I Would Not Believe the Gospel without the Authority of the Church

I Would Not Believe the Gospel without the Authority of the Church

One of the main historical arguments for the infallibility of the church is Augustine’s statement that he “would not believe the gospel without the authority of the church.” But what church is Augustine talking about here? The problem with Roman Catholicism’s use of Augustine’s statement is that it is assuming he is thinking of the modern Roman Catholic church with an infallible papacy.

But in reality, the church Augustine is talking about is the church as it existed in the late fourth century that he would have been familiar with before he became a Christian, not the modern Roman Catholic Church. Catholics anachronistically read back into the text their own understanding of the church without recognizing the contradictions that exist between what they believe and what the church believed in the fourth century. Papal infallibility, indulgences, the bodily assumption of Mary, and the immaculate conception of Mary were unknown at this time. Augustine did not believe that the Bishop of Rome was infallible when teaching on matters of faith or morals because he disagreed with Pope Zosimus’ approval of the theology of Pelagius.

So, what did Augustine mean by this phrase? I would agree with John Calvin’s explanation of these words in the sense that “those who are not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God, become teachable by reverence for the Church, and thus submit to learn the faith of Christ from the gospel. In this way . . . the authority of the Church leads us on, and prepares us to believe in the gospel.” What Augustine is saying is similar to what Jesus said in John 17:23: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” The world knows that the gospel is true when it sees the unity of the church. So likewise, when the world sees the authority of the church as demonstrated by the teaching and character of its leaders, it knows that the gospel is true.

Every local church is called to uphold the truth of the gospel as Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:15: “If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.” The church, as a pillar, holds up the truth. But when a church ceases to proclaim the truth of the gospel, then a reformation is needed to return the church to the original teachings of Scripture. This is what Paul did in Galatians, what Athanasius did in the fourth century, what Augustine did in the Pelagian controversy, and what the Reformers did in the sixteenth century.

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Rome Has Spoken, the Case is Closed

Rome Has Spoken, the Case is Closed

One of the most common claims made by Catholic apologists is that Augustine was a supporter of papal primacy and infallibility based on his statement that “Rome has spoken, the case is closed.” But the problem with this claim is that Augustine never said these words. What he actually said was, “The two councils sent their decrees to the Apostolic See and the decrees quickly came back. The cause is finished; would that the error were as quickly finished” (Sermon 131). Since Augustine claimed that Pelagianism was finished because the Bishop of Rome has agreed with the decisions of the councils condemning Pelagianism, it is argued that the Bishop of Rome must approve of a council in order for it to have binding authority.

But the real reason why the matter of Pelagianism was finished because the Bishop of Rome gave approval to its condemnation was not because of any kind of papal primacy or infallibility, but because Rome was the last place to condemn the theology of Pelagius. Pelagius is finished because he has no church leader left who will shelter him. As the Roman Catholic scholar Klaus Schatz put it:

“Both the context of this statement and its continuity with the rest of Augustine’s thought permit no interpretation other than that Rome’s verdict alone is not decisive; rather, it disposes of all doubt after all that has preceded it. This is because there remains no other ecclesiastical authority of any consequence to which the Pelagians can appeal, and in particular the very authority from which they could most readily have expected a favorable decision, namely Rome, has clearly ruled against them!”

After Pope Innocent I who had condemned Pelagianism passed away, he was succeeded by Pope Zosimus who later gave approval to the theology of Pelagius. The matter was not as finished as Augustine had thought because the next pope overturned the condemnation of the previous one. Augustine did not believe that the pope was infallible by any stretch of the imagination because he opposed Pope Zosimus vigorously over his approval of the theology of Pelagius. And this would not be the last time the pope and Augustine would clash as demonstrated by the condemnation of the theology of Augustine during the Jansenist controversy.

Did Ignatius Deny Sola Scriptura?

Did Ignatius Deny Sola Scriptura?

Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Bible is the sole infallible authority for Christians and the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice now that the canon of Scripture is closed. It is sometimes claimed that Ignatius denied this concept in his letter to the Philadelphians:

“And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, ‘If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel’; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, ‘That remains to be proved.’ But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified” (8:2).

The argument is that those who are saying, “If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel” are using the logic of sola Scriptura that we should only believe that which we find in Scripture. Because Ignatius is in disagreement with them, he disagrees with their assertion that we should only believe what we find in the Scriptures and instead points to the historical evidence of Christ’s resurrection. Hence, the people who disagreed with Ignatius are proto-Protestants who only believed Scripture while Ignatius appeals to Scripture and the testimony of history which now includes the ecumenical councils and other traditions.

