P (Roman Catholic): Second Rebuttal

"A church with 15 years of history, which teaches the doctrines of the apostles, is better than a church with 1500 years of history [or 2000 years?], which claims a historical succession from the apostles, but contradicts what the apostles taught." -- J, from his article "Why We Should Look to the Bible Rather Than the Early Church Fathers"

Now for our second rebuttals.

I demonstrated four major points in my opening statement (and repeated them in my first rebuttal):

(1) the nature of Christ's Church as found in the Bible is one, universal, visible, historical, concrete/locatable/identifiable, hierarchical, sacramental, infallible Church; and as the Creeds state that visible Church is "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic";

(2) that is the Church that passed into the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th centuries, right up to the 16th century; she is the Church of the Fathers, Saints, Creeds and Councils;

(3) find the true men of God and you find the one true visible Church of God; the men of God are those in legitimate authority who cannot be usurped or replaced except by other high ecclesiastical authorities; nor can reformation, restoration, or change of the received doctrines of the Church be done except led by ranking ecclesiastical authorities (those same men of God); this eliminates Protestantism (and evangelicalism/fundamentalism) as the true heirs of the original historical apostolic Church since they broke away from the legitimate Church authority -- the Catholic Church of the 16th century -- where they took their mission; I showed why Catholicism is superior to Orthodoxy in my first rebuttal;

(4) there was no notion of sola scriptura (J's alternative to an infallible Church) in the original apostolic Church described in the Bible or the ante-Nicene Church (as admitted by James White and Jaroslav Pelikan).

None of these major points were refuted (some were barely touched upon) in J's two statements.

The Church of the Bible, the Fathers, the Creeds and Councils

<< It sounds good for a Catholic apologist like P to claim that Catholicism is consistent with the church fathers, creeds, and ecumenical councils. But when you look at the details of church history, and compare them with the details of what Roman Catholicism teaches, such a claim is seen to be false. >>

J brings up a lot of extraneous issues and objections in this first section. This debate should primarily be about the nature of the Church, not the doctrinal sidetracks or theological questions that J has. We can do other debates on those issues. Right now let's look at the "evidence." Since J makes claims about the Fathers, I can best refute him by quoting the Fathers themselves. I want to show the Church as I have described in my first two statements is indeed the same Church of the Fathers, Creeds, and Councils. It "sounds good" and it is also true.

To summarize the quote from Jaroslav Pelikan (at the time Lutheran, now Orthodox) in my opening statement: There was no notion of Sola Scriptura in the ante-Nicene Church, neither was there a notion of Sola Traditio (Tradition alone); the one universal Catholic Church of the Fathers (neither Western/Catholic nor Eastern/Orthodox) was the repository of all revealed truth, the dispenser of all grace, and the only place where the true God accepted true worship, sacrifices, intercessions, good works, etc -- only from this Church does the truth shine forth; heretics taught doctrines found neither in Scripture nor Tradition, while orthodox Catholics in the Church of the four Gospels and four Councils were faithful to both Scripture and Tradition. The one universal visible Church was a hierarchical and sacramental Church led by bishops, priests, and deacons. It is the only visible Church that existed. If there was any other "Christian church" it DIED in the first century. The gates of hell prevailed against that "church" (Matt 16:18).

St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 AD) speaks of

"....the bishops, who have been appointed throughout the world, are the will of Jesus Christ....It is fitting, therefore, that you should live in harmony with the will of the bishop...." (Letter to the Ephesians 3:2; 4:1); "Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the Apostles..."; "...Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was subject to the Father, and the Apostles were subject to Christ and to the Father; so that there may be unity in both body and in spirit." (Letter to the Magnesians 6:1; 13:1-2); "...do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope..."; "In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of Apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a Church." (Letter to the Trallians 2:2; 3:1);

"You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Nor is it permitted without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate the agape; but whatever he approve, this too is pleasing to God, so that whatever is done will be secure and valid." (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:1-2)

St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250 AD) on the Catholic Church:

"Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress is separated from the promises of the Church; nor will he that forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is an alien, a worldling, and an enemy. He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother... Does anyone believe that in the Church this unity which proceeds from the divine stability and which is welded together after the heavenly patterns, can be divided, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? Whoever holds not fast to this unity holds not to the law of God; neither does he keep faith with the Father and the Son, nor does he have life and salvation." (The Unity of the Catholic Church 6-7)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386 AD) on the Catholic Church:

