:14-17, but these verses deal with sufficiency, not exclusivity, or "sola." It is also interesting to note that White admits that Paul is referring to the Old Testament here, since Timothy would not have had any of the New Testament writings at that time. Which again brings us back to the point of what did those first Christians do without a New Testament? They relied, almost exclusively, on the oral traditions. Still on the verse from Timothy, White compares the ability to equip the man of God sufficiently for every good work to a store owner that can " fully equip " a hiker to hike the Grand Canyon, (and the avid cyclist that White is/was, he has also used the bike store owner to equip the rider scenario). White states:

If I am a store owner who can "fully equip" a hiker to hike
the Grand Canyon--if I have the resources and abilities
to provide everything he needs in the way of supplies,
hiking gear, shoes, maps, food, etc.--does it not follow
that I am a sufficient source of supply to the hiker?
If that hiker has to go next door to another shop for a few
more things, and to a third shop for some things that
neither mine nor the other shop had, then none of us are
sufficient to equip the hiker. But if that hiker can come to
my shop alone and get everything he needs to accomplish
his task, then I can rightly call myself a sufficient equipper of
a hiker of the Grand Canyon.
In the exact same way the Scriptures are able to fully equip the
man of God so that he is able to do every good work.
OK, what if you are able to fully equip this hiker, but so is your competitor down the road? The analogy is rather weak, and even breaks down on that point. Your shop may be able to fully equip the hiker, but what if my shop can fully equip him with better equipment? You may get the hiker in and out of the Canyon, but my shop will do it with style!
Comments from a reader of this article, sent to me on November 11, 2002: I am a freshman in college at Texas A&M and have recently had my first protestant vs catholic discussion. I love the article and wanted to throw in one simple statement to go along with the store and biker scenario. Yes, the store equips the biker with all that he needs, but if this person has never biked the grand canyon, or never hiked the grand canyon, how can he ever make it through. He can be equipped with all the tools in the world, but if he doesnt know how to use the tools, or what they are used for, how can he ever make it to the top of his hike, to the end of his cycling trip. Thats where the church steps in; the infallible authority to help us use the tools correctly, and know what they are there for. This helps us see further that if we try to figure out on OUR OWN what the different tools and objects are used for, and try to figure our how to use them ourselves, we will never make it...and this is clearly seen in all the 20,000+ protestant denominations trying to interperet in their OWN way how to use GODS tools. That is why the infallible church is give us Gods instructions, throw the Holy Spirit working through the church. I know you've probably gone over that already, but, just a thought into White's analogy proving his own way wrong, and incomplete. Thanks for your time,
The final section we will deal with is subtitled: "The Lord Jesus on the Authority of Scripture"
White uses the Lord's debate with the Sadducees in Matthew 22 as an example to prove that Our Lord was willing to base an argument on the words of Scripture. This is all well and good, but what about the time when Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not resist him
who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him
the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)
So we see here Jesus taking that which was written in the Old Testament, and then saying "But I say..." So, clearly Jesus didn't believe in sola scriptura, or that the Scriptures were to be the sola regula fidei, and added His own (then) oral tradition.

In conclusion, I don't think I could have been any fairer in presenting the Protestant view of sola scriptura, at least the way James White teaches it. I have used extensive quotes from his own book, and yet we still find there is no true foundation for this "doctrine." White subtitles this chapter, "Sola Scriptura: God Speaks Clearly," well my friends, if God is speaking this so "clearly" and we are to accept this as THE regula fidei, wouldn't one expect to find this doctrine "clearly stated" in the Holy Scriptures?! Since the Scriptures themselves bear witness to the authority of an oral tradition that equally must be adhered to (2 Thes. 2:15). Bearing these in mind, White fails, as all other Protestant apologists have done so, in proving this doctrine. If this doctrine is not explicitly found in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves refer to the oral traditions, then we must conclude that THIS is one of the man-made traditions that Jesus warns us of in Matthew 15:1-9!

ECFs On Praying to Saints

On Praying to, with and for the Saints

Hippolytus of Rome
"[Appealing to the three companions of Daniel] Think of me, I beseech you, so that I may achieve with you the same fate of martyrdom."  On Daniel, 11:30 (A.D. 204).

Clement of Alexandria
"In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]" (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]).
"But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep" (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]).
Cyprian of Carthage
"Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy" (Letters 56[60]:5 [A.D. 253]).
"Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in your safety, and pray anxiously for our sins" (funerary inscription near St. Sabina’s in Rome [A.D. 300]).

