The Errors of Martin Luther and his Disciples

Luther at the Diet of Worms, painted by Anton von Werner, 1877

The following is a montage of some essays I've written over the years, dealing with the errors of Martin Luther and those who follow him (his disciples), otherwise known as the Protestants...


The Bible Is Not Alone
written on July 11, 2012

Now the doctrine (or discipline) of Sola Scriptura is Latin for "Bible Alone."  What it typically means today is a little different than what it was intended to mean 500 years ago when the German Reformer Martin Luther first uttered the phrase.  Nevertheless, it is this more modern understanding that I will be dealing with here.

Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) is commonly understood today as the notion that everything a Christian needs for salvation and holy living is contained solely in the Bible.  It goes further than that.  It even suggests that if a particular doctrine cannot be found in the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, it should be rejected as non-Biblical and possibly heretical.  (Originally, Sola Scriptura only subjugated extra-Biblical doctrines to Scripture, but under this modern interpretation of Sola Scriptura, extra-Biblical doctrines are simply rejected entirely.) Taken to its absolute extreme, Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) implies that everything that is needed to interpret the Bible is found solely within the Bible, and there is no need to use any other book, study material, historical reference, etc.  The reader can know everything he needs to know from the "Bible Alone."  It is from this foundational teaching that all of modern Protestantism (Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, etc.) finds its footing.  Granted, not all Protestants are the same, and different Protestants will go about Sola Scriptura a little differently.  For example, some may be more extreme in their understanding, while others may be more moderated, but I think it's safe to say that Sola Scriptura plays a big role in the faith of all Protestants, in one way or another.  It is also from this same teaching, that some of these Protestants are able to condemn Catholic Christianity as "heretical" and "non-Christian."  This is because about 10% of Catholic doctrine is derived more from Apostolic Tradition than Sacred Scripture.

So here is the heart of the problem.  The teaching is Sola Scriptura, and the questions are twofold.  First, is the doctrine sound?  Second, is the doctrine binding on all Christians?

When a Catholic is called out on a particular Catholic teaching, such as prayer to the Saints, or the doctrine of Purgatory, the common Protestant accusation is: "That's not in the Bible!"  Now, this is what is really happening here.  The Protestant is referencing Sola Scriptura.  He is effectively saying: "It's not in the Bible, so it's not true."  Now, again, that is not what Martin Luther meant by Sola Scriptura when he invented the doctrine.  In the classic Lutheran understanding of Sola Scriptura, the Protestant would simply say: "That's not in the Bible, so I am not required to believe it."  He appealed to Scripture as the "final authority" over extra-Biblical doctrine and that's it.  He used it as a means to nullify those doctrines that he didn't agree with, so long as he was convinced by the Bible that he didn't have to believe in them.  That understanding has been modified in today's world.  In today's world, the modern Protestant says: "That's not in the Bible, so I'm not required to believe it, AND I shouldn't believe it BECAUSE it has to be false."  See the difference?  The classic understanding of Sola Scriptura simply allowed Protestants to reject some Catholic doctrines on a personal level.  The modern understanding of Sola Scriptura allows Protestants to condemn them as false and heretical, even going so far as to declare the Church that promotes such doctrines a false Church.

In using this modern understanding of Sola Scriptura, the modern Protestant takes it from a private discipline to a universal doctrine.  He is attempting to impose his Reformation doctrine upon other Christians, indeed ALL Christians, most especially Catholics.  The question is, does he have the right to do this?  The classic understanding of Sola Scriptura was a personal one, which allowed Protestants to deflect some of the teachings of Rome while embracing others.  For example; a classic Lutheran could embrace the Catholic teaching on Heaven and Hell, but deflect the Catholic teaching on Purgatory and Indulgences.  In the old days, a Catholic would say to the Protestant: "You should believe in Purgatory as well as Heaven and Hell."  The Protestant would respond: "I believe in Heaven and Hell because I can find that in the Bible, but I don't have to believe in Purgatory if I don't want to because I can't find that in the Bible."  Now let's fast-forward to modern times.  The modern understanding of Sola Scriptura is a universal one, which allows Protestants to impose this view on everyone else, especially Catholics, and use it to condemn the Catholic Church.  For example; today a Catholic might say to a Protestant: "You should believe in Purgatory as well as Heaven and Hell."  The Protestant might then say in response: "I believe in Heaven and Hell because I can find that in the Bible, but I can't find Purgatory in the Bible, therefore it is false, and your Church is teaching false doctrine!"  Do you see the difference?  It's a pretty big difference.  Under the classic understanding of Sola Scriptura, rejection of Purgatory was a personal matter.  The Protestant wasn't required to reject it, but he was able to, because Sola Scriptura gave him that personal liberty.  Under the modern understanding of Sola Scriptura, rejection of Purgatory becomes a universal matter.  Not only are all Protestants expected to reject it, but Catholics are called upon to reject it too, and the Catholic Church is condemned for teaching it.  So what we see here is a progression on Sola Scriptura from a private discipline to a universal dogma.  It is a dogma which its proponents believe ALL CHRISTIANS must submit to is.  The question is, does Sola Scriptura deserve that kind of status?  Is it really a doctrine that is worthy to be imposed on everyone?  That is what many modern Protestants are attempting to do when they challenge Catholics on doctrines that are "not in the Bible."  Truth is, a lot of doctrines Protestants believe to be unbiblical actually can be found in the Bible, but there are about 10% that are based more on Apostolic Tradition than Sacred Scripture.  So what should the Catholic think about all of this?  Is Sola Scriptura (the "Bible Alone" doctrine) really worthy of belief?  Is it worthy to be imposed on all Christians as a universal dogma?  Should Catholics subscribe to it? Should Protestants subscribe to it?  Should anybody subscribe to it?  Is this really something that can honestly be used to condemn the Catholic Church or any church for that matter?  Or have modern Protestants overstepped their boundaries by attempting to impose a private discipline on all Christians as a universal doctrine?

Most Protestants tend to believe Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) is binding upon all Christians.  As I said in my previous essay on the topic: "Everything about the logic of Sola Scriptura is sound, except for one thing, the history it's based on." Let's start from the beginning. Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say to believe in the "Bible Alone." What I mean by that is the Bible itself never says to only believe things that are found in the Bible. In fact, quite the opposite is true. For example; Saint John tells us in his gospel that Jesus said and did far more things than were actually written down in the Bible (John 21:25). St. Paul the Apostle congratulated the Corinthians for following the "traditions" he had given them (1st Corinthians 11:2) and he told the Thessalonians these "traditions" came by both written letter and word of mouth (2nd Thessalonians 2:15). In fact, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that says everything we need to know is in the Bible. That idea itself is a man-made "tradition." The notion that everything the apostles taught, that is necessary for our salvation, was neatly packaged in a single volume of books, from Genesis to Revelation, is an ideal notion, a tidy concept, but very unbiblical. The Bible itself doesn't even tell us what books belong in the Bible. That too is a man-made "tradition." That's right, pull out a Bible and look in the first few pages. There you will find a table of contents. That table is called the Biblical "canon." There is an Old Testament canon and a New Testament canon. Now, pay particular attention to the New Testament canon of 27 books. Out of the hundreds of Christian books that could be found written in the first century, it was these 27 books that were decided to be worthy of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Who decided that? Why the Catholic Church of course! way back in AD 367 - 401. It was St. Athanasius of Alexandria Egypt who first came up with the 27-book New Testament canon (Matthew through Revelation) in 367 AD. Later this list was debated by the Catholic synods at Rome, Hippo and Carthage. So that by 401 AD, Pope Innocent declared this to be the official New Testament for all Christians, and all Christians have used this New Testament ever since, even the Protestants. 

So from the beginning, the historical facts don't match the common perceptions. This puts a chink in the armour of "Bible Alone" Christianity. The typical Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) logic is sound, but history doesn't match the preconceived notions that logic is based on. So once you know that, Sola Scriptura presents a logical loop that disproves itself. For if you can only believe what is taught in the Bible (Sola Scriptura), and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is nowhere taught in the Bible, then based on what Sola Scriptural says, you can't believe Sola Scriptura. Why? Because it's not in the Bible! This is a classic logical loop, but you would never see it unless you knew the history of the Bible and how we got it. 

When put to the Biblical test, Sola Scriptura falls flat on its face.  The doctrine (or discipline) is itself non-Biblical.  I suppose any Christian could use it if he wants to, as a private discipline, but in doing so, he would have to simultaneously admit that other Christians cannot be obligated to do the same.  Since Sola Scriptura is itself an extra-Biblical tradition (one that directly seems to contradict Scripture at that), there is no way a practitioner of Sola Scriptura could criticise another Christian for keeping extra-Biblical traditions, even if that practitioner (correctly or incorrectly) assumes such traditions contradict the Bible.  To do so would be hypocritical.  If a Protestant is keeping the private extra-Biblical discipline of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone), he cannot honestly criticise Catholics for keeping various other extra-Biblical customs and traditions without himself being a hypocrite. Worse yet, if the Protestant judges that a certain Catholic extra-Biblical tradition contradicts the Bible, he would be a hypocrite expecting Catholics to reject it. Because after all, you see, the Protestant himself follows a tradition that directly contradicts the Bible -- Sola Scriptura. For both the Catholic and the Protestant are keeping extra-Biblical traditions. They just happen to be different extra-Biblical traditions. I would argue though, that the Catholic's traditions are far more in line with what the Bible teaches.

Even though the Bible speaks so plainly about some Christian teachings coming from oral traditions, and congratulates Christians for keeping those oral traditions, there are some who would object in a valiant but vain attempt to rescue the Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) doctrine.  For example, this Biblical passage from St. Paul's second letter to Timothy

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness -- 2nd Timothy 3:16 (Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition) RSV-CE
Now, this is a wonderful passage, and a good reminder to all of us just how important Scripture is in the life of every Christian -- whether Catholic or Protestant.  However, I should point out here that the passage specifically says "All scripture..." not "Only scripture..."  Had it said the latter, there would seem to be a proof text for Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) as a doctrine all must follow. Yet it doesn't say that, does it?  It says "All scripture..." and that changes the meaning entirely.  The passage is simply an admonition to read the Bible.  It is not a proof text for the "Bible Alone" doctrine.

There is, however, one passage I've seen used that nearly almost seems to serve as a proof text for Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) as a doctrine.  It comes from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians...

Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (New International Version) NIV, emphasis is mine.
Now in this English translation of the original Greek manuscript called the "New International Version" (NIV) it would appear on the surface that we have found our elusive proof text for Sola Scriptura.  Notice carefully, however, the NIV puts the phrase "Do not go beyond what is written" in quotation marks, and specifically says this is a "saying."   What does that mean?  It means it's an idiom used from the time period, and the NIV translators were unsure of how to translate it, so they just left it, transliterated into quotation marks.  The word-for-word translation from Greek into hard English could also read as follows: "do not think beyond the written line," but that still doesn't tell us what it means. It is, after all, an idiom, a figure of speech that was apparently common at the time, which had a certain meaning.  Thankfully, the NIV is not the only translation out there and other English translations do a far better job picking up the original meaning of this idiom in the context of the subject St. Paul is discussing...
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (King James Version) KJV, emphasis mine 
But these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollo, for your sakes; that in us you may learn, that one be not puffed up against the other for another, above that which is written. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (Douay-Rheims Bible) DRB, emphasis mine 
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself, and to Apollos, for your sakes; that ye may learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you on account of one, may be puffed up against another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (Webster's Bible Translation) WBT, emphasis mine 
Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I've been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won't be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (New Living Translation) NLT, emphasis mine
I think these particular English translations do a much better job capturing the meaning of what St. Paul was trying to say with that common Greek idiom. The meaning of this passage has nothing to do with limiting one's religious faith to the Bible Alone. Rather, St. Paul is admonishing the Corinthians not to think proudly of one Church leader over another, which of course fits in nicely with the whole context of the chapter and surrounding passages.

As if not to give up, sometimes the dogmatic proponents of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone), seeking to make it a binding on all Christians, will grasp for the condemnations, against those who would alter Scripture, which can be found in St. John's Apocalypse (Revelation 22:18-19).  However, this passage pronounces condemnation only on those who try to change the written text of Scripture itself, by adding or deleting various portions and has nothing to do with extra-Biblical traditions outside the Scriptures.  Indeed, we have here a clear curse against messing with the Scriptures, which the Catholic Church would never do, but nothing about Apostolic Traditions outside the Scriptures. 

Finally, we get to the topic of tradition itself.  Doesn't Jesus condemn tradition?  Isn't that something the Jewish leaders of his time were doing?  Didn't Jesus tell his disciples to ignore them?  Well, if that's what you got out of the gospels, I'm afraid you didn't read them very carefully.  You see, if you read the gospels carefully, you'll see that Jesus did not condemn tradition itself, but rather hypocrisy related to tradition.  In other words, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for twisting their traditions in such a way that it allowed them to sin, or else failing to keep the very traditions themselves that they required the rest of the people to keep.  It was a classic "do as I say and not as I do" thing.  You see the scribes and Pharisees were constantly looking for ways to keep the letter of the law while simultaneously breaking its spirit.

