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Joe and Kathy Tierney wrote:

Greetings,

My husband and I have been studying Catholicism in depth lately, in an attempt to understand it objectively and move beyond the ignorance of our early days as Evangelical Christians. We both come from Irish Catholic families, but his parents and my grandfather left the Church, so we were not raised in the faith. We each became Christians as young adults, and our families remain atheists or nominal Christians for the most part (with the exception of my Catholic relatives in Ireland, and his great uncle who is a Catholic priest).

Two weeks ago we had the pleasure of visiting those relatives in Ireland, and in preparation for the trip we studied the matter further by reading Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism. This book along with other apologetic works cleared up a lot of misunderstandings, and we now can understand the Catholic perspective on:

  • the Eucharist
  • Baptism
  • the cannon of Scripture,
  • and many other things that we had previous misconceptions about.

There are a few things, however, that we just haven't found satisfying answers to. The two big issues are the authority of the Church, and the position of Mary.

The passage regarding Peter being the rock (Matthew 16:13-20) does not seem to be enough to build the case for Church authority and Papal succession.

In reading about Church history, I have learned that an early successor to Peter broke with the rule that adulterers could not be readmitted to the Church after repentance. Bishops of the other Churches of the time, such as in Alexandria, etc., were upset with him and let him know they disagreed with his decision. He responded invoking authority through Peter to support his position. This is my current understanding of the issue, and I just can't get past this stumbling block without a greater reason to believe Jesus did, in fact, set up a single line of Church authority and tradition by which all Christians were to submit and learn of their faith.

The second trouble spot is the Catholic view of Mary. If one could accept Church authority, one could accept Mariology and other ideas which are so foreign to the Protestant mind set. Keating says that since the angel said Mary was "full of grace" that she was sinless. I just can't understand how he can take those three words that far, especially when Romans says that there is none righteous, not one. We all have sinned. (Romans 3:23)  In order to balance Scriptures like these with an understanding of Mary as sinless, I would hope for some stronger arguments.

Then of course, the Church goes further with her Perpetual Virginity and her Assumption.
I'm not able to make these jumps with my current understanding of Catholicism.

  • Do you have any thoughts on these issues?

As Irish people, the Catholic Church has been a very large part of our heritage. We find ourselves at a loss, as we celebrate our heritage and culture, without being able to admit freely to our relatives and countrymen that the one vestige of Irishness that they hold so dear —
the Catholic faith — was never passed on to us.

Thanks!

Joe and Kathy Tierney

  { Can you help us to move beyond our ignorance and understand the Catholic Church objectively? }

John replied:

Dear Joe and Kathy,

Thanks for writing. I'm happy to see that you want to take an objective look at the Catholic Church; that is the spirit of "True Ecumenism". It is one thing to have differences and respect one another; it is quite another to misrepresent each others position and level charges based on distortion. Sadly, the latter has been the case for close to five centuries. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, where there is division, there is sin by individuals on both sides.

You might start by getting a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which was recently published. If you can't find one, then by all means let me know and I'll send you one, provided you want to give out your address.

The issue of the Papacy is not just founded on one text in Scripture.

For example, in the text you mentioned, Jesus gives Peter the keys of the Kingdom.
He is speaking in the singular — apparent in the original Greek text of the manuscript.

This would have meant something very unique to the Jewish readers of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus is actually drawing on a text from Isaiah 22 where the meaning of the keys or key is much clearer. Jesus uses very similar language in Matthew 16 when he renames Simon's name to Peter.

Peter is almost always mentioned first in the list of the Apostles. He is the first to receive non-Jews in the Church (Read Acts 10.) He is also the one who settles the matter at the Jerusalem Council (Read Acts 15.) and so on.

As for extra biblical evidence, it is overwhelming as well.

We start with the letter of Clement to Corinth written around 80 A.D.   Clement was the bishop
of Rome.

The Church in Corinth had deposed its bishop, Clement stepped in and addressed the issue. Interestingly enough, John the Apostle was living at the time and was much closer to the situation. Nevertheless, John did not take it upon himself to interfere with another diocese, but the Bishop of Rome did, because he was Peter's successor and had the authority.