"Pray for your parents, Matronata Matrona. She lived one year, fifty-two days" (ibid.).

"Mother of God, [listen to] my petitions; do not disregard us in adversity, but rescue us from danger" (Rylands Papyrus 3 [A.D. 350]).
"Hail to you for ever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness" (Oration on Simeon and Anna 14 [A.D. 305]).

"Therefore, we pray [ask] you, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away" (ibid.).

"And you also, O honored and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, do be our patron and advocate with that Savior God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, ‘You are the true Light, proceeding from the true Light; the true God, begotten of the true God’" (ibid.).
Cyril of Jerusalem
"Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth." (Catechetical Lectures 23:9 [A.D. 350]).

Ephraim the Syrian
"You victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the God and Savior, you who have boldness of speech toward the Lord himself, you saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful men, full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may come upon us, and enlighten the hearts of all of us so that we may love him" (Commentary on Mark [A.D. 370]).

"Remember me, you heirs of God, you brethren of Christ; supplicate the Savior earnestly for me, that I may be freed through Christ from him that fights against me day by day" (The Fear at the End of Life [A.D. 370]).
The Liturgy of St. Basil
"By the command of your only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of your saints . . . by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of your holy name" (Liturgy of St. Basil [A.D. 373]).
"Aschandius, my father, dearly beloved of my heart, with my sweet mother and my brethren, remember your Pectorius in the peace of the Fish [Christ]" (Epitaph of Pectorius [A.D. 375]).
Gregory of Nazianz
"May you [Cyprian] look down from above propitiously upon us, and guide our word and life; and shepherd this sacred flock . . . gladden the Holy Trinity, before which you stand" (Orations 17[24] [A.D. 380]).

Gregory of Nyssa
"[Ephraim], you who are standing at the divine altar [in heaven] . . . bear us all in remembrance, petitioning for us the remission of sins, and the fruition of an everlasting kingdom" (Sermon on Ephraim the Syrian [A.D. 380]).
John Chrysostom
"He that wears the purple [i.e., a royal man] . . . stands begging of the saints to be his patrons with God, and he that wears a diadem begs the tentmaker [Paul] and the fisherman [Peter] as patrons, even though they be dead" (Homilies on Second Corinthians 26 [A.D. 392]).

"When you perceive that God is chastening you, fly not to his enemies . . . but to his friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to him, and who have great power [in God]" (Orations 8:6 [A.D. 396]).

"Thus might you console us; but what of the flock? Would you first promise the oversight and leadership of yourself, a man under whose wings we all would gladly repose, and for whose words we thirst more eagerly than men suffering from thirst for the purest fountain? Secondly, persuade us that the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep has not even now left us; but is present, and tends and guides, and knows his own, and is known of his own, and, though bodily invisible, is spiritually recognized, and defends his flock against the wolves, and allows no one to climb over into the fold as a robber and traitor; to pervert and steal away, by the voice of strangers, souls under the fair guidance of the truth. Aye, I am well assured that his intercession is of more avail now than was his instruction in former days, since he is closer to God, now that he has shaken off his bodily fetters, and freed his mind from the clay which obscured it, and holds intercourse naked with the nakedness of the prime and purest Mind; being promoted, if it be not rash to say so, to the rank and confidence of an angel." On the Death of his Father, Oration 18:4.

Ambrose of Milan
"May Peter, who wept so efficaciously for himself, weep for us and turn towards us Christ’s benign countenance" (The Six Days Work 5:25:90 [A.D. 393]).

"A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers" (Against Faustus the Manichean [A.D. 400]).

"There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended" (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).

"At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps" (Homilies on John 84 [A.D. 416]).

"Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ" (The City of God 20:9:2 [A.D. 419]).
"You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard. . . . But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?" (Against Vigilantius 6 [A.D. 406]).

Top Ten Tactics of Anti-Catholics

Top Ten List of Anti-Catholic Debate Tactics

(Tactics most often used by "Evangelicals" and "Fundamentalists" in Catholic forums).

1. Change the subject.  Change the subject and change it often.  (Catholics have answers to every angle you can present, so the longer you stick to a given topic, the more evidence they are able to produce to oppose you and the often greater silent majority is reading all those arguments too, storing up more and more answers which oppose you so don't stick with any given topic for too long).

2. Always put the Catholic on the defense, don't let him/her be the one asking questions.  (The person in control of the debate is the one asking the questions, never let the Catholic have control!  Keep asking questions!  Every time a question is answered, ask another one - but keep point #1 in mind).

