The Sinfulness of Mary in the Early Church

The Sinfulness of Mary in the Early Church

The dogma of the immaculate conception teaches that Mary was miraculously preserved from the stain of original sin at her conception and therefore never sinned once throughout her entire life. This belief was definitively set forth in Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX. All Roman Catholics must believe de fide that Mary never sinned. But there were many church fathers and popes who believed that Mary was a sinner in need of forgiveness and that Jesus alone was without sin:

“For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man . . . the only blameless and righteous Light sent by God” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 17).

“And who else is perfectly righteous, but the Son of God, who makes righteous and perfects them that believe on Him, who like unto Him are persecuted and put to death?” (Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 72).

“This was the reason why, when Mary was urging [Him] on to [perform] the wonderful miracle of the wine, and was desirous before the time to partake of the cup of emblematic significance, the Lord, checking her untimely haste, said, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come’ – waiting for that hour which was foreknown by the Father” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.16.7).

“For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God. . . . Just as no soul is without sin, so neither is any soul without seeds of good” (Tertullian, On the Soul 41).

“For this Word of whom we speak alone is sinless. For to sin is natural and common to all” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3.12).

“He alone did no sin at all” (An Anonymous Treatise on Rebaptism 17).

“According to the word of the Lord it is said, ‘All ye shall be offended because of me.’ Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross, and beholding what is being done, and hearing the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest. The Lord was bound to taste of death for every man – to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by His own blood. Even thou thyself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shalt be reached by some doubt. This is the sword. ‘That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ He indicates that after the offence at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself” (Basil of Caesarea, Letters 260.9).

“The Son of the Most High came and dwelt in me, and I became His Mother; and as by a second birth I brought Him forth so did He bring me forth by the second birth, because He put His Mother’s garments on, she clothed her body with His glory” (Ephraim the Syrian, On the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh 11).

“Since One alone is without sin, even Jesus who purgeth our sins” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 2.10).

“And she, because she had borne Him, claimed, according to the custom of other mothers, to direct Him in all things, when she ought to have reverenced and worshiped Him. This then was the reason why He answered as He did on that occasion. . . . And so this was a reason why He rebuked her on that occasion, saying, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ instructing her for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much for the salvation of her soul” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on John 21).

“For wholly alone of those born of woman was our Holy Lord Jesus, Who by the strangeness of His undefiled Birth has not suffered the pollutions of earthly corruption, but dispelled them by heavenly majesty” (Ambrose, Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam 2.56, PL 15:1572D-1573A).

“It is therefore an observed and settled fact, that no man born of a man and a woman, that is, by means of their bodily union, is seen to be free from sin. . . . For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty” (Ambrose, as cited approvingly by Augustine, A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin 2.47).

“Inasmuch, however, as the blessed Ambrose, catholic bishop as he is, has expressed himself in the above-quoted passages in accordance with the catholic faith” (Augustine, A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin 2.47).

“So too Christ our Lord Himself teaches us, at one time calling Himself Son of God and at another Son of man: at one time He gives honour to His Mother as to her that gave Him birth; at another He rebukes her as her Lord” (Theodoret of Cyrus, Dialogues 2).

“For, doubtless, some such train of thought as this passed through her mind: ‘I conceived Him that is mocked upon the Cross. He said, indeed, that He was the true Son of Almighty God, but it may be that He was deceived; He may have erred when He said: I am the Life. How did His crucifixion come to pass? and how was He entangled in the snares of His murderers? How was it that He did not prevail over the conspiracy of His persecutors against Him? And why does He not come down from the Cross, though He bade Lazarus return to life, and struck all Judaea with amazement by His miracles?’ The woman, as is likely, not exactly understanding the mystery, wandered astray into some such train of thought” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 12).

“For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock” (Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 24.3).

“And therefore in the general ruin of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the Divine plan which could succour the fallen, and that was that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed, of which the Scripture saith, ‘Who can make a clean thing conceived of an unclean seed? is it not Thou who art alone?’” (Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 28.3).

“It belongs alone to the immaculate lamb to have no sin at all” (Pope Gelasius I, Gellasii papae dicta, vol. 4, col 1241, Paris, 1671).

