Category Archives: Jehovah’s Witness

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Idols – Ex 20:4-6

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” –Ex 20:4-6

The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region (commonly referred to as the Amazon synod) met in Rome from 6 to 27 October 2019. Pope Francis announced on 15 October 2017 that it would work “to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region”, specifically the indigenous peoples.

The Amazon basin, according to one Vatican report, covers some 6,000,000 km^2, with a population of 2.8 million divided among 400 tribes that speak some 240 languages belonging to 49 linguistic families. The Synod defines the region to include all or parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname.

On Oct. 21, five statues were taken, apparently quite early in the morning, from the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, four blocks from St. Peter’s Basilica. They were thrown off a nearby bridge into the Tiber River. These events have been a source of much controversy in the Church.

In a Universal Church, especially one that spans the globe, just like in any society, some Catholics do weird things; depending on what side of weird you may be standing on from the viewpoint of the other doing weird things from your point of view, being human.  They may be misunderstood, culturally, or not, or they may be wrong, or somewhere in between.  Welcome to being human.  Love one another.  Even if they throw your artwork off a bridge.  -cf Jn 13:34-35


-pachamama statue in Santa Maria in Traspontina

-Amazon synod participants bow in tree planting ceremony, Vatican gardens

Catholics ONLY WORSHIP GOD!!!!!!!! – dulia, hyperdulia, honor, veneration vs latria, adoration, worship

CCC 2132 “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone:

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.”


-by Karlo Broussard

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church approve of religious statues when the Bible forbids having graven images?

Catholics are known for putting statues and images in their churches and using them in their private devotions. The Catechism affirms such devotions, calling the “honor paid to sacred images” a “respectful veneration” (2132).

But, for many Protestants this is problematic, biblically speaking. God commands in Exodus 20:4-5,

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.

God says, “No graven images,” but yet the Catholic Church has images all over the place. God says, “Don’t bow down to images,” but the Catholic Church encourages such acts of piety. These Catholic practices contradict God’s word.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. In these verses, God can’t be condemning religious statues and images, because elsewhere he explicitly commands making them.

Consider, for example, the two gold cherubim (cast sculptures of angels) that God commanded to be put on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (Exod. 25:18-20). God also instructed that cherubim be woven into the curtains of the tabernacle (Exod. 26:1).

When God gave instructions for building the temple during the reign of King Solomon, he commanded that two fifteen-foot tall cherubim statues be placed in the holy of holies (1 Kings 6:23-28) and that “figures of cherubim” be carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Later, in 1 Kings 9:3, we read that God approved of such things, saying to Solomon, “I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put My name there forever; My eyes and My heart will be there for all time.” God’s blessing on the temple is certain evidence that He doesn’t oppose having statues and sacred images in places of worship.

Another example where God commanded the making of a statue is Numbers 21:6-9. The Israelites were suffering from venomous snakebites; in order to heal them, God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent and set it on a pole so that those who were bitten could look upon it and be healed (Num. 21:6-9). God did later command that the bronze serpent be destroyed, but only because the Israelites started worshiping it as a god (2 Kings 18:4).

2.  What God’s commandment forbids is the making of idols.

The context bears this out. Consider the prohibition that precedes it: “You shall have no other gods before me” (v.3).

Then after the passage in question, we read, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” Given this contextual prohibition of idolatry, it’s reasonable to conclude that God’s command not to make “graven images” refers to making images to be worshiped as deities, or idols.

Accordingly, we note that every time the Hebrew word for “graven images” (pesel) is used in the Old Testament it’s used in reference to idols or the images of idols. For example, the prophet Isaiah warns, “All who make idols [pesel] are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.” Other examples include, but are not limited to, Isaiah 40:19; 44:9, 17; 45:20, Jeremiah 10:14; 51:17, and Habakkuk 2:18).

Since making idols is what this commandment forbids, the Catholic custom of using statues and images for religious purposes doesn’t contradict it, because Catholics don’t use statues and sacred images as idols. The whole of paragraph 2132 (referenced above) states the following:

The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone.

Catholics don’t treat statues, or the people whom the statues represent, as gods. As such, the biblical prohibition of idolatry doesn’t apply.

This challenge from modern Evangelicals shows that there’s nothing new under the sun. The Catholic Church dealt with this sort of objection all the way back in the eighth century when it condemned the heresy of iconoclasm at the Second Council of Nicaea (787).

Iconoclasm was the belief that all religious images are superstitious. In response to this heresy, the council declared that religious images were worthy veneration and that any respect shown to a religious image is really respect given to the person it represents.

In having images or statues of Jesus, angels, Mary, and the saints in its places of worship, the Catholic Church is following the Old Testament precedent of incorporating images of heavenly inhabitants that serve as reminders of Who is present with us when we approach God in liturgical worship.

The representations of the cherubim in the Old Testament served as reminders that they were heavenly inhabitants present with God. Since humans have been admitted into heaven (Rev. 5:8; Rev. 6:9; 7:14-17), it’s reasonable to employ representations of them, too.

What about pious acts directed to the statues, such as bowing? Doesn’t Exodus 20:4 prohibit “bowing” before graven images? Well, the Bible forbids bowing before idols. It doesn’t forbid the physical act of bowing before something or someone when that something or someone is not an idol.

For example, Solomon was not guilty of idolatry when he bowed before his mother in 1 Kings 2:19. It was simply a gesture of honor given her as queen mother. Jesus Himself says in Revelation 3:9 that He will make “those of the synagogue of Satan” “bow down” before the feet of the Christians in Philadelphia. If bowing before another were, in and of itself, an act of worship, Jesus would be causing idolatry. But that’s absurd.

So, pious acts and postures can be legitimate when directed to the person that a statue or picture represents if the action is not used as a sign of the adoration or worship that is due to God alone. And such honor for the saints is their due because of what God has done for them. Jesus says, “If any one serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26). The saints in heaven, who our statues represent, have served and do continue to serve Jesus. As such, the Father honors them. And if the Father honors them, we can too.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Are all religious images idols? How can you know?

AFTERTHOUGHT: Among some Christian communities, the commandment not to make “graven images” is listed as the second of the Ten Commandments. This differs from the Catholic numbering of the Ten Commandments. But seeing the prohibition to make “graven images” as part of God’s overall prohibition of idolatry provides an explanation for why the Catholic Church doesn’t consider it a separate commandment.”

Love,
Matthew

The Protestant Challenge

Oral Torah


-by Karlo Broussard

Q. What is the Protestant challenge that you meet in your new book?

Karlo: In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for holding to traditions that entail a rejection of God’s commandment and make void God’s Word. Many Protestants claim several Catholic beliefs fall under this condemnation, because they think such beliefs contradict the Bible.

The challenge usually takes the form, “How can the Catholic Church teach X, when the Bible says Y?” For example, how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth when the Bible says that Jesus had brothers (Matt. 13:55)? Or how can the Catholic Church teach that works have a role to play in our salvation when the Bible says in Romans 3:28 that “we are justified by faith and not by works of the law?”

It’s this sort of challenge that I meet in the book, covering fifty of the most common challenges that Protestants make.

Q. Is this challenge the only Protestant challenge? Or, are there other kinds of challenges? If so, how do they differ from this one?

Karlo: The challenge that I meet in my book is not the only challenge. Any Catholic who talks religion with Protestants has at some time been challenged with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

Much of Catholic apologetics, especially since its revival in the late eighties, has centered on answering that question, offering positive arguments for the biblical basis of Catholic doctrine. But, since Catholics don’t operate on the principle of sola scriptura, we don’t believe that every Christian truth has to be explicitly found in Scripture. We also appeal to truths revealed by God and preserved outside of the Bible in Sacred Tradition.

For example, Protestants may ask, “Where is Mary’s bodily assumption in the Bible?” But a Catholic can simply reply, “I don’t need to justify it with Scripture, since I can accept it on the basis that it’s a part of Sacred Tradition as infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII” (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).

Of course, a Protestant is not going to find the above response persuasive (and it would open up other debates about Christian teaching authority). But at least he can’t charge a Catholic with incoherence in his belief.

The kind of Protestant challenge that I address, however, does charge a Catholic with incoherence. And this is the kind of challenge that a Catholic must meet, because whatever the Church teaches, even if derived principally from Sacred Tradition and not the Bible, can’t contradict the Bible. Scripture and Tradition are two streams of revelation that flow from the same source, God.

Our task as Catholics, therefore, is to show that Catholic teaching doesn’t contradict those Bible passages that some Protestants think pose a threat to it. The purpose of this book is to help the reader fulfill this task.

Q. What are some of the main Catholic beliefs that our Protestant friends challenge us on that you show don’t contradict the Bible?

Karlo: I examine fifty challenges that cover a variety of beliefs concerning Church authority, Scripture and Tradition, salvation, the sacraments, Mary and the saints, eschatology (study of the last things), and Catholic life and practice.

So, for example, with regard to Church authority, I defend the Catholic belief that Jesus established his Church with a hierarchy with Peter at the head. With regard to Scripture and Tradition, I defend the Catholic belief that a Christian must accept and honor “both Scripture and Tradition” (CCC 82), because the Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone” (82).

On the topic of salvation, I meet challenges to the Catholic belief that salvation and justification are not one-time events of the past but have different stages, and that good works play an essential role when it comes to the ongoing and final stages.

The sacraments that I defend include Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, the Priesthood, and Marriage.

The challenged beliefs about Mary are the familiar ones: her perpetual virginity, her sinlessness, and her Queenship. The main belief about the saints that I deal with is the intercession of the saints.

With regard to eschatology, I tackle challenges that deal with Purgatory and the Catholic view of the end times in relation to Protestant views on the Rapture and the millennium in Revelation.

Finally, I meet challenges made against the Catholic practices of clerical celibacy, abstinence from meat on Fridays during Lent, calling priests father, praying the rosary, moderate use of wine, and Catholic statues.

Q. Can you explain a little bit about what the reader should expect when they read each chapter?

Karlo: Each chapter begins with a brief statement of the Catholic belief, usually derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Then, the Protestant challenge to the belief is explained.

The section where I meet the challenge usually consists of two to three ways in which one can show the Catholic belief doesn’t contradict the Bible. Also, some of the responses require that I give positive biblical evidence for the belief. And this, of course, equips the reader with what’s needed to answer the other Protestant challenge, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

After learning how to meet the challenge, the reader is given a “Catholic Counter,” which is a brief question that a Catholic can ask a Protestant as a sort of counter challenge. We can’t always be on the defensive. We have to learn to challenge our Protestant friends’ beliefs as well.

Q. What is the ultimate goal for this book? In other words, what do you hope it will accomplish for the person who reads it?

Karlo: My hope is that the reader will become more efficient in their conversations with Protestants. Also, I hope the book will strengthen the reader’s own faith, helping him or her know that in embracing Catholic teaching he or she is not “making void the word of God through [his or her] tradition” (Mark 7:13).

Love,
Matthew

Revelation 22:18-19

“Catholic Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. The Catechism teaches that the canon of Scripture includes “forty-six books for the Old Testament (forty-five if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and twenty-seven for the New” (120). Although Protestants agree with Catholics on the books that make up the New Testament, there are seven books in the Catholic Old Testament canon that they reject: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. They also reject portions of the books of Daniel and Esther. Catholics refer to these seven books as the deuterocanonical (second-canon) books and Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

You may run across a Protestant who rejects the deuterocanonical books because he thinks the Catholic Church added these books, in violation of John’s prohibition to add to the Bible:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19).