3. Use the "You're as bad as we are" excuse, the tu quoque fallacy.  (It is also an invalid distraction from the real subject at hand, but often works to divert Catholics into defending their own position instead of you having to defend yours (related to #2).

4. Flood your response with so much tangential information as to overwhelm the Catholic (and perhaps related to #1, get the Catholic to divert onto a tangential side-topic).

5. Once the Catholic has engaged a diversionary topic, wait a response or two then blame the Catholic for the diversion.  (By this point the main point may be hopelessly lost and you've successfully dodged a potentially damaging topic to the anti-Catholic cause).

6. If you can't answer, go silent and hope the Catholic gets distracted and forgets you haven't answered yet.

7. If you're on a Catholic forum, and have gotten to a point where you can't answer, become so inflammatory that a moderator will kick you out.  (Then you can claim to be a martyr and blame the Catholic moderator for your inability to answer).

8. Introduce multiple topics. (Again, related to #1 and #4, but in this case it is separate postings on different topics in hopes to distract the Catholics).

9. Don't cite your sources until challenged, then when you do - don't provide links. (Don't do anything which will make it easier for the Catholics to research the context because most of the time context supports the Catholics and not you.  Once the Catholic has found your source and exposed the context, go back to tactic #1 or #2).

10. Never admit you're wrong, even in the smallest issues.  If you were wrong, just move on to other topics (related to #6.  It has also been suggested that this could be "never admit a Catholic is right;" and along with that it was suggested this should be #1).

(Please feel free to use the "Share It" feature to the right!)

A Response to Engwer re: Lactantius

Jason Engwer wrote a piece recently on Triablogue which needs some addressing of the errors it conveys. He alleges that Lactantius opposes prayer to the dead, which in an out-of-context reading one might agree with him - but IN context, we see a bit of a different story....

JE states: Lactantius condemned those involved in "prayers to dead men" and "prayers to the dead":

"They [pagans] ought therefore to have understood from the mysteries and ceremonies themselves, that they were offering prayers to dead men." (The Divine Institutes, 1:21)

Mr. Engwer is misleading a bit here. Lactantius is referring to the works of "the poets" who wrote about pagan gods. Context is important. Just a few lines earlier in that same reference we find: "Sallust rejected this opinion altogether, as though invented by the poets, and wished to give an ingenious explanation of the reasons for which the Curetes are said to have nourished Jupiter; and he speaks to this purport: Because they were the first to understand the worship of the deity, that therefore antiquity, which exaggerates all things, made them known as the nourishers of Jupiter. How much this learned man was mistaken, the matter itself at once declares." So, what Lactantius is speaking of here is the deifying of dead men and praying to these dead men as gods.

JE quotes: "But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law." (2:18)

And again, context betrays Mr. Engwer! Just previous to the snippet he quotes is essentially says the same thing as what I demonstrated from the context from Book I, Chapter 21 (above). Let us look at Book 2, Chapter 18 just a bit above where Mr. Engwer has quoted:

"I have shown that the religious rites of the gods are vain in a threefold manner: In the first place, because those images which are worshipped are representations of men who are dead; and that is a wrong and inconsistent thing, that the image of a man should be worshipped by the image of God, for that which worships is lower and weaker than that which is worshipped: then that it is an inexpiable crime to desert the living in order that you may serve memorials of the dead, who can neither give life nor light to any one, for they are themselves without it: and that there is no other God but one, to whose judgment and power every soul is subject."

So, yet again - the context is objecting to praying to other gods and that the images of these "dead men" are being so worshiped. This has nothing to do with the practice of asking the Saints to pray with and for us. If we were to ONLY look at the small little pieces Mr. Engwer points to, then we MAY come to that conclusion - but again - context betrays Mr. Engwer's premise - which he then builds upon...

JE continues: One way in which advocates of praying to the deceased could attempt to dismiss these passages in Lactantius is by arguing that the dead are those who are spiritually dead, not physically dead. Thus, one can pray to those who are spiritually alive in Heaven without falling under Lactantius' condemnation. The physical death of those individuals who are in Heaven is irrelevant, since Lactantius is referring to spiritual death.

Actually, again - based upon the context - Lactantius is speaking of those who are dead but are considered gods by the pagans.