But to understand what Ignatius is saying, we need to understand who he is talking to. He is not talking to gnostics who claimed to be following Jesus, but to Jews who did not want to believe the gospel message. The Jews only accepted the Old Testament and rejected the New Testament. That is why they demanded to see evidence for the gospel from the “ancient Scriptures.” The Greek term translated as “ancient Scriptures” is archeion which is being used to refer to ancient documents. In fact, our English word “archives” is a cognate of archeion. That they have in mind the Old Testament Scriptures alone is the consensus among scholars of the early church. The reason why they demanded evidence from the Old Testament alone is because they rejected the New Testament as Scripture. In order for critics of sola Scriptura to use Ignatius’ words against Protestantism, they must be able to prove that the archeion includes the New Testament as well.

Ignatius responds to their demand not by appealing to an unwritten oral tradition, but by going to the Old Testament to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. When they disagree with his interpretation of the Old Testament, he then appeals to the historical testimony of the death and resurrection of Christ. The account of the resurrection is not an unwritten oral tradition parallel to Scripture, but the testimony of Scripture itself (1 Cor 15:3-8). Ignatius does not start by appealing to Scripture and then to oral tradition, but by appealing to the testimony of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah and then to the New Testament’s testimony concerning him. It is not Scripture and tradition that is his authority, but the Old Testament and New Testament together which make the canon complete.

The irony of this argument against sola Scriptura is that the Jews did not believe in sola Scriptura. The Pharisees who rejected Jesus as the Messiah did not believe that the Old Testament alone was the sole infallible authority, but they also believed that their oral tradition was equal in authority to Scripture because they believed it came from Moses. But Jesus rejected their oral tradition because it contradicted the words of God in Scripture. As we read in Mark 7:5-13:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) – then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Protestants are doing exactly what Jesus is doing here. They examine the doctrines of Roman Catholicism and all other religious movements against the testimony of Scripture (Acts 17:11; Rev 2:2). Where the teachings of Catholicism diverge from the Bible, we must follow the words of God instead of the traditions of men.

Did Ignatius Teach Transubstantiation?

Did Ignatius Teach Transubstantiation?

Now that we have examined the miraculous evidence in favor of Catholicism, we will close our series by examining a few historical arguments used by Catholic apologists from the writings of Ignatius and Augustine. The problem with the use of the church fathers by Catholic apologists is that they often read the church fathers anachronistically by reading back into them their modern understanding of the terms and phrases they used which would have been foreign to them. An example of this is seen in the use of Ignatius of Antioch to argue for the doctrine of transubstantiation in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again” (7:1).

Hence, it is argued, because Ignatius calls the Eucharist “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ,” he believed that the substance of bread in the Eucharist is transformed into the substance of the flesh of Christ. But to properly understand Ignatius, we need to examine the historical context behind his words. Ignatius was fighting against gnostic heretics who denied the full humanity of Christ, a belief known as docetism. The gnostics believed that Jesus only appeared to be human, but was not truly flesh and blood as we are. Therefore, they could never confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of Christ because they denied that the Messiah is a human being of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).

So, the question we need to answer is how did Ignatius understand the Eucharist to be the flesh of Christ? Was he actually familiar with the distinction between substances and accidents made by Thomas Aquinas derived from the philosophy of Aristotle? Or should we consult the Scriptures to find parallels to Ignatius’ language about the Eucharist? Because Christian tradition states that Ignatius was a disciple of John, we need to read his writings in light of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John instead of Aquinas. Ignatius had no concept of the differences between substances and accidents which was only developed later by Aquinas having been influenced by the philosophy of Aristotle. Drawing our theology from those who are not Christians is generally a bad idea. As Richard Baxter once said, “They that are so confident that Aristotle is in hell, should not too much take him for their guide in the way to heaven” (The Reformed Pastor, 120).

When Ignatius says that they do not confess the Eucharist “to be the flesh of our Savior,” what is interesting is that the verb “to be” is the infinitive einai derived from the Greek verb eimi which is the Greek verb of being. This language corresponds with that of Jesus at the Passover when he says “this is my body” referring to the bread of the Eucharist. Jesus likewise uses the same verb eimi but in its third person singular form which is estin. Therefore, the words of Ignatius are an allusion back to the words of Jesus that the bread of the Eucharist is his body. We should interpret the words of Ignatius the same way we interpret the words of Jesus at the Passover when he says “this is my body.” How we interpret the words of Jesus will determine how we interpret the words of Ignatius since his later words are just a repetition of the original words of Jesus except Ignatius uses the infinitive form of the verb translated as “to be” while Jesus uses the third person singular form of the verb translated as “this is.”