John says not to add to Scripture, yet the Catholic Church literally added seven whole books and more!

Reply:

1. If we granted for argument’s sake that John here is referring to the entire canon of Scripture, then Protestants would be guilty for removing the deuterocanonicals.

If we suppose that John is talking about the biblical canon (the list of all the books that make up the Bible) in Revelation 22:18-19, then the challenge becomes a two-edged sword. A Protestant may argue that the Catholic Church added books to the Bible, but a Catholic can just as easily argue that the Protestant community took some books away.

The seven books found in the Catholic Old Testament that are not found in the Protestant Old Testament were widely held as Scripture all throughout Christian history, and it was not until the Protestant Reformation that their canonicity was called into question and rejected on a major scale.

Prior to the Reformation, some individuals did question the canonicity of these books, but for the most part Christians as a whole accepted them. Numerous fourth and fifth-century Church councils authoritatively declared them to be inspired: the Synod of Rome (A.D. 382), Council of Hippo (393), Third Council of Carthage (397), and Sixth Council of Carthage (419). Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly affirms the major consensus on these books in the early Church: “For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”

Such historical evidence makes this challenge difficult for a Protestant. If Revelation 22:18-19 refers to the canon, then the prohibition of “taking away” from it is just as strong as the prohibition of adding to it. So how can Protestants reject seven books from the Bible when Revelation 22:18-19 forbids it?
2. This passage is not even discussing the canon of Scripture but merely the book of Revelation.

These verses, however, don’t even refer to the entire Bible. The Greek word use here for book, biblion, can mean “small book” or “scroll.” In the ancient world, it was impossible to fit the entire Bible on a single scroll. The books of the Bible were originally individual compositions, such as an individual scroll, and the biblical canon as we know it was a collection of individual scrolls, a library of books. That’s why they’re called the “books” (plural) of the Bible. These books would not be put into a single volume until centuries later.

Therefore, it makes most sense to read the phrase “book of this prophecy” as referring to the scroll in which John is recording his prophecy, namely, the book of Revelation. As such, John’s instruction not to add or remove anything refers to the book he was writing—Revelation—and not the future canon of Scripture (which wouldn’t be authoritatively settled for centuries after).

A similar instruction is given is Deuteronomy 4:2, where Moses says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Moses wasn’t referring to the whole Old Testament canon; otherwise we would have to side with the Sadducees and reject every Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch. He was merely prohibiting adding or taking away from the “statutes and the ordinances” that constitute the Mosaic Law.

Since we now know that John was not giving instructions concerning the biblical canon, but instructions governing the book of Revelation (don’t add to the prophetic text of Revelation and don’t take away from it), it becomes clear that Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t undermine the Catholic canon, regardless of whether the Catholic Church added books to the biblical canon or Protestants subtracted from it. Of course, we must not add to or subtract from the canon of Scripture. But that is not what John is talking about in this passage.

Reply: How could John be referring to the entire biblical canon in Revelation 22:18-19 when the canon wouldn’t be settled for another several hundred years?

Consider: Your Protestant friend might argue that because the New Testament doesn’t quote any of the deuterocanonical books we have good reason to exclude them from the canon of Scripture. This is common among some Protestants. But this logic would demand that we also exclude from the canon Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Nahum, Joshua, Obadiah, and Zephaniah, since the New Testament doesn’t quote any of these. I don’t think your Protestant friend wants to make his biblical canon any smaller!”

Love,
Matthew

Asking the Right Questions: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Catholic Answers

“The sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) began with Charles Taze Russell in the 1870’s. Russell was raised a Presbyterian, then joined the Congregational church, and was finally influenced by Adventist teachings. By his own admission, he had a hard time accepting the existence of hell. He sought out the Bible, and as his “studies” continued, he systematically began to reject the major doctrines of historic Christianity. In 1879 he started publishing a magazine to promote his beliefs. This magazine was the precursor to today’s Watchtower (WT) magazine.

In this section we will examine ten topics relating to Russell, the JWs, and their parent organization, the Watchtower Society (WTS). We will show that the beliefs of JWs are unscriptural, and that both Russell and the WTS are completely unreliable as spiritual guides.

Is the Watch Tower Society Reliable?

In 1910 Russell wrote, “If anyone lays the Scripture Studies [short for a seven-volume WTS publication entitled Studies in the Scriptures, hereafter abbreviated as Studies] aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood the Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he will be in the light at the end of two years.” (WT Reprints, 9-15-1910, 4685). The WTS claims to be God’s inspired prophet (WT, 4-1-1972, 197)—and yet its prophecies have repeatedly proven to be false.

Among other things, the WTS falsely predicted the following:

1889: “The ‘battle of the great day of God almighty’ (Rev. 16:14) which will end in AD 1914 . . . ” (Studies, Vol. 2, 1908 edition, 101).

1891: “With the end of AD 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown from prophecy” (Studies, Vol. 3, 153).

1894: “The end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble” (WT Reprints, 1-1-1894, 1605 and 1677).

1916: “The six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th day, the 1000 years of Christ’s reign began in 1873” (Studies, Vol. 2, p. 2 of foreword).

1918: “Therefore, we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 89).

1923: “1925 is definitely settled by the scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge” (WT, 4-1-1923, 106).

1925: “The year of 1925 is here. . . . Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year” (WT, 1-1-1925, 3).

1939: “The disaster of Armageddon is just ahead” (Salvation, 361).

1941: “Armageddon is surely near . . . soon . . . within a few years” (Children, 10).

1946: “Armageddon . . . should come sometime before 1972” (They Have Found a Faith, 44).

1968: “The end of the six thousand years of man’s history in the fall of 1975 is not tentative, but is accepted as a certain date” (WT, 1-1-1968, 271).

Besides false prophecies, the WTS has misled its members through countless changes in doctrine and practice:

The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT, 7-1879, 7-8). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT, 6-1-1952, 338). The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT 8-1-1965, 479). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT 6-1-1988, 31).

“There could be nothing against our consciences in going into the army” (WT, 4-15-1903, 120). Due to conscience, Jehovah’s Witnesses must refuse military service (WT, 2-1-1951, 73).

“We may as well join in with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event [Christmas] . . . ” (WT Reprints, 12-1-1904, 3468). “Christmas and its music are not from Jehovah . . . What is their source? . . . Satan the devil” (WT, 12-15-1983, 7).

“Everyone in America should take pleasure in displaying the American flag” (WT Reprints, 5-15-1917, 6068). The flag is “an idolatrous symbol” (Awake!, 9-8-71, 14).
A much longer list of such contradictions and doctrinal twists by the WTS could be formed, but this suffices to remove any reason one might have to believe that “It is through the columns of The Watchtower that Jehovah provides direction and constant scriptural counsel to his people” (WT, 5-1-1964, 277).

Can You Trust the New World Translation?

The New World Translation (NWT), the JWs’ own Bible version, was created between 1950 and 1961 in several parts, beginning with New Testament (NT). The translation was made by an “anonymous” committee, which transliterated and altered passages that were problematic for earlier JWs. The text of the NWT is more of a transliteration to fit theological presumptions than it is a true translation. This can be seen in key verses that the WTS changed in order to fit its doctrines.

To undermine the divinity of Christ in John 1:1, the NWT reads “the word was a god.” Non-JW Greek scholars call this “a shocking mistranslation” and “evidence of abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar.” Furthermore, Col. 1:15-17 has been changed to “by means of him all [other] things were created.” If the text were left as the original Greek reads, it would clearly state that Jesus created all things. However, the WTS cannot afford to say that anyone but Jehovah created all things, so it inserted the word “other” four times into the text.

The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT said that Jesus was to be worshipped (Heb. 1:6), but the WTS changed the NWT so that later editions would support its doctrines. The translators now decided to render the Greek word for “worship” (proskuneo) as “do obeisance” every time it is applied to Jesus, but as “worship” when modifying Jehovah. If the translators were consistent, then Jesus would be given the worship due to God in Matthew 14:33, 28:9, 28:17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; and Hebrews 1:6.

At the time of the Last Supper, there were over three dozen Aramaic words to say “this means,” “represents,” or “signifies,” but Jesus used none of them in his statement, “This is my body.” Since the WTS denies the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, they have taken the liberty to change our Lord’s words to “This means my body” in Matthew 26:26.

The NWT also translates the Greek word kurios (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” dozens of times in the NT, despite the fact that the word “Jehovah” is never used by any NT author. It should also be asked why the NWT does not translate kurios as “Jehovah” in Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, and Revelation 22:21. If it did translate kurios consistently, then Jesus would be Jehovah!

Is “Jehovah” God’s Name?

In Reasoning from the Scriptures the WTS teaches that “Jehovah” is the proper pronunciation of God’s name, and so “Everyone who calls on the name of [Jehovah] will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). They continue, “Many scholars favor the spelling ‘Yahweh,’ but it is uncertain and there is not agreement among them. On the other hand, ‘Jehovah’ is the form of the name that is most readily recognized, because it has been used in English for centuries” (p. 195).

However, the JWs’ own Aid to Bible Understanding says, “The first recorded use of this form [Jehovah] dates from the 13th century C.E. [after Christ]. . . . Hebrew scholars generally favor ‘Yahweh’ as the most likely pronunciation” (pp. 884-885).

New Testament Greek always uses the word “Lord,” and never “Jehovah,” even in quotes from the Old Testament (OT). Encyclopedia Judaica, Webster’s Encyclopedia, Jewish Encyclopedia,Encyclopedia Britannica, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia and countless others agree that the title “Jehovah” is erroneous and was never used by the Jews.

Do Humans Possess an Immortal Soul?

Another mistake made by JWs is their denial of the immortality of the soul. The Bible mentions the soul approximately 200 times, and it can be seen to have very different meanings according to the context of each passage. This tract will simply demonstrate that the soul is immortal according to Scripture.

Perhaps the strongest contradiction of the WTS doctrine is seen in Christ’s descent to Hades. In 1 Peter 3:19, the apostle tells his audience how Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison.” If the dead were aware of nothing, then his preaching would have been futile. In the OT, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the condition of the dead, “Sheol underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in . . . all of them speak up and say. . . . Those seeing you will gaze even at you, saying . . . ” (Isa. 14:9-11). These verses indicate clearly that the dead are conscious, and the NT tells the same story. To be absent from the body is not to be unconscious, but rather it enables one to be home with the Lord, according to Paul (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). The body is just a tent, or tabernacle that does not last (2 Cor. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 1:13), while man cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). In fact, the souls live past the death of the bodies, since John “saw . . . the souls of those slaughtered . . . and they cried with a loud voice, saying . . . and they were told . . . ” (Rev. 6:9-11). Because the soul does not die with the flesh, those in heaven are able to offer our prayers to God (Rev. 5:8), and live in happiness (Rev. 14:13).

Is Hell Real or Not?

The WTS also maintains that everlasting punishment is a myth and a lie invented by Satan. Hell is merely mankind’s common grave, and is definitely not a fiery torture, according to them.

According to Scripture, if one is in hell, “he shall be tormented with fire and sulfur . . . the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest” (Rev. 14:11). This is an “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Jesus tells his listeners of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man dies, and is “existing in torment . . . he sees . . . calls out . . . ‘I am in anguish in this blazing fire’” (Luke 16:19-31). As a further illustration, Jesus stated that hell is likened to Gehenna. This “Valley of Hinnom” was located southeast of Jerusalem, and was used as a garbage dump where trash and waste were continuously burned day and night in a large fire. Jesus informs the listeners that hell is like this, “where the maggot does not die, and fire is not put out” (Mark 9:42-48). It is the place where the wicked are sent, and from this “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8) will come “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). Now if hell were “a place of rest in hope” as the WTS teaches, then it is odd that Jesus would choose such contradictory illustrations to convey this.