JE: There's no evidence that Lactantius believed in prayer to people who are spiritually alive in Heaven. And scripture, which probably influenced Lactantius on this issue, condemns attempts to contact the dead in general, not just by means of prayer (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Isaiah 8:19, 19:3). It would be absurd to suggest that such Biblical passages are condemning attempts to contact the spiritually dead. Was Moses sinning by speaking with the spiritually dead Pharaoh? Physical death is in view when attempts to contact the dead are condemned. If Lactantius was influenced by such Biblical passages, as seems likely, then he probably had physical death in mind. And though the phrases "dead men" and "the dead" can refer to those who are spiritually dead, they're more commonly used to refer to the physically dead. Those who want to propose that Lactantius had a less common definition in mind bear a heavier burden of proof.

The references to death nearest to the first passage above, 1:21, are references to physical death.

Well, yes - they refer to physical death - but of men whom those pagan poets believed to be gods! Again, Mr. Engwer has missed the point here and has based his argument on a false premise which then leads him to conclusions which are just as false.

JE: And near the beginning of 2:18, we read:

"For He has determined at the last times to pass judgment on the living and the dead, concerning which judgment I shall speak in the last book."

Well again, referencing Book 2, Chapter 18 is regarding the worship of false gods and false religions, namely paganism.

JE: When people speak of God's judgment of "the living and the dead", how are they usually defining "the dead"? Normally, they're referring to God's judgment of those who had physically died prior to that point. Physical death is being referred to. That's what we see elsewhere in Lactantius:

"After these things the lower regions shall be opened, and the dead shall rise again...[quoting another source] 'Rolling along the heavens, I will open the caverns of the earth; and then I will raise the dead, loosing fate and the sting of death; and afterwards I will call them into judgment, judging the life of pious and impious men.' Not all men, however, shall then be judged by God, but those only who have been exercised in the religion of God. For they who have not known God, since sentence cannot be passed upon them for their acquittal, are already judged and condemned, since the Holy Scriptures testify that the wicked shall not arise to judgment....the dead will rise again, not after a thousand years from their death, but that, when again restored to life, they may reign with God a thousand years....Then they who shall be alive in their bodies shall not die, but during those thousand years shall produce an infinite multitude, and their offspring shall be holy, and beloved by God; but they who shall be raised from the dead shall preside over the living as judges." (7:20, 7:22, 7:24)

He's referring to redeemed individuals, people who are spiritually alive, as "dead". Thus, the opening of section 2:18 is including people who are physically deceased, even though they're spiritually alive, among "the dead".

Later in section 2:18, just before the comment on prayers to the dead, Lactantius refers to the dead again:

And again, the section refers to dead men being worshiped as gods/deity so what Mr. Engwer is doing, continually throughout this treatise is ignoring the context which denies his conclusions. I'm not going to go through every citation, for they all do the same as I've already shown above.

Continuing a bit further down...

JE asks: Do Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox pray to the physically dead? Yes, they do.

In this same section of Lactantius, he tells his readers that we should:

"direct our eyes to that quarter to which the condition of their nature has directed, and that we may adore and worship nothing except the single deity of our only Creator and Father...the spirits which preside over the [pagan] religious rites themselves, being condemned and cast off by God, wallow over the earth, who not only are unable to afford any advantage to their worshippers, since the power of all things is in the hands of one alone, but even destroy them with deadly attractions and errors; since this is their daily business, to involve men in darkness, that the true God may not be sought by them."

He's not trying to direct his readers toward prayer to God and spiritually alive humans and angels. Rather, he seems to want them to pray to "nothing except the single deity of our only Creator and Father...the true God". Not only does Lactantius condemn prayer to the physically dead, but he also suggests that God alone is the proper object of prayer.

Here Mr. Engwer gets SO CLOSE to pointing to the truth when he points out the "except the single deity..." condition for adoration and worship, but fails to make the connection that what Lactantius is objecting to is not the praying with the Communion of Saints to join us in our petitions but rather he objects to deifying dead people and worshiping them as gods. Neither Catholics nor Orthodox worship saints as gods.

JE posits: A possible objection to the interpretation I've laid out is Lactantius' comment above about "deadly" attractions. The attractions in question are spiritually
deadly. Thus, when he goes on to refer to "the dead", he may be referring to the spiritually dead, not the physically dead.

No, Lactantius is referring to physically dead people - but again, his objection is to worshiping them as gods - not in petitioning them to join us in our petitions to the One, True God.

