Catholic Doctrines In Scripture by Greg Oatis Part 1
Church Authority and Papal Infallibility
Peter as First Pope
Ordination and Priesthood
Salvation Not By Faith Alone/Not Assured
Life after Death
The Communion of Saints
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Saving Nature of Baptism
Jesus' 'Once-For-All' Sacrifice
The 'Great Apostasy'
Call No Man 'Father'
The Rosary/Vain Repetitions
Dietary Laws & Alcohol as Sin
Ash Wednesday/Lenten Devotions
The Divinity of Jesus
The Holy Trinity
Jesus Not an Angel
Mary, The Mother of God
Mary as the
Mary as the New Eve
Devotion to Mary
Mary's Immaculate Conception
The 'Brothers' of Jesus
New Covenant Fulfills Old
Our Ultimate Authority Not 'Scripture Alone'
This booklet was compiled by a Catholic layman, to allow thinking, seeking, Bible-loving Christians to evaluate for themselves the scriptural basis for Catholic teaching. My premise is simple: Only one Church was there to walk the stony shores of Galilee with Jesus; only one did he found upon Peter, the Rock, whom he directed to feed his lambs; only one received from him the keys to the Kingdom of God and, with them, the power to bind and loose on earth and in heaven; only one was sitting at his feet as he explained his parables; only one was there to witness the water turning to wine, the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of the ten lepers, and the raising of Lazarus; only one was with him as he staggered up the face of a hill named Golgotha; and only one was there three days later to see the stone rolled aside and the wrappings dropped in a pile in the corner of the tomb; only one received the Holy Spirit like fire in a closed room on Pentecost; only one was proclaimed by Peter and James through the narrow streets of Jerusalem; only one was preached tirelessly by Paul through the cities of the ancient empire, even to the capital, Rome itself. Which means that if you believe the Catholic Church to be a misguided, deceitful, unbiblical cult, you must say the same about the apostles and their successors, the ones who after receiving the Catholic faith, carefully and lovingly passed it on to succeeding generations – often, at the cost of their lives. The unmistakable truth of the matter is this: The religion that is revealed in the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testaments, is utterly and wholly, totally, unequivocally and gloriously Catholic. Over the past 2,000 years there have been 265 popes, dating back to Peter himself. Each one has exercised the same authority given by Jesus to Peter alone among the apostles, to tend his flock (Jn. 21: 15-17). In sum, it is the Catholic Church that is the only true
Are you skeptical? Wonderful! Because you are holding the evidence in your hands. Weigh it for yourself. And prove me wrong if you're able.
This project was begun as a private reference tool for use in discussion settings, since surprisingly few Catholics – and, more understandably, even fewer Protestants – are aware of the scripture verses which affirm the most basic tenets of the Catholic faith, including the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the authority of the Church, the requirements for salvation, St. Peter as the first pope, devotion to Mary, infant Baptism and free will. And so this booklet focuses on the passages that establish those key doctrines. It also touches on other, less central issues which have nonetheless been traditional points of debate between Protestants and Catholics – including 'graven images,' calling priests 'father', purgatory, mortal and venial sins, the veneration of relics, and even guardian angels.
Because this booklet is intended only as a guide, I urge you to consult your Bible as you review these passages, so you will be able to examine the contexts in their entirety. We so often see verses torn from the page and used to support claims that are contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the Word. Indeed, if one were simply to read the contexts from which they were wrenched, most of these misconceptions would be easily resolved. It's entirely possible that not all of the notes and references found here will be instantly clear and comprehensible to every individual. After all, this project evolved from personal notes. But don't be deterred; I am certain most interested Christians will be able to sift through the greater part without much difficulty. It is, after all, important to consider carefully the truth of what we hear – and not to simply accept the 'traditions of men.' For, as St. Peter himself warns us: "...there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their licentious ways..."
There are not over a hundred people in the
If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from
– Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, from the Preface to
'Radio Replies,' by Rumble & Carty, published
by TAN Books,
CHURCH AUTHORITY AND PAPAL INFALLIBILITY
Lk. 10: 16 – "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." Jesus himself says it clearly and without equivocation: The Church speaks for Christ.
1 Tim. 3: 15 –
faith traditions of mankind likewise recognizing the spiritual value of a soul
submitting to an authority greater than itself.
Heb. 13: 17 – "Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you..."
The Church hierarchy is ordained by God. The Bible tells us we are obliged to
follow the leadership of the Church.
Mt. 28: 18-20 – "'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go,
therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'" Jesus' authority is passed on to his Church, and it will never fail.
Eph. 3: 10 – Even the angels are instructed by the Church: "...so that the manifold
wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities
and authorities in the heavens." This is an astonishing statement. And note that St.
Paul does not say here – or anywhere else – that the angels are instructed by the
scriptures, although he certainly could have.
Jn. 11: 47-52 –
Spirit when, speaking from the chair of Moses, he declared that Jesus must die so
the whole nation might not perish: "He (Caiaphas) did not say this on his own, but
since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied..." If, as the scriptures tell us, the Holy Spirit spoke through the unchristian conniver Caiaphas, how is it he cannot speak through a faithful and learned Christian pope?
Mt. 23: 1-3 – Jesus acknowledges the authority of even the Pharisees when they teach
from the chair of Moses. Note that the scriptures specifically include the disciples in
the directive to obey the Pharisees. Jesus clearly feels that obedience to ordained spiritual authority is important: "...Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, 'The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.'" Also, be aware that Jesus' command is quite sweeping in its scope. He says his followers should "do and observe all things whatsoever" which their rightful spiritual leaders direct. Jesus does not leave us much leeway to exclude items we might perceive as difficult or burdensome.
1 Jn. 4: 6 – "We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit." Submission to apostolic authority is the hallmark of faithfulness.