Some core beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) were examined in our tract entitled Five Questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this “sequel” tract, we will examine some additional beliefs and teachings of the Watchtower Society (WTS), the parent organization of the JWs.

Are Jesus and Michael the Archangel Really the Same Person?

One of the most peculiar of the WTS’s teachings is their assertion that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel. If the JW has difficulty explaining any particular doctrine, it will be this one. Even JWs will admit that if one were to have walked up to any of the apostles or disciples of Christ and asked them who Jesus was, they would not have said, “Well, he’s Michael the Archangel!” Not only was the very idea unheard of before Charles Taze Russell (the founder of the WTS), but the Bible explicitly rejects the possibility of it.

For example, the author of Hebrews states, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my son? . . . Let all the angels of God worship him. . . . to which of the angels has he ever said ‘Sit at my right hand . . . ’” (Heb. 1). Here, the author of Hebrews separates Jesus from angels, and commands the angels to worship him (cf. Rev. 5:13-14,14:6-7). The obvious problem is this: archangels are creatures, but the Bible forbids any creature to worship another creature. Thus, either the Bible is in error by commanding the angels to worship an archangel, or Jesus is uncreated and cannot be an archangel. Since this gave the JWs a tremendous problem, they even had to change their own Bible translation, called the New World Translation (NWT), to eliminate the references to worshipping Christ.

Jesus: Creature or Creator?

The doctrine that most clearly sets the WTS apart from Christianity is its denial of the divinity of Christ. JWs maintain that Jesus is actually a creature—a highly exalted one—but not God himself. Scripturally, the evidence is not in their favor.

John 1:1 states unequivocally, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse gave the JWs tremendous difficulty, and so in their own NWT they render the end of this verse as, “And the word was a god.” One great difficulty with this translation is how it contradicts passages such as Deuteronomy 32:39, which says, “I alone, am God and there are no gods together with me.” Further contradictions can be seen in Exodus 20:3, “Have no other gods besides me,” and Isaiah 43:10, “Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.”

In John 20:28 Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” In the original Greek it literally reads, “The Lord of me and the God of me.” It would be nothing short of blasphemy for Jesus not to rebuke Thomas if he was wrong. Jesus instead accepts Thomas’s profession of his identity as God.

The Bible indicates that God alone created the universe (Is. 44:24), and “he that constructed all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). However, Jesus created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10). This passage by itself proves that Jesus is God, since an Old Testament reference to God (Ps. 102:26-28) is now given to him.

In John 8:58, Jesus takes the name of God, “I AM” (Ex. 3:15-18), and applies it to himself. Only God may use this title without blaspheming (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11), and the punishment for someone other than God to use the sacred “I AM” is stoning (Lev. 24:16). Thus, in verse 59, Jesus’ audience picked up stones to kill him, because they correctly understood his use of “I AM” as his claim to being God and hence thought he was guilty of blasphemy. This verse also proved to be difficult for the JWs to combat, and so they changed “I AM” to “I have been.” The Greek here is ego eimi, which any first-semester Greek student can tell you means “I am.”

JWs maintain that only Jehovah God may be prayed to. But Stephen prayed to Jesus in Acts 7:59, and so one must conclude that Jesus is God. Otherwise, Stephen blasphemed while filled with the Holy Spirit (7:55).

The WTS would have their followers believe that Jehovah and Jesus are necessarily different beings, though the Bible tells another story. Jesus is called Mighty God in Isaiah 9:6, and in the very next chapter the same title is given to Jehovah in verse 21. Other shared titles include: King of Kings (compare with Rev. 17:14), Lord of Lords (Deut. 10:17; Rev. 17:14), the only Savior (Is. 43:10-11; Acts 4:12), the First and the Last (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 22:13), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13-16), Rock (Isa. 8:14; 1 Pet. 2:7-8), and Shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Heb. 13:20-21).

Jesus and Jehovah have much more in common than titles, though. They are both worshipped by angels (Heb. 1:6, Neh. 9:6). They are both unchanging (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6). They both created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10, Neh. 9:6) and are all-knowing (John 21:17, 1 John 3:20). Both give eternal life (John 10:28, 1 John 5:11), and judge the world (John 5:22, Ps. 96:13). To them every knee will bend and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:9-11, Is. 45:23).

Is the Holy Spirit a Force or God?

Since the WTS insists that the Trinity is unbiblical and false, they relegate the Holy Spirit to the role of God’s impersonal active force which compels believers to do his will. In fact, they compare the Holy Spirit (which they render as “holy spirit”) to electricity.

The Bible begs to differ, though. There are numerous verses in the New Testament which clearly demonstrate both the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” In Acts 10:19-20, this “impersonal force” considers himself to be a person. John 16 supports this idea by referring to the Holy Spirit as a “he” 10 times in the same chapter. First Corinthians 12:11 states that the Holy Spirit “wills,” which is an irrefutable attribute of personhood, as is the capacity to love we see demonstrated by the Spirit in Romans 15:30. Scripture also states that the Holy Spirit can: be lied to (Acts 5:3), speak (Acts 10:19-20), hear (John 16:13-15), know the future (Acts 21:11), testify (John 15:26), teach (John 14:26), reprove (John 16:8-11), pray and intercede (Rom. 8:26), guide (John 16:13), call (Acts 13:2), be grieved (Eph. 4:30), feel hurt (Isa. 63:10), be outraged (Heb. 10:29), desire (Gal. 5:17) and be blasphemed (Mark 3:29). Only a person is capable of these.

These examples demonstrate sufficiently that the Holy Spirit is a personal being, and so now one must demonstrate that he is God. Acts 5:1-4 teaches that a lie to the Holy Spirit is a lie to God himself. Isaiah 44:24 insists that God alone created the heavens and the earth, but Job 33:4 and Psalms 104:30 explains that the Holy Spirit created them. Only God is everlasting, and this is likewise an attribute Scripture gives the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14). There is but one Lord (Eph. 4:5), and one Creator (Mal. 2:10), yet both the Father and the Spirit claim they are him (Matt. 11:25 and 2 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 8:6 and Ps. 104:30). Only the Catholic understanding of the Trinity reconciles these passages.

Is There a Bodily Resurrection of Christ?

According to the WTS, “The man Jesus is dead, forever dead” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 5, 454). “We deny that he was raised in the flesh, and challenge any statement to that effect as being unscriptural” (Studies, Vol. 7, 57). Jesus’ fleshly body “was disposed of by Jehovah God, dissolved into its constitutive elements or atoms” (The Watchtower, 9-1-1953, 518). “In order to convince Thomas of who he was, he used a body with wound holes” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 145). He was raised as an invisible spirit creature, with no physical body (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 214-215).

However, according to Scripture, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Jesus makes clear, even before death, that it is his body that will be raised up. He promises to raise up the temple once it is destroyed. “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). After he had risen, he gives the same testimony, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have” (Luke 24:39, 41). Jesus insists that Thomas place his finger into his wounded side, so as to prove that he had indeed risen from the dead (John 20:27). Ask the JW to show you a Scripture verse which backs up the WTS’s assertion about God disposing of Jesus’ body. He can’t, because there isn’t one.

Is Heaven Just for the “Anointed Class”?

The WTS teaches that only the anointed 144,000 seen in Revelation 7 will enter heaven (the “anointed class”), while the remainder that are not annihilated (the “other sheep”) will live forever on earth in paradise. However, the Bible poses some irreconcilable difficulties with this idea.

If Revelation 7 is to be taken literally, there would only be 144,000 Jewish male virgins taken from a square-shaped earth that are now in heaven worshipping a sheep. This would mean that Peter (not a virgin), the Blessed Mother (not a male), and Charles Taze Russell (not a Jew) could not be in heaven. Reading one number literally while taking the rest of a book symbolically is not sound exegesis. Beyond this, we see in Revelation 14 that the 144,000 stand before the 24 elders from Revelation 4:4.

This at least brings the grand total to 144,024 people. But the Scriptures indicate that there are still more to come. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a countless multitude before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev. 14:2-3). Still in the book of Revelation, we read that all those with their name in the book of life are in heaven (Rev. 21:27), while all whose names are not in the book of life are thrown into the pool of fire (Rev. 20:15). There is no third “earthly” class. Jesus reiterates this, and never speaks of two flocks.

The WTS maintains that no one that lived before Christ will ever enter heaven. “The apostle Paul in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews names a long list of faithful men who died before the crucifixion of the Lord. . . . These can never be a part of the heavenly class” (Millions Now Living, p. 89).

Matthew 8:11-12 provides severe difficulties for this idea, since Jesus proclaims, “many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside.” No verse could be clearer in declaring that the patriarchs are in heaven. The following verses all demonstrate that Christians go to heaven: 2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 3:1; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:4.”

Love,
Matthew

Counterfeit Christ: Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Heresy of Arianism

Jehovah’s Greatest Creation

The doorbell rings, and you peer through the peephole. Standing on your doorstep is a man in a suit and a woman in a tasteful dress. They don’t look like your average salespeople, so you open the door.

It turns out they are here today to see if you “hope for a better world” or if you “wonder if the Bible is still relevant.” They offer you some free magazines and let you know they’re willing to study the Bible with you at your convenience. You soon learn that the guests on your doorstep are Jehovah’s Witnesses, part of a religious group founded in the 1870’s that has nearly eight million members worldwide.

And they have their own counterfeit version of Jesus.

The central belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that there is one God and his name is Jehovah. According to them, Jehovah created a “Son” and it was through this Son that he created the rest of the world (Arianism). This Son, whom we now call Jesus, has the same “spirit nature” as his Father, which makes him “a god” or “a mighty god.” However, the Son is still a creation of the Father, and so he is not the “true God” and should not be worshiped. As their Awake! magazine says, “[T]rue Christians do well to direct their worship only to Jehovah God, the Almighty.”

Since the Witnesses believe that Jesus is the highest or most glorious of God’s creatures, and they consider archangels to be the highest of the angels, it follows for them that Jesus must be an archangel. And since Michael is called “the archangel,” that means there is only one archangel and so Michael and Jesus must be the same.

They further claim:

The only other verse in which an archangel is mentioned is at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where Paul describes the resurrected Jesus, saying: ‘The Lord [Jesus] himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet.’ So Jesus Christ himself is here identified as the archangel, or chief angel.

But how can that be true if . . .

The Bible Says that Jesus is Not an Angel

Calling Michael the archangel in Jude 1:9 doesn’t prove that Michael is the only archangel any more than calling Sonic the Hedgehog proves he is the only hedgehog. Neither does describing Jesus as descending “with an archangel’s voice” require us to conclude that He is an archangel. (The same verse also says that Jesus will descend with God’s trumpet, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is a trumpet.) It only means that Jesus’ voice will have the quality of an archangel’s voice, or that He will be accompanied by angels who will shout for Him.

Besides, the Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus is superior to all the angels, including the archangels. Hebrews 1:4–6 says Jesus has:

“become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”

Angels don’t worship other angels; they worship only God. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is Michael the archangel, their New World Translation of the Bible (NWT) avoids the situation of angels worshipping another angel by rendering this passage, “Let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.”

Obeisance means to bow down in respect for another person. In Exodus 18:7, Moses made obeisance to his father-in-law, Jethro; and in 1 Kings 1:16, Bathsheba bowed before King David. These instances of obeisance merely describe paying solemn respect to someone. They do not describe the kind of worship one would give to God.