Let's start by looking into what Jesus Christ had to say about the law, traditions and the authority of the religious leaders during his time...

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. -- Matthew 23:2-3 (Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition) RSV-CE
We see here that Jesus fully respects the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, and he commands his disciples to obey the scribes and Pharisees because of their authority. That means Jesus is commanding them to follow their traditions!!! What he is condemning is their hypocrisy. Remember, Jesus was a Jew, and so were all of his disciples at that time. So the scribes and Pharisees have authority over Jews because as Jesus said they "sit in Moses' seat." This is an acknowledgement to the concept of succession. The scribes and Pharisees occupied the same position of authority as Moses, because they occupied his seat of authority, meaning they were ordained by a line of secession going back to the times of Moses. Eight chapters prior to this (Matthew 16:18-19) Jesus set up a new line of authority that would have the same power of succession, if not more so since Jesus is greater than Moses. It is in this context that we must look at Jesus' other sayings about the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 15:3-14 and Mark 7:9-15). These condemn the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees themselves. He is not condemning their tradition per se', but the hypocritical men who were abusing it. For if Jesus were condemning tradition as a whole, he sure had a funny way of showing it, what with keeping all of the Jewish traditions himself and then making apostles who commanded Christians to follow their own traditions (1st Corinthians 11:2 and 2nd Thessalonians 2:15).

I think I've laid out here a pretty good case for why the Bible does not stand alone, as in a vacuum, without some kind of outside interpreting context. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) was invented in 1520 AD by Martin Luther in response to his own excommunication bull from the pope. It has later been reinterpreted to mean that Christians can condemn as "false" anything that is not specifically taught in the Bible Alone. It has even been used to attack Catholic Christianity as a "false religion" because Catholicism relies on some Traditions that don't necessarily come from the Bible Alone. Yet the Bible Alone doctrine itself has no basis in Scripture. Furthermore, the Bible is an inanimate book. It can no more interpret itself than read itself. Context can come from Scripture, but it is certainly not limited to it, and it is the reader who interprets, not the book. Therefore, based on its own premise, Sola Scriptura (the "Bible Alone" doctrine or discipline) cannot be binding on any Christian. At best, it is just a private discipline, used by individual Protestants who want to personally reject doctrines they can't find in the Bible. We can debate whether it is right to do that or not, since the Scriptures seem to tell us authority not only comes from Tradition (1st Corinthians 11:2 and 2nd Thessalonians 2:15) but also the Church, which it calls the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1st Timothy 3:15). Yet so long as the Protestant leaves it as a personal matter, without imposing it on others, the only one he potentially brings harm upon is himself. However, once a Protestant attempts to impose this very extra-Biblical, and seemingly unbiblical, teaching upon other Christians, he has overstepped his boundaries. He has become far worse than any corrupt pope in the pages of Medieval history. For he has attempted to impose an absolute dogma upon ALL Christians, one that has no Biblical merit, contradicts the Scriptures in so many places, and is in actuality a perversion of what the doctrine originally meant.


Christian Authority -- In Focus
written on July 19, 2012

My good brothers and sisters in the Protestant churches frequently ask me what the major difference is between Catholics and Protestants.  That is, assuming they're not cracking jokes about it.  Now, as I have said on this blog before, don't judge them.  They have a good reason for what they do.  Granted, I don't agree with their reasoning, but nevertheless, it is sound from a certain point of view.  Occasionally, however, I do get very sincere questions, and that has given me pause to consider some very sincere answers.
Most of my countrymen in the Ozarks are genuinely ignorant of Catholic Christianity.  This is through no fault of their own.  They live in the "Bible Belt" (also known as the "Baptist Belt") of the United States. Also in the Ozarks there live a high concentration of Pentecostals.  These belong mostly to the "Assemblies of God."  From a Catholic perspective, there is not much difference between Baptists and Pentecostals, though, from a Baptist or Pentecostal perspective, the differences may seem enormous.  The "Bible Belt" stretches from Texas and Oklahoma eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean, as far north as Missouri, to as far south as Florida.  Catholics only make up a majority in Southern Texas, Southern Louisiana, and Southern Florida.  Outside of these areas, Catholicism is an extreme minority religion.  The average Baptist (and Pentecostal) is rarely exposed to Catholicism.  They may occasionally drive by a Catholic Church and wonder what goes on inside, but unless they personally know some Catholics, the majority of what they know about Catholicism probably comes from Hollywood and television.  Catholicism is basically a mystery to them, and most of them will freely admit that.  It is common for many of my fellow Ozarkians to mistake Catholicism for a minority religion worldwide, based on their personal experiences in the Bible Belt.  In fact, I've met a lot of Catholic children here in Missouri who think the same thing!  They are unaware that Catholicism is not only the largest single Christian Church in the United States but also the largest in the world, dwarfing all others with over one-billion members.  They are usually pleased and a bit energised to learn this.  Outside of the Bible Belt, such knowledge may be commonplace, but inside the Bible Belt, it is a bit of trivia relatively unknown.

So first let me clarify the question I'm frequently asked.  It usually goes something like this: "So Shane, what is the major difference between Catholicism and Christianity?"

Okay, I usually have to stop them right there, because already what we have is a loaded question.  Now granted, most people don't know it, and I explained that in detail in a previous essay entitled "Are Catholics Christians?"  To clarify, I break it down for them like this.  First, Catholics are Christians.  So there is no difference between Catholicism and Christianity.  They are one in the same.  Second, Western Christianity has broken down into two major divisions.  One is Catholic and the other is Protestant.  Now how do you know the difference? I ask, Are you a Catholic?  If the answer is "no" then guess what?  You're a Protestant!  Now I quickly go on to explain that Protestantism itself is broken down into many denominations, thus there are many different types of Protestants.  There are Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Methodists, etc.  At this point a light bulb usually pops on in their head.  "I didn't know I was a Protestant!" I've heard many a Baptist exclaim.  Some are resistant to the idea, so I usually don't push the issue.  I do however rephrase their question for them into: "So Shane, what is the major difference between Catholicism and Protestantism?"  Now that we have the right question, we can begin to delve into the answer.

The major difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, in my estimation, is the issue of authority.  That's right -- I'm talking Authority -- with a capital "A."  You see, I tell them, the Catholic Church asserts a certain claim to authority over the message of the gospel and the religious lives of Christians.  So Christians who accept that claim to authority are called "Catholic" meaning "of the whole" and "complete," whereas Christians who reject some or all of that claim to authority are called "Protestant"  meaning "one who protests."  The "protest" in Protestant is against the pope and his claim to Christian authority.  Believe it or not, once you briefly explain this, many Bible-Belt Christians become less resistant to the idea of being classified as "Protestant."  There is a strong independent streak that runs through the Ozarks.  The idea of resisting authority can be appealing to some.  So, I explain, the major difference between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians is that Catholic Christians accept the Catholic Church's claim to authority while Protestant Christians generally reject it, sometimes preferring a more "personal" and "private" relationship with God over any one man's claim to have authority over religious matters.  That is the major difference between Catholic and Protestant Christianity.  Naturally, this explanation tends to generate a lot more questions ranging on various topics.  So that's my short answer for casual conversation.  Only on very rare occasion does the subject of authority progress beyond that.

In my two previous essays (Are Catholics Christians? and The Bible Is Not Alone) I explored the problems of relying on the Bible alone, or Sola Scriptura, for all religious authority.  I pointed out that all Christians, including Protestants (and even Baptists), rely on some extra-Biblical traditions just to function.  Where there is tradition, however, there must likewise be authority.  For if we do not have some authority, some group or institution, telling us what extra-Biblical traditions to follow, then we will have nothing but chaos.  For example; most Protestant churches have a central body (or individual) who dogmatically proclaims that the Bible shall be used as their sole source of authority.  Since the Bible nowhere claims this for itself, (see The Bible Is Not Alone), you need to have an extra-biblical authority make such a claim.  This same central body (or individual) will pontificate "which Bible" they shall use.  For not all Bibles are the same.  Catholic Bibles contain more books than Protestant Bibles so it would be common for such central bodies (or individuals) to pontificate the shorter 66-book Protestant Bible, as opposed to the longer 73-book Catholic Bible.  Some of these central authorities (or individuals) will even pontificate which particular English translation they will use in their Protestant churches.  Some will insist on the King James Version (KJV) only.  Others prefer to use the New King James Version (NKJV).  Some prefer the New International Version (NIV), and still, yet others insist on the New American Standard Bible (NASB).  Now that doesn't include the various doctrines they will sometimes insist on.  Some Protestant churches are Calvinist, while others are not.  Some are Dispensationalist, and others are not. Some believe in consubstantiation when it comes to Holy Communion, others believe it is just a symbolic "Lord's Supper."  Some believe in infant baptism, others do not.  The list goes on and on.  Why is this?  How can there be such uniformity of doctrine in the Catholic Church, shared by the Eastern Orthodox as well (over 2/3 of all Christians), yet in Protestantism, there is so much diversity in doctrine?  Literally, you can go to any Catholic Church, anywhere in the world, and the doctrine is the same.  You can go to any Eastern Orthodox church in the world, and while their form of worship may look different, their doctrine is virtually identical to the Catholic Church.  Yet, when you go from one Protestant church to another, the beliefs change depending on where you are.  How can this be?  Perhaps this is where a little knowledge of history comes in handy.

You see, prior to the 16th century, all Christians in the Western world were Catholic.  That's right, the word "Catholic" and the word "Christian" were totally synonymous.  People just used them interchangeably.  This had been the case in the West since the age of the apostles.  However, in the late 15th century, certain corruptions set into the Catholic Church, so that by the early 16th century, these corruptions were quite profound in Northern Europe.  This gave way to political instability in Northern Europe, which gave rise to many attempts at reformation.  There had been reformation movements in the past, and most of them were quite successful.  However, in the 16th century, these new reformers were different from the old.

What is the difference between St. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther?  They were both great reformers, were they not?  They were both misunderstood by their contemporaries, were they not?  They both fought against insurmountable odds and overwhelming religious corruption in their time, did they not?  So what's the difference?  Why isn't Martin Luther regarded as "Saint Martin Luther?"  Well, I'll tell you, and for me, this is a bit personal.  You see my direct ancestors were some of the first Christians baptised under Martin Luther's religion.  My surname comes from Guntersblum Germany, which is just about 12 miles north of Worms on the Rhine River.  I can trace this line of my ancestry directly to baptismal records in the local Lutheran church going back to the late 1500s. My family was among the first Protestants ever, and they remained faithful Lutherans (for the most part) for nearly 500 years!  I myself was baptised in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church in the United States back in 1970.  So how come the reformer Francis of Assisi is a Saint and the reformer Martin Luther is not?  The answer is simple really.  Saint Francis of Assisi sought to change corruption within the Church, while Martin Luther sought to change the doctrine of the Church itself.  That's the difference.  Saint Francis of Assisi claimed no authority of his own, outside of that which was given to him by the pope to govern his religious order.  Martin Luther on the other hand, claimed all authority under heaven, putting himself on equal authority with the bishops, pope and the apostles of Jesus Christ.  He assumed for himself the authority to redefine Christian doctrines that had been defined for centuries.  He not only reinterpreted the Bible to his own fancy, but he even removed books from the Bible that he disagreed with (Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, in addition to the 7 Old Testament books sometimes called the Apocrypha).  So sweeping were the powers he assumed that he quickly became known as "that pope in Wittenberg," though one must historically observe that no real pope in Rome ever dared to claim so much authority for himself.  Martin Luther effectively made himself a "super-pope."  Luther was not alone in his time.  Others followed his example; John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli just to name a couple. The English Reformation was a bit different, but in the end, the cause was the same.  In this case, King Henry VIII, and later his daughter Elizabeth I, simply adopted the same position as Martin Luther, taking on all authority under heaven to remake Christianity however they saw fit.  For all of the quibbling over this doctrine or that, the entire Reformation of the 16th century could easily be simplified to just calling it a crisis of authority within the Western Church.  The so-called "Reformers" simply assumed for themselves a level of authority not seen since the apostolic era.  That they assumed such authority is indisputable, let the historical records show, but the real question is: Did they have the right to assume such authority?