Eph. 2: 19-20 – The Church stands upon the solid rock of salvation history. According to
Mt. 18: 15-18 – The Bible tells us to take our disagreements to the Church, not to the scriptures: "If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." This command parallels the following passage:
Deut. 17: 8-12 – The Old Testament contains its own form of the Magisterium – the teaching authority of the Church. It is clear here that disagreements were to be settled by priests and judges, not by dueling interpretations: "Any man who has the insolence to refuse to listen to the priest... shall die." Nowhere – in the Old Testament or the New – are the scriptures cited as the supreme authority of faith.
Eph. 3: 4-6 – "When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit..." Revelation
comes to us through the Church. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that every individual will receive direct and spontaneous inspiration from the Holy Spirit.
Acts 15: 30-31 – Paul and Barnabas take the Church's teachings – its dogmas – to
Acts 16: 4 – Paul and Timothy take Church dogmas to world: "As they traveled from city to city, they handed to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in
Eph. 5: 25-27 – "...even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her... that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle... that she might be holy and without blemish." At first glance, this seems a surprising statement – that Jesus was crucified to sanctify the Church. But upon reflection we see that it must be so, for the Church is his own Mystical Body (1 Cor. 12: 12-27), and it is through him – and therefore through his Church – that salvation comes.
Num. 12: 1-15 – Miriam, Moses' sister, rebels, along with Aaron. She says: "'Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks? Does he not speak through us also?'" Miriam is rendered leprous for her refusal to submit to God's anointed authority. Hers is the same objection we hear from so many Protestant brethren who balk at the hierarchical structure of the Mystical Body. Yet the family of God has always been a hierarchy – never a democracy.
Num. 16: 1-35 – Korah objects to the authority of the heirarchy: "They stood before Moses and held an assembly against Moses and Aaron, to whom they said, 'Enough from you! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the Lord is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the Lord's congregation?' ...They went down alive to the nether world with all belonging to them; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the community..." Again we see clearly that the community of the faithful is hierarchical, and those who refuse to submit to it are punished. It is interesting to note that many people today who object to 'organized religion' make much the same argument as Korah did.
Jude 4-11 – The revolt of Korah is referred to: "They followed the way of Cain... and perished in the rebellion of Korah." (See passage immediately above.) Jude is here referring to persons within the early Christian community who were resisting the authority of the apostles and urging the new Christians to return to the Mosaic law. Clearly, the authority of God does not reside with each individual, but rather it lies with the anointed leaders who have been ordained by the power of God through the authority vested in the apostles by Christ Jesus himself.
Num. 11: 27-29 – "…when a young man quickly told Moses, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,' Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses' aide, said, 'Moses, my lord, stop them.' But Moses answered him, 'Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!'" So we see that the Holy Spirit is not automatically poured out upon all the faithful – and this is the basis for the false doctrine of 'sola scriptura,' that the Holy Spirit will automatically lead all the faithful to the truth of the scriptures, or, in other words, that he will turn all into prophets. This has never been the case, regardless of what Moses may have wished.
Jn. 14: 16-18 – "...I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always." Jesus' promise of infallibility is implicit in the word, 'always.' We know that Jesus is speaking here to his apostles since this passage is part of his Last Supper discourse.
Jn. 14: 25 – "...the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." Again, Jesus' promise of infallibility is clear in his use of the collectives, "everything" and "all." He does not equivocate. Note that he is again talking here to his apostles.
Jn. 16: 13 – "...when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth." Jesus' promise to the Church he instituted is immense and sweeping. And the fact that the Church has remained doctrinally consistent for two thousand years – often in the face of severe pressure from secular authorities and trends of popular thought – is proof that Jesus has kept his promise.
1 Pet. 5: 2-3 – "Tend the flock of God in your midst... Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." Peter is speaking with great authority here. If he were not in a special leadership role, he would not be able to command others to lead.
2 Pet. 1: 20 – "Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation..." The scriptures are clearly beneficial for our instruction, but our own personal interpretations are not to be considered authoritative. Note the importance which St. Peter attaches to this truth: "Know this first of all…"
2 Pet. 2: 1-2 – "...there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their licentious ways..." This passage is often used to defend belief in the supposed 'Great Apostasy', which claims that the entire Catholic Church vaulted into error immediately after Jesus' death. But the passage actually proves the contrary point, that the entire Church cannot possibly have apostatized, or there would not have remained a 'you' for the 'false teachers' to be 'among.'
2 Pet. 3: 16 – "...there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures." The scriptures cannot be our supreme authority. There will always be the question of interpretation. Without an authoritative voice to interpret them – a voice that's guided by the Holy Spirit – discord will reign. This is what we see in the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations that exist in
1 Thess. 5: 12-13 – "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work." As always,
1 Cor. 14: 37-38 – Church authority takes precedence over personal discernment: "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or a spiritual person, he should recognize that what I am writing to you is a commandment of the Lord. If anyone does not acknowledge this, he is not acknowledged."
Eph. 4: 11-16 – "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God... so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery..." The Bible says the Church is our protection against apostasy.
Gal. 1: 8 –"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach [to you] a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed. As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!" We should not believe interpretations of the Word that are not endorsed by the apostolic authority of the Church. The scriptures are not meant to operate like a Rorschach test, with each individual filling in his or her own meaning.
Lk. 11: 17 – "'Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and house will fall against house.'" Since the Reformation, Christianity has been continually divided, subdivided and subdivided again. Clearly, this is not God's plan. The Church established by Christ was in no way intended to be 'denominational,' but rather 'catholic' – i.e., unified and universal. For further evidence of this, see Jesus' beautiful and inspiring unity prayer in John 17: 20-23.
Eph. 1: 22-23 – "And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way."