The Greek word in Hebrews 1:6 that Jehovah’s Witnesses translate “obeisance” is προσκυνέω, proskynéō, pron: pros-koo-neh’-o. This word can indeed refer to simple bowing or showing a sign of respect to someone in authority. But, it can also refer to the kind of worship given to God alone. Interestingly, elsewhere the NWT renders proskuneo as “worship” when the verb has God the Father as its direct object (e.g., John 4:20-23). It even translates it as “worship” when it is used to describe the worship of a false god, such as the Beast in Revelation 13. But when proskuneo is used of Jesus, the NWT always translates it as “obeisance” and never as “worship.”

This may be appropriate in verses that describe people paying respect to Jesus, such as when the mother of James and John kneel before Jesus before requesting that he give her sons special authority (Matt. 20:20). But there are other verses where context makes it clear that worship is the most appropriate word to use. This includes Luke 24:52 and Matthew 28:9, both of which refer to the apostles worshipping Jesus after his resurrection.

After Jesus’ calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Matthew 14:33 tells us, “Those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” In the Old Testament, only God possessed power over the weather and the sea. Biblical scholar Moran Hooker points out that even though the disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41), to the reader of the Gospel “the answer to their question is obvious. It is God who made the sea, and God alone who controls it (Ps. 89:8). The authority with which Jesus acts is that of God Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 3 of 3


-St Nicholas, yes, THE Santa Claus, smacks Arius at the Council of Nicea, 325 AD. Unable to restrain his dispute with Arius, Nicholas approached Arius and slapped – or punched – him in the face. The bishop’s loss of cool shocked his contemporaries.  For more detail, please click on the image.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“I was influenced by C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity as a young Christian and always wished I could go to the closest church to where I lived, as he recommended. As I was researching the matter, I realized that, as for many others, a Catholic parish was actually the closest church to me.

This Catholic business was all very hard on my wife, Linda. Like me, she was the offspring of an elder/pastor in the Bible Students movement, and she had been an elder’s wife for over 20 years. We went to the Antiochian Orthodox church a few times, but Linda got migraines from all the incense and had difficulty with the focus on Mary. Their doctrine of communion with the saints in the Church Triumphant is hard for Protestants to accept. Protestants understand communion with the Church Militant, but not with the Church Triumphant.

I was praying in a Catholic church each morning, longing to be with Christ the way those who communed could. However, I knew that I couldn’t receive Communion in the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church unless I converted. I found that hard. Looking back, I can see the sin of pride in myself. Since I had studied, I thought I should be an exception; I knew more than many who were participating in Communion. But now, I see the wisdom of the Church in her unwillingness to compromise on important principles.

As a substitute, I found an Anglican church (Anglican Church in North America, a “continuing Anglican” denomination) to attend on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings, because they let me partake of their communion, which is the “thing” that originally got me going down this path. But what was the Eucharist there? The opinion varied even between their priests.

The canon at the church where I attended had Saturday morning prayer with the Eucharist and Sunday evening prayer with the Eucharist. After the Saturday morning Eucharist, he led a men’s Bible study, while his wife led a women’s group. I explained to him that I was an ex-Arian (non-Trinitarian) pastor on a journey, and he welcomed me. So, there was a period of time while I was still pastoring at my old church and also participating in the Anglican worship and communion on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings.

In December of 2014, I resigned as elder/pastor of my church. Leaving my life, friends, theology, and just about everything else, was hard. At least I had a job. I marvel at those who leave a pastorate that then have to figure out how to put food on the table and a roof overhead!

My wife eventually came to the Anglican Sunday evening service with me. After we left the Bible Students, we attended there on Sunday mornings as well. She really loved the modern worship they blend into their liturgy. She has come to appreciate liturgy, the belief in the Real Presence, and other Catholic teachings there, but has not become Catholic. Still, she has been supportive and continues to grow in her faith. It pains both of us not to worship together, so I, as a Catholic, accompany her to the Sunday evening prayer at her Anglican church.

How could an Anglican canon help me over my prejudice against Catholicism? I learned much at his Saturday morning men’s Bible study. He was always quoting the Church Fathers and treated Catholic teaching kindly. He would point out those Catholic doctrines that he didn’t hold, but knew the Catholic Catechism and Church teachings better than most of the Catholics I’ve met. He is still a friend, and I do enjoy his sermons on Sunday night. What I like about his sermons is that he keeps to the readings for the day. He does not preach whatever he wants, but what his church has given in the readings.

I studied my way into the Church. I told one of the other pastors at my old church, “Whatever you do, don’t read Ignatius’ letters to the churches. They will ruin you.” Ignatius of Antioch laid waste my former view of Church history. Here is a man discipled by the Apostle John. He was the third bishop of that important see of Antioch, where there are bishops, priests, deacons, Eucharist, the importance of being obedient to your bishop, and so forth!

Additionally, reading Athanasius of Alexandria and his simple point on the Father and the Son being eternal (one can’t be the unchanging, everlasting Father without a Son!) helped me overcome my Arian beliefs. As I read the works of people who knew the Apostles and the first disciples, I realized there was no Great Apostasy in the early Church, except amongst those sects that kept popping up, trying to change what had been handed down.

I realized there were only two places I could truly have the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ (the divinity part being a big deal for an ex-Arian): the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. But through all my studies and experiences, I had to admit there could only be one universal Church, one I could find everywhere, one still united with a Tradition that, though a mighty oak tree today, still retains the image of the acorn of the early Church.

While attending an Anglican church, I found some online recordings of an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) class. Going to the Catholic parish to pray had grown into a daily habit. I couldn’t stay for the whole Mass, but I could do so at least through the Liturgy of the Word. I wished that I could go up for Communion on my days off, when I could stay for the entire liturgy; what was there before me was the real thing. So close, yet so far.

I started listening to these recordings of RCIA sessions. My wife was puzzled by my listening to “Catholic stuff.” It was interesting, though, because the person teaching it had gone to Wheaton College (home of Billy Graham) and had converted to Catholicism when he started looking into Church history. He even spent time at the same Anglican church in Wheaton where we were. Linda and I went through RCIA together under him. Linda kept asking, “Where does the Bible say that?” and other, tougher questions about what was taught. RCIA could use some work in this area. Perhaps we could go back to Cyril of Jerusalem and his Catechetical LecturesOf course, in our age, this is probably easier said than done.

On tough days at school, I would also stop by the church after work to pray. There was a side chapel where you could see the Tabernacle and get into the church when the main entrance was closed. One time, I noticed a man praying there, Craig, whom I had seen at morning Mass. He always seemed serene — which I wasn’t. I now know that what I did was breaking protocol, but I turned to him and started asking him questions about the statues, etc. He answered patiently. The next week, while at morning prayer, he came to me with a Daily Roman Missal and a copy of Introduction to Catholicism for Adults by the Rev. James Socias. Craig told me, “You have some studying to do.” We developed a relationship. I was always off to the races, and he was always telling me to take some time and develop a “Catholic mind.” After becoming Catholic, I’m starting to see what he meant. Craig was my sponsor when I entered the Church.

I have dealt with Peter and Popes, Mary, and all the usual Protestant issues, and am still adjusting. Stephen Ray, Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, Mike Aquilina, and Fr. Simon of Father Simon Says on Relevant Radio have been part of my tutelage. I still try to listen to Fr. Simon’s podcasts daily. I also go to his Patristic Palooza on the early Church each October. Another author very important to me is G.K. Chesterton. (Where were you all my life G.K.?) His wit, joy and formidable intelligence are amazing. I tell people about him all the time, saying he’s the most important author of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of.

One of the scariest realizations I came to in this journey was that if the Church doesn’t exist (as, for instance, in the Catholic Church), then Jesus failed, because He wanted us to be one, not 30,000 or 40,000 flavors (John 17). I know Jesus can’t fail. That means there has to be a Church that still is one, despite all its various languages and cultures. No other body comes close to the Catholic Church in this. In fact, I am frequently amazed at the different people who make up a congregation. In my Protestant life, they would have divided into different churches. Sadly, some of the practices being proposed by leaders within the Catholic Church today have already been tried and discarded by Protestants. As the man told King Arthur and his knights in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, “Look at the bones!”

Some new acquaintances recommended the Coming Home NetworkI contacted them, and Jim Anderson has been checking in on me throughout the process of my entering the Church in March of 2017 and following up since then. Just knowing there was someone who cared about me helped a lot. It was also good to read other people’s stories and realize that I was not alone in my quest. It was comforting to realize how many people who were leaders in their Protestant churches were willing to come over to the Catholic Church. With the challenges facing the Church these days, I have found that those of us who have made this journey of faith have little patience for the protestantization of the Church. Interesting timing on God’s part!

Being Catholic has meant a much more personal relationship with God. When I was confirmed (I was baptized as a child), I took the name of Elijah, my favorite prophet. We need Elijah and all the saints to help us in these times. As I wandered through those years of searching, I stumbled on the Liturgy of the Hours and daily use the Universalis app (which provides the daily texts of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass). I am ashamed to admit that I pray more now than when I was a pastor. Where I pray does matter. How I worship does matter. What matters is not what I want in prayer or worship, but what God wants. I think of Him constantly now. The Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Christians became a saving grace early in this transformation and is still a regular prayer throughout my days. I’m learning the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and other distinctively Catholic prayers. I feel blessed to have ancient aspects of my faith from East and West, as well as a deep love of Scripture from my Bible Student formation. I am blessed to be able to physically be with our Lord daily.

I am blessed, too, with having Catholic parishes in abundance around me. I have spent a day in prayer at St. John Cantius in Chicago, one of the most beautiful churches in the states. Last season, I was able to attend there for the entire Triduum (Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the week that precedes Easter Sunday); it was amazing, as are the parishioners there in their devotion. On Sundays, I am blessed with a parish nearby that celebrates an Extraordinary Form Mass (the old Latin Mass) as one of its five Sunday Masses.

I’m also part of a band of men who meet Saturday mornings at 7 AM to go over the Sunday Mass readings together. In addition, I’m a part of a smaller group of men who meet twice a month to study papal encyclical letters. We have just finished Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage, by Pope Pius XI) and are now learning Humanae Vitae (On Human Life, by Pope Paul VI). After that we will tackle Pascendi Dominici Gregis (On the Doctrines of the Modernists, by Pope Pius X). Each of these encyclical letters deals with key issues of our contemporary society and culture. We also study spiritual disciplines and the Sacraments.

Our hope is to be a help to others as we deal with the ongoing dismantling of Western culture and belief in the sacred and supernatural. The fight is not between liberal and conservative, but between those who believe in God and those who don’t. The collapse of civilization is always quite inconvenient. The Church was there when it happened before, a couple of times. Here’s to her success once again!”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 2 of 3


-ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistery, built in Ravenna by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great (454-526 AD), please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“Following the lead of others, I encouraged our congregation’s move away from simple worship of some hymns and readings before the sermon to a more Evangelical-style worship with a band. We developed various themes and programs to try to keep people interested and coming. It was a total flop. As many Protestant churches have discovered, if you try to keep people entertained or emotionally tied, it quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.

Now, as a Catholic, being in Jesus’ presence daily as I pray before the Tabernacle is the most important part of my day. In contrast, the way I lived out my Christianity through my Bible Student upbringing was a “head experience.” Being a science teacher as well as a pastor supported keeping everything in my head. But my real need was to live Christ in body, soul, and spirit. Getting the right program or manner of worshiping was not the main thing.