JE concludes: There are a few problems with that argument. First, though references to death in the surrounding context are some of the evidence relevant to how we interpret Lactantius, they aren't the only line of evidence I've cited. The other factors I've mentioned above would have to be taken into account as well. Second, references to physical death are more prominent in the section of Lactantius under consideration, even though the concept of spiritual death is present to some extent. Third, "deadly" is a different term than "the dead". Fourth, the earlier reference to prayers to the dead in 1:21 has references to physical death in its nearest context and probably is referring to the physically dead. Thus, there's precedent for reading 2:18 in that manner. A reference to praying to the physically dead in 2:18 makes more sense conceptually and in light of all of the contextual factors involved.

Mr. Engwer, repeats his earlier mistake of equivocating Book 2, Chapter 18 as dealing with praying to saints when in actuality it refers to praying to "dead men" whom are being treated as deities, or gods - which is NOT the practice or belief of Catholics (as much as some non-Catholics would like to attach that belief to us, it is not our belief).

In Christ,

Primary Source

Commonly Asked Questions - Eucharist

I started to write this post on the Eucharist several weeks ago, but today being the Feast of Corpus Christi I figured this is a good day to complete and publish it! I began with a series of questions someone had asked elsewhere, and I wanted to answer them here, so here are the questions:
  1. How many Masses have you been to?
  2. Just how many times must you eat what you believe to be his body and drink what you believe to be his blood before the sacrifice is actually finished- do you know that Jesus said IT IS FINISHED on the CROSS?
  3. How can Jesus be the "Real Presence" when He said He has departed and gone to the Father?
Well, first off - I suppose I could figure out a rough estimate of the number of Masses, including Holy Days of Obligation and Daily Masses I've attended since my conversion in 1988 - but the person who asks this question isn't really interested in an exact number, or even a close approximate. Suffice it to say, it's in the thousands! The motive behind question 1 is tipped off by question 2! So, let us move to question 2...

The second question does not consider the fact that not only is the Sacrifice of the Mass a sacrifice, it is a Sacrament. A Sacrament, to use the Baltimore Catechism definition, is:

Q. 574. What is a Sacrament?

A. A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

So, with that in mind, the Eucharist is a Sacrament which gives grace, specifically "Sanctifying Grace." Before we proceed, let us look at what the Baltimore Catechism has to say about the two types of grace:

Q. 459. How many kinds of grace are there?

A. There are two kinds of grace, sanctifying grace and actual grace.

Q. 460. What is the difference between sanctifying grace and actual grace?

A. Sanctifying grace remains with us as long as we are not guilty of mortal sin; and hence, it is often called habitual grace; but actual grace comes to us only when we need its help in doing or avoiding an action, and it remains with us only while we are doing or avoiding the action.

Q. 461. What is sanctifying grace?

A. Sanctifying grace is that grace which makes the soul holy and pleasing to God.

So, the Eucharist is a grace which makes the soul holy and pleasing to God. It remains with us so long as we do not commit a "mortal sin." Let us also look at what the Baltimore Catechism has to say about the difference between mortal and venial sin:

Q. 279. How many kinds of actual sin are there?

A. There are two kinds of actual sin -- mortal and venial.

Q. 280. What is mortal sin?

A. Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.

Q. 281. Why is this sin called mortal?

A. This sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.

Q. 282. How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal?

A. To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: 1.a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.

Q. 290. What is venial sin?

A. Venial sin is a slight offense against the law of God in matters of less importance, or in matters of great importance it is an offense committed without sufficient reflection or full consent of the will.

Back to the subject of the Eucharist, it provides Sanctifying Grace which remains with a person so long as they do not fall into mortal sin. Being that it provides Grace, it also strengthens and increases our holiness as we grow in Christ - or the process of "theosis" (becoming more and more like God). So when we partake in the Eucharist many, many times it is not because we think Jesus Work was not finished - but because He increases in us with each time we receive Him in the Eucharist.

So, on to question 3... How can Jesus be the Real Presence when He has departed and gone to the Father? The problem our questioner has here is a myopic view of Scripture. He/she appears to focus upon a single verse from Scripture while ignoring others... for our response to this question, let us present the questioner with Matthew 28:20: "...and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." So, is He with us - or not?