PETER AS FIRST POPE
Peter is clearly depicted as the first among the apostles, both by Jesus and by the
evangelists. Peter is mentioned 191 times in the New Testament. All the other apostles
combined are mentioned by name just 130 times. And the most commonly referenced
apostle apart from Peter is John, whose name appears 48 times. Peter's authority is unquestioned, even by Paul. And Peter's name appears first in virtually every listing of the apostles, just as Judas' name always appears last. If there is a reason for the latter – which there obviously is – on what basis can we deny there is a reason for the former?
Mt. 16: 15-19 – "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah... you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Some Protestant apologists make much of the fact that the two words for 'rock' in the original Greek text, 'petros' and '
1 Cor. 15: 3-5 – According to St. Paul, St. Peter was singled out by Jesus after the resurrection: "For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve." Note too that
Is. 22: 15-25 – Eliakim is given the keys of kingdom, thus becoming the most powerful man in the realm apart from the king himself. The keys are the sign of the royal authority. Because the keys are passed on to each successive officeholder, they indicate that the office lives on even after the individual who holds it dies. The king does not stop appointing stewards when one dies – the keys are passed along to another. Thus, Jesus' royal authority did not die with Peter, it was passed on to the next generation, as it will be until the end of time.
Rev. 3: 7 – "The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open, says this…" The keys belong to Jesus. In scripture, they are the sign of his authority. When he gives the keys to St. Peter in Matthew 16, he is simply delegating the authority which is his for all eternity. Thus, as Eliakim before him (see item above), St. Peter is chief steward of the kingdom who wields the king's authority.
Gal. 1: 18 – After St. Paul receives his revelations from the Holy Spirit, he travels to Jerusalem specifically to confer with St. Peter: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas..." This is an awesome indication of the position of authority which St. Peter occupied. Also note that once again Paul refers to Peter by the name Jesus gave him – 'Cephas,' or 'Rock.'
Is. 51: 1-2 – "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried; Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth…" Abraham was the patriarch of the old covenant, and his name was changed by God to underscore his status. Abraham was also, in the passage quoted here, the only man referred to as "rock" until Jesus referred to Peter that way. Elsewhere, that metaphor was reserved for God (Deut. 32: 4; 1 Sa. 2: 2; Ps. 18: 3, etc.). So not only by referring to Simon as, "Rock," but also by changing his name in the process, Jesus is establishing an undeniable parallel between Simon Peter and Abraham. Peter is the patriarch of the new covenant, just as Abraham was the patriarch of the old.
Acts 2: 14-36 – "Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed…" This is the first Christian sermon detailed in scripture. Already St. Peter's status as leader is clear, as shown by the title, "the Eleven," which never included Peter.
Lk. 22: 31-32 – Jesus prays for St. Peter alone among apostles: "'Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.'" Peter receives special attention from Jesus. Jesus observes that Satan is seeking to break the apostles' faith. Jesus' response is to pray for Peter and to direct him to hold the rest of the apostles firm. Jesus' statement dovetails perfectly with Peter's role as the 'Rock' upon which the Church rests, and with the pope's role in Church history.
Acts 15 –
Mt. 10: 2-4 – St. Peter is specified as "first" among the apostles: "The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter..." Indeed, in every listing of the apostles, Peter is given first, and Judas last. We know why Judas was listed last. Can anyone claim that Peter's position – first – is without significance?
Acts 12: 5 – "...prayer by the church was fervently being made..." for St. Peter when he was in prison. No other apostle was graced in this extraordinary way, with the entire Church in prayer – not even
Jn. 21: 15-17 – Three times Jesus asks St. Peter: "Do you love me?..." and three times he commands Peter to "feed my lambs" and "tend my sheep." Note that Jesus makes no such request of any other apostle.
Mt. 17: 24-27 – St. Peter is supplied with supernatural means to accomplish the task Jesus gives him: "...go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open his mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you." Peter, in paying the tax for Jesus, acts as the Lord's proxy in this earthly matter.
Mt. 14: 28-33 – St. Peter is the one who walks on water, through faith; when he falters, Jesus reaches out to him and saves him. The history of the Church would suggest that this arrangement is ongoing.
Lk 5: 1-3 – St. Peter is called by Jesus; the boat and the nets are Peter's. "Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore." This is the source of the Church's nickname, 'the barque of St. Peter.' 'Barque' is an archaic word for a small boat. In St. Peter's boat, the Lord himself is riding.
Acts 1: 15-26 – St. Peter initiates and then supervises the choice of Judas' successor. "During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers..."
Acts 3: 1-10 – St. Peter performs the first miracle we see in scripture after Jesus' Ascension: "Peter said, 'I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have, I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.' Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up…"
Acts 4: 8-12 – When St. Peter &
Acts 5: 3-11 – When St. Peter condemns Ananias for dishonesty, he dies: "...Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the holy Spirit...?' When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it." We see very early God acting upon St. Peter's injunctions. His words have authority on earth and in heaven (
Acts 5: 15 – "Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them." This is a striking manifestation of the healing power of St. Peter's mere presence.
Acts 8: 9-25 – St. Peter pronounces judgment on Simon the Magician: "But Peter said to him, 'May your money perish with you...'" Simon is thrown into great fear because of Peter's admonition and he repents. He knows the authority by which St. Peter is speaking.
Acts 9: 36-43 – St. Peter restores Tabitha, who was dead, to life. "Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to her body and said, 'Tabitha, rise up.' She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up." Again, God's power upholds Peter's actions.
Acts 9: 32-35 – St. Peter heals Aeneas: "Peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed.' He got up at once."
Acts 10: 9-43 – St. Peter receives a vision of the Gentiles' acceptance into the Church – remitting the circumcision requirement – three times before he yields. The Holy Spirit simply will not let Peter remain in ignorance or error: "Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, 'In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.'" This is a vivid and immediate illustration of infallibility. Note that it was St. Peter who was the
object of this supernatural intervention – not
Mt. 23: 1-3 – Jesus acknowledges the authority of even the Pharisees when they speak from the Chair of Moses: "...Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, 'The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.'" Incidentally, the phrase, 'the chair of Moses,' is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. The fact that the Lord refers to it here confirms the fact that Jesus acknowledged the authority of tradition.