Hear are just a few of the early [Christian writings|writers] that speak of Rome's Primacy and authority:

  • Shepherd of Hermas — 140 A.D.
  • St. Polycarp of Ephesus — 125-190 A.D.
  • Cyprian of Carthage — 250 A.D.
  • St. Irenaeus Lyons — 140-202 A.D.
    In his treatise against heresies, Irenaeus asserts the authority of Rome several times.

And the list goes on and on.

Notice two things:

  1. most of these men's writings weren't Popes; they, in fact, were written from other dioceses
  2. look at the dates of these writings

The standard Protestant line is that the Catholic Church did not come into being until after Constantine made it the state religion, but these writers were writing during the persecution. Some of them wrote over two centuries before Constantine. They were dying to keep the purity of the faith.

  • Why would they pollute the faith by supporting the papacy if it had not been part of the faith from the very beginning?

Further, these men handed down the faith to men, who at the end of the fourth century, would canonize the Bible. From this we see several things:

  • The Church was operating on what Scriptures and tradition they had in union with Rome from beginning.
  • This same Church that gave us the Bible back then (in 382 A.D.), gave us the Bible in the form we have it to this day.
  • These men would never have included books in the Bible if they believed they contradicted what, they already believed, had been handed down by their predecessor bishops all the way back to the Apostles.

The conclusion to all this is that if, as an Evangelical, you accept the Bible, then you are de-facto accepting the authority of the Church in union with the Pope to discern the New Testament which we have in common. After all, the New Testament itself does not give you an inspired list of books. Instead, it had to be an infallible Church which gave you the list; otherwise you have a fallible list of infallible books which makes no philosophical sense.

Along with the Catechism, I highly recommend a three-book set called Faith of The Early Fathers by William Jurgens. It's not cheap, around $50., but it's a lot cheaper then buying all the works of the Early Church Fathers. This set has all the quotes (in context, of course) which serve as proof of the Early Church's Faith.

Now let's talk about Mary.

The Church teaches that Mary was preserved from original sin by a particular grace on the basis of what Christ was going to do on the Cross. In other words, Mary was saved before she had a chance to fall. Being preserved from the stain of original sin, she then continued her life remaining sinless, again, by Grace, not by her own nature. This is not unreasonable. Adam and Eve, like Mary, were both born with out original sin.

Although they could have remained [immaculate|sinless], Adam and Eve, by their true free will, chose to sin.

Now where do we Catholics get this from Scripture?

Well, let us start by looking at the text you mentioned. Mary is called "full of Grace". Notice Gabriel does not say: Hail Mary you are Full of Grace. He calls her Full of Grace, as if to name her.

In Luke, the Angel says Hail Full of Grace. The Greek reads:

Chairo ( Khah"-ee -ro ) Charitoo ( Khar-ee-to'-o )

The first word Chairo is not like going up to some one and say "yo what's up". It's a greeting reserved for royalty.

[Charitoo|full of grace] in this form, actually means one has been perfected by Grace.

This is exactly the Catholic position.

But now let's go back to Genesis.

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."

Genesis 3:15

Notice that God promises that someday there will be a woman whose seed will defeat Satan
(the serpent), but notice also that God says he will put enmity between the woman and the serpent.

The Hebrew word for enmity, "eybah (ay-baw)"; means a total state of war not sharing anything in common. Well, whoever this woman is, she is not going to share anything in common with Satan. While many are saved and are at war with Satan, we do have sin in common with him.

For this reason, this woman will have to be sinless.

So who is this woman?

Let's look at the two verses in the Scriptures where Jesus is talking directly to His mother:

Jesus said to her, 4 "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come."

John 2:4

26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!"

John 19:26

Hmmm!! Now Jesus was a good Jewish boy.

  • He knew the Ten Commandments and would not break them by talking to His mother with a disrespectful tone would He?

He doesn't call her Mom, or Mother, He calls her Woman.

