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Geoff Hutchinson wrote:

Hi, guys —

I'm a Protestant who is feeling a pull towards the Catholic Church. I've been raised to believe the Catholic Church is corrupt and not Christian at all. I am attending RCIA and Mass, but my mother decided she wanted me to see a Protestant theologian who sent my head spinning.

Basically, he said that the Catholic Church's traditions are based on old pagan religions, and that the Church usually picks tradition over the Bible. He, like other Protestants, said that Catholics worship Mary and believe that she can be an intermediary for man to God, when it's only Jesus' position to be that intermediary.

  • He asked me that if Popes are infallible, then why do some contradict each other?

I am becoming very confused and just not knowing what to believe. I still feel a pull towards the Church, but my sense of doubt is growing.

  • Can you please help me?


Geoff

  { Can you help a Protestant being drawn to the Church, address issues from a Protestant theologian? }

John replied:

Hi Geoff,

First off, it's wonderful that the Holy Spirit is drawing you home to the Catholic Church.
The theologian you spoke of is building a straw man and then throwing him down.

Catholics don't worship anyone aside from God in three Persons also known as the Trinity —
the Father through the Son in the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Now it is true that we honor Mary and the Saints that have gone on before us. That is not worship. Honor is something we are supposed to do to all any way. Honor thy mother and father is one example.

We also ask for the prayers of the Saints and Mary, just as we ask one another for prayer.
Mary and the Saints are in Christ as we are in Christ; they are part of the Church. They don't cease to be part of the Church because they are no longer on earth.

The Book of Hebrews Chapter 11 mentions all the Old Testament Saints that died in faith. Hebrews 12:1, referring back to Chapter 11, says:

1 Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1

If you read on in Hebrews 12, you will read about Christian worship. It speaks of the connection between the Church in Heaven and the Church on earth. If you read Revelation Chapter 5, you will read about the 24 elders around the Throne of God. These represent the Old Testament Church, Israel, and the New Testament Church. These elders are holding up bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints on earth. There are many other references to the mystical connection between the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

The other issue for Protestants is that their definition of worship is quite different. For most Protestants, worship is prayer, singing of hymns and reading of Scripture but in Catholic theology, worship is Sacrifice. Romans 12:1 reads as follows.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.

Romans 12:1

Note the connection between sacrifice and worship. In this chapter, Paul elaborates on Christian service as sacrifice which is united to Christ and His Sacrifice.

As Catholics, when we attend Mass, we worship because through the ministry of the ordained priest, we make present the once and for all time Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. We offer that Sacrifice to the Father, not to Mary, not to any saint, nor to anyone else. To do otherwise, would be idolatry.

As you continue your study of the Church. I invite you to stay in contact with us. I'm a former Baptist minister. I too struggled through many of these questions. We also have many other very good apologists that can answer your questions.

You also may want to consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Best Wishes.

In the Love of our one and only Savior Jesus Christ,

John DiMascio

Eric replied:

Thanks to my brother John for some excellent words.

Geoff,

To address your question about pagan religions, the reality is much less scandalous.
First, I'd suggest you read this tract written by Catholic Answers:

Is Catholicism Pagan?

It covers a lot of ground. Basically, a lot of doctrine that people call "pagan", has its roots very early in the Church and can easily have other explanations. What you have to remember is "similarity does not imply descent." Just because two ideas are similar, does not prove that they are related to each other. To use a counterexample, many non-believers point to stories in paganism that are remarkably similar to Christ's Resurrection, doing the same thing to Christianity that these Protestants do to Catholicism. If you believe what Protestants say about Catholicism, logically, you have to believe what these non-believers claim about Christianity's pagan roots.

With respect to practice of the Faith, there were certainly times in the Church's history that she gave pagan practices Christian meaning; probably the best example of this is Christmas, where the feast of the Unconquerable Sun (Saternalia) became the Feast of the birth of the Unconquerable Sun of Righteousness (cf. Malachi 4:2). They saw pagan beliefs as a preparation for the Gospel and the coming of Jesus, so they "baptized" certain practices.