Out of 265 Popes, 79 were saints, only 10 were immoral or corrupt, and not one ever taught error in areas of faith or morals. That's a failure rate of less than 4 percent. By way of comparison, of the apostles picked by Jesus, one out of the original twelve was evil – representing a failure rate of 8 percent. So the supposed evil and corruption of the popes of history is hardly a reason to despair of the institution of the papacy. Indeed, we would suggest that the extremely low number of evil popes affirms the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their selection and their support. Also, please note that the interpretations of the verses presented above are hardly novel. Witness this passage from Tertullian, written ca. 200 A.D.: "Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called, 'the rock on which the church should be built,' who also obtained 'the keys of the kingdom of heaven,' with the power of 'loosing and binding in heaven and on earth'?"('On Prescription against Heretics' ANF 3: 253). And from Origen, just two or three decades later, we find, "Look at that great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks upon whom Christ built the Church! And what does the Lord say to him? 'O you of little faith…'" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, Liturgical Press, p. 205).
The bishops of the Catholic Church can trace their ordinations back to the apostles
themselves. This laying on of hands in the sacrament of Holy Orders takes place as
part of an uninterrupted chain connecting us to Christ himself two thousand years
ago. In every sense, today's bishops are the successors of Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and even – in very rare and unfortunate instances – to Judas Iscariot.
Acts 6: 6 – "They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them." The Church's authority is thus passed from generation to generation.
Eph. 2: 19-20 – "...household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets..." The Church's authority is not based on human wisdom or insight, or even on the Bible, but on the authority of God passed to and through the apostles.
1 Tim. 3: 1 – "This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task." Note the reference to the episcopate as an 'office.' That clearly denotes an ongoing institution which is renewed from one generation to the next.
Acts 1: 20-26 – "May another take his office." Peter supervises the choice of Judas' successor; Judas' spot did not die with him, it had to be filled. Therefore, Jesus wasn't just calling men to follow him when he appointed the apostles, he was establishing an ongoing "office" which was to be occupied from one generation to the next.
Acts 14: 23 –
2 Tim. 1: 6 – "I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands." The laying on of hands is the vehicle whereupon the Holy Spirit – the 'flame' – is imparted. This is an utterly sacramental view of the infusion of the life of the Holy Spirit, and of the passing on of apostolic authority.
2 Tim. 2: 1-2 –
2 Tim. 3: 14 – "...remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it..." Authority is derived from apostolic succession – not from an appeal to 'scripture alone.' The Bible is quite clear on this.
Is. 22: 15-25 – Eliakim is given the keys of the kingdom. Thus, he becomes "master of the palace," the second most powerful man in the realm, behind only the king himself, for he wields the authority of the king. Likewise, in Mt. 16: 19, Jesus gives St. Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is in this authority that Peter's power to bind and to loose – in heaven as well as on earth – is founded.
Heb. 13: 7 – "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Again, the hierarchy is upheld.
Gal. 1: 8 –"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!" The truth of scriptural interpretation does not come from men, but from the Holy Spirit, through the apostles and their successors. We are not free to arrive at our own interpretations of the scriptures, apart from the apostles and the Church Jesus founded upon them. Indeed, the authority of the scriptures is derived from the apostles – which is to say, the Church – and not vice versa.
As any good dictionary will illustrate, the word, 'priest,' is derived from the word we find in scripture, 'presbyter.' In basic terms, the Catholic Church is still structured the way it was in apostolic times, as noted in the New Testament, with bishops, priests and deacons making up the ranks of the hierarchy.
ORDINATION AND PRIESTHOOD
Priests do not come between Jesus and us. They are in Jesus, and of Jesus, and with Jesus. The priestly function actually dates back through the New Testament, to the earliest Old Testament times, with Melchizedek who offered sacrifice on behalf of Abraham. As St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote around the year 250 A.D.: "If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is Himself the High Priest of God the Father; and if He offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if He commanded that this be done in commemoration of Himself – then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in place of Christ." ('The Faith of The Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, pp. 232-233.)
Deut. 34: 9 – "Now Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the spirit of wisdom, since Moses had laid his hands upon him; and so the Israelites gave him their obedience, thus carrying out the Lord's command to Moses." The wisdom and the authority of the Holy Spirit are imparted through the laying on of hands by those already in authority. This is still the case today, as we see in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which is conducted by a bishop, acting under the authority given to the apostles by Jesus himself.
Gen. 14: 18 – "Melchizedek, king of
Heb. 7: 1-28 – "You are a priest forever according the order of Melchizedek... Jesus has become the guarantee of an [even] better covenant... he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away." Refers to:
Ps. 110: 4 – "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever..." The priesthood of the Lord is ongoing and eternal. And since the priesthood of individual men is based on the priesthood of Jesus, we know it is ongoing and eternal also.
Heb. 5: 1-4 – The role of the priest is clear in scripture: "Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins… No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was." Since the time of the mysterious and ancient Melchizedek, the faithful have relied on priests to represent the community before the altar of the Lord. As for those who claim an extraordinary call by God apart from the Church, don't believe them unless they can manifest supernatural works to support their assertion. For, while some in the Bible are called in an extraordinary manner, apart from the spiritual authority of the community – Moses and
Jn. 14: 10-11 – "'The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe because of the works themselves.'" Not even Jesus expects us to believe – on his word alone – his claim to have been anointed by God outside the hierarchy of the Levitical priesthood and the temple. Jesus himself provided astonishing, virtually continuous supernatural evidence of his status as Messiah, evidence which established beyond dispute the authority of his teaching. So why would we believe others – far less worthy individuals than Jesus – who also claim extraordinary calls but do not provide the clear and compelling evidence of miracles to affirm the heavenly origin of their mission?