St. Augustine on the Myth that the Saints and Martyrs are Worshipped

"What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?"  [CCC 946

"For all that, we Christians do not assign to the martyrs temples, priests, ceremonies and sacrifices.  They are not gods for us; their God is our God.  We certainly honour the memory of our martyrs, as holy men of God, who have contended for the truth as far as the death of their bodies, so that the true religion might be made known and fiction and falsehood convicted.  There may have been some in previous times who thought as they did, but, if so, fear kept them silent.
     "But has any of the faithful heard the priest say, in his prayers as he stands at the altar, even if that altar has been erected for the glory and worship of God over the body of a holy martyr, 'I offer sacrifice to you, Peter, or Paul, or Cyprian'?  He has not.  For at the memorials of martyrs the sacrifice is offered to God who made them men and made them martyrs, and has brought them into fellowship with his holy angels in the glory of heaven.  And so in this solemn celebration we offer thanks to the true God for their victories, and by renewing their memory we encourage ourselves to emulate their crowns and palms of victory, calling upon God to help us.  Thus all the acts of reverence which the devout perform at the shrines of the martyrs are acts of respect to their memoryThey are not ceremonies or sacrifices offered to the dead as to gods.
      "There are some Christians who bring banquets to the memorials.  This is not the custom of the better-instructed, and in most parts of the world the practice is unknown.  But even those who do this first lay the food at the tomb, then say their prayers and then remove the viands, which they either eat themselves, or distribute to the poor.  Their intention is that the food would be sanctified through the merits of the martyrs in the name of the Lord of martyrs.  That this is not a sacrifice to the martyrs is well known to anyone who knows of the one and only Christian sacrifice, which is offered there also.
      "Thus we honour our martyrs neither with divine worship nor with human slanders as the pagans worship their gods.  We neither offer sacrifice to them, nor turn their disgraces into religious ceremonies.
      "Consider the stories of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, wife of Osiris, and their ancestors, who, according to Egyptian literature, were all kings....There are full accounts of the misdeeds of this the books of the Egyptian mysteries...  Those who have the inclination and the ability to read about them should do so, and should think over what they have read.  Then they should ask themselves what kind of human beings these were for whom religious rites were established after their death, and what kind of actions were the basis of these ceremonies.  Let them not, in heaven's name, have the audacity to compare them in any way with our holy martyrs, although they hold them to be gods, whereas we Christians do not deify our martyrs.  We have not established priests in their honour, nor do we offer sacrifice to them; that would be unfitting, improper, and forbidden, since sacrifice is due only to God.... "
[St. Augustine, "City of God", Book VIII, Ch. 27]

     "We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers" (Paul VI, CPG § 30).  [CCC 962]

     On his African tour in 1969, Pope Paul VI told 22 young Ugandan converts that "being a Christian is a fine thing but not always an easy one."

Pictured:  Top Left:  St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs, Feast Day June 3rd.  Middle Right:  Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr, in the process of sainthood.  Lower Right:  St. Augustine of Hippo, Feast Day August 28

Without Peter?

To be a Christian without full communion to the See of St. Peter is to be lacking in some manner to the fullness of the Faith in the Church which Jesus Christ built upon that Rock. Let us look objectively at some of the Early Church Fathers and then at an ecumenical dialog between Catholicism and Orthodoxy...

Clement of Alexandria

"[T]he blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly g.asped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? ‘Behold, we have left all and have followed you’ [Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28]" (Who Is the Rich Man That Is Saved? 21:3–5 [A.D. 200]).

The Letter of Clement to James

"Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter, the first fruits of our Lord, the first of the apostles; to whom first the Father revealed the Son; whom the Christ, with good reason, blessed; the called, and elect" (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221]).

Cyprian of Carthage

"The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.’ . . . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

Council of Ephesus

"Philip, presbyter and legate of [Pope Celestine I] said: ‘We offer our thanks to the holy and venerable synod, that when the writings of our holy and blessed pope had been read to you . . . you joined yourselves to the holy head also by your holy acclamations. For your blessednesses is not ignorant that the head of the whole faith, the head of the apostles, is blessed Peter the apostle’" (Acts of the Council, session 2 [A.D. 431]).

"Philip, the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See [Rome] said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors’" (ibid., session 3).

Eusebius of Caesarea

"Paul testifies that Crescens was sent to Gaul [2 Tim. 4:10], but Linus, whom he mentions in the Second Epistle to Timothy [2 Tim. 4:21] as his companion at Rome, was Peter’s successor in the episcopate of the church there, as has already been shown. Clement also, who was appointed third bishop of the church at Rome, was, as Paul testifies, his co-laborer and fellow-soldier [Phil. 4:3]" (Church History 3:4:9–10 [A.D. 312]).

Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece, September 27 - October 4, 2008


1. In the Ravenna document, "The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church – Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority", Catholics and Orthodox acknowledge the inseparable link between conciliarity and primacy at all levels of the life of the Church: "Primacy and conciliarity are mutually interdependent. That is why primacy at the different levels of the life of the Church, local, regional and universal, must always be considered in the context of conciliarity, and conciliarity likewise in the context of primacy" (Ravenna document, n. 43). They also agree that "in the canonical order (taxis) witnessed by the ancient Church", which was "recognised by all in the era of the undivided Church", "Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs' (nn. 40, 41). The document refers to the active role and prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as "protos among the patriarchs', "protos of the bishops of the major Sees' (nn. 41, 42, 44), and it concludes that "the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches' must be 'studied in greater depth". "What is the specific function of the bishop of the “first see” in an ecclesiology of koinonia?" (n. 45)

2. The topic for the next stage of the theological dialogue is therefore: "The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium". The aim is to understand more deeply the role of the bishop of Rome during the period when the Churches of East and West were in communion, notwithstanding certain divergences between them, and so to respond to the above question.

3. The present text will treat the topic by considering the following four points: – The Church of Rome, prima sedes; – The bishop of Rome as successor of Peter; – The role of the bishop of Rome at times of crisis in the ecclesial communion; – The influence of non-theological factors.

The Church of Rome, "prima sedes"

4. Catholics and Orthodox agree that, from apostolic times, the Church of Rome has been recognised as the first among the local Churches, both in the East and in the West. The writings of the apostolic fathers clearly testify to this fact. Rome, the capital of the empire, quickly gained renown in the early church as the place of martyrdom of saints Peter and Paul (cf Rev 11:3-12). It occupied a unique place among the local churches and exercised a unique influence. Late in the first century, invoking the example of the martyrs, Peter and Paul, the Church of Rome wrote a long letter to the Church of Corinth, which had ejected its elders (1 Clem. 1, 44), and urged that unity and harmony (homonoia) be restored. The letter was written by Clement, subsequently identified as bishop of Rome (cf Irenaeus, Adv.Haer., 3, 3, 2), though the exact form of leadership in Rome at that time is unclear.

5. Soon afterwards, on his way to martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Church of Rome with high esteem, as "worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of being called blessed, worthy of success, worthy of purity". He referred to it as "presiding in the region of the Romans', and also as "presiding in charity" ("prokathemene tes agapes'; Romans, Salutation). This phrase is interpreted in various ways, but it seems to indicate that Rome had a regional role of seniority and leadership, and that it was distinguished in the essentials of Christianity, namely faith and charity. Ignatius also spoke of Peter and Paul, who preached to the Romans (Romans, 4).

6. Irenaeus emphasised that the Church of Rome was a sure reference point for apostolic teaching. With this Church, founded by Peter and Paul, it was necessary that every Church should agree (convenire), "propter potentiorem principalitatem", a phrase which can be variously understood as "because of its more imposing origin" or "because of its greater authority" (Adv.Haer., 3, 3, 2). Tertullian also praised the Church of Rome "upon which the apostles [Peter and Paul] poured their whole teaching together with their blood". Rome was foremost among the apostolic churches and none of the many heretics who went there seeking approval was ever received (cf De Praescrip. 36). The Church of Rome was thus a point of reference both for the "rule of faith" and also in the search for a peaceful resolution of difficulties either within or between certain Churches.

7. The bishop of Rome was occasionally in disagreement with other bishops. Regarding the dating of Easter, Anicetus of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna failed to agree in 154 AD but maintained eucharistic communion. Forty years later, bishop Victor of Rome ordered synods to be held to settle the matter – an interesting early instance of synodality and indeed of popes encouraging synods – and excommunicated Polycrates of Ephesus and the bishops of Asia when their synod refused to adopt the Roman line. Victor was rebuked by Irenaeus for this severity and it seems that he revoked his sentence and that communion was preserved. In the mid-3rd century, a major conflict arose regarding whether those baptised by heretics should be re-baptised when received into the Church. Recalling local tradition, Cyprian of Carthage and the bishops of north Africa, supported by synods around the eastern bishop Firmilian of Caesarea, maintained that such people should be re-baptised, whereas bishop Stephen of Rome, with reference to Roman tradition and indeed to Peter and Paul (Cyprian, Ep. 75, 6, 2), said that they should not. Communion between Stephen and Cyprian was severely impaired but not formally broken. The early centuries thus show that the views and decisions of the bishops of Rome were sometimes challenged by fellow bishops. They also show the vigorous synodal life of the early Church. The many African synods at this time, for instance, and Cyprian's frequent correspondence with Stephen and especially with his predecessor, Cornelius, manifest an intense collegial spirit (cf Cyprian, Ep. 55, 6, 1-2).