“For we, though we are made holy, yet are: not born holy, because by the mere constitution of a corruptible nature we are tied and bound, that we should say with the Prophet, Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me. But He only is truly born holy, Who in order that He might get the better of that same constitution of a corruptible nature, was not conceived by the combining of carnal conjunction” (Pope Gregory the Great, Exposition of Job, Book 18 on Job 27).

“And in the first place, it is blasphemous folly to say that man is without sin, which none can be, but only the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, Who was conceived and born without sin; for all other men, being born in original sin, are known to bear the mark of Adam’s transgression, even whilst they are without actual sin, according to the saying of the prophet, ‘For behold, I was conceived in iniquity; and in sin did my mother give birth to me’” (Pope John IV, as cited by Bede in Ecclesiastical History 2.19, PL 80:602B-C).

“She (Eve) was produced without sin, but she brought forth in sin, she (Mary) was produced in sin, but she brought forth without sin” (Pope Innocent III, De festo Assump, Sermon 2).

“For John was conceived in fault, but Christ Alone was conceived without fault. But each was born in grace, and therefore the Nativity of each is celebrated, but the Conception of Christ Alone is celebrated” (Pope Innocent III, Sermon 16 on Feast Days).

“The second degree was not suitable to the Virgin, because either she would not have contracted original sin, and so would not have needed the universal sanctification and redemption of Christ, or if she had contracted it, grace and fault could not have been in her at once. The fourth degree also was not suitable to the Virgin, because it did suit John and Jeremiah, and because it did not suit so great holiness that she should have lingered long in sin, as others; but John was sanctified in the sixth month (Luke i.). But the third seems suitable and piously credible, although it be not derived from Scripture, that she should have been sanctified, soon after her animation, either on the very day or hour, although not at the same moment” (Pope Innocent V, As cited by Peter Lombard in Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 3, Question 1, Article 1).

“She (the Virgin) passed, first, from a state of original sin, second, from a state of childhood to maternal honor, third, from misery to glory” (Pope John XXII, Sermon One on the Assumption).

“But the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, as many saints seem to say, and may be proved by many grounds. It seems that the Church ought not to hold a festival of her Conception. Here, being unwilling to dispute, I say briefly that one thing is clear, that the Blessed Virgin contracted original sin in the cause. The cause and reason is this, that, as being conceived from the coming together of man and woman, she was conceived through passion, and therefore she had original sin in the cause, which her Son had not, because He was not conceived of seed of man, but through the mystic breathing (Luke i.), ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee.’ And therefore not to have original sin is a singular privilege of Christ Alone” (Pope Clement VI, Sermon One on the Lord’s Advent).

“If the Scriptures be duly considered, and the saying of the doctors ancient and modern, who have been most devoted to the glorious Virgin, it is plain from their words that she was conceived in sin” (Cardinal Cajetan, De Loc Theol parts c. 2).

All of these church fathers and popes would be considered heretics if they were living today because they believed that Jesus alone was without sin or that he alone was conceived without sin. Now contrast what they said with the words of Pope Pius IX in the infallible document Ineffabilis Deus:

“The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin – a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God – and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. . . . Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom ‘he who is mighty has done great things,’ was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God – indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory.”

When I hear people talking about the unanimous consent of the fathers, I have to conclude that they have not read much of the church fathers.

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The Priest as Alter Christus

The Priest as Alter Christus

The priesthood in Roman Catholicism is the office of those who have been appointed by the church to dispense the sacraments of Christ. Since the sacraments are the channels through which God’s grace flow to us, the priesthood is essential for the life of the Catholic Church. Listen to the words of John O’Brien as he explains the role of the priest in the sacrifice of the Mass:

“When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim. Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man – not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command. Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ” (The Faith of Millions, 255-56).

But Christ shares his priesthood with no one else because he alone has been ordained by the Father into this priesthood (Ps 110:4; Heb 5:10). Only he can be a priest in the order of Melchizedek because he lives forever whereas sinful human priests die (Heb 7:23-27). He alone mediates between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). The priesthood of Roman Catholicism is a return to the old covenant sacrificial system in contrast to the finished work of Christ (Heb 10:10-12). Christ alone is qualified to act as a priest of the new covenant because he is without sin and lives forever (Heb 4:15; 7:23-27). Since Roman Catholic priests are sinners who will die one day, they do not share in Christ’s priesthood. The impossibility of the Old Testament sacrificial system or the sacrifice of the Mass to save are evidenced by their repetitive nature in contrast to the finished work of Christ (Heb 10:1-18).