Jn. 20: 19-23 – At Pentecost, Jesus ordained the apostles and commissioned them to go out and minister to the world: "'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'" The fact that he sent them as the Father had sent him shows that he intends them to function as he did – as priests. It is no coincidence that it is here he also gives them the priestly power to forgive sins.
Acts 13: 1-3 – Even the great
Rom. 10: 15 – "…how can people preach unless they are sent?" Even
2 Tim. 1: 6 – "I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands."
Acts 6: 6-7 – "They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them." Everywhere they went, the apostles ordained leaders for the community, imparting the Holy Spirit and the authority to carry on the work of the Church.
Acts 14: 23 –
Acts 8: 9-25 – When Simon the Magician wished to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, he did not simply declare himself a minister and begin to preach. Instead, he approached St. Peter with his proposition. Even this sinner knew that he could not ordain or anoint himself.
1 Tim. 5: 17 – "Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching... Do not lay hands too readily on anyone..."
Heb. 6: 2 – "...laying on of hands..."
Mal. 2: 7 – "...the lips of the priest are to keep knowledge, and instruction is to be sought from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts."
Phil. 1: 1 – "...to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus, who are in
All of the faithful are "a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Pet. 2: 9), because we offer all we have and all we do to the service of the Lord. And we pray that our personal sacrifice is acceptable to him. But that does not mean we are authorized as individuals to offer Mass on behalf of the community. That privilege is set aside for the men to whom the Holy Spirit has been imparted through the laying on of hands. It is no accident that we see no one in the early Church taking such authority upon themselves. In apostolic times, the authority to teach and preach was always imparted through the laying on of hands by the apostles.
SALVATION NOT BY 'FAITH ALONE'/SALVATION NOT ASSURED
Salvation is a gift from God made possible by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. It is not won by our own actions or merits. To deny this truth is not Catholicism at all, but the ancient heresy of Pelagianism. Still, it does not follow from this that we will escape responsibility for the way we live out our commitment to faith, as the Protestant tradition claims. Each of us must decide whether to accept or reject the salvation which Jesus gained on our behalf – i.e., whether we will participate in God's plan for creation, or obstinately insist upon our own. We must say yes to God's call – actively and decisively – before we can enter into his eternal life. By contrast, Martin Luther taught that we are saved by 'faith alone' and that no evil act we can ever commit will jeopardize our salvation. The Bible contradicts his position.
James 1: 22-25 – "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves." James is clear: Our active participation in God's plan – our positive response to God's call to live out our faith – is required.
James 2: 14-26 – "You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?" James seems pretty definite that 'faith alone' is not sufficient for salvation, for even the evil one and his minions have 'faith alone.' This passage stands as a ringing – and divinely inspired – refutation of Luther's erroneous doctrine. It is little wonder that Luther disputed the Epistle of James' place in the canon of the New Testament, referring to it as "an epistle of straw."
Mt. 25: 31-46 – "...I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." At judgment, Jesus will acknowledge those who live out their faith by loving one another.
Mt. 7: 21-23 – "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'" Jesus is definite: Judgment will be based on how we live out our faith, not on 'faith alone.' For Jesus tells us those who do the Father's will are saved, and he condemns 'evildoers,' not 'unbelievers.' Precisely the same point is made in Luke 13: 25-28.
Jn. 5: 29 – "'...all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.'" Judgment will depend on how we live out our faith. How could this simple fact be clearer in scripture?
Sir. 16: 12-14 – "Great as his mercy is his punishment; he judges men, each according to his deeds... Whoever does good has his reward, which each receives according to his deeds." Again, what could be clearer?
Luke 10: 25-28 – Here Jesus answers the question of salvation directly. A scholar asks, "'Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'What is written in the law? How do you read it?' He said in reply, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' He replied to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.'" This passage is definitive. Look at the question first. It reads: 'What must I do?' Not, 'What must I believe?' And then examine Jesus' reply. He does not affirm Luther's principle – that we are saved by 'faith alone.' He says we must love – which is itself an act; indeed, it is an act that presupposes a multitude of subsequent acts – or we will not be saved. Finally, don't miss the word, 'inherit.' An inheritance is a gift that is given, not a wage that is earned. Our loving acts amount to our acceptance of our inheritance, which was gained for us by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb.
Rom. 2: 13 – "For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified." 'Faith alone' – simply hearing the law – is not enough to save us. Instead, we must commit ourselves to observing the law. Our actions are required – our positive response to God's call.
Rom. 2: 5-11 – "...the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works." Paul is clear on this. We will be judged by our commitment to our faith. Which is not the same thing as saying that our salvation comes through our own deeds or merits, for – as the Church has always taught – without Jesus there would be no possibility of redemption.
Ezek. 33: 13-14 – "Though I say to the virtuous man that he shall surely live, if he then presumes on his virtue and does wrong, none of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered; because of the wrong he has done, he shall die. And though I say to the wicked man that he shall surely die, if he turns away from his sin and does what is right and just, giving back pledges, restoring stolen goods, living by the statutes that bring life, and doing no wrong, he shall surely live, he shall not die." This verse states quite explicitly that we are judged on our actions, and nowhere does it mention 'faith alone' being sufficient for salvation. Indeed, it does not mention faith at all. It also clearly rules out the Protestant doctrine of 'eternal security,' in which a one-time pronouncement of faith assures us of salvation, regardless of our subsequent actions. Again, this passage is not saying we 'earn' our admission to eternal life apart from the sacrifice of Jesus. It is saying we are required to respond to God's call with our 'obedience of faith,' as
Rom. 1: 4-6 – Faith requires of us a response, an act – "obedience," as we see in this passage: "Through him [Jesus], we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name…" Faith results in a concrete change of life. We must obey our "faith" and submit our wills to God's. Through this phrase, "the obedience of faith,"
Rom. 6: 16 – Again,
Rom. 16: 26 –
Ezek. 18: 26-30 – "When a virtuous man turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins which he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die... Turn and be converted from all your crimes, that they may be no cause of guilt for you." Again, judgment is based on our actions as well as our faith, not on our 'faith alone.'