We should understand the phrase “this is my body” the same way we understand the phrase “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The cup Jesus poured wine out of is not actually the new covenant or by nature the new covenant. But it is the new covenant in the sense that it signifies and symbolizes the new covenant. In the same way, the bread and wine are not actually the body and blood of Christ (otherwise Christ would have eaten his own body), but they are visible signs and tokens of his body and blood which cause us to remember what he has done for us in the same way the Passover meal caused the Israelites to remember what God had done for them in the exodus from Egypt.

The Eucharist is the body of Christ through signification, not a substantial change of nature. The gnostics could not believe this because they did not confess that Christ is truly human. They could never confess that the bread of the Eucharist signifies the flesh of Christ because they denied that the Messiah is a man of flesh and blood. The Eucharist could not represent the flesh of Christ if Christ is not true flesh as we are. Therefore, the gnostics abstained from the Eucharist because it signified something they did not believe in: the true humanity of Christ, not transubstantiation.

This was the same argument Tertullian used against the gnostics as well:

“Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, ‘This is my body,’ that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body” (Against Marcion, Book 4).

Do the Incorruptible Bodies of the Saints Prove Roman Catholicism?

Do the Incorruptible Bodies of the Saints Prove Roman Catholicism?

An incorruptible body is a body of a saint where it is claimed that God miraculously preserves their body from decay (Ps 16:10). Since God has miraculously preserved their bodies from decay, this is a sign that God’s favor is upon them and that we should believe in the same Catholic faith they held to. You can see the graphic pictures of these bodies here and here if you have the stomach for it.

The most commonly used example of an incorruptible body to argue for Catholicism is the example of St. Silvan who was martyred in the fourth century. It is claimed that his body has not decayed in over 1,700 years and you can still see the gash on his neck where he was killed.

But this “incorruptible body” is actually a wax sculpture. His real remains are located below this wax figure. Also, Roman Catholicism did not exist in the fourth century. While there was a Bishop of Rome, no one believed that he was infallible when defining doctrine. Pope Honorius I was anathematized by the Sixth Ecumenical Council for teaching heresy in 681 and it wasn’t until 1870 that papal infallibility was defined as a dogma.

In the vast majority of these incorruptible bodies, there is a wax mask placed over the face to hide the signs of decay. If their bodies are truly incorruptible, then why is the wax mask necessary? One of the most common examples of an incorrupt body is that of John Vianney. But what those websites who use his body to argue for Catholicism won’t tell you is that his face is actually a wax mask.

But for those bodies that are not wearing a wax mask, their faces have been preserved by a miraculous process called embalming. If the process of embalming proves that Catholicism is true, then Communism is also true because the body of Vladimir Lenin is incorrupt as well.

The Problem with Padre Pio’s Stigmata

The Problem with Padre Pio’s Stigmata

Padre Pio is a famous stigmatist of the Roman Catholic Church who is now a saint. He claimed that he experienced the stigmata of receiving the wounds which Christ had when Christ’s hands were pierced by nails on the cross. There have been many Catholics who have claimed to experience this exact same stigmata such as Teresa Musco, Irving Houle, Rhoda Wise, and Therese Neumann.

But there is a rather obvious problem with these stigmata: they’re in the wrong place! The nails were not driven into the palms of Jesus’ hands, but into his forearms. But Padre Pio, who was not exactly a New Testament scholar, did not know this. He assumed that the nails must have gone through the palms of Jesus’ hands because that is what we see in religious artwork and the Bible speaks of his hands being pierced by nails (John 20:25). But what he did not understand is that the Greek term for hand can include not just the palms, but the wrist and forearm as well. The nails were actually driven between the two bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) in order to support his weight. If Jesus had been crucified through his palms, the nails would have torn through them due to the force of his weight when pulling down on the nails to push himself up to exhale in order to breathe in new air.

To see what I mean, you can look at the graphic pictures of people in the Philippines being crucified today. What do each of these people have in common? They all have their arms tied to the crossbeam of the cross and their feet are resting on a platform to support their weight. Without being tied to the cross and without a platform to stand on, the force of their weight would cause the nails to tear through their skin because the nails are driven between the metacarpal bones in their palms rather than between the radius and ulna. Some depictions of the crucifixion have the nails going through Jesus’ wrists, but the problem with this is that our wrists are made up of carpal bones which would have been shattered when the nails went through them. But John 19:36 says that not one of his bones would be broken. This means that the only place where the nails could have gone through without breaking a bone and still be able to support his weight would be between the radius and ulna below his wrist where the nail would become lodged between those two bones to be able to support his weight as he pulled down on the nails.