Today, there are many Protestant churches.  I really don't know how many.  Open up any citywide phone book, turn it to the yellow pages, and under the listing for "churches" one can easily find literally dozens of Protestant denominations to choose from.  One of the more recent trends is the so-called "non-denominational" church.  These too are Protestant churches no doubt, as they usually cling to all of the basic tenets of Protestantism, including the 66-book Protestant Bible.  However, they are not always affiliated with any centralised authority structure.  Thus the individual "non-denominational" church becomes a denomination unto itself, completely free and independent of all others.  There the pastor serves as priest, bishop and pope, all in one.  There is also the house-church or small-group trend within Protestantism which may, or may not, have a centralised authority structure.  Of course, the ultimate example of Sola Scriptura run amok is the "individual church movement."  What's that?  You might ask.  Well, it's been around for a long time, but there is no official structure of any kind behind it.  I doubt you would find a specific website devoted to it.  It is simply the growing Protestant notion that one doesn't really need a church at all.  It is Sola Scriptura taken to such an extreme, that each individual becomes a church unto himself, with his own authority to interpret the Bible for himself, as he sees fit, without the aid of anyone else.  I'm sure you've heard about it.  Every time a Christian says, "I don't need a church, I can worship Christ just fine in my own home," this is what is meant by the "individual church movement."  Ultimately, under this ideology, a single passage of Scripture can be interpreted literally a thousand different ways, by a thousand different people, and to be consistent, one would have to say that no one interpretation is better than another (i.e. "Biblical relativism").

So how did we go from then till now?  How did we go from the 15th century, when all Western Christians basically agreed the pope and bishops were the undisputed authority, to where we are today in the 21st century when half of Western Christians (the Protestants) cannot agree amongst themselves who the undisputed authority is?  Or even if there is one?  How did we go from a time when there was one set of doctrines which all Christians believed, to hundreds of sets of doctrines which few Christians can agree on?

Might I suggest that the original reason for this devolution may have been pride, but perhaps the reason today is completely different?  While I think the so-called Protestant "Reformers" of the 16th century really had some nerve, I am not convinced the Protestants of today are cut from the same cloth.  Sure, there are some who go out to start their own churches, because they think they have a better understanding of the gospel than others, but I think the fact that there are so many variations of the gospel offered by Protestants today causes so much confusion that it's easy to think you might have a better grasp on the gospel than others.  I mean if any hack with a Bible can go out and start a church, then what is to stop me from doing the same?  Or so that's the general rationale, especially when one thinks he can do a better job.  So I wonder if what the last five centuries of Protestantism has really produced is little more than a steady progression from pride to confusion.  That's why I just can't put the Protestants of today into the same category as the Protestants from five centuries ago.  The world has changed a lot, much of it the result of the Protestant Reformation, which has changed the motives and reasons why Protestants continue to start new churches today.

So in summary, Catholics have a set authority structure and Protestants do not.  Oh sure, some Protestants have an authority structure of their own making, essentially a reinvention of the wheel that already existed in the Catholic Church, but this varies from denomination to denomination, and few of them can agree with each other on that.  I suppose if we really want to understand this difference between Catholics and Protestants on authority, we are going to have to look further back in history, back to the time of the apostles and their immediate successors.  What did they have to say about authority?

I have already demonstrated in two previous essays (Are Catholics Christians? and The Bible Is Not Alone) that the apostles knew nothing of Sola Scriptura.  The New Testament hadn't even been collected into a single volume yet, and they repeatedly appealed to "oral tradition" alongside Scripture as the source of their teachings.  I have also demonstrated clearly that the Apostle Paul called upon Christians to look to the Church, not the Scriptures, as the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1st Timothy 3:15).  From my previous essays, I believe we can safely conclude the following about the apostles of Jesus Christ...
  1. They did not subscribe to Sola Scriptura.
  2. They called upon Christians to follow their oral Traditions and well as the written Scriptures.
  3. They considered their oral Traditions equal to the written Scriptures.
  4. They considered the Church as the mediator of both Tradition and Scripture, having received these things from God.
  5. They asserted that they, and their successors alone, had the sole authority to interpret both Tradition and Scripture in any kind of authoritative way.
  6. They considered Peter (and his successors) to have primacy over all other bishops.
This is just what the Bible says about the apostolic view on religious authority.  Sorry if you find this bothersome, I know I did initially before my conversion to Catholicism, but it is "just the facts" ma'am.

The early Church echoed these points and then some, even going so far as to insist that the Bishop of Rome, the successor of the Apostle Peter, had primacy and authority over all others. The following was written by a Bishop of Rome in the late first century...

Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." -- Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, (A.D. 105) 
"The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth.... If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him (Jesus Christ) through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger." -- Clement of Rome, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians,1,59:1 (c.A.D. 96) 
Other writings from the early Church continue to back this apostolic role of authority, particularly as it applies to the Bishop of Rome, that is "the pope"...
"Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." -- Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, (A.D. 105)  
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who farmed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love..." -- Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, Prologue (A.D. 110) 
"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere." -- Irenaeus, Against Heresies,3:3:2 (A.D. 180)
The sentiments of the earliest Christians on this matter were nearly unanimous. So we know what the early Christians thought about authority, but we still have yet to explore the reasons why. 

Perhaps it helps to understand where religious authority comes from in the historic sense.  To do this, we are going to have to look to Jesus Christ himself.  You see, when Jesus instructed his disciples, he made it very clear that they were all still Jewish, that the scribes and Pharisees had legitimate authority over Judaism because they sit in Moses' seat (Matthew 23:2), and that he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses but rather to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17-20).  Here Jesus is giving a nod to succession.  He is acknowledging that a form of authoritative succession did exist in ancient Israel.  We know that among the Jewish priesthood (and yes they did have a priesthood) it was genetic, passed from father to son, in a form of bloodline succession.  However, Jesus is talking about the "scribes and Pharisees" here, not the priests, so there was another line of succession that existed as well, not necessarily genetic in nature, viewed as having the authority of Moses (Christ's words not mine).  Those of us familiar with Judaism know of the Jewish tradition called semikhah which literally translated means "the laying on of hands" and carried the meaning of "transference" or what we Christians might call "ordination."  It is likely this custom to which Jesus referred when he said the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.  Jewish rabbis received semikhah to receive their title as "rabbi" both in ancient Judaism and modern Judaism.  (Yes, it is possible that Jesus may have received this as well since he is called "rabbi" many times in the gospels, though we have no record of such a rite ever performed on him.  He certainly didn't need it, but his antagonists never seemed to question his claim to rabbinical authority either.  So who knows?)  Now the term rabbi means more than just "teacher."  Literally translated it means "my master" or "my great one."  You simply don't call a Jew "rabbi" unless he has earned that title, and a Jew doesn't earn that title through mere studies in the Torah.  While academics are important of course and necessary, it is not an academic title.  The title cannot be attained by one's self.  Nobody has a right to it, no matter how much study has been accomplished or how much knowledge has been gained.  The title must be given, and it can only be given by somebody who already has it.  This process is called semikhah and it is done by a rabbi laying hands on a student, with the intention of transferring not only the authority of his rabbinical title but the very character of its office as well.  A newly ordained rabbi becomes a "copy" (if you will) of his former master, with all the same authority and rights.  Everything the former rabbi could do is now possible to the newly ordained rabbi.  The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' time were rabbis, each and every one of them.  They didn't have the priestly authorities of the kohanim (temple priests) or duties of the Levites, but they did have the authority to teach the law and apply its statutes on the people.  So where did they get this authority?  They claimed to get it from Moses.  In other words, they claimed that they could trace their semikhah all the way back to the Mosaic time when the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness and eat manna for their daily sustenance.  In other words, they claimed the original semikhah came from Moses himself, as he gave them the authority to interpret and apply the Law.  Jesus gave a nod to this when he said the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses's seat (Matthew 23:2).  In this respect, they acted in Moses' place, and their decisions had just as much binding authority as those made by Moses himself.  Such is the nature of semikhah.

So what we see here is the original Jewish context of Christian authority.  Jesus was a Jew, and so were all of his apostles.  Let us never forget that!  So when we look at the things Jesus did, and the institutions he established, we need to look at them in a Jewish context.  The New Testament tells us that the Jewish authorities were just a precursor, a sign of much bigger and better things to come.  So when we look at the Jewish priesthood and the Jewish rabbinate, we need to understand that these were merely forerunners.  What Moses gave the Hebrew people was a foretaste of things to come -- a foreshadowing if you will, of a much bigger future reality.  According to Jesus himself, the consummation of all the Law and prophets was in him.  He was the prophesied one of whom Moses foretold would come.  The Law could never be abrogated, but it could be fulfilled.  So there could be no new Lawgiver until the old Law (the Torah) was fulfilled.  Moses foretold of a new Lawgiver, one greater than he, who would eventually come to take his place (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).  This new Lawgiver was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Messiah, or the "Christ."  Jesus acknowledged the authority of the scribes and Pharisees as having come from Moses directly, and he commanded his disciples to obey them (at least for the time being), that is until he had fulfilled the Law on the cross and created a New Covenant with his own blood, thus becoming the new Lawgiver to succeed the old.  Before he did this, however, he established a new chain of authority to succeed the old as well. You ask: Where is that in the Bible?

Jesus speaking to Peter... I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. -- Matthew 16:18-19 
Jesus speaking to the apostles... Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. -- Matthew 18:18-19 
Jesus again speaking to the apostles after he had sealed the New Covenant with his own blood... When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. -- John 20:22-23
When we look at the panorama of Jesus' ministry on earth, we see a common bone of contention constantly resurfacing between him and the Pharisees, and that is the power (or authority) to forgive sins.  For example; Jesus would frequently tell a crippled man his sins are forgiven.  The Pharisees would protest saying that only God alone has the authority to forgive sins.  At that Jesus would prove to them his divinity by healing the physical infirmity of the man whose sins he just forgave.  However, we see in these passages above that Jesus chose to share this very same authority, the divine authority to forgive sins, with his apostles!  Stop and think about that for a moment.  The authority to forgive another's sins, both in heaven and on earth, is by far the greatest authority imaginable.  The Pharisees correctly pointed out that no one can forgive sins except God, yet Jesus proved to them that he was/is God, and then he turned around and shared that aspect of his divine authority with his apostles. He didn't share it with the Pharisees.  He didn't share it with the Jewish priesthood.  He shared it with his apostles and his apostles only!  Thus, a whole new sacramental system to forgive sins had just been established, one that surpasses the Mosaic Law, and is derived from the semikhah of God Himself, having come in the flesh!

This is the basis of Christian authority, the Jewish basis of it, but it does not come to us from Moses.  It comes to us from God in the flesh.  God used the established customs of Judaism to create an authority structure (a "hierarchy" if you will) for Christianity, and yes, the whole thing centres around the forgiveness of sins.  Just as the Jewish sacramental system of animal sacrifices centred around the forgiveness of sins, so too the new and improved Christian sacramental system centres around the forgiveness of sins.  Granted, not every aspect of Christianity deals directly with sin, just as not every aspect of the Judaism dealt directly with sin, but it is the core of both sacramental systems. 

Like the rabbinical and priestly custom of succession, Jesus' Jewish apostles kept the same system for themselves. Modelled after the rabbinical practice of semikhah, the apostles would lay hands upon those whom they chose to succeed them in apostolic authority.  We see the first incident of this immediately after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ...
And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And praying, they said: Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, To take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place. And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. -- Acts 1:23-26 
Here we see that Matthias was numbered as an apostle, taking Judas Iscariot's place, assuming all the authority of an apostle, though he himself was never named an apostle by Jesus Christ.  The other eleven apostles did this on their own, numbering him among themselves, making a complete twelve like the twelve tribes of Israel, transferring all of their apostolic authority to him, though he himself had not received it directly from Jesus Christ while Christ walked the earth.  This process eventually came to be called "apostolic succession," which means quite literally, the apostles had the authority to transfer the authority they received from Christ onto another.  How did they specifically do this?  The answer comes to us directly from a Jewish rabbi and Christian apostle named Paul.
  • Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood. -- 1st Timothy 4:14
  • Impose not hands lightly upon any man, neither be partaker of other men's sins. Keep thyself chaste. -- 1st Timothy 5:22
What were the apostles and their successors doing?  They were performing the Jewish rite of semikhah, or something similar to it, what we call today the Christian rite of ordination.  It was a transference of apostolic authority, from one generation to the next, wherein (like the Jewish priests and rabbis of old) the full authority and character of the office is transferred from one to another.  In other words, a "copy" is made.  The successor is just as "apostolic" as the predecessor, retaining all the same rights and authority.  It's a Jewish thing.  Since Jesus and all the original apostles were Jewish, that Jewish thing is now a deeply entrenched Christian Tradition.  This is where Christian authority comes from.  There is no other Christian authority other than this.  It comes directly from Jesus Christ himself, through the apostles, to their successors, all the way down to the modern era.  Like the Jewish Old Covenant, it centres around the forgiveness of sins, but it is not limited to that alone.  Christian authority through apostolic succession was the undisputed litmus test of the early Church period.  For many people went out attempting to preach their own version of the Christian gospel, but if they could not produce a credible reference to having obtained apostolic succession, they were quickly dismissed as frauds.