1 Cor. 13: 2-3 – "...if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing." Faith alone? Hmm. What about 'love alone'?
Eph. 5: 4-7 – "Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person... has any inheritance in the kingdom..." Judgment will be based on more than just whether we believe, but on how we live out our beliefs. There are at least four other times in his letters that St. Paul condemns wrongdoers, saying that those who do such things "are deserving of death," that they will be subject to "the wrath of God" and that they will not "inherit the kingdom of God" (Rom 1: 18-32; 1 Cor. 6: 9-10; Gal. 5: 19-21, and Col. 3: 5-6). Note that Paul says nothing about the evildoers' faith; he refers only to their actions.
Rom. 3: 28 – "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law." Luther admitted adding 'alone' to this verse in his Bible, rendering it, "…man is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law." But that is Luther's teaching, not God's. Indeed, we know that Rev. 22: 18-19 condemns anyone who changes even one word of scripture. Also, examining the verse in context makes it clear that
1 Jn. 3: 21-24 – "Beloved, if [our] hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him." Faith, love and good actions are inseparable.
Rom. 6: 23 – "…the wages of sin is death…" In Luther's theology, no actions – neither sin nor good works – can in any way affect our salvation. This stems from his flawed interpretation of Rom. 3: 28 (see above). But his theology contradicts this verse, also from Romans. Thus, we have clear evidence of Luther's error, since we know the Bible cannot contradict itself.
2 Cor. 5: 10 – "For we must all appear before the judgment seat... so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil." Faith 'alone' isn't enough; we must live out our faith.
Lk. 8: 13 – "...they believe only for a time and fall away..." One of the main points of the parable of the sower and the seed is that salvation is not assured. When we opt for evil – placing our will above God's – we forfeit the salvation Jesus gained for us.
Phil. 2: 12 – "...work out your salvation in fear and trembling..."
1 Jn. 3: 7 – "Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts in righteousness is righteous..." The person who acts, not the person who simply believes. Our active participation in – and commitment to – our faith is absolutely necessary.
Acts 10: 34-35 – "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." It seems that more than our faith is assessed by God in determining who is righteous.
James 1: 4 – "And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." We must persevere in the struggle for salvation while we are on earth. If we were totally assured of salvation in this life, this verse about 'perseverance' would be meaningless.
Mt. 19: 16-21 – "Go and sell your possessions..." The rich young man did not fail the test because of a lack of faith, but rather because he did not act on his faith. His faith was not lacking, his works were.
Mt. 5: 19-20 – "'Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches those commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'" Actions seem to be important to Jesus. He expects us to keep the commandments, even though he also knows his death will atone for all sins.
Mt. 6: 1-4 – "'…take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." If doing good works is of no consequence, then why does Jesus tell us that the Father will repay us when we do them?
Heb. 10: 26-29 – "If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries. Anyone who rejects the law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God...?" We will be punished for our sins more severely than those who sinned before Jesus' coming.
2 Pet. 1: 5-11 – "Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm." Salvation is not guaranteed; we must do our best to preserve it. Also, St. Peter is indicating that the firmness of our election depends on us – and our response to the call of God – and not on the Lord's sacrifice alone. Thus we see that faith is itself, in the way most Protestants use the term, a 'work.'
1 Cor. 4: 4-5 – "...I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time..." Salvation is not assured, even for
1 Cor. 9: 27 – "...for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified."
1 Cor. 10: 12 – "...whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall."
Gal. 5: 6 –
2 Tim. 2: 11-12 – "If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him." Salvation is not based on 'faith alone.' Free gift that it is, faith must nonetheless lead to a life-changing commitment, which requires perseverance, as
Rom. 3: 25 – Scripture gives us no indication that our sins are forgiven prior to our committing them: "...because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed..." 'Previously committed', not 'committed in the future' or 'committed for all time.'
1 Jn. 3: 10 – "In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother." Again it would seem that 'love alone' is a more apt description of what is required for salvation than 'faith alone.' We are revealed as 'children of the devil' not by a lack of faith, but by a lack of righteous and loving actions.
1 Jn. 5: 2-4 – "For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments." Not that we have 'faith alone.'
2 Pet. 2: 20-21 – "For if they, having escaped the defilements of the world... again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condition is worse than their first." So we see that those who were 'once saved' are not in fact 'always saved.'
Jn. 3: 5 – "...no one can enter the kingdom... without being born of water and the Spirit..." Baptism is required for salvation, not simply 'faith alone.' And in truth, drawing a distinction between Baptism and faith would have not made sense to the early Christians. They saw them as inextricably related – neither was complete without the other.
Lk. 18: 9-14 – The parable of the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector; Christ tells us that 'faith alone' is not sufficient for salvation. The Pharisee had much faith, but he committed the sin of pride and offended God. His 'faith alone' was not enough to save him.
Mt. 18: 32-35 – "Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." Jesus is telling us that the 'work' of forgiving one another is also required for salvation.
1 Cor. 4: 4-5 – "...do not make any judgment before the appointed time..."
Rom. 11: 22 – "...provided you remain in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off." Salvation is not assured until judgment. This is true even for those who are baptized, for the community
Rom. 5: 2 – "...we boast in hope of the glory of God." If salvation were assured, we would have more than just "hope." We would have certainty.
Rom. 8: 24-25 – "...if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance." Our salvation is not totally assured. We must endure.
Lk. 13: 6-9 – "'...it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.'" We must bear fruit in this life – i.e., we must work to further God's plan – or we risk being cut down. What will insure that we bear fruit? Not 'faith alone,' but a life-changing commitment to our faith.
Heb. 6: 4-8 – "For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spirit and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt." Salvation is not always assured.