"[The Church] is called Catholic, then, because it extends over the whole world, from end to end of the earth; and because it teaches universally and infallibly [or completely] each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men, concerning things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings every race of men into subjection to godliness, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals every class of sins, those committed with the soul and those with the body; and it possesses within itself every conceivable form of virtue, in deeds and in words and in the spiritual gifts of every description....And if ever you are visiting in cities, do not inquire simply where the House of the Lord is -- for the others, sects of the impious, attempt to call their dens the Houses of the Lord -- nor ask merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the name peculiar to his holy Church, the Mother of us all, which is the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God." (Catechetical Lectures 18:23,26)

St. Augustine (c. 354-430 AD) on the Catholic Church:

"In the Catholic Church, not to speak of that purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual men attain in this life... I say of that wisdom which you do not believe is present in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which, most properly, can keep me in her bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very See of the Apostle Peter, to whom our Lord, after His resurrection, gave the charge of feeding His sheep [Jn 21:15ff], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And at last, the very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called Catholic, when a stranger inquired where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house." (Against Letter of Mani 4:5, AD 397)

Personal or Private Interpretation

<< In other words, P's personal interpretation of the historical evidence is that Jesus and the apostles didn't want us to rely on personal interpretation. Isn't it ridiculous for P to condemn personal interpretation in a debate in which he's personally interpreting dozens of passages of scripture? >>

I agree we both "personally interpret" the evidence in our debate since that is what one does in debate. J does not accept my authority (the Catholic Church), and I do not accept J's private interpretations of Scripture (his authority). This is exactly what the Fathers did with their opponents when the heretics would not accept the authority of the Church (i.e. both sides appealed to Scripture).

However, J is saying that is all there is. I have shown in our debate the Bible does not teach that. The Bible teaches we must submit to a real locatable, identifiable, infallible Church authority that mediates the Word of God to us (Heb 13:7,17), and that Church has come down to us to this present day, as founded by Jesus, established through His Apostles, and grown and developed through the early Fathers and Saints, right up to today. Yes, I personally recognize that fact and put my faith in Christ who teaches through that original visible apostolic universal Church.

What I am condemning is not "personal interpretation of evidence" as in debate, but the notion that "private interpretation" is the way Jesus desired us to arrive at all doctrine and truth. The Bible itself does not teach that (see Acts 15). To quote B.C. Butler in his chapter "The Alleged Argument in a Circle" against anti-Catholic Anglican divine George Salmon:

"Now no one, so far as I know, has ever maintained that an act of faith, in one who has reached the age of reason, does not involve or imply an act of personal decision, and a Roman Catholic advocate has no inclination to contest this point. The Church teaches that an act of faith is a virtuous act, and no act can be virtuous unless it comes from the intelligence and will of the agent. We do not merely concede the point, we strongly maintain it. But it does not in the least follow that when I say 'I believe the Church to be infallible' I am in effect saying 'I believe myself to be infallible.' On the contrary, I am saying, 'God, in giving the Church as a reliable teacher of his truth, has of course made her recognizable precisely by fallible people like me. She is recognizable, and I recognize her.' " (B.C. Butler, The Church and Infallibility, online here)

This leads into a discussion of belief or faith, certainty, and infallibilty and Salmon's confusion of the terms. See above link for more.

Development: Trinity and NT Canon vs. Marian Doctrines

<< I, as an evangelical, don't make those claims about the Trinity or the canon of scripture. Since Catholic claims about a doctrine like the Immaculate Conception are different from my claims about a doctrine like the Trinity, an unqualified comparison between the two is invalid... If Trinitarian doctrine developed no differently than the Immaculate Conception, should we accept both? No, we should reject both. >>

That is the point I made in my previous statement: to reject one doctrine is to reject all, to accept one is to accept all. There is no picking and choosing. The original apostolic Church of Christ says one must believe ALL.

"The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a classic example of the development of doctrine" (see Mariology edited by Juniper Carol, volume 1, page 18). Why? Because Catholic theologians have distinguished three stages in the progressive awareness of a revealed truth over time: (1) the first is "implicit acceptance"; (2) second is "the period of discussion and controversy"; (3) third is "the doctrine is received by the entire Church" or "finally even solemnly defined." Without going into all the details, these three stages fit the Holy Trinity, the canon of Scripture, and the Marian dogmas. On the Immaculate Conception, the first stage is "the tranquil acceptance of the unique graces and privileges of Mary...The early Christians accepted Mary's singular position as Mother of God, as ever a virgin, as all-holy, as the new Eve. Thereby they implicitly accepted the Immaculate Conception, which is implied by the divine motherhood." During this period the first liturgical evidences appear: feasts of the Conception of St. Anne, hymns, homilies, etc (see Mariology volume 1 page 17ff, 344ff -- if anyone wants to dig deeper into development, the Fathers and Scripture on the Marian doctrines, find these three volumes by Carol).