As time progressed, the apostolic office tended to take on a threefold character.  The primary character was the full character, meaning the episcopal office, commonly called the "bishop" in English.  This is the full apostolic ordination (semikhah), meaning the one who receives it receives the full apostolic ministry.  To create helpers for the bishop, a lesser form of office was created called the presbytery.  The presbyter would obtain the full apostolic ordination (semikhah) minus the ability to ordain others, so his ministry stops with him, and he is by nature subordinate to the bishop.  In English, a presbyter is commonly referred to as a "priest."  Finally, there is the least of the threefold office called the diaconate, which is commonly called "deacon" in English, and the deacon simply receives a small portion of the apostolic ministry through ordination (semikhah) which is designed to simply help the bishop and priests in their daily functions.

For 1,500 years after the apostolic era, this understanding of apostolic authority remained virtually unchallenged.  We have to understand that even the Sacred Scriptures were more disputed than this.  That's right, even the Holy Bible itself had more controversy surrounding it.  Apostolic succession was considered something that could be relied upon.   The "canon" of the Bible, meaning the books the Bible was supposed to contain, was not settled until 401 AD.  In fact, were it not for a dispute that arose with the Arian heretics in the 4th century, the early Church probably wouldn't have even created a canon of Scripture (Holy Bible).  You see, the Arians were a Gnostic sect that tried to hijack Christianity in the early to middle 4th century.  They were led by a rogue priest named Arius who claimed that Jesus was not divine and denied the orthodox teaching of the Trinity.  Arius appealed to Scripture for his rationale, but it was his own compilation of Scripture (the Arian canon), and since the early Church had not yet settled which books belong in the Bible, he got away with this for a very long time.  Arius appealed to the authority of Scripture, at least as far as how he interpreted it, and of course, he got to choose which books belonged in his "Bible."  Arius created nothing short of a crisis in the early Church, and for a brief time, there were more Arian "Christians" than there were orthodox Christians.  The bishops of the early Church had to act definitively against this heresy lest the gospel of Jesus Christ be lost to a heretical understanding that would dilute its meaning forever.  So drawing upon the apostolic authority that was given to their predecessors by Jesus Christ himself, they exercised this authority to do two things.  First, they constructed a creed called the Nicene Creed, named after the city of Nicea in which they met.  By ordering that all churches have this creed memorised and regularly recited by their members, they took their first step at combating the Arian heresy.  Second, they countered the Arian Bible by creating their own list (canon) of books which they could agree upon based on the "oral traditions" which came from the original apostles that they all had in common.  It took a while for them to agree on this list -- nearly 75 years! -- but by 401 AD the Holy Bible (the one we all know today) was compiled into one book and promulgated to all churches in the ancient world.  It was a one-two punch that put Arianism in its grave.  It didn't work overnight.  In fact, it took over a hundred years, but the bishops were planning for a more effective long-term victory.  Once it was finally down, they didn't want Arianism rearing it's ugly head ever again.  By exercising the authority that Jesus Christ gave to them through apostolic succession, they were able to decimate this attack of the devil.  Where is the Arian heresy today?  Where is the "International Church of Arius?"  It's gone - extinct.  This is why Jesus Christ gave AUTHORITY to his apostles.  This is why he gave it to them under the Jewish pretext of semikhah, which allowed them to transfer it to successors.  The devil rose up Arius to attack the Church over a hundred years after the death of the last apostle.  The apostles couldn't be there to defend the Church in her hour of need, but their successors could be, and so that is how it worked.  Jesus Christ acknowledged the Jewish rite of semikhah for this reason, that the Church he founded might have apostles at all times, to defend her from error, and maintain a sacramental system for the forgiveness of sins.

Exactly eleven centuries later, another man rose up and followed in the footsteps of Arius, though he did not deny the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ.  That man's name was Martin Luther, and like Arius he appealed to Scripture as his final authority, even going so far as to modify Scripture by deleting books he disagreed with (including Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation) as well as change passages of Scripture he didn't like (yes, he really did do this).  However, the most lasting legacy that Martin Luther gave was the first of his "five solas" -- Sola Scriptura -- wherein he flushed the whole reliance on apostolic secession and gave Western Christians a whole new authority structure to rely on -- the printed word.  Virtually every Protestant denomination relies on it in one way or another.  For this reason, I believe Martin Luther is considered the Father of the entire Reformation.  He is the first and highest Reformation Father.  All others are subordinate to him, for you see, they all followed his example.  Sola Scriptura is an authority structure that has resulted in the fracture of Western Christianity into many denominations, sects, nondenominational-independent churches, house churches and individuals who say they no longer need a church.  They call this progress?

Christian authority comes from Jesus Christ and no other.  It cannot come from an inanimate object, a book, such as the Bible.  It is not something that is earned academically or just assumed by opening up a church building.  It is easy to lay hands on a man and call him "ordained," but if that ordination cannot be traced back to an apostle, it has little to no value.  No, Christian authority came from the hands of the man who ordained Peter, James, John and all the rest.  Outside of this, there is no Christian authority.  It either comes directly from the physical hands of Jesus Christ or else it does not exist at all.  This is the only reasonable explanation for the doctrinal chaos that has plagued Protestantism for the last five centuries and most intensely in the last five decades.

Without apostolic authority, we are left with the inevitable result of Biblical relativism. For without apostolic succession, one pastor's interpretation of Scripture cannot be any more authoritative than another. 

This in no way diminishes the pastoral care that Protestant ministers give to their flocks, and what I have written here should not be misinterpreted to disparage the fine work often performed by dedicated Protestant pastors. What I have written here should be interpreted in the most strict sense when it comes to the issue of authority. Indeed, many Protestant ministers have done excellent work tending to the needs of their congregations. All I am saying here is that none of them can speak with absolute authority on the meaning of the scriptures, since none have apostolic succession, and I think it's safe to say that most Protestant ministers would actually agree with me on that. For few of them would claim a level of authority on par with the apostles. 

The author makes no attempt to hide his bias here.  I've lived as a Christian on both sides of the fence.  I know what the Protestant side is like, as I've been through more than a few Protestant denominations.  I know what the Catholic side is like.  Neither is without its share of problems.  However, when forced to choose between the doctrinal chaos of Protestantism, versus the doctrinal consistency of Catholicism, I have chosen the latter.  Are the Catholic Church's leaders perfect?  No.  Are they without sin?  Of course not.  Nothing in my faith requires me to believe they are.  Do they make mistakes?  Of course, they do.  Can they be corrupt?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  However, when they teach authoritatively, exercising their apostolic offices, You can rest assured their teaching is as good as if it came from the original apostles themselves.  I can go to a Catholic Church in Springfield Missouri on one Sunday, then attend another in Myrtle Beach South Carolina the next Sunday, knowing with absolute certainty that the beliefs are the same, the liturgy is the same, and the sacraments are the same.  This is the result of the gift of authority.  Jesus gave it to his Church for a reason.


Why Do Catholic Bibles Have More Books?
written on August 14, 2013

We Catholics are known to have more books in our Bibles than Protestants, and there is a very good reason for this.  I'll explain below.  First, it's important to note that the New Testament of the Bible is exactly the same between Catholics and Protestants.  There is no difference at all.  They both consist of exactly twenty-seven (27) books, Matthew through Revelation, with no distinction whatsoever.  What differs between Catholics and Protestants is the Old Testament.  We Catholics have forty-six books in our Old Testament (46), while Protestants have only thirty-nine (39).  Protestants also have shorter versions of the books of Daniel and Esther.  The difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles specifically centres around the Old Testament and the Old Testament alone.  The seven additional books in question are...
  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. Wisdom
  4. Sirach
  5. Baruch
  6. 1st Maccabees
  7. 2nd Maccabees
Of course, this really isn't a big issue for some Christians.  Some Christians don't spend a whole lot of time reading the Old Testament anyway and focus primarily on the New Testament instead.  However, to other Christians, the issue of the Biblical canon is of key importance when it comes to their understanding of the Catholic Church.  The typical Evangelical Protestant narrative is that the Catholic Church supposedly "added extra books" to the Old Testament during those "scary dark ages" when Catholicism ruled the Western world and "real Christians" (i.e. Protestants) were hiding underground.  Of course, this is ridiculous, but you would be surprised to learn how many people actually believe this nonsense.  Now to be fair, this belief is not held by all Protestants, just a certain growing segment of them.  Here in the Bible Belt of the United States, it would almost seem to be actual history.  It's preached from behind the pulpits, on television, radio, the Internet and even written into various evangelistic tracts.  However, that doesn't make it true.  Some Protestants have been trying to revise history for a very long time, and for all their centuries of effort, the truth always catches up with them eventually.  History is what it is.  I can't change it any more than the Protestant minister down the street.  For example; we might be able to fool some people for a while with our propaganda, especially those who aren't willing to look things up for themselves, but as soon as somebody cracks open a real history book, all of our propaganda will be in vain.  The truth is the truth, so we might as well just face it.

This is what happened to me.  A good deal of my Evangelical Protestant faith was built on propaganda back in the 1990s, and it was my study of history that changed that.  It didn't take but a couple history books to learn that much of what I believed as "solid doctrine" was riddled with holes.  "Knowledge of history is the end of Protestantism." That's what Blessed John Henry Newman said, that famous Anglican convert to the Catholic Church.  I, along with millions of others, are living proof of that.  The moral of this story is to learn history -- real history that is -- and leave the propaganda behind.

The historical truth is, the Catholic Church never "added any books" to the Bible, and incidentally, the Medieval period was neither "dark" nor "scary."  It was the cradle of Western Civilisation that saw the greatest development of art, culture and civility the human race has ever known.  The only people who should ever call the Middle Ages "dark" are Atheists and Pagans because it was during this time that their kind was the most marginalised.  If you were a believer in the God of the Bible, however, the Middle Ages were a time of great triumph and hope.  Yes, it had problems, to be sure, but it was not the "dark ages."  The only period that Christians have any business calling the "dark ages" was the period of Roman antiquity, when Christians were persecuted for their faith by being fed to lions in the circuses and used as torches in Caesar's gardens.  Now those were the real "dark ages!" 

So let's get back to the Bible.  Why do Catholic Bibles have a longer Old Testament than Protestant Bibles?  The short answer is simply this.  Protestants have shorter Old Testaments because the leaders of the Protestant Reformation removed books from the Old Testament.  That's it!  The Catholic Church didn't add books.  The Protestant Reformers took them out.  Don't believe me?  Look it up for yourself.  Crack open the history books and start reading.  Which history books?  It doesn't matter.  Read as many as you can!  Now, you'll never hear a militant advocate for the shorter Old Testament canon tell you that.  Such militant Evangelicals like you to read certain historical tracts of booklets that they have prepared for you in advance.  Not me!  I say go down to your nearest library and find some books in the development of the Christian canon of Scripture.  Happy reading!

I can say that with confidence because I know my history, and I know history will back up what I'm saying.  I'm not going to direct you to certain booklets or tracts.  I don't need to.  The same goes for everything I'm about to write below.  Check it with real history books and see for yourself.  

The first Protestant to remove books from the Old Testament canon was none other than Martin Luther, the "father" of the Reformation himself.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther started putting the Old Testament under scrutiny.  This was probably because certain passages from the Old Testament, particularly in the Second Book of Maccabees (2nd Maccabees 12:44-46), were being used to back up the Catholic teaching on Purgatory.  Luther opposed the doctrine of Purgatory in his famous "Ninety-Five Thesis," and so any Scripture passage that could be interpreted to support this doctrine had to be eliminated.  Luther then moved seven books from the Old Testament out of what he considered the authorised canon, and into a separate section he called "Apocrypha" meaning "disputed."  He also took chapters out of Esther and Daniel and moved them into this same Apocrypha section.  Later, other Protestant "reformers" affirmed Luther's decision on this.  So there you have it.  That's how the Protestant Old Testament was shortened.  Again, look it up, in any history book on the topic, and see for yourself.  Prior to Martin Luther (16th century), all Christians used the longer forty-six book Old Testament.  After Martin Luther, some Christians (Protestants) began using a shorter thirty-nine book Old Testament.  That's the cold hard historical truth.  Catholics didn't add books to the Old Testament, Protestants removed books from the Old Testament.  End of story.

Now here is the back story...

Now that we have established this historical fact that the Protestant "reformers" removed books from the Old Testament, the question begs to be asked -- why?  We can speculate about Martin Luther's reasons.  His aversion toward the doctrine of Purgatory leaves us with a pretty obvious clue.  As for the other Protestant reformers and councils, the same reason may apply, though they often liked to cite a whole host of academic reasons other than that.  