As I started studying early Church history, I encountered the early Christians and Church Fathers. These were people who lived out Jesus’ teaching and promises. I didn’t need New Age magical thinking. I didn’t need a program, a new form of worship. I needed to submit to God, worshiping the way He wanted, not the way I wanted. That is the main thing: full submission to Him, to His will. But I only realized that later.

On the other hand, I started to stop by a Catholic parish in my town on my way to work. It is the only Christian church that is open at 5:45 AM weekdays for people to pray; they have a daily 6:30 AM Mass. I was beginning to appreciate sacred spaces and places.

However, I had a hard time dealing with Catholic doctrine. I had been well-trained to dissect Catholic thought and practice — at least the caricature of it that we were taught. Catholics were (and sadly, still are) pretty easy targets to “evangelize” away from their faith. Very few Catholics I met knew their Bible, their history, or how to defend any of their practices.

So, since I “knew” that what I was looking for couldn’t be the Catholic Church, I first looked at Orthodox writers and thinkers. It is funny how our prejudices work. I couldn’t bring myself to look into the Catholic Church, but I was OK with looking into the Eastern Orthodox — all the while praying each morning in a Catholic church. People thought the Orthodox faith strange, but I didn’t get the strong reactions I did later as a Catholic.

I was blessed during my time studying Orthodoxy. The Orthodox schism of 1054 fit in with my Protestant idea of the Church “going off the rails,” but I had to move to much later the date of the “Great Apostasy.” Among Orthodox writers and saints, I could see the promises of Christ being lived out. Reading of the monks of Mt. Athos, the Eastern Fathers, the rich liturgy, and abundance of miracles, I thought that I was on the right track. I began to challenge people to look into the Orthodox faith, pointing out the wonders and beauties I had discovered.

A lot was going on at that time. I was taking classes at the Antiochian Orthodox seminary and knew my future was taking me where my brethren were unwilling to go. I had been trying to re-create the early Church, as many Protestants have, within the confines of my own church. That was not fair to them.

It didn’t take a full semester to realize that I was running into many of the same issues in the Orthodox Church that I saw in Protestant churches. The nationalism of the various sects of the Orthodox was troubling. Attending various Divine Liturgies was enlightening as well. In the Antiochian church nearby, the people were very devout. In my sampling of other Orthodox parishes, not so much. Still, the Orthodox Churches have apostolic succession and the true Presence of Christ in their Divine Liturgy. 

On the other hand, I also learned that the Catholic Church does include several Eastern forms of liturgy.”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 1 of 3


-Great Champions of the Catholic Faith, fierce combatants against the heresy of Arianism, the Cappodocian Fathers: St Basil and St Gregory of Nazianzus, along with Basil’s brother St Gregory of Nyssa and St John Chrysostom, fought against Arianism. For greater detail, please click on the image.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“My family left the Catholic Church when I was in first grade. I had only one year of Catholic education. Being the oldest of seven, none of my younger siblings had any at all — and not one of them has anything to do with the Church today. My parents joined the Bible Students, a small non-denominational group, descendants of Pastor Charles Taze Russell. They are not the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as is commonly reported. The JWs really came from one of Pastor Russell’s board members, Judge Rutherford. That is a story for another day.

Sundays meant long drives to “Meeting.” Except for one faction of the movement, known as Bereans, we didn’t call it “church”; instead, we met as ecclesias. Bible Students like to use Greek, since that’s what Pastor Russell did. The groups were small (their peak was just before World War I), and they often met in homes, Masonic temples, or the local YMCA. Very few congregations owned a building.

Most Meetings were spent studying Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures, his topical Bible studies. Some “liberal” Bible Student groups, such as the Bereans, actually studied the Bible. I was blessed to be involved with all three flavors of the Bible Students at different times. I do not regret the strong love of Scripture they gave me.

Growing up in a group that is considered a cult by other Christians does tend to make you pay more attention to what is being taught. I can remember being told that I was going to hell by many a Christian as I tracted neighborhoods or worked a booth at the county fair. On the other hand, being part of a small group that is, to some extent, persecuted also gives you a sense of being special in the Lord’s eyes. I think that is a very important part of many of the smaller denominations within Christianity.

Bible Student theology is very neat and tidy. Here is the elevator version: God has a plan. As Paul tells Timothy, God wants all men to come to Christ; therefore, logically, most will. The plan is based solely on Scripture. Russell goes out of his way in the first of the six volumes of his Studies to say that he won’t look to Church Fathers or any other documents, since those are only human opinions. Jesus was a man — only a man; we did not believe in the Trinity — because He was the “ransom price” for Adam. Since Adam was a perfect man, Jesus, to be the ransom, also had to be a perfect man. Christ’s Kingdom is a literal thousand-year kingdom, where all will be raised from the dead and know God. At the end of the thousand years, all would choose either life or destruction. There is no eternal torment or any other of what we called “pagan and medieval” notions, since death and hell are tossed into the “second death.”

I grew up going to the seminars, conventions and other ways the small ecclesias would work to build up the Body of Christ. I was blessed with being around people who were very bright and knew history, the Bible, and how to think for themselves. I loved going to these Meetings and developed close Christian friendships.

In the Bible Student movement, nobody in leadership is paid. Everyone who serves the ecclesia needs an outside job. To pay the bills, I was and am a science teacher. One of the other elder/pastors I worked with was the math chair at the local high school. Another was in charge of internal sales for industry.

There are different types of Bible Students. The Dawn group was the group that formed after Judge Rutherford kicked everyone out of the Watchtower. They set up their own printing press and started The Dawn magazine. The Divine Plan faction was formed in the 1960s and 70s as a reaction to the practices of the Dawn Meetings, who had stopped using some of the volumes of the Scripture Studies. Another group, known as Free, or Berean, Bible Students, developed in the 1930s and 40s. I eventually became a deacon and then an elder in a Berean congregation. The Bereans were considered to be “out of the truth” by many in the other groups. Bereans only study the Bible, and many Bereans today have no knowledge of the Studies in the Scriptures.

When my parents entered the Bible Student world, they met with a Divine Plan group first, then with some people from that group who started a home church. As a teenager, I got to know brethren in the Dawn faction; in fact, I married a girl from there. In short, within our own denomination, we experienced the fractures of Protestantism in spades.

What does it mean to be an elder in the Bible Student movement? It means being a pastor who does the preaching, teaching, counseling, marrying, burying, and other duties of a typical Evangelical pastor — plus working full time on the outside. That is why they usually have several elders. At the time I was active in the denomination, my congregation of 100–120 had five elder/pastors.

So, how did I become Catholic? A lot of things happened all at once. I joke that things really went “wrong” for me when I led a series of sermons and studies on having Communion more than once a year at our church (Berean Bible Students would use the word “church”). It is Bible Student practice to have communion only on the 14th of the Hebrew month Nisan, the actual night of Jesus’ Last Supper. This was our “tradition.” (Yes, even non-denominational churches have traditions; they just don’t admit it.)

I could tell from Scripture that the early Church had Communion more often than our once-a-year practice, although apparently some in the early Church had an annual practice.

Then I made another mistake: I started to study Church history. It turns out that Church history, in Protestant churches and cultures, leaves out a lot of information and is quite comfortable sharing historical information that isn’t really history. One very helpful book to disabuse me of this error was Rodney Stark’s Bearing False Witness. Stark was a Protestant historian fed up with the false narrative about the Catholic Church passed off as history.

As I learned, I shared. Communion started to happen a bit more often in our church. But when your theology says it is only a symbol, Communion does not have much importance or urgency. I can remember sharing from the platform during sermons that I envied the Catholics’ ability to have Christ daily in such a literal way. Nobody agreed with that. I was the one out of step, because I had come to realize that it wasn’t just a symbol. Jesus meant what He said, and His listeners took it the same way, as is clear from John 6.

By the year 2010, I had been looking over Catholic doctrines for several years. The congregation probably wasn’t sure where I was coming from at times. Why was I looking outside our own denomination? Well, I teach science in a very challenging environment, one with extreme poverty and social and behavioral issues. I could see the disconnect between what Jesus said we should do and what I was doing.”

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Arianism – “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.”


-Emporer Constantine burning Arian books, illustration from a compendium of canon law, c. 825. Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in northern Italy ca. 825.

“The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.” – St Jerome

-by Hillaire Belloc, Chapter 3, The Great Heresies

“Arianism was the first of the great heresies.

There had been from the foundation of the Church at Pentecost A.D. 29[1] to 33 a mass of heretical movements filling the first three centuries. They had turned, nearly all of them, upon the nature of Christ.

The effect of our Lord’s predication, and Personality, and miracles, but most of all His resurrection, had been to move every one who had any faith at all in the wonder presented, to a conception of divine power running through the whole affair.

Now the central tradition of the Church here, as in every other case of disputed doctrine, was strong and clear from the beginning. Our Lord was undoubtedly a man. He had been born as men are born, He died as men die. He lived as a man and had been known as a man by a group of close companions and a very large number of men and women who had followed Him, and heard Him and witnessed His actions.

But said the Church He was also God. God had come down to earth and become Incarnate as a Man. He was not merely a man influenced by the Divinity, nor was He a manifestation of the Divinity under the appearance of a man. He was at the same time fully God and fully Man. On that the central tradition of the Church never wavered. It is taken for granted from the beginning by those who have authority to speak.

But a mystery is necessarily, because it is a mystery, incomprehensible; therefore man, being a reasonable being, is perpetually attempting to rationalize it. So it was with this mystery. One set would say Christ was only a man, though a man endowed with special powers.  Another set, at the opposite extreme, would say He was a manifestation of  the Divine. His human nature was a thing of illusion. They played the changes between those two extremes indefinitely.

Well, the Arian heresy was, as it were, the summing up and conclusion of all these movements on the unorthodox side that is, of all those movements which did not accept the full mystery of two natures.

Since it is very difficult to rationalize the union of the Infinite with the finite, since there is an apparent contradiction between the two terms, this final form into which the confusion of heresies settled down was a declaration that our Lord was as much of the Divine Essence as it was possible for a creature to be, but that He was none the less a creature. He was not the Infinite and Omnipotent God who must be of His nature one and indivisible, and could not (so they said) be at the same time a limited human moving and having his being in the temporal sphere.

Arianism (I will later describe the origin of the name) was willing to grant our Lord every kind of honour and majesty short of the full nature of the Godhead. He was created (or, if people did not like the word “created” then “he came forth”) from the Godhead before all other effects thereof. Through Him the world was created. He was granted one might (say paradoxically) all the divine attributes except divinity.

Essentially this movement sprang from exactly the same source as any other rationalistic movement from the beginning to our own time. It sprang from the desire to visualize clearly and simply something which is beyond the grasp of human vision and comprehension. Therefore, although it began by giving to our Lord every possible honor and glory short of the actual Godhead, it would inevitably have led in the long run into mere unitarianism and the treating of our Lord at last as a prophet and, however exalted, no more than a prophet.

As all heresies necessarily breathe the air of the time in which they arise, and are necessarily a reflection of the philosophy of whatever non-Catholic ideas are prevalent at that moment they arise, Arianism spoke in the terms of its day. It did not begin as a similar movement would begin today by making our Lord a mere man and nothing else. Still less did it deny the supernatural as a whole. The time in which it arose (the years round about A.D. 300) was a time in which all society took the supernatural for granted. But it spoke of our Lord as a Supreme Agent of God a Demiurge and regarded him as the first and greatest of those emanations of the Central Godhead through which emanations the fashionable philosophy of the day got over the difficulty of reconciling the Infinite and simple Creator with a complex and finite universe.