Gal. 6: 6-10 – "...let us not grow tired of doing good..." Our actions do matter, which is why
2 Cor. 9: 6 – "Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
Rom. 7: 6 – The Ten Commandments sum up the natural law – nothing more. Keeping the Ten Commandments – and the entirety of the Mosaic law – was never enough for salvation: "But now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit..." We are called to do more than simply avoid evil. We must respond positively to Jesus' call to love God and one another.
Rom. 8: 13 – "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Once again
Mk. 8: 34 – "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Taking up one's cross involves much more than just faith. Faith is of course the basis, but strength, courage, perseverance, self-denial and love are also required.
Rev. 21: 7-8 – "But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved... their lot is in the burning pool of fire..." God judges our actions. Our faith must bear good fruit. It will, provided we cooperate with the graces offered us by God and unite our will to his.
Mk. 14: 38 – "Watch and pray that you not enter into temptation." Salvation is not assured until judgment, because at any time we may "enter into temptation" and fall into sin.
Mt. 10: 22 – "...whoever endures to the end will be saved." Our salvation is not fully and totally assured. Our endurance – our perseverance – is required.
Rom. 6: 16 – Justification is a process we continually anticipate: "...you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness." Justification is not something accomplished once, in the past. We see by the tense of the verb, 'leads,' that it is ongoing, continuing through our lives.
Mt. 12: 36 – Not only our actions, but our words will determine our judgment: "I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Gal. 5: 4-5 – Justification is a process we await: "...we await the hope of righteousness." Justification is not a once-for-all occurrence. It happened in the past. It is happening now. It will happen in the future – all provided we respond positively to the free gift of God's call.
Gal. 2: 17 – Justification is not permanent, not assured: "But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? Of course not!" Some who may consider themselves to be 'saved' will in fact be 'found to be sinners.'
Rom. 3: 24 –
1 Cor. 1: 18 – Again, justification is said to be ongoing; Paul refers to it in the present tense: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
Jn. 3: 19-21 – "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed." Evil actions separate us from the light.
Tob. 4: 21 – "...avoid all sin, and do what is right before the Lord your God." What we do matters, as well as what we believe. We are required to live out our faith by acting uprightly.
Mt. 9: 20 – "A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, 'If only I can touch his cloak, I will be cured'..." 'Faith alone' had not healed the suffering woman. She had to step forward in faith and touch the cloak. It was her faith in Jesus, combined with her action, that yielded the cure.
Gal 5: 5 – In his letters, many of St. Paul's references to "the law" pertain to the Jews' efforts to justify themselves through the practices of the old law, apart from the saving power of Jesus' sacrifice: "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." What Paul is not saying is that the faithful are absolved from the requirements of responding to God's call, or of following Jesus' law of love. He is simply pointing out that being born Jewish does not assure one of salvation. The rituals and practices of the old covenant – or what it means to 'be a Jew' – have been superseded by Jesus' law of love, which is written on our hearts, not on stone tablets. (See below:)
2 Cor. 3: 3 – "You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh." This is a magnificent passage that indicates the immediacy of Christ's law of love in our lives. It must not remain an outside influence, but be incorporated into our very being. This passage does not mean that believers can ignore the law and act as we please, injuring and abusing others without jeopardizing our salvation, which is the interpretation of Protestants who hold to the doctrine of 'assured salvation.'
2 Cor. 9: 10 – "The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness." Our good works are clearly not ours alone, but evidence of God working through us. To deny their significance is to render our lives meaningless and the lessons we learn superfluous.
Col. 1: 24 – "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ..." What could Jesus' suffering have possibly lacked? One thing only: the free and positive response of the individual soul to the Holy Spirit's call. Jesus could not make a committed faith response for
From its earliest days, the Church has taught that individuals, having been saved by Jesus' sacrifice, would be judged on their response to the call of faith in their lives. Around the year 200 A.D., St. Clement of Alexandria wrote: "When we hear, ' Your faith has saved you,' we do not understand the Lord to say simply that they will be saved who have believed in whatever manner, even if works have not followed." ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 184.) As is so often the case, the early community dispensed with a question that would later confuse and bedevil separated Christians for centuries. If we ignore the teachings of these early giants who lived under the very shadow of the apostles, we do so at our peril. Compare the passages above, in which we see the scriptures constantly urging the faithful to holiness and uprightness, to the following paragraph taken from a letter written by Martin Luther to his follower, Philip Melancthon, in which he states: "Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides... No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day." ('Let Your Sins Be Strong, from 'The Wittenberg Project;' 'The Wartburg Segment', translated by Erika Flores, from Dr. Martin Luther's 'Saemmtliche Schriften', Letter No. 99, 1 Aug. 1521.) Nowhere in this letter does Luther mention contrition or repentance, for repentance is itself a "work," and Luther's theology of salvation leaves no room for good works. Instead, here Luther is actually urging his followers to sin as a sign of their faith. The perversity of such a theology is stunning – one reason, perhaps, that unedited editions of Luther's writings are not widely available.
The Church, from its earliest days in
Acts 15 –
Acts 16: 4 – "As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in
Many people object to the idea of doctrines being defined by a spiritual authority, thinking that they intrude upon personal spirituality. These individuals yearn for simplicity of an idealized, streamlined Christianity, something along the lines of, "Jesus loves us, and he just wants us to love one other." But such a thing is of course impossible, since every truth of our faith opens up a world of questions. Such as, "Who is Jesus," and, "Why does he love us," and "What does it mean, really, to love another human being?" Jesus himself seems to acknowledge the quandary of not knowing what one believes as he addresses the Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her: "'You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews'" (Jn. 4:22). It is better to worship what one knows.