An unbloody sacrifice by definition cannot bring forgiveness of sins as Hebrews 9:22 says: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” The sacrifice of Christ was a once for all time event which cannot be repeated (Heb 7:27; 9:24-28). His work of atonement is finished and in doing so he secured the salvation of his people (Heb 10:12-14). There is no need for any further offering for sin because all of our sins have been forgiven (Heb 10:17-18). Because the sacrifice of the Mass cannot perfect those it is made for, it is not the same as the sacrifice of Christ (Heb 10:1-3). A person can go to Mass thousands of times in his life and still go to hell for committing one mortal sin.

Now that Christ has come, we do not need to go back to the shadows that have passed away. This altar from which we eat is not a literal altar, but is symbolic of the altar of the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The Father slew his Son upon this altar (Isa 53:10). It is from this altar that we eat by trusting in Christ and receiving eternal life, not an altar made by man (Heb 8:5; 9:11-15, 23-24). Roman Catholicism is an attempt to return to the shadows of the old covenant instead of living in light of the new covenant.

Roman Catholicism on Assurance of Salvation

Roman Catholicism on Assurance of Salvation

Roman Catholicism teaches that no one can have a certain assurance of eternal salvation apart from a special revelation from God. The Council of Trent declared:

“It is not to be said to any one boasting a confidence and certainty of the forgiveness of his sins, that his sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven; seeing this vain confidence, totally remote from piety, may exist in heretics and schismatics. . . . As no pious man ought to doubt of the mercy of God, the merit of Christ, and the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, so every one, while he beholds his own weakness and disinclination, may be in fear and dread respecting his own gracious state; seeing that no man can know with a certainty of faith, as to which there can be no lurking error, that he has obtained the grace of God” (Session 6, Chapter 9).

“Whosoever shall say that he holds it absolutely and infallibly certain that he shall have the great gift of perseverance even unto the end, if he has not learned this by special revelation, let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 16).

For this reason, Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott stated:

“The reason for the uncertainty of the state of grace lies in this: that without a special revelation nobody can with certainty of faith know whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions which are necessary for achieving justification” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 262).

Because Catholics have no certain assurance of salvation, they cannot know what will happen to them when they die. Will they go to hell, purgatory, or skip purgatory and go straight to heaven? They can’t know for certain until after they have died. This lack of assurance leads to a works-based understanding of salvation where Catholics try to accumulate as much merit as possible and avoid as much sin as possible to minimize the amount of suffering they have to endure in purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that while we cannot merit the initial grace of justification received at baptism, we can merit eternal life through our works:

“Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions” (2010).

But one can never know “whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions which are necessary for achieving justification.” This leads to a life of fear and anxiety with no certain confidence at death that we have done enough to merit eternal life. It is a never-ending treadmill of works. The quest for assurance of salvation and not wanting to go to purgatory led to the creation of indulgences where the merits of others are applied to our account to make up where we fall short.

But the Bible teaches that we can have a true assurance of our salvation and election. Peter commanded us to “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet 1:10). If we could never have a true assurance of our election, then Peter would never command us to seek assurance of it. The book of 1 John was written so that those who truly believe in Christ would know that they have eternal life: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

We have assurance before God because we stand before him clothed in the imputed righteousness of Christ and our sins have been paid for by him. Because Christ has paid for the sins of those who trust in him, they will never be condemned for them. The doctrines of election, regeneration, justification, imputation, union with Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, and the intercession of Christ are the foundation for the Christian’s assurance of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord, not based on what man has done (Rom 8:28-34).

The Anathematization of Augustine in Unigenitus

Did you know Pope Clement XI once anathematized the teachings of Augustine? I couldn’t believe it either when I first studied Unigenitus. This apostolic constitution was released to counter the teachings of Jansenism which was a reform movement within Catholicism that drew from the writings of Augustine to emphasize predestination, original sin, reading the Bible, and God’s sovereignty. The third proposition that is condemned is:

“3. In vain, O Lord, do You command, if You do not give what you command.”