The same three stages follow for the Holy Trinity and the NT canon. I'll just quote a representative sample of Protestant and evangelical writers on the development of the Trinity in the life of the Church:

"Even at the New Testament stage ideas about Christ's pre-existence and creative role were beginning to take shape, and a profound, if often obscure, awareness of the activity of the Spirit in the Church was emerging. No steps had been taken so far, however, to work all these complex elements into a coherent whole. The Church had to wait for more than three hundred years for a final synthesis, for not until the council of Constantinople (381) was the formula of one God existing in three co-equal Persons formally ratified. Tentative theories, however, some more and some less satisfactory, were propounded in the preceding centuries....The evidence to be collected from the Apostolic Fathers is meagre, and tantalizingly inconclusive....Of a doctrine of the Trinity in the strict sense there is of course no sign...." (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, page 87-88, 95, cf. page 101ff for the 2nd century Apologists)

"There have been many beliefs held by the church for hundreds of years before some controversy forced it into the open and an official statement was made. Very little was said about a belief in the Trinity before the council of Nicaea and the Athanasian creed [emphasis mine]. Are we to assume that the church did not widely hold to a belief in the Trinity before Nicaea? Of course not...The reason little was said about the Trinity before Nicaea is that it was not an issue until Nicaea [emphasis author]. Arius could well have argued that belief in the Trinity was unhistorical in his day (after all, there were no explicit statements about the Trinity for three-hundred years) [emphasis mine]...." (Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers, page 120)

The Evangelical writer E. Calvin Beisner in his excellent book God In Three Persons (Tyndale House, 1984), speaks frequently about "the development of the doctrine of the Trinity" and "trinitarian development in the writings of the Church Fathers" and "the first three centuries of trinitarian doctrinal development..." (page 8, 66, 106, etc). Beiser also states: "It is this latter factor, the nature of Jesus as 'Son of God,' which became the center of trinitarian controversy for centuries to come; and it is this which evolved, over a period of roughly five hundred years, into the kernel of the Athanasian Creed. (The statements about the Holy Spirit evolved more slowly but along parallel lines.)" (page 14). He goes on to explain "the development occurred in four ways...." (page 15ff).

J in fact accepts all of this development on the Trinity. Do I believe the Holy Trinity is a biblically defensible doctrine? Yes I do, see here. But does J deny that development of doctrine took place? If so, he can show me where the Scriptures specifically and explicitly teach in this exact language:

In God there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Each of the Three Persons possesses the one (numerical) Divine Essence. (De Fide).

The Divine and the human natures are united hypostatically in Christ, that is, joined to each other in one Person. (De Fide).

In the Hypostatic Union each of the two natures of Christ continues unimpaired, untransformed and unmixed with the other. (De Fide).

Each of the two natures of Christ possess its own natural will and its own natural mode of operation. (De Fide).

These define the Three Persons of God, the two natures of Christ, and two wills of Christ. One cannot find any of this defined explicitly for us in the Scriptures. I don't want an "interpretation" of Scripture, I need something explicit. J can also provide me with the explicit list of 27 books of the New Testament from any Christian living in the first, second, or third centuries (from the existing historical records we have). Then he is allowed to believe there was no development of doctrine. Yet J accepts this development of both the Trinity and the NT canon. To accept these, while rejecting other developments such as the Marian Doctrines (found in and established by the same one universal visible historical Church) is not consistent; it is "pick and choose." The "Marian Doctrine" of most evangelicals today is in fact far removed (as I have shown in my previous statement) even from the Marian Doctrine of the original and later Protestant Reformers.

Catholic Unity: One Church and One Faith

<< Nobody denies that there's one church and one faith. Neither Ephesians 4 nor Jude 3 mentions one denomination. They mention one faith....   But a person doesn't have to be correct on every issue in order to be a Christian, and there are some issues God hasn't defined for us....    Since Ted Kennedy, John Dominic Crossan, and P belong to the same denomination, do they have the unity Jesus was speaking of in John 17? ....What sort of unity is P referring to? Is he saying that there must be only one set of correct doctrines? Who denies that? >>

For one, evangelicals vociferously deny there must be "only one set of correct doctrines." They say some isssues are "essential" while others are "non-essential" and Christians are allowed to disagree not only on doctrine, but on what is "essential." They in fact have a problem defining from the Bible exactly what is "essential" and "non-essential." It cannot be done since there are no specific and explicit (infallible) "definitions" of doctrine in the Bible. What is "essential" to one evangelical can easily be seen as "non-essential" to another. There is no standard in evangelicalism (Protestantism) for determining such. And just because someone leaves the Church, becomes an apostate, a heretic, or a John Dominic Crossan (who believes Jesus' body was not raised, it was probably eaten by wild dogs, he says), does not break the essential unity of the Catholic Church and Faith. Again, Christ's universal Church is not man made. Denominations were created by men long after Christ established His visible Church. The Catholic Church is not a man-made "denomination." The Bible does not teach that and none of the Fathers believed that.