So much for the doctrine and for what its rationalistic tendencies would have ended in had it conquered. It would have rendered the new religion something like Mohammedanism or perhaps, seeing the nature of Greek and Roman society, something like an Oriental Calvinism.

At any rate, what I have just set down was the state of this doctrine so long as it flourished: a denial of Our Lord’s full Godhead combined with an admission of all His other attributes.

Now when we are talking of the older dead heresies we have to consider the spiritual and therefore social effects of them much more than their mere doctrinal error, although that doctrinal error was the ultimate cause of all their spiritual and social effects. We have to do this because, when a heresy has been long dead, its savour is forgotten. The particular tone and unmistakable impress which it stamped upon society being no longer experienced is non-existent for us, and it had to be resurrected, as it were, by anyone who wants to talk true history. It would be impossible, short of an explanation of this kind, to make a Catholic from Bearn today, a peasant from the neighborhood of Lourdes where Calvinism, once prevalent there, is now dead, understand the savor and individual character of Calvinism as it still survives in Scotland and in sections of the United States. But we must try to realize this now forgotten Arian atmosphere, because, until we understand its spiritual and therefore social savor, we cannot be said to know it really at all.

Further, one must understand this savour or intimate personal character of the movement, and its individual effect on society, in order to understand its importance. There is no greater error in the whole range of bad history than imagining that doctrinal differences, because they are abstract and apparently remote from the practical things of life, are not therefore of intense social effect. Describe to a Chinaman today the doctrinal quarrel of the Reformation, tell him that it was above all a denial of the doctrine of the visible church, and a denial of the special authority of its officers. That would be true. He would so far understand what happened at this Reformation as he might understand a mathematical statement. But would that make him understand the French Huguenots of today, the Prussian manner in war and politics, the nature of England and her past since Puritanism arose in this country? Would it make him understand the Orange Lodges or the moral and political systems of, say, Mr. H. G. Wells or Mr. Bernard Shaw? Of course it would not! To give a man the history of tobacco, to give him the chemical formula (if there be such a thing) for nicotine, is not to make him understand what is meant by the smell of tobacco and the effects of smoking it. So it is with Arianism. Merely to say that Arianism was what it was doctrinally is to enunciate a formula, but not to give the thing itself.

When Arianism arose it came upon a society which was already, and had long been, the one Universal Polity of which all civilized men were citizens. There were no separate nations. The Roman empire was one state from the Euphrates to the Atlantic and from the Sahara to the Scottish Highlands. It was ruled in monarchic fashion by the Commander-in-Chief, or Commanders-in-Chief, of the armies. The title for the Commander-in-Chief was “Imperator” whence we get our word Emperor and therefore we talk of that State as the “Roman Empire.” What the emperor or associated emperors (there had been two of them according to the latest scheme, each with a coadjutor, making four, but these soon coalesced into one supreme head and unique emperor) declared themselves to be, that was the attitude of the empire officially as a whole.

The emperors and therefore the whole official scheme dependent on them had been anti-Christian during the growth of the Catholic Church in the midst of Roman and Greek pagan society. For nearly 300 years they and the official scheme of that society had regarded the increasingly powerful Catholic Church as an alien and very dangerous menace to the traditions and therefore to the strength of the old Greek and Roman pagan world. The Church was, as it were, a state within a state, possessing her own supreme officials, the bishops, and her own organization, which was of a highly developed and powerful kind. She was ubiquitous. She stood in strong contrast with the old world into which she had thrust herself. What would
be the life of the one would be the death of the other. The old world defended itself through the action of the last pagan emperors. They launched many persecutions against the Church, ending in one final and very drastic persecution which failed.

The Catholic cause was at first supported by, and at last openly joined by, a man who conquered all other rivals and established himself as supreme monarch over the whole State: the Emperor Constantine the Great ruling from Constantinople, the city which he had founded and called “New Rome.” After this the central office of the Empire was Christian. By the critical date A.D. 325, not quite three centuries after Pentecost, the Catholic Church had become the official, or at any rate the Palace, Religion of the Empire, and so remained (with one very brief exceptional interval) as long as the empire stood.[2]

But it must not be imagined that the majority of men as yet adhered to the Christian religion, even in the Greek speaking East. They certainly were not of that religion by anything like a majority in the Latin speaking West.

As in all great changes throughout history the parties at issue were minorities inspired with different degrees of enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm. These minorities had various motives and were struggling each to impose its mental attitude upon the wavering and undecided mass. Of these minorities the Christians were the largest and (what was more important) the most eager, the most convinced, and the only fully and strictly organized.

The conversion of the Emperor brought over to them large and increasing numbers of the undecided majority. These, perhaps, for the greater part hardly understood the new thing to which they were rallying, and certainly for the most part were not attached to it. But it had finally won politically and that was enough for them. Many regretted the old gods, but thought it not worth while to risk anything in their defense. Very many more cared nothing for what was left of the old gods and not much more for the new Christian fashions.

Meanwhile there was a strong minority remaining of highly intelligent and determined pagans. They had on their side not only the traditions of a wealthy governing class but they had also the great bulk of the best writers and, of course, they also had to strengthen them the recent memories of their long dominance over society.

There was yet another element of that world, separate from all the rest, and one which it is extremely important for us to understand: the Army. Why it is so important for us to understand the position of the Army will be described in a moment.

When the power of Arianism was manifested in those first years of the official Christian Empire and its universal government throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Arianism became the nucleus or centre of many forces which would be, of themselves, indifferent to its doctrine. It became the rallying point for many strongly surviving traditions from the older world: traditions not religious, but intellectual, social, moral, literary and all the rest of it.

We might put it vividly enough in modern slang by saying that Arianism, thus vigorously present in the new great discussions within the body of the Christian Church when first that Church achieved official support and became the official religion of the Empire, attracted all the “high-brows,” at least half the snobs and nearly all the sincere idealistic tories_the “die-hards”_whether nominally Christian or not. It attracted, as we know, great numbers of those who <were> definitely Christian. But it was also the rallying point of these non-Christian forces which were of such great importance in the society of the day.

A great number of the old noble families were reluctant to accept the social revolution implied by the triumph of the Christian Church. They naturally sided with a movement which they instinctively felt to be spiritually opposed to the life and survival of that Church and which carried with it an atmosphere of social superiority over the populace. The Church relied upon and was supported at the end by the masses. Men of old family tradition and wealth found the Arian more sympathetic than the ordinary Catholic and a better ally for gentlemen.

Many intellectuals were in the same position. These had not pride of family and old social traditions from the past, but they had pride of culture. They remembered with regret the former prestige of the pagan philosophers. They thought that this great revolution from paganism to Catholicism would destroy the old cultural traditions and their own cultural position.

The mere snobs, who are always a vast body in any society that is, the people who have no opinions of their own but who follow what they believe to be the honorific thing of the moment would be divided. Perhaps the majority of them would follow the official court movement and attach themselves openly to the new religion. But there would always be a certain number who would think it more “chic,” more “the thing” to profess sympathy with the old pagan traditions, the great old pagan families, the long inherited and venerable pagan culture and literature and all the rest of it. All these reinforced the Arian movement because it was destructive of Catholicism.

Arianism had yet another ally and the nature of that alliance is so subtle that it requires very careful examination. It had for ally the tendency of government in an absolute monarchy to be half afraid of emotions present in the minds of the people and especially in the poorer people: emotions which if they spread and became enthusiastic and captured the mass of the people might become too strong to be ruled and would have to be bowed to. There is here a difficult paradox but one important to be recognized.

Absolute government, especially in the hands of one man, would seem, on the surface, to be opposed to popular government. The two sound contradictory to those who have not seen absolute monarchy at work. To those who have, it is just the other way. Absolute government is the support of the masses against the power of wealth in the hands of a few, or the power of armies in the hands of a few. Therefore one might imagine that the imperial power of Constantinople would have had sympathy with the popular Catholic masses rather than with the intellectuals and the rest who followed Arianism. But we must remember that while absolute government has for its very cause of existence the defence of the masses against the
powerful few, yet it likes to rule. It does not like to feel that there is in the State a rival to its own power. It does not like to feel that great decisions may be imposed by organizations other than its own official organization. That is why even the most Christian emperors and their officials always had at the back of their minds, during the first lifetime of the Arian movement, a potential sympathy with Arianism, and that is why this potential sympathy in some cases appears as actual sympathy and as a public declaration of Arianism on their part.

There was yet one more ally to Arianism through which it almost triumphed the Army.

In order to understand how powerful such an ally was we must appreciate what the Roman Army meant in those days and of what it was composed.

The Army was, of course, in mere numbers, only a fraction of society. We are not certain what those numbers were; at the most they may have come to half a million_they were probably a good deal less. But to judge by numbers in the matter would be ridiculous. The Army was normally half, or more than half, the State. The Army was the true cement, to use one metaphor, the framework to use another metaphor, the binding force and the support and the very material self of the Roman Empire in that fourth century; it had been so for centuries before and was to remain so for further generations.

It is absolutely essential to understand this point, for it explains three-fourths of what happened, not only in the case of the Arian heresy but of everything else between the days of Marius (under whose administration the Roman Army first became professional), and the Mohammedan attack upon Europe, that is, from more than a century before the Christian era to the early seventh century. The social and political position of the Army explains all those seven hundred years and more.

The Roman Empire was a military state. It was not a civilian state. Promotion to power was through the Army. The conception of glory and success, the attainment of wealth in many cases, in nearly all cases the attainment of political power, depended on the Army in those days, just as it depends upon money-lending, speculation, caucuses, manipulation of votes, bosses and newspapers nowadays.

The Army had originally consisted of Roman citizens, all of whom were Italians. Then as the power of the Roman State spread it took in auxiliary troops, people following local chieftains, and affiliated to the Roman military system and even recruited its regular ranks from up and down the Empire in every province. There were many Gauls that is Frenchmen in the Army, many Spaniards, and so forth, before the first one hundred years of the Empire had run out. In the next two hundred years that is, in the two hundred years A.D. 100-300, leading up to the Arian heresy_the Army had become more and more recruited from what we call “Barbarians,” a term which meant not savages but people outside the strict limits of the Roman Empire. They were easier to discipline, they were much cheaper to hire than citizens were. They were also less used to the arts and comforts of civilization than the citizens within the frontiers. Great numbers of them were German, but there were many Slavs and a good many Moors and Arabs and Saracens and not a few Mongols even, drifting in from the East.

This great body of the Roman Army was strictly bound together by its discipline, but still more by its professional pride. It was a long service army. A man belonged to it from his adolescence to his middle age. No one else except the Army had any physical power. There could be no question of resisting it by force, and it was in a sense the government. Its commander-in-chief was the absolute monarch of the whole state. Now the army went solidly Arian.

That is the capital mark of the whole affair. But for the Army, Arianism would never have meant what it did. With the Army_and the Army wholeheartedly on its side_Arianism all but triumphed and managed to survive even when it represented a little more than the troops and their chief officers.

It was true that a certain number of German troops from outside the Empire had been converted by Arian missionaries at a moment when high society was Arian. But that was not the main reason that the Army as a whole went Arian. The Army went Arian because it felt Arianism to be the distinctive thing which made it superior to the civilian masses, just as Arianism was a distinctive thing which made the intellectual feel superior to the popular masses. The soldiers, whether of barbaric or civilian recruitment, felt sympathy with Arianism for the same reason that the old pagan families felt sympathy with Arianism. The army then, and especially the Army chiefs, backed the new heresy for all they were worth, and it became a sort of test of whether you were somebody_a soldier as against the despised civilians_or no. One might say that there had arisen a feud between the Army chiefs on the one hand and the Catholic bishops on the other. Certainly there was a division_an official severence between the Catholic populace in towns, the Catholic peasantry in the country and the almost universally Arian soldier; and the enormous effect of this junction between the new heresy and the Army we shall see at work in all that follows.