In other words, unless God gives what he commands, all is in vain. We cannot accomplish God’s will unless God gives us the ability to do so. Clement XI, being the expert in church history that he was, was apparently unaware that this summary of Jansenist theology comes from Augustine himself:

“Give what You command, and command what You will” (Confessions 10.29).

This plea is repeated by Augustine four different times in chapter ten of his Confessions. The expression “give what you command” is identical in both documents. God must give or ordain what he commands and he is free to ordain whatever laws he will. Augustine is saying that we cannot obey God’s commands unless God gives us the ability to do so. God must give us the gift of being able to keep his commands. If God does not give us the ability to keep his commands, then we cannot do so. Augustine illustrates this with the command to continence:

“You order us to practice continence. A certain writer tells us, I knew that no one can be continent except by God’s gift. . . . You command continence: give what you command, and then command whatever you will” (Confessions 10.29).

Without being given the gift of continence, all is in vain.

The condemnation of Augustine’s theology in Unigenitus is problematic because he is a Doctor of the Church. Since he is the church’s Doctor of Grace, his teachings on grace and salvation are important for Catholics today. In condemning the phrase “In vain, O Lord, do You command, if You do not give what you command,” Clement XI is condemning the theology of a Doctor of the Church and teaching infallibly that it is not in vain for God to command something unless he gives the gift of being able to obey it. This is in keeping with Pelagius’ rejection of Augustine’s theology because he too disliked this request.

But this is not the first time Augustine was condemned by a pope. Pope Zosimus rebuked Augustine and the North African bishops for their condemnation of Pelagius in three different encyclicals: Magnum pondus, Postquam a nobis, and Quamvis patrum. Only after facing pressure from emperor Honorius did Zosimus reverse his decision and condemn Pelagius as well. With popes like these, Catholics should be thankful that they are protected from the dangerous theology of Augustine that led to the Reformation.

Anti-Semitism in Roman Catholic History

The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of endorsing anti-Semitism. But this hatred of the Jews did not just exist at the popular level, it came from the popes themselves. While the popes were not the inventors of anti-Semitism, they are guilty of supporting and encouraging it. They inherited a hatred for the Jews from early church fathers like John Chrysostom who urged Christians to hate Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah:

“The Jews sacrifice their children to Satan . . . they are worse than wild beasts. The synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults, a criminal assembly of Jews, a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ. . . . I hate the Jews because they violate the Law. I hate the synagogue because it has the Law and the prophets. It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews” (Homilies Against the Jews).

David I. Kertzer in his book The Popes Against the Jews extensively documents the oppression Jews faced from the Vatican:

“The legislation enacted in the 1930s by the Nazis in their Nuremberg Laws and by the Italian Fascists with their racial laws which stripped the Jews of their rights as citizens was modeled on measures that the Church itself had enforced for as long as it was in a position to do so. Jews in the Papal States were still being prosecuted in the nineteenth century when caught without the required yellow badge on their clothes, mandated by Church councils for over six hundred years. As late as the 1850s, the Pope was busy trying to evict Jews from most of the towns in the lands he controlled, and forcing them to live in the few cities that had ghettoes to close them in. Jews were barred from holding public office or teaching Christian children or even having friendly relations with Christians. . . . The popes and the Vatican worked hard to keep Jews in their subservient place barring them from owning property, from practicing professions, from attending university, from traveling freely and they did all this according to canon law and the centuries old belief that in doing so they were upholding the most basic tenets of Christianity. . . . For the popes, modernity meant all the things that Church doctrine rejected: freedom of religion, of speech, of the press; the notion of separation between Church and state” (9, 11).

The infallible Fourth Lateran Council taught that Jews must wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians, are forbidden to hold public office, and must abandon all of their Jewish customs once they become Christians:

“A difference of dress distinguishes Jews or Saracens [Muslims] from Christians in some provinces, but in others a certain confusion has developed so that they are indistinguishable. Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with Christian women. In order that the offence of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every Christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress” (Canon 68).