J wants to know to what kind of unity am I referring? Was it a unity of love, structure, worship, doctrine, or spiritual unity? Answer: all of the above. I can do no better than quote the Catechism on the subject:


813. The Church is one because of her source: "the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit." The Church is one because of her founder: for "the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross...restoring the unity of all in one people and one body." The Church is one because of her "soul": "It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity." Unity is of the essence of the Church...

815. What are these bonds of unity? Above all, charity "binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3:14; cf. 1 Cor 12:25). But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion:

- profession of one faith received from the Apostles;

- common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments;

- apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God's family.

There is no question that Catholics have been officially united in this way down through the centuries. The same cannot be said for "evangelicalism" which is basically a "new idea" in the history of Christianity.

Visibility and Authority

<< Do you arbitrarily say that the church needs to be as visible as the Roman Catholic Church has been? Why couldn't I arbitrarily set a different standard? ...If the Catholic Church can be visible in different ways and in differing degrees, why can't the same be true of the evangelical view of the church? ...The inerrancy of God doesn't require the inerrancy of the church...  Jesus is giving a general principle that can apply to a number of organizations [in Matthew 18:17]. He's not referring to some worldwide denomination centered in Rome, which is infallible, with popes, cardinals, archbishops, priests, etc. >>

Here is J's problem: there is no "evangelical view of the church" -- there are different evangelical sects all teaching different doctrines, different worship, different Ecclesiologies, etc. That cannot be the Catholic Church of the Bible or the Fathers as I have shown. J needs to find that Catholic Church.

If the "inerrancy of God doesn't require" the infallibility of Christ's Church, then likewise the inerrancy of God doesn't require the inerrancy of Scripture either. However, J believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. Both the Bible and the Church have been endowed with the Holy Spirit of Truth (Scripture is called God-breathed: 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21 while Christ's Church has the Spirit no less: John 20:21f; 16:13; 14:16f). The same logic applies to God's Church as a whole as it would to God's Scriptures.

Apostolic Succession

J disputed my understanding and interpretation of apostolic succession from the Scriptures. 

<< What these passages mention is healing, spiritual gifts, and such. Nothing is said about apostolic authority being passed on. Nothing is said about the laying on of hands assuring that some unbroken succession would exist throughout church history.... The leaders of modern Roman Catholicism are examples of the unfaithful men we were warned to beware of (Acts 20:29-31) and to not imitate (3 John 11)....    Is it any wonder Catholics arrive at such unhistorical, absurd conclusions when they interpret scripture like that? .... Though this debate is about the Biblical evidence, P said that the earliest church fathers agreed with his view of apostolic succession. Actually, the church fathers defined the concept in numerous ways, including ways that are contrary to the Catholic view. >>

If you check back at all the references I gave you will find "apostolic authority" being passed on no less than "apostolic teaching." Here I will quote the Catechism on apostolic succession for some clarification:

860. In the office of the apostles there is one aspect that cannot be transmitted: to be the chosen witnesses of the Lord's Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church. But their office also has a permanent aspect. Christ promised to remain with them always. The divine mission entrusted by Jesus to them "will continue to the end of time, since the Gospel they handed on is the lasting source of all life for the Church. Therefore....the apostles took care to appoint successors."

861. "In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry."

862. "Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops." Hence the Church teaches that "the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ."

863. The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is "sent out" into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. "The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well." Indeed, we call an apostolate "every activity of the Mystical Body" that aims "to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth."

The Fathers as well taught this plainly from the very beginning:

St. Clement of Rome (c. 80-96 AD) on apostolic succession:

"The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God's will....Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty: for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier....Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." (Letter to the Corinthians 42:1-5; 44:1-2)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 180-199 AD) on apostolic succession:

"It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught to the elite secretly and apart from the rest, they would have handed them down especially to those very ones to whom they were committing the self-same Churches. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority. But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the Churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition...[then follows a list of successors as bishops of Rome] (Against Heresies 3:3:1-3)

"When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth.....If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question? What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the Churches?"; "It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles; those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father." (Against Heresies 3:4:1; 4:26:2)

Next are the questions we ask each other.


5000+ words approx

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