The morality of a practice or custom depends on the meaning and intent behind it, and the chance it might lead one to sin. The custom of exchanging wedding rings is a pagan custom, but the fact that virtually no one is aware of this, vindicates it as a practice. I couldn't even tell what it was supposed to mean to the pagans, but you can be sure that what we mean by it is completely different. Hence, it is entirely benign. The fact that we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th and don't even think about the power of Saturn is likewise proof that the custom is benign. The same is true with any other custom with pagan roots we may celebrate; the paganism has been thoroughly eliminated from them.

As for picking tradition over the Bible, we believe that all Revelation comes from the same divine wellspring, but may be expressed either in Scripture or Tradition.

"15 Hold fast to the traditions which you received, whether by word of mouth or
by letter."

2 Thessalonians 2:15

"3 Earnestly contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints."

Jude 1:3

We believe Scripture to be inerrant and binding, but we also believe Tradition to be binding.

I can see how your friend there would think that we hold Tradition against Scripture, but that depends a large part on how you interpret Scripture. Many people have built elaborate cases against Catholicism based on certain interpretations of Scripture, without considering other interpretations. For example, we are often attacked for calling priests "Father" See Matthew 23:9. Yet this fails to consider the context. You do not see these same people teaching anyone not to call anyone "Teacher", nor do you see them arguing that children ought not call the men who conceived them "father". Nor does it take into consideration the substantial number of cases
later on in Scripture, where the Apostles use the very term to express a spiritual relationship.
The verse makes for great polemics, it looks so obvious that we're in the wrong, but when you examine the case, it falls apart.

What I'd recommend you do is start reading the stories of Catholic converts and other books on Catholicism. You'll see how they struggled with the same issues, and you'll see how they solved them. We're here, too, to answer any specific questions you have on challenges to the Catholic Faith.

Here are some books I'd highly recommend:

  • Catholicism and Fundamentalism, by Karl Keating. The "Bible" on addressing anti-Catholicism. Addresses most of the common accusations against Catholicism.
  • Rome Sweet Home, by Dr. Scott Hahn. Actually his conversion story is better on tape, available from St. Joseph's Communications (http://www.saintjoe.com). Maybe it's even available online. Anyway, Scott is the premier convert — he was in a Protestant seminary studying for the ministry, and was virulently anti-Catholic. He set out to disprove Catholicism once and for all, and ended up converting.
  • Surprised by Truth I, Surprised by Truth II, and Surprised by Truth III, by Patrick Madrid These three books contain brief stories of many converts.
  • Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie. Written by a convert and life-long fundamentalist as an explanation to his friends and family of why he converted.

That should be enough to get you started.

As for Popes contradicting one another — keep in mind that Popes are only rarely infallible.
You can't just compare two papal teachings and show they are contradictory. There are very few times when one Pope has come close to contradicting another, and these can be explained.

With respect to "intermediaries", Jesus is the one mediator between God, the Father, and man.
No one else mediates between God and man. However, some people mediate between men and Jesus. In fact, this is the purpose of evangelization and intercessory prayer, two things that Protestants certainly do.

  • Mary's role is to bring us to Jesus — that's it.
  • Not coincidentally, that is our role, too — to bring people to Jesus.

It's as simple as that.

Eric Ewanco

Terry replied:

Geoff —

It is important that none of us misrepresent any other denomination and I fear you have been given erroneous information, or misunderstood what that 'theologian' has said.