Often one main reason cited is this.  The Medieval Jews used a shorter canon for their Bible, and since the Christian Old Testament canon is based on the Jewish canon of Scripture, it only makes sense for the Christian Old Testament canon to match the Jewish canon, right?  Well actually, when you know the history, it's a bit more complicated than that.  To understand we have to go back in history -- way back -- to the first and second century AD, to the time of Jesus and the apostles.  During this time there were many different versions of Scripture being used by the Jewish people.  Each Jewish "Bible" depended on what kind of Jewish persuasion we are talking about.  For example; the Sadducee Party, who mainly consisted of the priests of the Jerusalem Temple, had the shortest Biblical canon of all, consisting of just five (5) books.  It was the Law of Moses or Torah -- the first five books of the Bible.  Meanwhile, the Pharisee Party, consisting of most rabbis, and by far the largest and most influential Jewish party in first century Palestine, had a much longer canon they called the Tanakh. which consisted roughly of the thirty-nine (39) books Western Jews use today, as well as what we see in the Protestant Old Testament.  Then there were the Essenes, who were an obscure Jewish party that lived in virtual isolation in Palestine.  They had their own canon, which had a considerable longer number of books.  Finally, there were a very large number of Jews living in diaspora around the Mediterranean world.  They lived as far south as Egypt and Ethiopia, as far west as Spain, as far East as Iraq and at least as far north as Rome.  The majority of these people did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic.  So the typical Bibles used by Jews in Palestine were not sufficient.  What good is a Bible if you can't read it?  So in Alexandria Egypt, a translation of the canon of Scripture was commissioned.  It was called the Septuagint (meaning "seventy" in reference to the alleged seventy rabbinical elders who translated it).  This also came to be known as the Deuterocanon (meaning "second canon") written in Greek, which complimented the Protocanon (meaning "first canon") or Tanakh, written primarily written in Hebrew and Aramaic.  The purpose of this Greek translated Deuterocanon, is the same purpose that all translations serve -- to make the text more available to a larger number of people.  This Greek canon helped Judaism to expand rapidly in the ancient world and brought in a number of Greek-speaking Gentile converts.  However, there was something different about this translation of the Scriptures.  It wasn't considered a mere translation. The rabbis of the first century considered it to have equal authority with the Hebrew and Aramaic version.  In other words, the Jewish elders who translated these Scriptures from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek didn't just translate the words, but they translated their meaning as well, including common interpretations and understandings of how these passages were to be understood.  

Now it is into this scene that Jesus and the apostles arrive.  Jesus was a Jew who spoke Aramaic and lived in Palestine, but his ministry was not limited to Palestinian Jews alone.  He was the Messiah for all Jewish people, regardless of what language they spoke.  The Pharisees looked down upon Greek-speaking Jews and used the reference "Hellenist" in a rather derogatory way toward them. Jesus however, did not look down upon them and considered them just as much his people as any local Jew (John 10:16).  The apostles, likewise, acted upon Jesus' teaching and had no problem ministering to Greek-speaking Jewish synagogues during their missionary journeys.  Greek was, after all, the language of law and commerce at the time, especially in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.  Everyone had to know at least enough Greek to get by, and if you wanted any reasonable success in this ancient world, you had to be a proficient speaker of it.  So naturally, this Greek translation of the Scriptures -- this Septuagint or Deuterocanon -- was the version of the Jewish Bible the apostles primarily used to teach and quote from.  It was the primary apostolic canon! Yes, they did quote from the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon) as well, but the majority of their quotations come from the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon). There is something else about this Septuagint (Deuterocanon) that was also unique.  The Jewish elders who translated it were aware of the disputes that existed over the various versions of the Jewish canon back in Palestine.  So they took it upon themselves to translate those books, that they all agreed were worthy of being considered divinely inspired Scripture.  Their Greek canon of Scripture - Septuagint (Deuterocanon) - contained the equivalent of forty-six books.  Thus it was a bit longer than the canon of Scripture used by the Pharisees - Tanakh (Protocanon) - and considerably shorter than the canon of Scripture used by the Essenes.  

So there you have it.  The canon of Scripture primarily used by the apostles was the Greek translated  Septuagint (Deuterocanon).  So that was the canon of Scripture that came to be the Christian Old Testament.  It consisted of forty-six (46) books and translated the commonly accepted meaning of the text as well as the text itself.  

Now in the years that followed the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (AD 70), with the Sadducee Party defunct, and the Essean party irrelevant, the party of the Pharisees gained control of mainstream Judaism.  The destruction of the Temple created such a spiritual vacuum that it's difficult to express in words. Suffice it to say, late first-century Judaism was in chaos. Some of the leaders met in various places, such as Yavneh, Lod and Bnei Braq in the Judaean lowlands to hammer out the details.  Contrary to popular belief, there was no "Council of Jamnia" as has been reported in years past.  Rather, the control of Judaism transferred to the Pharisees gradually, over a period of decades, spanning the fall of the Jerusalem Temple (AD 67-70) to the Bar Kochba Rebellion (AD 132-136) and thereafter.  Among the changes that transpired were the following:
  • Rejection of the Christian claim of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah,
  • The mandatory use of the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon) as the official Jewish Bible.
  • The public reading of that Bible in Hebrew by all Jewish males on their thirteenth birthday (Bar Mitzvah).
  • The standardisation of various rites and customs to be carried out without a Temple in Jerusalem.
Virtually all of these changes occurred in those formative decades after the fall of the Temple and were carried over into all of the synagogues in the West.  However, a small (almost forgotten) tribe of black Jews in Ethiopia did not adopt the reforms that followed the fall of the Temple.  In fact, these same Ethiopian Jews still use the forty-six (46) book Septuagint (Deuterocanon) as their Bible to this very day.

Common objections... 

Now when it comes to the Christian Old Testament canon, Protestants concern themselves primarily with academics.  They surmise that the original Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon) must be more accurate because after all, it is older.  Older is better -- right?  Therefore, they drop the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon) and thus abandon the Old Testament canon used by the early Church and the apostles.  Catholics, on the other hand, have a different take on the matter.  For us, it's not a matter of academics, but rather a matter of authority.  The real question is, who has the authority to determine the Christian canon?  Does that authority belong to a handful of 16th-century Protestant theologians?  Does it belong to professors in universities?  Or does that authority belong to the apostles and the bishops of the early Church?  The Catholic answer is to choose the last of the three.  Only the apostles and bishops of the early Church had the authority to determine the Christian Old Testament canon, and the modern Catholic Church has authoritatively affirmed this in the Council of Trent (AD 1545-1564) by continuing to use the same Septuagint (Deuterocanon) the apostles preached from in their sermons and quoted from in their writings.  The fact is, the apostles and bishops of the early Church believed BOTH CANONS were authoritative -- both the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanakh (Protocanon), and the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon).  They used both, they quoted from both freely, and they held to the common Jewish belief at the time, which was that both were divinely inspired.

The problem the Protestant leaders have is that they are relying on academic authority instead of apostolic authority. They can cite a whole host of academic reasons why they shouldn't use the longer Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon) as their Christian Old Testament, but they can't cite a single apostolic authority that agrees with them.  Even some of the academic reasons they cite implode after closer examination.  For example; one common academic reason why they ignore the seven additional books of the Greek Septuagint (Deuterocanon), is that they were allegedly not written in Hebrew.  (As if God only speaks in Hebrew.  What about the New Testament?  It was written in Greek.)  However, recent discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran reveal some of the seven books from the Deuterocanon originally written in Hebrew.  These include the books of Sirach and Tobit.  So much for the "Hebrew only" objection.

Another common objection is that Jews didn't regard these seven books as inspired, so why should they.  However, this ignores the historical fact that, in the first century AD, Jews were in disagreement about the size of the Jewish canon depending on what party they belonged to.  After the first century, as the party of the Pharisees gradually took over, their canon of Scripture became more regularised, settling on the shorter thirty-nine book Tanakh (Protocanon). However, this was AFTER the time of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles!  Still, to say the Jews were in full agreement even after that is somewhat of a misnomer.  For example; the Talmud, the most authoritative book on Jewish traditions and interpretations specifically quote the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) Book of Sirach as Scripture...

"Raba [again] said to Rabbah b. Mari: whence can be derived the popular saying, ‘A bad palm will usually make its way to a grove of barren trees’? – He replied: This matter was written in the Pentateuch, repeated in the Prophets, mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, and also learnt in a Mishnah and taught in a baraitha: It is stated in the Pentateuch as written, So Esau went unto Ishmael [Genesis 28:9], repeated in the prophets, as written, And there gathered themselves to Jephthah idle men and they went out with him [Judges 11:3], mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, as written: Every fowl dwells near its kind and man near his equal [Sirach 13:15]." (b. B. Qam. 92b; Soncino ed.).

"...And R Aha b. Jacob said: There is still another Heaven above the heads of the living creatures, for it is written: And over the heads of the living creature there was a likeness of a firmament, like the colour of the terrible ice, stretched forth over their heads above [Ezekiel 1:22]. Thus far you have permission to speak, thenceforward you have not permission to speak, for so it is written in the Book of Ben Sira: Seek not things that are too hard for thee, and search not out things that are hidden from thee. The things that have been permitted thee, think thereupon; thou hast no business with the things that are secret [Sirach 3:21-22]" (b. Hag. 13a; Soncino ed.).
So much for that argument against the Septuagint (Deuterocanon).  We have clear historical evidence of Septuagint (Deuterocanon) books not only written in Hebrew but also quoted as Scripture in early Jewish writings.

Then there is the common objection that Christ and the apostles never quoted from the seven additional books of the Septuagint (Deuterocanon).  Okay, so if a quotation is a criterion of Scriptural canonicity then I guess we are going to have to exclude the following books as well because they too were never quoted by Jesus or the apostles...

  • Song of Songs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Esther
  • Obadiah
  • Zephaniah
  • Judges
  • 1st Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Lamentations
  • Nahum
Obviously, a quotation cannot be criteria of exclusion for the canonicity of a particular Biblical book.  If it is, we've all got some editing to do, because every Christian (and Jew) has these books in his/her Bible.

Another common academic argument against including the seven additional books of the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) is the citation of a couple early Christian writers who apparently did not regard them as authoritative Scripture.  Those typically cited are Saint Athanasius and Saint Jerome, who translated the Scriptures from Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic into Latin.  First of all, Catholics don't believe that Saints are infallible.  They do make mistakes sometimes.  The authority to determine the canon of Scripture rests in the Church, not individual Saints.  That being said, however, Saint Jerome clarified his position in a later writing, in which he clearly regarded the seven additional Septuagint (Deuterocanon) books as inspired...

"What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Son of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew canon, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I wasn't relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us." -- (Saint Jerome, AD 402, Against Rufinus 11:33)
That being settled, all we have left is Saint Athanasius, who was an excellent scholar on determining authentic New Testament Scripture, but apparently missed the mark on the Old Testament.  He is countered by the opinions recorded in the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Council of Rome, the Council of Hippo, the Third Council of Carthage, the African Code, the Apostolic Constitutions, and those recorded in the writings of Pope St. Clement I, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian of Carthage, Pope St. Damasus I, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Innocent I.

Anyway, the list of objections goes on and on -- ad infinitum -- but what it really comes down to is this. By what authority do you base your Old Testament canon?  Do you base it on the academic opinions of doctors and theologians?  Or do you base it on the apostolic authority of the apostles and bishops of the early Church?  My question is, if the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) was good enough for the apostles and early Church, with its additional seven books and all, then why is it not good enough for us today?

In conclusion...

I write this not only in defence of the Catholic position on the length of the Old Testament canon but also in genuine concern for my Protestant brethren in Christ, many who have been denied seven books from the Old Testament and additional chapters of Esther and Daniel.  I assert that all of the scholarly academic opinions in the world do not justify removing books from the Old Testament that all Christians had used for fifteen centuries! Some Bible publishers agree and have begun to reprint them in various ways.  Some have placed them in separate sections called "Apocrypha" meaning "disputed," and others have simply placed them back into the Old Testament in their original order with a notation that these books are from the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) and not found in the Tanakh (Protocanon).  I think that's a fair accommodation.  There are many English Bible versions on the market today.  In fact, there are so many that a common question heard today is: "which one should I use?"  May I suggest only using those English Bibles that are COMPLETE?  May I suggest choosing a non-abridged version?  That's my suggestion.  Every Christian, regardless if Catholic or Protestant, deserves access to ALL of the Scriptures.  It is no publisher's business to determine which books some Christians should, or should not, read by excluding them from their printed Bibles.  When shopping for a Bible, I recommend looking for one that contains the "Apocrypha" or "Deuterocanon" books.  There are plenty out there.  Try your local Christian bookstore first, but if you can't find one there, let them know that you might have to shop online if they can't get one for you.  All it takes is two or three such requests, from different people, and I guarantee it won't be long before they start carrying them on their shelves.


Salvation by Faith Alone?
written on October 20, 2013

I was asked by my daughter the other day "what is a Protestant?"  My answer was simply this. A Protestant is simply a Catholic who "protests" various teachings of the Catholic Church but retains core Catholic teaching, such as the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement through Christ's sacrifice on the cross for example. I stopped there as the answer seemed to be satisfactory to her young ears.