8. All the Churches of East and West believed that the Church of Rome held first place (i.e. primacy) among the Churches. This primacy resulted from several factors: the foundation of this Church by Peter and Paul and the sense of their living presence there; the martyrdom in Rome of these two foremost apostles (koryphes) and the location of their tombs (tropaia) in the city; and the fact that Rome was the capital of the Empire and the centre of communication.

9. The early centuries show the fundamental and inseparable link between the primacy of the see of Rome and the primacy of its bishop: each bishop represents, personifies and expresses his see (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Smyrnaeans 8; Cyprian, Ep. 66, 8). Indeed, it would be impossible to speak of the primacy of a bishop without referring to his see. From the second half of the second century, it was taught that the continuity of the apostolic tradition was signified and expressed by the succession of bishops in the sees founded by the apostles. Both East and West have continued to maintain that the primacy of the see precedes the primacy of its bishop and is the source of the latter.

10. Cyprian believed that the unity of the episcopate and of the Church was symbolised in the person of Peter, to whom primacy was given, and in his chair, and that all bishops held this charge in common ("in solidum"; De unit. ecc., 4-5). Peter's chair was thus to be found in every see, but especially in Rome. Those who came to Rome came "to the chair of Peter, to the primordial church, the very source of episcopal unity" (Ep. 59, 14, 1).

11. The primacy of the see of Rome came to be expressed in various concepts: cathedra Petri, sedes apostolica, prima sedes. However, the saying of Pope Gelasius: “The first see is judged by no–one” ("Prima sedes a nemine iudicatur"; cf. Ep. 4, PL 58, 28B; Ep. 13, PL 59, 64A), which afterwards was applied in an ecclesial context and became contentious between East and West, originally meant simply that the Pope could not be judged by the Emperor.

12. The Eastern and Western traditions recognised a certain "honour" (timi) of the first among the patriarchal sees which was not purely honorific (Council of Nicaea, can. 6; Council of Constantinople, can. 3; and Council of Chalcedon, can. 28). It entailed an "authority" (exousia; cf Ravenna document, n. 12), which nevertheless was "without domination, without physical or moral coercion" (Ravenna document, n. 14). Although in the first millennium Ecumenical Councils were called by the emperor, no council could be recognised as ecumenical without it having the consent of the pope, given either beforehand or afterwards. This can be seen as an application at the universal level of the life of the Church of the principle enunciated in Apostolic Canon 34: "The bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit" (cf Ravenna document, n. 24). At all levels in the life of the Church, primacy and conciliarity are interdependent.

13. The Emperor Justinian (527-65) fixed the rank of the five major sees, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, in imperial law (Novellae 131, 2; cf 109 praef.; 123, 3), thus constituting what became known as the Pentarchy. The bishop of Rome was seen as the first in the order (taxis), without however the Petrine tradition being mentioned.

14. Under Pope Gregory I (590-604), a dispute which had already started under Pope Pelagius II (579-590) over the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" for the patriarch of Constantinople continued. Different understandings, in East and West, gave rise to the dispute. Gregory saw in the title an intolerable presumption and violation of the canonical rights of the other sees in the East, whereas in the East the title was understood as an expression of major rights in the patriarchate. Later, Rome accepted the title. Gregory said that he personally refused the title "universal pope", being honoured instead simply when each bishop received the honour that was his due ("my honour is the honour of my brothers', Ep. 8, 29). He called himself the 'servant of the servants of God" (servus servorum dei).

15. Charlemagne's coronation in 800 by Pope Leo III marked the beginning of a new era in the history of papal claims. A further factor leading to differences between East and West was the emergence of the False Decretals (c.850), which aimed towards strengthening Roman authority in order to protect the bishops. The Decretals played an enormous role in the following centuries, as popes gradually started to act in the spirit of the Decretals, which declared, for instance, that all major issues (causae maiores), especially the deposition of bishops and metropolitans, were the ultimate responsibility of the bishop of Rome, and that all councils and synods received their legal authority through being confirmed by the Roman see. The patriarchs of Constantinople did not accept such a view, which was contrary to the principle of synodality. Though the Decretals, in fact, did not refer to the East, at a later stage, in the second millennium, they were applied to the East by Western figures. Despite such increasing tensions, in the year 1000 Christians in both the West and the East were still conscious of belonging to a single undivided Church.

Please share your comments!

In Christ,


Feast of the Assumption

 The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - another example of "not-so-ordinary" days! These are COUNTING days - and...