“It would be too absurd for a blasphemer of Christ to exercise power over Christians. We therefore renew in this canon, on account of the boldness of the offenders, what the council of Toledo providently decreed in this matter : we forbid Jews to be appointed to public offices, since under cover of them they are very hostile to Christians. . . . We extend the same thing to pagans” (Canon 69).

“Certain people who have come voluntarily to the waters of sacred baptism, as we learnt, do not wholly cast off the old person in order to put on the new more perfectly. For, in keeping remnants of their former rite, they upset the decorum of the Christian religion by such a mixing” (Canon 70).

Needless to say, Paul would have strongly disagreed with canon 70 based on his teaching in Romans 14.

The Third Lateran Council taught that Jews and Muslims are not allowed to have Christian servants in their homes and that the testimony of a Christian always outweighs the testimony of a Jew in court:

“Jews and Saracens are not to be allowed to have Christian servants in their houses, either under pretence of nourishing their children or for service or any other reason. Let those be excommunicated who presume to live with them. We declare that the evidence of Christians is to be accepted against Jews in every case, since Jews employ their own witnesses against Christians, and that those who prefer Jews to Christians in this matter are to lie under anathema, since Jews ought to be subject to Christians and to be supported by them on grounds of humanity alone” (Canon 26).

The Council of Basel which is part of the Seventeenth Ecumenical Council enacted coercive laws designed to convert Jews to Christianity. All Jews were required to attend Christian sermons or face financial loss:

“They should compel infidels of both sexes who have reached the age of discretion, to attend these sermons under pain both of being excluded from business dealings with the faithful and of other apposite penalties” (Session 19).

The Council reaffirmed and strengthened the anti-Semitic laws of Catholicism. Jews were forbidden from owning land, being given academic degrees, buying church books, to live with the rest of society, and to work on Sunday:

“Furthermore, renewing the sacred canons, we command both diocesan bishops and secular powers to prohibit in every way Jews and other infidels from having Christians, male or female, in their households and service, or as nurses of their children; and Christians from joining with them in festivities, marriages, banquets or baths, or in much conversation, and from taking them as doctors or agents of marriages or officially appointed mediators of other contracts. They should not be given other public offices, or admitted to any academic degrees, or allowed to have on lease lands or other ecclesiastical rents. They are to be forbidden to buy ecclesiastical books, chalices, crosses and other ornaments of churches under pain of the loss of the object, or to accept them in pledge under pain of the loss of the money that they lent. They are to be compelled, under severe penalties, to wear some garment whereby they can be clearly distinguished from Christians. In order to prevent too much intercourse, they should be made to dwell in areas, in the cities and towns, which are apart from the dwellings of Christians and as far distant as possible from churches. On Sundays and other solemn festivals they should not dare to have their shops open or to work in public” (Session 19).

Pope Paul IV in Cum nimis absurdum forced Jews to live in ghettos segregated from the rest of society:

“Forasmuch as it is highly absurd and improper that the Jews . . . should, on the pretext that they are cherished by Christian love, and permitted to dwell in our midst, show such ingratitude to Christians as to insult them for their mercy and presume to mastery instead of subjection that beseems them; and forasmuch as we have been informed that in Rome and elsewhere their shamelessness is such that they presume to dwell among Christians in the neighborhood of churches without distinction of dress, and even to rent houses in the more elegant streets and squares of the cities, villages and places in which they live . . . to hire Christian maidservants and wetnurses and other salaried attendants, and to perpetrate divers other misdeeds to the shame and contumely of the true Christian faith . . . we do therefore order the following measures, which are perpetually valid.”

Other crimes of the papacy against the Jews include ordering Jewish books like the Talmud to be burned, forcing them to run naked through the street for entertainment, supporting accusations of blood libel, forcing them from their lands, and forbidding Jews and Christians from interacting with one another.

If you can’t trust what the pope says when it comes to how we should treat Jews, why should you trust him when it comes to Christian doctrine?