Yes, Catholics and Protestants have these core teachings in common, but where we start to diverge is on the issue of Atonement, and in particular, what that Atonement of Christ's sacrifice means in practical everyday terms. The issue of salvation has for the last five centuries been the core issue fuelling the rift between Catholics and Protestants. Now, let us have just a little review here before we get started. 

Martin Luther (the 16th-century father of Protestantism) was spurred to act by abuses within the Catholic Church during his time. The abuses were real, and they were also not really Catholic. Had Luther opposed these abuses on purely Catholic teaching, he might be revered as a "Saint Martin of Wittenberg" today. That, however, didn't happen, namely because he chose to take matters into his own hands. Rather than opposing abuses of Catholic doctrine on Catholic grounds, he chose to become his own re-interpreter of Scripture even when it meant opposing a thousand years of historical Christian tradition. Thus "Saint Martin of Wittenberg" was never to be, and so Martin Luther became a controversial man -- the chief proponent of a movement that would fracture Christendom into a half-dozen pieces in his own time, and literally thousands of denominations and sects in the centuries to follow.

Luther had many problems with Rome, and Catholicism in general, but chief among them (or at least the issue that started the whole thing) was the issue of salvation.  These issues can be confusing to both Catholic and Protestant lay people today.  So to better understand, we must look at some important terms...
  • Salvation = A general term that refers to our acceptance into heaven and eternal life with God.
  • Atonement = This is what Jesus Christ did on the cross for us. His bloody sacrifice makes our salvation possible by paying the penalty for our sins. It literally means to bring two things together as one -- "at-one-ment." Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, brings God and man together -- "at-one-ment."
  • Justification = A more specific term dealing with salvation that describes how we are saved. Because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross (the Atonement) we are justified = made "just as if" we never sinned.
  • Sanctification = A specific term that comes from the Latin word sanctus meaning "holy."  This means to be made holy, which again is done by what Jesus did for us on the cross (the Atonement).
  • Grace = The favour of God's life in us.
  • Faith = Belief in God, his Son, and his Atonement on the cross.
  • Works = Actions of goodness in accordance with God's will and the Church's teaching.
  • Original Sin = the sin of our first parents (Adam and Eve) which gives humanity a spiritual and genetic disposition to desire sin.
  • Actual Sin = the sins we do in our own lives.
  • Merit = the property of a good work that deserves recognition or reward
  • Free Will = the God-given ability of human beings to choose to cooperate with God's grace or reject it.
The Catholic Church has always taught that our salvation comes through the merit of Jesus Christ's atonement on the cross which forgives our sin (original sin and actual sin), and that as a result of this grace, we are given faith and works by the Holy Spirit, which can increase our own merit, cooperating with Christ's full merit toward our salvation and increase in glory. This cooperation between man and God, in the form of man choosing to follow Christ and live within him, follows our justification by grace from all sin (including actual and original sin) and is our sanctification as well. For "Justification is not only the remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man." -- Catechism 1989. To be clear, the merit of Christ is the operative grace here. It is his work, and his work alone, that saves us. However, God allows us to cooperate in justification (and sanctification) with our own free will.

Okay, so now that we have defined Catholic teaching on salvation, let's examine what was going on in Northern Europe at the time of Martin Luther.  A common misconception was spreading at the time that good works, alone, created merit for justification. Now, remember, this isn't what the Catholic Church officially taught, but in practical application, some local pastors and evangelists were effectively teaching that error by their abuse of the doctrine of purgatory.

Now purgatory (read my article on purgatory here) is a real teaching of the Church with Biblical support (Matthew 5:48, Revelation 21:27; 1st John 5:16-17, Matthew 5:26; Matthew 12:32; 2nd Maccabees 12:44-46; 1st Corinthians 3:10-15; 1st Corinthians 15:29-30; 1st Timothy 1:16-18), but it was never designed to imply that one "earns" his own salvation, nor the salvation of another, by doing good works. Rather, the teaching of the Church is that one attains justification entirely through the merits of Christ's atonement by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.  However, if the fullness of one's sanctification (holiness) is not yet complete upon death, the prayers and sacrifices of those still alive can be applied toward those souls already justified in purgatory, and awaiting their eternal award. Again, please read my article on purgatory to gain a better understanding of this.  Now, what was happening in Northern Europe at the time of Luther was a little sickening. Typically, it all comes down to money. I don't know how else to say this, but sadly, the Church's teachings on purgatory and indulgences were being abused by local evangelists in such a way to serve as a fundraising campaign...

"As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!" It is unknown if he actually said it, but this saying was attributed to Johann Tetzel, who was Martin Luther's main opponent during the Reformation period. In all fairness to Tetzel, while it did appear that he was effectively teaching an over-simplified heterodoxy on purgatory, which he mistakenly believed to be accurate, even Martin Luther admitted that many of the scandals surrounding Tetzel really had nothing to do with Tetzel himself. That being said it's fairly safe to say that a good number of Catholics in Northern Europe were under the false impression that their works (through monetary sacrifice), by their own merit, could attain salvation for their departed loved one's soul in purgatory and even for themselves. Thus the term "sale of indulgences" was born. This is what Martin Luther rightly and vehemently opposed. The only problem was, he took it too far. In his zeal, he "threw the baby out with the bathwater" as the saying goes. He went against over a thousand years of historical Church teaching and denied the doctrines of purgatory and indulgences entirely, and in exchange, formulated his own doctrine on salvation that would later be emulated (in various forms) throughout all of the Protestant worlds.  

I think the simplest way to understand the difference between the Catholic understanding of salvation, and the common Protestant understanding of salvation is to look at it in terms of time. You see, because of the problems related to purgatory and indulgences in the 16th century, a doctrine of instantaneous salvation was formed.  Luther never said this, but he unwittingly laid the groundwork for it with the concept of "faith alone." This was later amplified through the teachings of John Calvin, and then redefined and reformulated hundreds of different ways within Protestantism in the centuries to follow. Be that as it may, Luther and Calvin are the progenitors of this teaching, with Luther being the unwitting founder and Calvin being the refiner. For the sake of brevity, I'll not get into the details of their two theologies, and those familiar with them will probably breathe a sigh of relief here, as they can be really quite complex. Suffice it to say, both Luther and Calvin subscribed to a split between justification and sanctification, separating the two, wherein justification eventually became a one-time event that happens instantaneously upon having faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Sanctification, so the common Protestant teaching goes, comes later and is entirely separate. One can be justified and have no sanctification whatsoever. Case in point, one example often given is the thief on the cross, who Christ forgave and brought with him into heaven. For the Protestant, justification centres around faith and faith alone. Having faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement on the cross is what makes one justified and that equals salvation. Works are not necessary to salvation, but they are a product of it. Thus, according to the common Protestant mindset, one can determine if one is already saved or not depending on one's sanctification (holiness). A Christian who shows little or no evidence of good works is not sanctified, and therefore, must not have been justified either. His faith is a false faith, or he was never saved, to begin with. Now, remember, this doesn't accurately describe every single Protestant's belief on this issue, as that would be impossible to do, since there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of different Protestant denominations and sects, each teaching their own version of the story. Nevertheless, this is a general synopsis of the Luther-Calvinian worldview that has evolved throughout the last five centuries. It is the perception held by a majority of Evangelical Protestants today. It all centres around time, and it has to do with a one-time instantaneous event, wherein one makes a conscious choice to believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Once that choice is made -- presto! -- justification (and thus salvation) has just occurred, and the evidence of that will be made manifest later in time with sanctification (holiness). To be clear though, the Protestant mindset is that salvation occurs with justification (faith alone) and sanctification (good works) is just a sign that justification has already occurred.

Now, this is in contrast to the Catholic view of salvation, which according to Church teaching is a lifelong process that is not complete until death. In the Catholic view, God's grace is made manifest in the atonement of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross, and this grace is applied by God's unmerited favour toward us. By his grace, he chooses us and gives us the opportunity to choose him. If we do, he again applies his grace in us, and that in turn can produce both a strong faith and good works in us, if we are open to them, and do not stifle them by our sin. Therefore there is no real separation between justification and sanctification, as they both occur in the life of the believer simultaneously, and are not complete until that life is over. 

So in summary, in contrast with Catholicism, the common Protestant teaching, that has evolved over the last five centuries, is that salvation (justification) is a one-time event. This is totally separate from sanctification, which occurs slowly and is independent of justification. Whereas with Catholicism, salvation is a lifelong event wherein justification and sanctification are coupled together. Indeed, sanctification is part of justification.

So who is right?

Let's see what the Scriptures have to say...

"You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." -- James 2:24 empahsis mine
As you can imagine, this short little passage presents a pretty big problem for the Luther-Calvinian point of view on justification by "faith alone."  The only time the phrase "faith alone" appears in the entire Bible is here, in James 2:24, and it specifically says we are NOT justified (saved) by "faith alone," but instead includes works in our justification. Martin Luther had a problem with this passage, and for that matter, he had a problem with the entire Book of James! In the preface of his German translation of the Bible, he referred to James as "an epistle of straw" and saw it on a lesser order than other Biblical books. He even relegated the Book of James to the category of New Testament Apocrypha along with Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. For Luther, James could not be reconciled with his theology, so he was inclined to simply throw this portion of Scripture out. Luther here does what many Protestants have done since, pitting Saint Paul against Saint James, or at the very least, up-playing the writings of Saint Paul and down-playing the writings of Saint James. This is what happens when you put too much emphasis on one portion of Scripture at the expense of another. This is exactly what Luther did, and many Protestants have since followed in his footsteps, more or less.

However, to pit one apostle against another is a grave mistake, and completely unwarranted, for even Saint Paul himself goes right along with Saint James in writing:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." -- Philippians 2:12-13.
What we have in these two apostles is two sides of the same coin. Saint Paul simply emphasises the faith side of justification-sanctification, while Saint James simply emphasises the works side of justification-sanctification, but neither denies the other. Both of them view salvation (justification-sanctification) as a process, not a one-time event. Neither attempts to separate (bifurcate) justification and sanctification. Again, just like faith and works, the two go hand-in-hand. This is the Catholic point of view. But as we can see in this passage above from Saint Paul, he reveals something very important to remember: "for God is at work in you, both to will and to work." Herein we have the revelation of God's grace. It is his doing not ours. God gives us faith as a gift if we are willing to receive it. Simultaneously, God gives us works as a gift, if we are willing to receive them. They are both parts of the same package. You can't accept one without accepting the other. For Saint James puts it clearly:
"But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith." -- James 2:18.
Again, it all falls back on God's doing not ours. Faith and works are a package deal, and they both come as a singular gift of God's grace alone.  As Saint Paul says above, God gives us the will (faith) and God gives us the works. They both come from him, by his grace and mercy. Their merit is his merit because he dispenses them both together. God, by his grace, made our atonement possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God, in his grace, makes our faith possible, and God, in his grace, makes our works possible, when we open ourselves up to believing and obeying him. The only thing we have to boast of is our free will (our ability to choose), which was again, given to us by God.
A good example of this comes from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus addressed a large crowd...
And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’ -- Matthew 13:3-9
After this his disciples complained a bit about his speaking in parables to the masses, so he proceeded to explain to them what the parable meant...
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’ -- Matthew 13:19-23
From this parable and its explanation, we clearly see Jesus' teaching on salvation as anything but a one-time instantaneous event, but rather something that occurs over time, and can be undone by the cares of this world.  What does that mean in laymen's terms?  It means simply this.  We receive God's grace through hearing the word of God and his sacraments. When we are old enough to do so, we make a free-will conscious choice to have faith in him, trust him, and do what God says. This is made possible only because God gives us the strength and favour to make it happen.  In other words, everything we have, our faith and our works, comes to us from God. He gives us these gifts, and when we choose to exercise them, he rewards us simply for accepting and using the gifts he gave us. In other words, in a very real sense, God rewards what he gave, and crowns his own merit in us. Everything comes from him and returns to him for reward. We human beings are merely conduits of God's grace (expressed through faith and works) because we have the choice to either let them flow through us or stifle them through our stubbornness and pride (sin), which is usually caused by our attachment to things of this world. The only thing we human beings really have, that is of our own making, is choice!  We choose yes or no.  In choosing yes or no, we choose whether we are saved or damned.  And this choice is a choice we make every day.  Our salvation happens when we let God's grace flow through us. Our damnation occurs because we spend a lifetime refusing to let that happen. Just as damnation is not a one-time event in our lives, neither is our salvation. It is something that happens through the whole course of our lives in Christ. When God looks at our lives, at the end of our lives, he looks to see if we have accepted his grace and allowed it to flow through us (both in faith and works). Or have we, by disbelief and sin, refused his grace, and done everything we can to stop it from flowing through us?