The only two ways that Jesus could have been crucified through his palms and still been able to support his weight is if his arms were tied to the cross or if his feet were resting on a platform. But the problem with these two possibilities is that the two people next to Jesus had their legs broken to speed up their deaths (John 19:31-32). If they had been resting their feet on a platform or had their arms tied to the cross, breaking their legs would not have sped up their deaths. The reason why breaking their legs caused them to die quickly is because they used their legs to push themselves up in order to breathe out. Once their legs were broken, they were unable to do so and died of asphyxiation. If Jesus had been tied to the cross or if he was resting on a platform, he and the two who were with him did not die of asphyxiation because they never would have needed to pull up to breathe out.

But why would Padre Pio, Therese Neumann, and other stigmatists intentionally try to deceive people by creating fake stigmata? That question can be answered by asking another question: why did people create the forgeries of the Donation of Constantine and Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals? Why do Hindus use illusions to deceive people into believing in Hinduism?

People use deception because they believe the ends justify the means. If the “miracle” of their stigmata can convince people to join the Catholic Church or remain in the fold, then it was worth it because they believed that there is no salvation outside of the church. These stigmata occurred before Vatican II redefined the Catholic Church’s understanding of the extent of salvation. Now that Protestants are no longer anathematized heretics and even members of non-Christian religions can be saved, there is now less of an incentive to create forgeries to deceive because people no longer have to be members of the Catholic Church to be saved. The newfound inclusivism of Catholicism, which is really just a form of religious pluralism, undermines the apologetic enterprise of Catholicism. This is especially true when your own pope tells you that it is not licit to convince others of your faith.

As with claims to extreme fasting, examples of stigmata are not unique to Catholicism. Many Hindus and Buddhists claim to have experienced stigmata as well.

The Forgery of the Shroud of Turin

The Forgery of the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is the most controversial artifact in the world. Many claim that it is the original burial cloth of Jesus while others argue that it is a medieval forgery. I will argue here that it is without question a forgery. A glaring fact that is often ignored by those who support the genuineness of the Shroud is that there is no evidence for its existence prior to the fourteenth century. Even sites that support the Shroud admit this. And the known history of the Shroud corresponds exactly with its radiocarbon dating to the fourteenth century. There is also literary evidence that the Shroud is a forgery. In 1389, Bishop Pierre D’Arcis wrote a letter to Clement VII in which he claimed that the Shroud is a forgery:

“The case, Holy Father, stands thus. Some time since in this diocese of Troyes, the dean of a certain collegiate church . . . falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and the front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb. . . . Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed.”

The Shroud is also contrary to Jewish burial customs. Jesus’ body would have been washed before burial so that no blood would have been left on the Shroud.

Another problem with the Shroud is that the physical dimensions of the face of Jesus do not match that of a real person. As Tim O’Neal explains:

“The anatomical proportions of the figure depicted on the ‘Shroud’ do not match those of an actual human being, but conform to the proportions of the Gothic art of the Fourteenth Century. On a typical human the head from the top of the eyebrows to the top of the skull forms around 40% of the head, or about 80-100 mm. But on the ‘Shroud’ the head from the eyebrows up forms only 25% of the head or no more than 60 mm or less. This shortening of the upper part of the head is a typical anatomical mistake made by first-time life artists, and it is common for early lessons in life drawing to teach new artists not to make this naive mistake by showing that the proportions of the head are actually quite different to the way people tend to see them at first.”

This is an often overlooked argument against the authenticity of the Shroud which is completely ignored by those who believe in the genuineness of the Shroud.

In response to the carbon dating of the Shroud to the fourteenth century, many people have argued that the dating is inaccurate or that the portion of the Shroud which was tested comes from a medieval reweaving after the edges of the Shroud were damaged by fire. But scientists intentionally chose a portion of the Shroud that was not patched so that their results would be accurate. Scientists who specialize in carbon dating have refuted all of these charges. As H. E. Gove explains:

“Along these same lines is the claim that the 10mm x 70mm strip, cut from the edge of the shroud just above the place where a sample had been removed in 1973, contained stitching threads or possibly pieces of the backing cloth of much later than first century vintage. Not only would this have been spotted by the two textile experts present but subsequent examination by members of the dating laboratories would have instantly revealed such extraneous material. All the laboratories examined the textile samples microscopically and removed any foreign material. Another argument has been made (G Hoyas, pers commun May 2, 1989) that the part of the shroud from which the sample was cut had possibly become worn and threadbare from countless handlings and had been subjected to medieval textile restoration. If so, the restoration would have had to be done with such incredible virtuosity as to render it microscopically indistinguishable from the real thing. Even modern so-called invisible weaving can readily be detected under a microscope, so this possibility seems unlikely. It seems very convincing that what was measured in the laboratories was genuine cloth from the shroud after it had been subjected to rigorous cleaning procedures. Probably no sample for carbon dating has ever been subjected to such scrupulously careful examination and treatment, nor perhaps ever will again.”

But there is a simple solution to this problem: allow pieces from the rest of the Shroud to be carbon dated as well. But the Catholic Church does not want this to happen because they are afraid that the rest of the cloth will be dated to the fourteenth century as well. If that were to happen, it would be the final nail in the coffin for the veneration of the Shroud.

This is what Protestants who use the Shroud as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus don’t seem to understand: the Shroud is an icon which is venerated by the faithful in the Catholic Church as an aid to worship. For the Catholic Church to admit that the Shroud is a forgery would be to admit to the faithful that their veneration has been misplaced. It is an aid to worship because the picture of Jesus in the Shroud has become the mental image Catholics bring to mind when they think about and worship Jesus. If this is not what Jesus looks like, then they have a false image of Jesus in their mind when they worship. The depiction of Jesus in the Shroud is based on the artwork of the early church and medieval period which is additional evidence that the Shroud comes from an artist.

The papacy has always advocated for the historicity of the Shroud. Pope Paul VI declared that the Shroud is “the most important relic in the history of Christianity.” Pope Sixtus IV said that in the Shroud “men may look upon the true blood and the portrait of Jesus Christ Himself.” If the Shroud is a forgery, it would prove that the papacy has misled people and undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church. The Shroud of Turin is nothing more than a medieval forgery used to bolster the claims of Roman Catholicism. If it is a forgery, it calls into question papal infallibility since previous popes have declared that the Shroud is genuine.

As Joe Nickell concludes:

“Scholarship and science have proven the Turin ‘shroud’ a fake, from its incompatibility with first century burial cloths and procedures, its lack of historical record, and a bishop’s report that the forger had confessed, to the suspicious-looking ‘blood’ that is really tempera paint, pigments making up the body image, and the radiocarbon dating that confirms the cloth originated at the time of its documented appearance in the fourteenth century.”

I could not put it any better than Antonio Lombatti who laments at how unprofessionally many scholars have acted when it comes to whether the Shroud is authentic or a fake:

“The behavior of professional Bible scholars on this relic has been deplorable. It’s true, the Turin Shroud may be seen as a ridiculous topic to deal with. So, apart from Joe Zias, James Tabor, Rachel Hachlili, Shimon Gibson, and Levy Rahmani – experts on Second Temple Jewish burials and Early Christianity – scholars have rarely tackled the fancy claims made by the Shroud authenticity supporters. And this has left room for popular quackery both on library shelves and, above all, on the web. Lurid falsehoods and distorted reasoning have been repeated so many times that the common people and some scholars too may think they are facing the real burial cloth of Jesus. The method used by these ‘shroudologists’ bends the mind the wrong way, an insidious and real corruption, and it has nothing to share with scholarly analysis and philological tools. The Gospels don’t mention this double full-length image of Jesus left on his burial cloth. The Second Temple Jews used to bury their dead in a completely different way. There’s no historical record on the relic until 1355. When it was first displayed in France, the owner, the diocese bishop and even the pope called it a ‘representation’ of Jesus’ burial shroud. Finally, when the linen of cloth was carbon 14 dated in 1988 it turned out to be from 1325 circa. So, despite the fact that the historical and scientific data do match, the Turin Shroud enthusiasts, usually pushed by their faith, couldn’t stop and admit that the relic was a medieval forgery. They kept on finding all sorts of causes responsible for a wrong radiocarbon date: fire, smoke, fungi, bacteria, and even Jesus’ miraculous radiation emitted during his resurrection. As you can imagine, no scientist who performs carbon dating as a profession has ever imagined questioning the validity of the medieval date of the Turin Shroud.”

Christian apologists who use the Shroud to argue for the resurrection of Jesus need to stop immediately because they are undermining their own credibility in the process. There are far better arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. In an upcoming article, I will give my defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.