Roman Catholicism on Freedom of the Press

As we saw in our last article, religious liberty is a foreign concept in Roman Catholicism. But this is also true when it comes to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the separation of church and state. Pope Gregory XVI declared in Mirari vos:

15. “Here We must include that harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamor. We are horrified to see what monstrous doctrines and prodigious errors are disseminated far and wide in countless books, pamphlets, and other writings which, though small in weight, are very great in malice.”

16. “The Church has always taken action to destroy the plague of bad books. This was true even in apostolic times for we read that the apostles themselves burned a large number of books. It may be enough to consult the laws of the fifth Council of the Lateran on this matter and the Constitution which Leo X published afterwards lest ‘that which has been discovered advantageous for the increase of the faith and the spread of useful arts be converted to the contrary use and work harm for the salvation of the faithful.’ This also was of great concern to the fathers of Trent, who applied a remedy against this great evil by publishing that wholesome decree concerning the Index of books which contain false doctrine. ‘We must fight valiantly,’ Clement XIII says in an encyclical letter about the banning of bad books, ‘as much as the matter itself demands and must exterminate the deadly poison of so many books; for never will the material for error be withdrawn, unless the criminal sources of depravity perish in flames.’”

20. “Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty.”

There is also a reference to “that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone.” The Catholic Church has a long history of banning books from many diverse authors. The problem here for Catholicism is that this is not the current teaching of the church according to Vatican II. But Gregory XVI taught as the pope that these things are true. So, how is this not a violation of papal infallibility? Is not liberty of conscience a matter of faith or morals? The sedevacantist Catholics can see this while the Vatican II ones cannot.

In response to the clever argument that the apostles were in favor of banning books because Acts 19:19 says, “And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all,” it simply needs to be pointed out that these people burned their books of their own free will in response to hearing and believing the gospel. They wanted to burn their books because they were demonic incantation books used in sorcery. No one had to make them do this. In contrast, an index of prohibited books binds the consciences of others telling them what they can and cannot read which is contrary to religious liberty. The burning of magic books in Acts was of their own free will while an index of prohibited books imposes the will of the papacy on the church.

Roman Catholicism on Religious Liberty

Historically speaking, religious liberty is a foreign concept to the papacy. This is reflected by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Quanta cura:

“From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an ‘insanity,’ that ‘liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way.’”

In other words, there is no freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, or separation of church and state. This is all diametrically opposed to the Bill of Rights rooted in the beliefs of Protestantism. In his Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX listed as errors the following beliefs:

15. “Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.”

54. “Kings and princes are not only exempt from the jurisdiction of the Church, but are superior to the Church in deciding questions of jurisdiction.”

55. “The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.”

77. “In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.”

78. “Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.”

This is why for the longest time it was extremely difficult for Catholics to be elected to political office in America. It was not until John F. Kennedy that a Catholic was elected President because people feared Catholic politicians would try to implement the Vatican’s historic opposition to the Protestant concept of religious liberty.

This is also why Catholics who know their history must oppose religious liberty to be consistent with the teachings of their church. But today, the Catholic Church has completely reversed its stance on religious liberty contradicting all of these papal pronouncements. Now that they are in the minority, it is more advantageous to argue for religious liberty than the extermination of heretics. When Catholics do stand for religious liberty and the first amendment, they are departing from the traditional teachings of the Catholic faith and embracing the viewpoint of the Anabaptists. Religious liberty and separation of church and state are uniquely Baptist points of view because Baptists deny that baptism brings about regeneration and therefore one does not become a Christian by being born into Christianity or being baptized, but by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel. Hence, only those who have been born again can be members of the church which makes a state church impossible.

Even the original Westminster Confession of Faith of Presbyterianism had no place for religious liberty. That’s why the Presbyterians had to make serious changes to their confession when they came to America. The original confession was actually quite theonomistic believing that the government had an obligation to punish heresy and blasphemy. It may be no coincidence that Tertullian, an early church father who opposed infant baptism, was also in favor of religious liberty:

“It is the law of mankind and the natural right of each individual to worship what he thinks proper, nor does the religion of one man either harm or help another. But, it is not proper for religion to compel men to religion, which should be accepted of one’s own accord, not by force, since sacrifices also are required of a willing mind. So, even if you compel us to sacrifice, you will render no service to your gods” (To Scapula 2).