Now that we have seen what the spirit of Arianism was and what forces were in its favor, let us see how it got its name.

The movement for denying the full Godhead of Christ and making Him a creature took its title from one Areios (in the Latin form Arius), a Greek-speaking African cleric rather older than Constantine, and already famous as a religious force some years before Constantine’s victories and first imperial power.

Remember that Arius was only a climax to a long movement. What was the cause of his success? Two things combined. First, the momentum of all that came before him. Second, the sudden release of the Church by Constantine. To this should be added undoubtedly something in Arius’ own personality. Men of this kind who become leaders do so because they have some personal momentum from their own past impelling them. They would not so become unless there were something in themselves.

I think we may take it that Arius had the effect he had through a convergence of forces. There was a great deal of ambition in him, such as you will find in all heresiarchs. There was a strong element of rationalism. There was also in him enthusiasm for what he believed to be the truth.

His theory was certainly not his own original discovery, but he made it his own; he identified it with his name. Further, he was moved to a dogged resistance against people whom he thought to be persecuting him. He suffered from much vanity, as do nearly all reformers. On the top of all this a rather thin simplicity, “commonsense,” which at once appeals to multitudes. But he would never have had his success but for something eloquent about him and a driving power.

He was already a man of position, probably from the Cyrenaica (now an Italian colony in North Africa, east of Tripoli), though he was talked of as being Alexandrian, because it was in Alexandria that he lived. He had been a disciple of the greatest critic of his time, the martyr Lucian of Antioch. In the year 318 he was presiding over the Church of Bucalis in Alexandria, and enjoyed the high favor of the Bishop of the City, Alexander.

Arius went over from Egypt to Caesarea in Palestine, spreading his already well-known set of rationalizing, Unitarian ideas with zeal. Some of the eastern Bishops began to agree with him. It is true that the two main Syrian Bishoprics, Antioch and Jerusalem, stood out; but apparently most of the Syrian hierarchy inclined to listen to Arius.

When Constantine became the master of the whole Empire in 325, Arius appealed to the new master of the world. The great Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, had excommunicated him, but reluctantly. The old heathen Emperor Licinius had protected the new movement.

A battle of vast importance was joined. Men did not know of what importance it was, violently though their emotions were excited. Had this movement for rejecting the full divinity of Our Lord gained the victory, all our civilization would have been other than what it has been from that day to this. We all know what happens when an attempt to simplify and rationalize the mysteries of the Faith succeeds in any society. We have before us now the ending experiment of the Reformation, and the aged but still very vigorous Mohammedan heresy, which may perhaps appear with renewed vigor in the future. Such rationalistic efforts against the creed produce a gradual social degradation following on the loss of that direct link between human nature and God which is provided by the Incarnation. Human dignity is lessened. The authority of Our Lord is weakened. He appears more and more as a man_perhaps a myth. The substance of Christian life is diluted. It wanes. What began as Unitarianism ends as Paganism.

To settle the quarrel by which all Christian society was divided, a council was ordered by the Emperor to meet, in A.D. 325, at the town of Nicaea, fifty miles from the capital, on the Asiatic side of the Straits. The Bishops were summoned to convene there from the whole Empire, even from districts outside the Empire where Christian missionaries had planted the Faith. The great bulk of those who came were from the Eastern Empire, but the West was represented, and, what was of the first importance, delegates arrived from the Primatial See of Rome; but for their adherence the decrees of the Council would not have held. As it was their presence gave full validity to these Decrees. The reaction against the innovation of Arius was so strong that at this Council of Nicaea he was overwhelmed.

In that first great defeat, when the strong vital tradition of Catholicism had asserted itself and Arius was condemned, the creed which his followers had drawn up was trampled under-foot as a blasphemy, but thespirit behind that creed and behind that revolt was to re-arise.

It re-arose at once, and it can be said that Arianism was actually strengthened by its first superficial defeat. This paradox was due to a cause you will find at work in many forms of conflict. The defeated adversary learns from his first rebuff the character of the thing he has attacked; he discovers its weak points; he learns how his opponent may be confused and into what compromises that opponent may be led. He is therefore better prepared after his check than he was at the first onslaught. So it was with Arianism.

In order to understand the situation we must appreciate the point that Arianism, founded like all heresies on an error in doctrine_that is on something which can be expressed in a dead formula of mere words soon began to live, like all heresies at their beginning, with a vigorous new life and character and savor of its own. The quarrel which filled the third century from 325 onwards for a lifetime was not after its first years a quarrel between opposing forms of words the difference between which may appear slight; it became very early in the struggle a quarrel between opposing spirits and characters: a quarrel between two opposing personalities, such as human personalities are: on the one side the Catholic temper and tradition, on the other a soured, proud temper, which would have destroyed the Faith.

Arianism learned from its first heavy defeat at Nicaea to compromise on forms, on the wording of doctrine, so that it might preserve, and spread with less opposition, its heretical spirit. The first conflict had turned on the use of a Greek word which means “of the same substance with.” The Catholics, affirming the full Godhead of Our Lord, insisted on the use of this word, which implied that the Son was of the same Divine substance as the Father; that He was of the same Being: i.e., Godship. It was thought sufficient to present this word as a test. The Arians_it was thought_would always refuse to accept the word and could thus be distinguished from the Orthodox and rejected.

But many Arians were prepared to compromise by accepting the mere word and denying the spirit in which it should be read. They were willing to admit that Christ was of the Divine essence, but not fully God; not uncreated. When the Arians began this new policy of verbal compromise, the

Emperor Constantine and his successors regarded that policy as an honest opportunity for reconciliation and reunion. The refusal of the Catholics to be deceived became, in the eyes of those who thought thus, mere obstinacy; and in the eyes of the Emperor, factious rebellion and inexcusable disobedience. “Here are you people, who call yourself the only real Catholics, prolonging and needlessly embittering a mere faction-fight. Because you have the popular names behind you, you feel yourselves the masters of your fellows. Such arrogance is intolerable.

“The other side have accepted your main point; why cannot you now settle the quarrel and come together again? By holding out you split society into two camps; you disturb the peace of the Empire, and are as criminal as you are fanatical.”

That is what the official world tended to put forward and honestly believed.

The Catholics answered: “The heretics have not accepted our main point. They have subscribed to an Orthodox phrase, but they interpret that phrase in an heretical fashion. They will repeat that Our Lord is of Divine nature, but not that he is fully God, for they still say He was created. Therefore we will not allow them to enter our communion. To do so would be to endanger the vital principle by which the Church exists, the principle of the Incarnation, and the Church is essential to the Empire and Mankind.”

At this point, there entered the battle that personal force which ultimately won the victory for Catholicism: St. Athanasius. It was the tenacity and single aim of St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, the great Metropolitan See of Egypt, which decided the issue. He enjoyed a position of advantage, for Alexandria was the second most important town in the Eastern Empire and, as a Bishopric, one of the first four in the world. He further enjoyed popular backing, which never failed him, and which made his enemies hesitate to take extreme measures against him. But all this would not have sufficed had not the man himself been what he was.

At the time when he sat at the Council of Nicaea in 325 he was still a young man_probably not quite thirty; and he only sat there as Deacon, although already his strength and eloquence were remarkable. He lived to be seventy-six or seventy-seven years of age, dying in A.D. 373, and during nearly the whole of that long life he maintained with inflexible energy the full Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.

When the first compromise of Arianism was suggested, Athanasius was already Archbishop of Alexandria. Constantine ordered him to re-admit Arius to Communion. He refused.

It was a step most perilous because all men admitted the full power of the Monarch over Life and Death, and regarded rebellion as the worst of crimes. Athanasius was also felt to be outrageous and extravagant, because opinion in the official world, among men of social influence, and throughout the Army, upon which everything then reposed, was strong that the compromise ought to be accepted. Athanasius was exiled to Gaul, but Athanasius in exile was even more formidable than Athanasius at Alexandria. His presence in the West had the effect of reinforcing the strong Catholic feeling of all that part of the Empire.

He was recalled. The sons of Constantine, who succeeded one after the other to the Empire, vacillated between the policy of securing popular support which was Catholic_and of securing the support of the Army which was Arian. Most of all did the Court lean towards Arianism because it disliked the growing power of the organized Catholic Clergy, rival to the lay power of the State. The last and longest lived of Constantine’s sons and successors, Constantius, became very definitely Arian. Athanasius was exiled over and over again but the Cause of which he was champion was growing in strength.

When Constantius died in 361, he was succeeded by a nephew of Constantine’s, Julian the Apostate. This Emperor went over to the large surviving Pagan body and came near to reestablishing Paganism; for the power of an individual Emperor was in that day overwhelming. But he was killed in battle against the Persians and his successor, Jovian, was definitely Catholic.

However, the see-saw still went on. In 367, St. Athanasius, being then an old man of at least seventy years of age, the Emperor Valens exiled him for the fifth time. Finding that the Catholic forces were now too strong he later recalled him. By this time Athanasius had won his battle. He died as the greatest man of the Roman world. Of such value are sincerity and tenacity, combined with genius.

But the Army remained Arian, and what we have to follow in the next generations is the lingering death of Arianism in the Latin-speaking Western part of the Empire; lingering because it was supported by the Chief Generals in command of the Western districts, but doomed because the people as a whole had abandoned it. How it thus died out I shall now describe.

It is often said that all heresies die. This may be true in the very long run but it is not necessarily true within any given period of time. It is not even true that the vital principle of a heresy necessarily loses strength with time. The fate of the various heresies has been most various; and the greatest of them, Mohammedanism, is not only still vigorous but is more vigorous over the districts which it originally occupied than is its Christian rival, and much more vigorous and much more co-extensive with its own society than is the Catholic Church with our Western civilization which is the product of Catholicism.

Arianism, however, was one of those heresies which did die. The same fate has overtaken Calvinism in our own day. This does not mean that the general moral effect or atmosphere of the heresy disappears from among men, but that its creative doctrines are no longer believed in, so that its vitality is lost and must ultimately disappear.

Geneva today, for instance, is morally a Calvinist city, although it has a Catholic minority sometimes very nearly equal to half its total numbers, sometimes actually becoming (I believe) a slight majority. But there is not one man of a hundred in Geneva today who accepts Calvin’s highly defined theology. The doctrine is dead; its effects on society survive.

Arianism died in two fashions, corresponding to the two halves into which the Roman Empire_which was in those days, for its citizens, the whole civilized world fell.

The Eastern half had Greek for its official language and it was governed from Constantinople, which was also called Byzantium.

It included Egypt, North Africa, as far as Cyrene, the East Coast of the Adriatic, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Syria as far (roughly) as the Euphrates. It was in this part of the Empire that Arianism had sprung up and proved so powerful that between A.D. 300 and A.D. 400 it very nearly conquered.

The Imperial Court had wavered between Arianism and Catholicism with one momentary lapse back into paganism. But before the century was over, that is well before the year A.D. 400, the Court was definitely Catholic and seemed certain to remain so. As I explained above, although the Emperor and his surrounding officials (which I have called “the Court”) were theoretically all powerful (for the constitution was an absolute monarchy and men could not think in any other terms in those days), yet, at least as powerful, and less subject to change, was the army on which the whole of that society reposed. And the army meant the generals; the generals of the army were for the most part, and permanently, Arian.