I think the fear many Protestants have is that if we include works as part of the salvation package, then we run the risk of becoming engrossed in works-related righteousness. This can lead some people to work feverishly for righteousness, fearing that God will damn them to hell if they don't. It produces a kind of slavery, wherein works are no longer done for the sake of love, but simply to earn one's way into heaven. Conversely, works-related righteousness can also produce a false sense of pride, wherein those who have done great works of good might think of themselves more righteous than others and look down upon others as the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. Often, the Catholic Church is accused by Protestants of engaging in this very sort of thing, wherein it is falsely believed the Catholic Church actually teaches a gospel of works-related righteousness. This is an unfortunate error on their part because the Catholic Church nowhere teaches that. In fact, both Martin Luther and John Calvin accused the Catholic Church of this very thing, and in response to their accusations, the Catholic Church issued the following decree from the Council of Trent...

Canon 1. "If any one says, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema." -- Council of Trent (1545 - 1563 AD)
This canon from the Council of Trent says a lot in a little space. Let us consider the context of Saint Paul's teaching. Saint Paul started out as Saul of Tarsus, and he was a Pharisee of the Jews. He spent a lifetime dealing with Pharisees because he was one of them. Among his peers, he was known as Rabbi Saul and he studied at the feet of the greatest rabbis in Palestine at that time. Rabbi Saul was a religious zealot, who firmly believed in works-related righteousness. He subscribed to the Pharisaical notion that it is only by our own obedience (works-related righteousness) to the Law of Moses that we can be saved. So Rabbi Saul went out and zealously persecuted the followers of Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus Christ) for multiple reasons. First, because they believed Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus Christ) is God. The Pharisees considered that blasphemy and apostasy right there. Second, because they were teaching that Gentiles could be saved even if they didn't follow the Law of Moses. Again, another blasphemy if you believe in works-related righteousness as the Pharisees did. Third, because they were teaching that salvation came through God's grace and not through the Law of Moses at all! That was the ultimate blasphemy for a Pharisee. Now, I assume that everyone reading this knows about Rabbi Saul's conversion story on the road to Damascus, and how he became Saint Paul, so I just want to put his ministry in context here. The primary motivator in Rabbi Saul's life leading up to the road to Damascus was works-related obedience to the Law of Moses. So naturally, in the years following the road to Damascus, the converted Saint Paul is going to spend a lot of time talking about the Law of Moses and what it really means in the finished work of Jesus Christ. He speaks of the Law of Moses quite a bit, and in those passages, he talks about the superiority of faith in Christ over strict obedience to the Law. He instructs us that the Law was given as a tutor to teach us right from wrong, point out that we are incapable of keeping the law on our own, and directs us toward Jesus Christ as our Messiah, Saviour, High Priest and King -- the fulfilment of the Law. Saint Paul tells us much about the superiority of faith over the Law, but he nowhere says we are saved by faith alone. Go ahead and look! It's not in his writings. Nowhere, anywhere, does Saint Paul indicate that good works which are done in Christ (sanctification) are completely disconnected from salvation. Lest there should be any doubt, let Saint Paul speak for himself on the capacity for one to lose his salvation after having first attained it. It helps to remember that Saint Paul often used the word "love" (meaning "charity") to describe good works...
"You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." -- Galatians 5:4 
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love." -- Galatians 5:6 
"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." -- 1st Corinthains 13:2 
"I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified." -- 1st Corinthians 9:27 
"So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall." -- 1st Corinthians 10:12 
"More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." -- Phillipians 3:8-14 
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons." -- 1st Timothy 4:1 
If we should question Saint Paul though, let us defer to Saint Peter, just as Paul did at the Council of Jerusalem recording in Acts 15. Paul, like all the apostles, yielded to Saint Peter, and likewise, so should we. The following are the words of Saint Peter himself on this issue...
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'The dog turns back to its own vomit,' and, 'The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.'" -- 2nd Peter 2:20-22
Saint Paul, in many of his apostolic letters to congregations made up of sizeable Jewish converts, was in many cases, correcting the previous errors of Rabbi Saul. In doing so, he was preaching to his Jewish Christian brethren, and warning them about the pitfalls facing those accustomed to following the Law of Moses. Now, Saint Paul also addressed Gentile Christians as well and indeed considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, but you can never separate Saint Paul the Apostle from Rabbi Saul the Pharisee. They are one in the same man. As the canon from Trent points out above, we cannot say that our justification comes from our own good nature or personal obedience to the Law of Moses. It is the work of Christ, which begins on the cross at Calvary and continues to flow through us in both faith and works as our free-will permits.


What Is Purgatory?
written on October 13, 2013

The subject of purgatory is a very difficult one for Protestants to grasp, namely because in their view, it just doesn't make any sense.  From the typical Protestant perspective, a person is either saved or not saved, at the moment of death. If saved, the person's soul should go immediately to heaven, right? If not saved, that soul should go immediately to hell, correct? So what is this deal with purgatory?

Over the centuries, many artists have tried to depict the concept of purgatory in a pictorial way. Such as we see with Ludovico Carracci's 1610 painting entitled: "An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory." For a Catholic, this is a beautiful (and totally non-literal and symbolic) representation of something that cannot really be accurately envisioned with human eyes. For a Protestant, this is just more confusing than ever. If the painting is to be taken literally, what are we to think?

The typical Protestant misunderstanding of Purgatory goes like this. When a soul dies, the Catholic believes that it goes to one of three places -- heaven, hell or purgatory. Heaven is a place of eternal reward for the saved, while hell is a place of eternal punishment for the damned. Purgatory, on the other hand, is a place of "second chance" for those who were neither saved nor damned, but just sort of in-between. Then, these souls might be freed from this unfortunate place by the prayers and sacrifices of those here on earth. That is if they are fortunate enough to have people praying for them here on earth. Protestants then, quite correctly, point out that such a concept is non-Biblical and foreign to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is, if that's what purgatory was, I wouldn't believe it either.

The problem arises from two areas. The first involves abuses of the doctrine of purgatory during the 16th century Reformation era, and the visceral Protestant response to those abuses. That response has been, dutifully passed down through generations. The second involves artwork such as we see here, and the inability of many Catholics to explain their beliefs to Protestants on this matter. So allow me to try my hand at this. Later this month I will publish an article dealing with salvation and the Reformation doctrine of "Faith Alone." Hopefully, this article on purgatory will serve as a good primer to that.

What is purgatory? Well to answer that question we first have to know what the Catholic Church actually teaches about it.  For all of the speculation that swirls around the topic, the Catholic Church only officially teaches two things.

  1. It exists.
  2. Our prayers help those who go through it. 
Here is the actual teaching on purgatory from the Catechism of the Catholic Church...
1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. 
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: 
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgement there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. 
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." From the beginning the Church has honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends alms giving indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: 
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.
There you go. That's the whole dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church on purgatory. Pretty much everything else is up to speculation. Now that being said, let me tell you how today's top Catholic theologians are describing it...

The word "purgatory" comes from the word "purge" meaning to purge one of sin. Purgatory is not so much a place as it is a process. If it were to be described as a place, (which is kind of pushing the envelope), then we could describe it as heaven's front door. Imagine, if you will, the pearly gates of heaven before you, and between those gates there exists mighty flames of "fire." Now the "fire" is not real fire mind you, it is rather the "fire" of Christ's burning love for us. It is in effect, God's love we are talking about here, but in his mercy he allows we poor sinners to participate in his work of salvation. He does all the "heavy lifting" of course. We just add little details. Now in order to get to the fullness of heaven, on the other side of the gate, you must pass through the "fire" in between. As you do, this "fire" burns away all of your sinful attachments to this world. Maybe you drank too much or were lazy, or perhaps you had a short temper in your earthly life. Whatever the case, you died in a state of grace, but your soul was far from perfect. Purgatory is just the process God puts our souls through as he brings us into heaven. Here he applies the full merit of Christ's atonement, as well as the merits of prayers and sacrifices of the saints on earth, to make one's soul completely ready for the joy of heaven.

As I said, describing purgatory as a place is pushing the envelope a bit, but sometimes it helps to give people a mental picture. In reality, it is just something that happens to a saved person's soul on the way to heaven. It is a process of decreasing pain and increasing joy, as the sinful attachments to this world, are let go, while the fullness of heaven is gradually embraced. No one goes to purgatory unless one is already saved, and no, purgatory is not a "second chance." The soul in purgatory doesn't need a second chance. He's already on his way to heaven. We could even say the soul in purgatory is already in heaven, but just isn't experiencing the fullness of it yet.

The word "purgatory" comes from the word "purge" meaning to purge one of sin. Purgatory is not so much a place as it is a process. If it were to be described as a place, (which is kind of pushing the envelope), then we could describe it as heaven's front door. Imagine, if you will, the pearly gates of heaven before you, and between those gates there exists mighty flames of "fire." Now the "fire" is not real fire mind you, it is rather the "fire" of Christ's burning love for us. It is in effect, God's love we are talking about here, but in his mercy he allows we poor sinners to participate in his work of salvation. He does all the "heavy lifting" of course. We just add little details. Now in order to get to the fullness of heaven, on the other side of the gate, you must pass through the "fire" in between. As you do, this "fire" burns away all of your sinful attachments to this world. Maybe you drank too much or were lazy, or perhaps you had a short temper in your earthly life. Whatever the case, you died in a state of grace, but your soul was far from perfect. Purgatory is just the process God puts our souls through as he brings us into heaven. Here he applies the full merit of Christ's atonement, as well as the merits of prayers and sacrifices of the saints on earth, to make one's soul fully and completely ready for the joy of heaven.

As I said, describing purgatory as a place is pushing the envelope a bit, but sometimes it helps to give people a mental picture. In reality, it is just something that happens to a saved person's soul on the way to heaven. It is a process of decreasing pain and increasing joy, as the sinful attachments to this world, are let go, while the fullness of heaven is gradually embraced. No one goes to purgatory unless one is already saved, and no, purgatory is not a "second chance." The soul in purgatory doesn't need a second chance. He's already on his way to heaven. We could even say the soul in purgatory is already in heaven, 
but just isn't experiencing the fullness of it yet.

I think Pope Benedict XVI explained it best in December of 2011 when he described purgatory as follows...
"Purgatory is an interior fire. The soul is aware of God's immense love and perfect justice; as a consequence, it suffers for not having responded to that love perfectly, and it is precisely the love of God Himself which purifies the soul from the ravages of sin."
Is there any Biblical support for this? Yes, there is. Probably the best description of purgatory comes from Saint Paul...
"According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire." -- 1st Corinthians 3:10-15
This is a word-picture given to us by Saint Paul to describe the process (not necessarily a place) of purgatory. Here, Paul calls it "the Day" and this is a reference to judgement. Purgatory (purgation of purging) is in a very real sense connected to the particular judgement each and every soul receives from God at the moment of death. If we were to imagine the judgement of God as a cleansing fire of love, we might begin to grasp the process of purgatory. Ironically, my first encounter with the concept of purgatory did not come from the Catholic Church. It actually came from a small Evangelical group in Southern California that consisted primarily of small-group house churches. Once a month these house churches from all over the L.A. valley would come to meet in this old chapel in Pomona. It was here I heard their main pastor speak. He instructed the congregation that when we die, we will encounter God face to face. Then a great fire will gush out from his fixed gaze upon us, and immediately all of our sinful attachments to this world will be burned away. We will be transformed, and all that will remain is that which is pure and holy. Now this Evangelical pastor in no way referred to this process as "purgatory," but his teaching was remarkably similar to what many Catholic theologians are saying about purgatory today. This Evangelical pastor seemed to imply that the whole process was rather quick, lasting only a few seconds. While the Catholic Church seems to teach that such a process takes a bit longer. Of course, one has to ask, what is "time" to a dead person? Does the disembodied soul experience time in the same way we do? I have no idea. Nobody knows. Also, the Evangelical pastor did not include the merits of the saints. This is purely a Catholic teaching which comes to us from our spiritual ancestry in ancient Judaism...
"For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin."-- 2nd Maccabees 12:44-46
Of course, the Second book of Maccabees is not contained in most Protestant Bibles, and this only further exacerbates the problem Protestants have with purgatory. (I discussed why Protestants removed books from the Bible in a previous article here.) However, if most Protestants read a complete and unabridged Bible, they wouldn't have to struggle so much with the concept of purgatory and indulgences. In the passage above from 2nd Maccabees, we can clearly see that ancient Jews, before and during the time of Jesus, not only believed in the concept of purgatory (though they may not have called it that), but they also believed in the concept of indulgences, referring to them as prayers and "atonement" (meaning animal sacrifices) for the dead. This belief was clearly documented in the Greek version of the Jewish canon (Septuagint), which happened to be the canon of Scripture most commonly quoted by the apostles in their own writings. This Jewish belief transferred into the early Christian communities, dominated almost entirely by Jews in the early years, and later tapered off to predominately Gentiles by the end of the second century. We see that Saint Paul again makes reference to this, in one very obscure passage, that Protestants often find unexplainable....
"Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptised on their behalf?" -- 1st Corinthians 15:29
Okay, this is a funky passage if there ever was one. The language is strikingly familiar to that of 2nd Maccabees cited above, and I think it would be safe to say that Saint Paul was probably thinking about 2nd Maccabees when he wrote it. But what on earth is Saint Paul talking about here!?! Surely, he can't be referring to the "baptism by proxy" tradition that is commonly performed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism). Are we to believe Saint Paul was a Mormon?