First of all, regarding the idea of Christianity being based upon pagan religions, nothing could be further from the truth. The differences are so great, and in every field, that even a cursory reading of the Christian Bible would reveal there is no basis whatsoever in that statement. However, the misunderstanding may have come from time when the blossoming Christian Church was missionary throughout the world, and used the seasonal timings of old religious festivals, as a time of Holy Days used only in a Christian manner. For example, we accurately date Easter from the biblical accounts of the Jewish Passover, and therefore apply a Christian Feast at the time pagan religions would have been celebrating spring. However, we have no knowledge of the time of year when Jesus was born at Bethlehem. In fact, some argue it would not have been as late as December, since it would have been unlikely the shepherds would have been grazing their sheep in the hills so late in the year. On the other hand, we have no knowledge whether the year the Christ child was born was a mild one, and it is perfectly conceivable the shepherds were indeed in the hills in December. The important thing is the early Church didn't have a date or one eminent theory that December 25th was chosen to oppose the pagan feast of Natalis Solis Invicta.
The earliest date we have of this is the Philocalian Calendar of 336 A.D. What matters here is that the population, who were used to celebrating a festival at this time, would continue celebrating, but in a Christian context, and as generations past, the original pagan reason would be forgotten. Consider the way invaders do the same with city names, e.g. Byzantium became Constantinople and is the same place as modern Istanbul! There are numerous examples of this throughout history and it is a total red herring to even suggest that Catholicism is based upon paganism. It's true heritage is from Judaism, the religion of Jesus Himself, the religion Jesus came to complete their hopes and prophecies of the Messiah, who He Himself truly was.

Now to the idea that Catholics worship Mary. This is a hoary old chestnut which has not the slightest basis in truth. Catholics believe that Jesus is the one Mediator with the Father. Jesus is God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. This fact has been dogmatically defined from the earliest of Church Councils, and cannot be changed. If your friend had been using theological terminology, he would have spoken of dulia, hyperdulia and latria.

  • Latria is the fullness of worship which is given to Almighty God alone.
  • Dulia is the honor due to a holy person, e.g., a Saint, and
  • Hyperdulia is the veneration we give to an especially holy person, Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

We are honoring the fact that Mary was the human mother of God Himself, and is therefore especially close to Jesus, not simply by virtue of her holiness, but also because He was her son, flesh of her flesh. Now in human families, we all know of occasions when we might have done something wrong, or maybe have wanted something very badly, or were afraid of presenting a poor school report to our parents, and we might say to our mothers,

Mum, please, will you speak to Dad about this?

We are requesting our mothers to be an intermediary with our father. There is nothing wrong in this and it is a perfectly human reaction. This is what Christians do when they ask Mary to intercede for them with her son. The very first recorded example of this was when Jesus worked His first miracle at Cana. Mary was conscious of how embarrassing it would have been for a young newly married couple to run out of wine on such an occasion. She saw and "felt" the social disgrace their families would have suffered, and her human, maternal love showed, as she quietly said to the stewards,

"Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

  • Is this not a wonderful example of our turning to Mary when in difficulty or need, and asking that she join her prayers with ours, to request that God grant our petitions?

Jesus taught us to pray

"Give us this day our daily bread etc." (Matthew 6:11)

and in turning to Mary, we ask her to help us obey all the precepts of her Divine Son. I hope I have expressed myself adequately in this short answer to a serious question. I am happy to discuss this at length if you wish. What I wish to avoid is an unnecessary long theological answer to what, in essence, is a very human, family, situation.

I imagine someone else has given you answers about Papal Infallibility, but in a nutshell, Catholics believe the Pope cannot be in error when teaching on the matter of Faith or Morals — and his teaching is in conformity with Tradition as defined by the faith of the Church — especially as expressed through the General Councils (which also cannot be in error, providing they are in unison with the teaching of the Pope). I know of no case when a Pope has contradicted an earlier Pope when speaking ex cathedra (from the chair), in other words, when he is expressing gravely a teaching to be held by the whole Church. This is not to be confused with, for example, a Pope speaking on purely secular matters, or even just giving his private opinion on religious matters. There can be no doubt, some Popes have been in serious error of some politics they have adopted. What the Church does guarantee, though, is that when speaking through a General Council, or through the Pope ex cathedra, and on a subject only pertaining only to faith or morals, then he, and we, have the guarantee of Christ Himself who told Peter:

"17 Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Matthew 16:17-19

And later told Peter to strengthen His brothers:

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Luke 22:31-32

[Note: thee is translated you in the singular tense from the original Biblical manuscripts.]

In other words, Papal Infallibility is solidly based in Scripture. Thank God we have those guarantees to help us find our way through the worldly maze of doubt, injustice and error.

May God bless you and lead you in your search!

Terry Quinn
England

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