It would seem to imply that He just might be Identifying her as the woman in Genesis 3:15 from above.

Now lets move on to Revelation.

19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

Revelation Chapter 12

1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Revelation 11:19 through 12:5

Remember, the chapter divisions that we now have in the Bible were not there in the original texts. They were placed there for our reading ease, centuries later.

Here we have the Apostle John seeing signs in Heaven. First, he sees the Ark of God's Covenant then he sees a woman. The text is pretty clear as to who the woman is. Further, all the early Church Fathers understood this to be Mary, but they went further.

The Early Fathers made the connection between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. She was called the Ark of the New Covenant.

Why?

Well, the Ark carried in it three things:

  1. the written Word of God
  2. the Staff of Aaron which was the sign of the Priesthood
  3. Manna, the bread come down from heaven.

Now!!

In Her Womb Mary carried:

  1. The Living Word of God
  2. The One High Priest
  3. The Living Bread of Life

OK, what does this have to do with Mary's Immaculate Conception ?

Well, the Ark, which carried the symbols and Type of Christ, had to be "perfectly made."

Does it not follow that, if the foreshadowing sign had the prerequisite of perfection, that the reality would at least have that same perfection?

Now let me address your objections from Romans.

Paul is addressing Jews who believe that they are better then Gentiles. When he says there is no one righteous, he is quoting Psalms:

1 The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. 3 They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. 4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on the LORD? 5 There they are in great fear, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

Psalms 14:1-5

First of all when Paul was quoting the Old Testament to Jews he would:

  • never quote it out of context, and
  • he was actually recalling the entire Old Testament text to their memories.

Psalm 14 was written by David while he was being persecuted by unrighteous Jews!! If Paul tried to use this text to say that every person was unrighteous then the Jew reading this would say:

Ahh!! Excuse me Paul but what about verses 4 and 5? Hello, Paul !! if everyone is unrighteous then who is the generation of the righteous that David is writing about?

So you see Romans has to be understood against the background of what Paul is arguing for and against. He arguing against the keeping of ceremonial Mosaic Laws and circumcision as a means to achieve righteousness. He is arguing that the Gentiles are just as welcome in the Church as the Jews are.

So is point is: Look guys, being a Jew doesn't not mean you are righteous.

The next text you brought up was Romans 3:23

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23

Well, in the first place this text is discussing personal sin not original sin, or sin by nature,
so it does not effect the issue of Mary being preserved from original sin. That said, let's discuss personal sin.

The word "all" can be used in the distributive sense, that is, every single person. If that is the case, there can be no exceptions.

  • Can a baby commit personal sin?
  • Can a mentally [retarded|challenged] person commit personal sin?

Of course not. so there are some exceptions. Let's see how else the Bible uses the word "all"

5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

Matthew 3:5-6

Now using the distributive sense, John the Baptist does dunk every single person in Judea and the surrounding area in the Jordan!

So you see Romans 3:23 does not have to mean that every human being has personal sin. There are clearly exceptions. By the way, I'm not implying that someone born with sin by nature who is able to reason can be guiltless of personal sin, but babies have no reason. Mary, as I've showed you from Scripture, did not have original sin. Therefore she, like Adam or Eve, could have chosen to sin or not to sin.

With regards to the Assumption. It is not mentioned per se in the Bible, but some early fathers do talk about Revelation 12 in reference to the Assumption. Nevertheless, there are assumptions in the Bible. Enoch, Elijah (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11) and Moses (Jude 1:9) were all bodily assumed into Heaven, so the precedent is certainly there. This posting may help.

As for Mary's Perpetual Virginity. There is no text which demands that we believe something to the contrary. No where are the brothers of Jesus called the sons of Mary. They could have been sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. Other texts, which are used to prove otherwise, also fall apart under careful scrutiny. This posting will help a lot.

I could go on and on from the Scriptures alone regarding Mary; it's all there. In additional we can add the testimony of the Early Church Fathers. Again, I highly suggest you research them on this and similar subjects. Beyond that, a careful study of:

  • Luther
  • Calvin, and
  • Zwingli

will show that they went to their deaths holding many Catholic doctrines about Mary.