Okay, before we get carried away here, we need to take in a few contextual things. First, Paul never condones the practice. Read the verse again. Nowhere does he say this practice is a good thing, and people should do it. Second, he refers to those who practise baptism for the dead in the third-person "those people." He's clearly talking about somebody else here, some other group, not necessarily connect to Paul's ministry or those he is writing to. He doesn't condemn the practice, but then he doesn't condone it either. If anything, he uses it as an example of an indulgence. What was going on here? Apparently, back in the first century, some groups of Christians were engaging in their idea of an indulgence for those Christians who had been killed before they had the opportunity to be baptised. Like the Jewish practise of offering prayers and animal sacrifices for the dead, referenced in 2nd Maccabees above, and the Catholic practise of offering prayers and the sacrifice of the mass for the dead, this particular group of first-century Christians was performing baptisms by proxy as well, for those Christians who died before being baptised. The practice was well-meaning but misguided, and eventually eliminated as the doctrinal teaching of the Church became more cohesive and stabilised over the following century. It wasn't until 1,800 years later that an American Protestant named Joseph Smith read this obscure verse, and formulated the whole new practice of a whole new religion called Mormonism, that would break with both Catholicism and Protestantism on a great many things.

Is there Biblical evidence for purgatory and indulgences? Yes, there most certainly is. It's not plainly spelt out in those words, but then, neither are the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. Yet no Protestant would dare deny those.

To better understand we have to look at the difference between venial and mortal sin. To simplify, a venial sin (meaning "forgivable sin") is basically a sin of habit. We do this sort of sin all the time, without thinking about it, and often don't even realise we are doing it. I'll make a confession to you here as an example. My father was a sailor -- literally -- and he had the mouth of a sailor. When I was a child I listened to that man work in profanity like an artist works in paint. It was amazing the combinations he would come up with -- some of them really quite imaginative. He's a "born again" Evangelical now, so he's really managed to clean up his mouth since then. I, however, bear the scars of his, shall we say, "years of colourful metaphors." I'm not nearly as imaginative as he was, but I do (perhaps a little too often) blurt out some naughty words here and there. Is this a sin? Well, yes I'm afraid it is. Profanity is condemned in Scripture (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:29). So let's say I someday have the misfortune of getting into a car accident that kills me. Just before I die, I blurt out some profanities in terror and pain. Now, that's a sin, right? Of course, it is. I don't have time to confess it because death comes upon me quickly. So am I going to hell?

Many Evangelicals deal with these tough questions with the consoling words: "Well, God knows your heart." That's very true, God does know my heart, and he knows it's the heart of a sinner, who desires only evil, and all that is good in me only comes from God himself. So I ask again, I've just blurted our a litany of "colourful metaphors" as I gasp my last breaths. Am I going to hell? The way Catholic theology deals with this problem is by pointing out the difference between venial and mortal sin. A venial sin is a little thing that is done habitually or without thinking -- like profanity for example -- which is more or less just the result of our fallen human nature. It's not okay to do. I really should try to clean up my mouth because God doesn't like it. However, if I do it without thinking, in an unintentional way, it really is a venial sin. It's a sin that damages my relationship with God, but it does not break it completely. A sin that breaks my relationship with God would be called a mortal sin. Is there Biblical support for this? There sure is...
"If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal." -- 1st John 5:16-17
Basically, the Bible tells us that there is such thing as a mortal sin and a non-mortal (venial) sin. This means that some sins break our relationship with God, leading to spiritual death, and others do not. A mortal sin is a serious matter, which is a direct violation of one of God's commandments and is done with full intention and consent. In other words, it is an open rebellion against God. Case in point, murder is one such mortal sin. Adultery is another. So is fornication, stealing and lying to hurt another person. There are more, but you get the idea. If mortal sin is not repented of during a person's lifetime, it will lead that person's soul to hell. No second chances, just straight to hell. Then there is a venial sin, such as profanity, laziness, bad tempers, etc. These sins may not lead one to hell, because they do not break one's relationship with God, but they do damage our relationship with God, hindering it, and make things more difficult for us. These sins need to be repented of too, but if a person should fail to master these problems before dying, that does not mean that person is going to hell. It does mean, however, that these attachments to sin may have to be taken care of before entering the fullness of joy in heaven. That's what purgatory is all about.

Now we are on to indulgences. As the passage in 2nd Maccabees above clearly demonstrates, Jews believed that their prayers and sacrifices helped those who died in a state of venial sin. This doesn't imply anything mystical or magical going on here. Rather, what this was all about was the mercy and compassion of God. Our Lord loves to see us repent, and when we do, he is inclined to grant us what we ask for at times, especially when such things are non-selfish and for the benefit of another. The ancient Jews held to the belief that if they repented of their sins, and offered prayers and sacrifices for those who had died in venial sin, then God would (totally in his mercy and compassion) upon request, apply the merits of their repentance toward those who had died. It was a way in which loved ones could mediate for their dead relatives. Now we all know that Jesus Christ is the final mediator, and nothing in this diminishes this role. Rather, we see instances in Scripture where one person mediates for another, even in Moses' case, where he mediates for the entire people of Israel. In a lesser sense, below the total mediation of Christ, God does allow us to meditate for one another. He does this purely in his compassion for us, so we are not powerless, and can do something to help others. He makes it possible, not us, but him working through us. In later centuries, the methods of indulgences would be more defined by the Catholic Church, namely to prevent abuse or misapplication. There were times when the Church did a poor job at this, as during the Reformation period for example, but through it all, the Church never officially taught anything that was non-Biblical. Rather it was local pastors and evangelists who did that all by themselves. This was the principle abuse that led to the Reformation in the first place.

I hope this article has been helpful in understanding the Christian teaching on purgatory. The teaching is most defined in the Catholic Church. Eastern Orthodoxy has mixed schools of thought on the matter. Protestantism, almost universally, rejects the Catholic definition of purgatory, but not all Protestants reject the concept of purification after death entirely. Much of the confusion around it comes from artistic depiction and literary descriptions from the Middle Ages, which are no longer applicable to the modern mind. These depictions, whether in art or literature, may have served their purpose at one time. However, since the Protestant Reformation, they have become somewhat antiquated and at times a bit confusing. We have to remember, these artistic and literary depictions are highly symbolic in nature. So long as they are taken that way, we can enjoy them for the beauty they convey. If we start to take them too literally, however, we open ourselves up to all sorts of problems.


Martin Luther was an Anti-Semite
written on September 18, 2017

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Revolution. Commonly known in history books as the "Protestant Reformation" I refuse to call it that because nothing was "reformed" in Protestantism. The real reformation happened later, during the Council of Trent (AD 1545 - 1563), in which the Catholic Church reformed its practices and clearly defined its doctrine. Within Protestantism however, nothing was "reformed" at all. What we got instead was an endless revolution, which completely redefined the Christian faith, and set the Western world up for numerous religious wars and persecutions between Christians, followed by the birth of numerous Protestant denominations and sects.

The reason why this year is marked as the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Revolution is that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Chapel. The door served as a community bulletin board, which many people used to post messages, flyers and advertisements. It is entirely possible that Martin Luther did post his 95 Theses on that door, even though some doubt it, but if he did, it was hardly the dramatic act often portrayed in Protestant art (see above). This event, nevertheless, is heralded by most Protestants as the beginning of the Protestant Revolution.

Speaking as one who was baptised a Lutheran, I must urge caution before revering this man as the "founder" of this event they call the "Reformation," and the religious movement commonly called "Protestantism." Martin Luther was an incredibly flawed individual, who verbally assailed anyone who disagreed with him, anathematised anyone who held to different beliefs, altered Scripture to fit his personal teachings, removed entire books and sections from the canon of Scripture, insisted that the pope is the Antichrist, believed the world would end within 100 years of his lifetime, and became what we in our time would call an anti-Semite. He is hardly a role model. That being said, I do not know a single Lutheran today who would approve of Martin Luther's teaching on the Jews, and I believe every Lutheran denomination has repudiated it. No Lutheran today, nor any Protestant for that matter, should be held accountable for this since it was the opinion of just one man and has since been repudiated by just about everyone.

To be historically accurate, the Revolution, commonly called the "Reformation," did not really begin on October 31, 1517. Martin Luther's actions on that day were just a precursor to it. In fact, Luther remained a Catholic priest for another 3 years, and all those who followed him remained Catholics. They were just dissident or "cafeteria" Catholics, but they were still Catholics in a canonical sense. No official break with Rome had occurred yet. The real Protestant Revolution (commonly called the "Reformation") actually began on December 10, 1520, when Luther burned the papal bull of excommunication against him, along with the Church's Code of Canon Law, papal constitutions and various works of theology, declaring his schism with the Pope, Rome, and the Catholic Church. That's when the Protestant Revolution really began. It began with a bonfire and book burning, not the nailing of his theses to a door. Interestingly enough, Protestants often ignore this date.

Now in using the term "anti-Semite" I do so in the popular vernacular sense, not in the technical sense. The term did not exist in Luther's time. I understand the word "Semite," invented in the 1770s, technically refers to anyone who speaks, or whose ancestors spoke, one of the Semitic languages of the Near East, North Africa and Malta. So it could just as easily apply to Arabs as to Jews. However, in the popular vernacular sense, the term "Semite" is almost exclusively used to refer to Jews, and therefore an "anti-Semite," in the popular vernacular sense, is one who holds a sentiment of malice toward Jewish people, solely because they are Jewish. Hence, in the popular vernacular sense, I insist that Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. He was not an anti-Semite in a racial sense, but rather a religious sense, and this was due to his religious malice toward Jewish people. Some might argue with me on this, claiming that antisemitism is a purely racial term. I won't argue that that is the proper usage. However, the common and popular usage is understood as malice toward Jews. Luther is often cast as anti-Jewish, not antisemitic because his malice was religiously motivated and not racially motivated. I say this is splitting hairs. It doesn't matter what his motivations were. What matters is what he said we should do to them, as we shall see below. Because of this splitting hairs, Luther has historically gotten a pass on his extremely unchristian malice toward Jews, having been labelled anti-Jewish rather than anti-Semitic. I will not give him this, nor will I split hairs on this issue. If Luther said any of these things in the 21st century, as he did in the 16th century, he would be labelled an Anti-Semite. So that's what he was as far as I'm concerned.

Concerning his malice toward the Jews, I'll let Martin Luther speak for himself. Early on in the Protestant Revolution, he was sympathetic toward the Jews for resisting the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church. However, once he had completed his new theological groundwork, he expected the Jews to convert to his "purified" version of Christianity. When they did not, he turned against them in the most ferocious way. The following is an English translation of an excerpt of his later writings against them...

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice: 
First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honour of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­and I myself was unaware of it ­ will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know. 
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God. 
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. 
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:10) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: "what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord." Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people's obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16:18, "You are Peter," etc, inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach. 
Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home.
Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God's blessing in a good and worthy cause. 
Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants. 
Martin Luther, "On the Jews and their Lies" (Von den Juden und ihren L├╝gen), written in AD 1543  
(more information here)
So to review, Martin Luther (the so-called "Great Reformer") advised that Christians should...
  1. burn down Jewish synagogues and schools;
  2. put Jews in ghettos;
  3. rob Jews of their religious writings;
  4. forbid rabbis from preaching;
  5. allow Jews to get mugged, robbed, raped and beaten on the highways;
  6. take away all the worldly possessions of Jews and not return them until they convert to Luther's form of Christianity.
  7. put Jews to work by manual labour.
This is Martin Luther in his own words folks. This is what he taught, and this is what he believed. Centuries later, his writings were used by the Nazis as justification for the concentration camps and the Holocaust. Personally, I find the celebration of this man and his teachings disturbing on so many levels. In my opinion, he was not the hero people commonly make him out to be. When the celebrations begin this October 31, we should keep in mind that the man being celebrated was perhaps the greatest menace to European Jewry during his time. While the Catholic Church has failed many times to protect Jews, at least there were some valiant attempts to safeguard European Jewry in the form of papal documents and decrees prior to the Protestant Revolution. Martin Luther overturned all that for the entire Protestant world at that time (northern Europe). This is the man much of the Christian world will be celebrating this October 31. I won't be joining them. I sincerely hope you won't either.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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