When the central power, the Emperor and his officials, had becomevpermanently Catholic the spirit of the military was still in the mainvArian, and that is why the underlying ideas of Arianism that is, the doubt whether Our Lord was or could be really Godvsurvived after formal Arianism had ceased to be preached and accepted among the populace.

On this account, because the spirit which had underlain Arianism (the doubt on the full divinity of Christ) went on, there arose a number of what may be called “derivatives” from Arianism; or “secondary forms” of Arianism.

Men continued to suggest that there was only one nature in Christ, the end of which suggestion would necessarily have been a popular idea that Christ was only a man. When that failed to capture the official machine, though it continued to affect millions of people, there was another suggestion made that there was only one Will in Christ, not a human will and a divine will, but a single will.

Before these there had been a revival of the old idea, previous to Arianism and upheld by early heretics in Syria, that the divinity only came into Our Lord during His lifetime. He was born no more than a man, and Our Lady was the mother of no more than a man_and so on. In all their various forms and under all their technical names (Monophysites, Monothelites, Nestorians, the names of the principal three_and there were any number of others) these movements throughout the Eastern or Greek half of the Empire were efforts at escaping from, or rationalizing, the full mystery of the Incarnation; and their survival depended on the jealousy felt by the army for the civilian society round it, and on the lingering remains of pagan hostility to the Christian mysteries as a whole. Of course they depended also on the eternal human tendency to rationalize and to reject what is beyond the reach of reason.

But there was another factor in the survival of the secondary effects of Arianism in the East. It was the factor which is called today in European politics “Particularism,” that is, the tendency of a part of the state to separate itself from the rest and to live its own life. When this feeling becomes so strong that men are willing to suffer and die for it, it takes the form of a Nationalist revolution. An example of such was the feeling of the southern Slavs against the Austrian Empire which feeling gave rise to the Great War. Now this discontent of provinces and districts with the Central Power by which they had been governed increased as time went on in the Eastern Empire; and a convenient way of expressing it was to favor any kind of criticism against the official religion of the Empire. That is why great bodies in the East (and notably a large proportion of the people in the Egyptian province) favored the Monophysite heresy. It expressed their dissatisfaction with the despotic rule of Constantinople and with the taxes imposed upon them and with the promotion given to those near the court at the expense of the provincials and all the rest of their grievances.

Thus the various derivatives from Arianism survived in the Greek Eastern half of the Empire, although the official world had long gone back to Catholicism. This also explains why you find all over the East today large numbers of schismatic Christians, mainly Monophysite, sometimes Nestorian, sometimes of lesser communities, whom not all these centuries of Mohammedan oppression have been able to unite with the main Christian body.

What put an end, not to these sects, for they still exist, but to their importance, was the sudden rise of that enormous force, antagonistic to the whole Greek world_Islam: the new Mohammedan heresy out of the desert, which rapidly became a counter-religion; the implacable enemy of all the older Christian bodies. The death of Arianism in the East was the swamping of the mass of the Christian Eastern Empire by Arabian conquerors. In the face of that disaster the Christians who remained independent reacted towards orthodoxy as their one chance for survival, and that is how even the secondary effects of Arianism died out in the countries free from subjugation to the Mohammedans in the East.

In the West the fortunes of Arianism are quite different. In the West Arianism died altogether. It ceased to be. It left no derivatives tocarry on a lingering life.

The story of this death of Arianism in the West is commonly misunderstood because most of our history has been written hitherto on a misconception of what European Christian society was like in Western Europe during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, that is, between the time when Constantine left Rome and set up the new capital of the Empire, Byzantium, and the date when, in the early seventh century (from A.D. 633 onwards), the Mohammedan invasion burst upon the world.

What we are commonly told is that the Western Empire was overrun by savage tribes called “Goths” and “Visigoths” and “Vandals” and “Suevi” and “Franks” who “conquered” the Western Roman Empire that is, Britain and Gaul and the civilized part of Germany on the Rhine and the upper Danube, Italy, North Africa, and Spain.

The official language of all this part was the Latin language. The Mass was said in Latin, whereas in most of the Eastern Empire it was said in Greek. The laws were in Latin, and all the acts of administration were in Latin. There was no barbarian conquest, but there was a continuation of what had been going on for centuries, an infiltration of people from outside the Empire into the Empire because within the Empire they could get the advantages of civilization. There was also the fact that the army on which everything depended was at last almost entirely recruited from barbarians. As society gradually got old and it was found difficult to administer distant places, to gather the taxes from far away into the central treasury, or to impose an edict over remote regions, the government of those regions tended to be taken over more and more by the leading officers of the barbarian tribes, who were now Roman soldiers; that is, their chieftains and leaders.

In this way were formed local governments in France and Spain and even Italy itself which, while they still felt themselves to be a part of the Empire, were practically independent.

For instance, when it became difficult to govern Italy from so far off as Constantinople, the Emperor sent a general to govern in his place and when this general became too strong he sent another general to supersede him. This second general (Theodoric) was also, like all the others, a barbarian chief by birth, though he was the son of one who had been taken into the Roman service and had himself been brought up at the Court of the Emperor.

This second general became in his turn practically independent.

The same thing happened in southern France and in Spain. The local generals took over power. They were barbarian chiefs who handed over this power, that is, the nominating to official posts and the collecting of taxes, to their descendants.

Then there was the case of North Africa_what we call today Morocco, Algiers and Tunis. Here the quarrelling factions, all of which were disconnected with direct government from Byzantium, called in a group of Slav soldiers who had migrated into the Roman Empire and had been taken over as a military force. They were called the Vandals; and they took over the government of the province which worked from Carthage.

Now all these local governments of the West (the Frankish general and his group of soldiers in northern France, the Visi-gothic one in southern France and Spain, the Burgundian one in southeastern France, the other Gothic one in Italy, the Vandal one in North Africa) were at issue with the official government of the Empire on the point of religion. The Frankish one in north-eastern France and what we call today, Belgium, was still pagan. All the others were Arian.

I have explained above what this meant. It was not so much a doctrinal feeling as a social one. The Gothic general and the Vandal general who were chiefs over their own soldiers felt it was grander to be Arians than to be Catholics like the mass of the populace. They were the army; and the army was too grand to accept the general popular religion. It was a feeling very much like that which you may see surviving in Ireland still, in places, and which was universal there until quite lately: a feeling that “ascendency” went properly with anti-Catholicism.

Since there is no stronger force in politics than this force of social superiority, it took a very long time for the little local courts to drop their Arianism. I call them little because, although they collected taxes from very wide areas, it was merely as administrators. The actual numbers were small compared with the mass of the Catholic population.

While the governors and their courts in Italy and Spain and Gaul and Africa still clung with pride to their ancient Arian name and character, two things, one sudden, the other gradual, militated against both their local power and their Arianism.

The first, sudden, thing was the fact that the general of the Franks who had ruled in Belgium conquered with his very small force another local general in northern France_a man who governed a district lying to the west of him. Both armies were absurdly small, each of about 4,000 men; and it is a very good example of what the times were like that the beaten army, after the battle, at once joined the victors. It also shows what times were like that it seemed perfectly natural for a Roman general commanding no more than 4,000 men to begin with, and only 8,000 men after the first success, to take over the administration_taxes, courts of law and all the imperial forms_over a very wide district. He took over the great mass of northern France just as his colleagues, with similar forces, took over official action in Spain and Italy and elsewhere.

Now it so happened that this Frankish general (whose real name we hardly know, because it has come down to us in various distorted forms, but best known as “Clovis”) was a pagan: something exceptional and even scandalous in the military forces of the day when nearly all important people had become Christians.

But this scandal proved a blessing in disguise to the Church, for the man Clovis being a pagan and never having been Arian, it was possible to convert him directly to Catholicism, the popular religion; and when he had accepted Catholicism he at once had behind him the whole force of the millions of citizens and the organized priesthood and Bishoprics of the Church. He was the one popular general; all the others were at issue with their subjects. He found it easy to levy great bodies of armed men because he had popular feeling with them. He took over the government of the Arian generals in the South, easily defeating them, and his levies became the biggest of the military forces in the Western Latin-speaking Empire. He was not strong enough to take over Italy and Spain, still less Africa, but he shifted the centre of gravity away from the decaying Arian tradition of the Roman army now no more than small dwindling groups.

So much for the sudden blow which was struck against Arianism in the West. The gradual process which hastened the decay of Arianism was of a different kind. With every year that passed it was becoming, in the decay of society, more and more difficult to collect taxes, to keep up a revenue, and therefore to repair roads and harbors and public buildings and keep order and do all the rest of public work.

With this financial decay of government and the social disintegration accompanying it the little groups who were nominally the local governments, lost their prestige. In, say, the year 450 it was a fine thing to be an Arian in Paris or Toledo or Carthage or Arles or Toulouse or Ravenna; but 100 years later, by say, 550, the social prestige of Arianism had gone. It paid everybody who wanted to “get on” to be a Catholic; and the dwindling little official Arian groups were despised even when they acted savagely in their disappointment, as they did in Africa. They lost ground.

The consequence was that after a certain delay all the Arian governments in the West either became Catholic (as in the case of Spain) or, as happened in much of Italy and the whole of North Africa, they were taken over again by the direct rule of the Roman Empire from Byzantium.

This last experiment did not continue long. There was another body of barbarian soldiers, still Arian, who came in from the north-eastern provinces and took over the government in northern and central Italy and shortly afterwards the Mohammedan invasion swept over North Africa and ultimately over Spain and even penetrated into Gaul. Direct Roman administration, so far from surviving Western Europe, died out. Its last effective existence in the South was swamped by Islam. But long before this happened Arianism in the West was dead.

This is the fashion in which the first of the great heresies which threatened at one moment to undermine and destroy the whole of Catholic society disappeared. The process had taken almost 300 years and it is interesting to note that so far as doctrines are concerned, about that space of time, or a little more, sufficed to take the substance out of the various main heresies of the Protestant Reformers.

They, too, had almost triumphed in the middle of the sixteenth century, when Calvin, their chief figure, all but upset the French monarchy. They also had wholly lost their vitality by the middle of the nineteenth, 300 years.

ENDNOTES

1. For the discussion on the date of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Pentecost I must refer my readers to Dr. Arendzen’s clear and learned work, “Men and Manners in the time of Christ” (Sheed and Ward). From the evidence, which has been fully examined, it is clear that the date is not earlier than 29 A.D., and may possibly be a few years later, while the most widely accepted traditional date is 33 A. D.

2. It is not easy to establish the exact point after which the Official Religion of the Roman State, or even of the Empire, is Christian. Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge was in the autumn of 312. The Edict of Milan, issued by himself and Licinius, which gave toleration to the practice of the Christian religion throughout the Empire, was issued early in the following year, 313. When Constantine had become the sole Emperor he soon lived as a Catechumen of the Christian Church, yet he remained head of the old Pagan religious organization as Pontifex Maximus. He was not baptized until the eve of his death, in 337. And though he summoned and presided over gatherings of Christian Bishops, they were still but a separate body in a society mainly Pagan. Constantine’s own son and successor had sympathies with the old dying Paganism. The Senate did not change for a lifetime. For active official destruction of the lingering Pagan worship men had to wait till Theodosius at the very end of the century. The whole affair covers one long human life: over eighty years.”

Love & truth,
Matthew