Well, I hope this helps answer some of your questions. I'd be happy to continue a dialogue with you. Please feel free to write and stay in touch.

Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

Eric replied:

Dear Joe and Kathy,

John did a fantastic job answering your question from the Scriptures. I intend to make some comments as well, although I don't have the opportunity to do so, in full tonight. I did, however, want to make one response to one of your concerns:

Excerpts from your original e-mail to John:
The second trouble spot is the Catholic view of Mary. If one could accept Church authority, one could accept Mariology and other ideas which are so foreign to the Protestant mind set. Keating says that since the angel said Mary was "full of grace" that she was sinless. I just can't understand how he can take those three words that far

Catholicism teaches that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and I will reason with you, as John did, Catholic beliefs from the Scriptures. I believe it is essential to show where Catholic beliefs are backed up by Scripture.

However, one must also understand Keating's exegesis (and mine and John's as well) in light of the fact that Catholicism does not base its beliefs entirely on reasoning from Scripture alone. (Keep in mind that "Catholicism and Fundamentalism" was really written for a Catholic audience, not a Protestant one.)

You see, Keating really wasn't saying that "since the angel said Mary was "full of grace", that she was sinless," in the sense that you, as an Evangelical reading him through Evangelical exegetical eyes, would understand it. I suspect that you are reading Keating's exegesis and thinking,

He's trying to convince me that the Catholic Church believes Mary is sinless because of this exegesis of "full of grace'".

or

He's attempting prove Catholic doctrine from Scripture alone and stretching credibility.

Actually, what he is doing is demonstrating that the Catholic belief is plausible and in agreement with Scripture, and that there are very compelling arguments based on Scripture that support Catholic doctrine. It would, however, be foolish for him to attempt to prove such a doctrine from Scripture alone, because the Catholic Church doesn't believe it "because she reasoned it from Scripture", rather she believes it because it was part of the "faith once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3) that she received from the Apostles.

I think you are right in recognizing that, ultimately, it boils down to authority. And I'll be frank:
in my "reversion experience" back to Catholicism, my biggest stumbling block was Marian doctrine. It was the hardest one to overcome and the last one to fall. While everything else I was convinced, based on reason primarily from the Scriptures, in the end, with the Marian doctrines,
I had to call it a stalemate and say that while from reason I could see that they did not contradict Scripture, I would have to accept them based on the Church's testimony rather than insisting I be thoroughly convinced through reason alone. Since then, the arguments from reason and Scripture have slowly penetrated.

Which brings me to an important point, as this message turns more and more into the long message I had intended to defer. Mark Shea, an excellent author who embraced Catholicism out of an Evangelical background, puts it quite aptly in his fantastic book **By What Authority** where he addresses the authority of tradition. He says that one accepts the Catholic Church, not because she is believed to be telling the truth, but because she is a true-telling thing.

In other words, as good as it is to accept the Catholic Church, someone would not be accepting the Catholic Church for the right reasons, who accepted her because they concluded that her doctrines were in agreement with the truth.

Rather, one should accept the Catholic Church on account of the fact that it can be trusted to provide the truth — to be the standard of truth, if you will, or in the words of St. Paul, that it is the "Church of the Living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:15).

In the first case, a man's standard for truth is himself, and he chooses the Church because, frankly, he thinks She agrees with him.

In the second case, a man's standard for truth is the Church, and he chooses the Church because he wishes to conform himself to that standard of truth, and will accept as true, not only what he knows today the Church teaches, but he is even prepared to accept tomorrow a teaching entirely unknown to him today.

Those are my thoughts for today on the subject, I hope they help illuminate the question for you!

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

Mike replied:

Hi, Joe and Kathy —

I used to run a free program that sent Catechisms to seeking Protestants and non-Christians but no longer have the financial or operational means to do this anymore. Nevertheless, if you wish to go deeper, consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as Catholics.

Finally, if you, or any visitor, is interested in financially supporting our work at AskACatholic.com, consider making a donation.

Mike Humphrey

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