A fundamental difference between Catholic and Protestant theology is the belief in free will, which both Luther and Calvin deny. Because of the doctrine of 'sola fide' – that faith alone is sufficient for salvation – the Reformers taught that the individual does not cooperate in his or her salvation in any way. According to them, every moral choice is predetermined. By contrast, Catholics believe that, because man was created in God's image, we are given the opportunity to accept or reject God's grace. Like the angels, we may choose either to follow God's will, or we may elect to turn to our own selfish inclinations – in other words, to sin. The choice is ours. And this is the great gift that sprang from Christ's redemptive sacrifice – to freely participate in the building of the kingdom. Without Jesus, we would have no chance to accept our place as God's children. Of course which path we choose is of the utmost importance to creation. For no one else can take our unique place in it or accomplish what is ours to accomplish:
Deut. 30: 19-20 – "'I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.'" Man is more than free to choose; he is obliged to choose.
Gen. 4: 7 – God tells Cain he can defeat sin if he wills it: "'Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.'"
Rom. 7: 21 – "...when I want to do right, evil is at hand."
Sir. 15: 11-20 – "Say not: 'It was God's doing that I fell away': for what he hates he does not do. Say not: 'It was he who set me astray'; For he has no need of wicked men... When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice. If you choose you can keep the commandments... There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand." Here we see an explicit affirmation of the Church's teaching on free will.
1 Cor. 10: 13 – "No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it."
James 1: 13-15 – "No one experiencing temptation should say, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." With this passage, James seems to put the matter to rest.
Prov. 1: 24 – "'…I called and you refused, I extended my hand and no one took notice...'" God invites us. He does not compel us.
2 Pet. 3: 9 – "The Lord... is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." The fact that not all do come to repentance – despite God's wish that they would – proves conclusively that we are capable of deciding whether to accept or reject God's will. Which of course is the essence of free will.
Jn. 6: 37 – "'...I will not reject anyone who comes to me.'" Jesus promises to accept those of us who accept him. He has made his overtures to every person ever created. The outcome of our lives – our salvation – is ours to determine. And of course he will come to our aid if we open our hearts and ask him to.
Ex. 8: 15 – "Pharaoh remained obstinate... just as the Lord had foretold." God did not overwhelm Pharaoh's will and cause him to do evil. God simply knew Pharaoh's actions ahead of time.
Ezek. 18: 23 – "Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?" The choice of good and evil is ours to make. God desires us to do good, but he does not compel us.
Gal. 2: 17 – When we sin, it is our doing, not God's: "But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? Of course not!" Again we see
Ps. 5: 5 – "You are not a god who delights in evil..." God cannot will evil. Yet the doctrine of predestination requires us to believe he does. Those who believe in it must view God as author of evil as well as good – an utterly monstrous theology.
2 Tim. 2: 11-13 – "...if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us."
Rom. 1: 20-21 – "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning and their senseless minds were darkened."
1 Sam. 23: 9-13 – David, embroiled in a struggle with Saul, specifically asks God about events in the future. He asks if Saul is coming to Keilah to kill him, and God answers, "He will come down." Whereupon David asks whether the citizens of the city will hand him over to Saul to be killed, and God responds, "Yes." We know that God is all-knowing and incapable of deceit. So God is telling David precisely what he foresees – David's death at the hands of Saul. This is not a simple prediction, but the description of a reality that will unquestionably occur, should conditions remain the same; it is a statement of the future that comes from the mind of God, who can see not just the future as it will unfold, but also every possible future that could occur but will not. Yet God's prediction, which we know must have been true when he spoke it, does not in fact come to pass. Because, when David takes the information and decides to follow a different path himself – collecting his followers and leaving Keilah – the future changes. Saul does not come into Keilah after all, and David is not handed over to him. Thus, David, by exercising his will, actually changes the events of the future. God's foreknowledge did not impinge upon David's freedom. On the contrary, David's actions – formed and guided by his own free will – determine the events of the future. This is a measure of the great gift God has given us – namely, to take part in the shaping of creation.
The early Church fathers disposed of the error of predestination in short order. Eusebius Pamphillus wrote in about 315 A.D.: "...foreknowledge of events is not the cause of the occurrence of those events... not because it is known does it take place; but because it is about to take place, it is known." ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 296.) And St. Augustine, in his uniquely clear and cogent manner, adds this thought in about 390 A.D.: "Just as you do not, by your memory of them, compel past events to have happened, neither does God, by His foreknowledge, compel future events to take place" ('The Faith of the Early Church Fathers,' Vol. 3, Jurgens, p. 39).
The Catholic Church's stand against abortion – taken in the face of unrelenting pressures from many interest groups – is one of the signs of the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the real points of departure between the Catholic Church and nearly every strain of American Protestantism. This divergence is proof, among other things, that the Protestant communities do not balk at changing their teachings when they deem it necessary. Remember that, until well into the twentieth century, not a single Christian tradition taught that abortion was permissible. And today, any faith community that has yielded on this issue has a major problem calling itself a scripture-based church. For there are many statements in the scriptures that indicate that the pre-natal individual is to be regarded as a human being:
Ps. 139: 13 – "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me... My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be." Clearly, we are known to God as individuals even before we draw our first breath. Abortion wrenches the living individual out of earthly existence, and out of the vision of the future that exists in the mind of God.
Jer. 1: 5 – "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I dedicated you..." This is a powerful statement. God claims us as his own and sets our lives in motion from the very first moment of conception.
Eccles. 11: 5 – "Just as you know not how the breath of life fashions the human frame in the mother's womb, so you know not the work of God which he is accomplishing in the universe."
Job 31: 15 – "Did not he who made me in the womb make him? Did not the same One fashion us before our birth?" Note that Job says God fashions us in the womb, not indistinct, unspecialized fetal tissue which will later become us at birth.
Gen. 9: 5 – "'...from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life.'" Life belongs to God. When we take it, we are not only robbing the individual whose life we take, but God as well.
Is. 49: 1 – "The Lord called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name." We are individuals, known, loved and "named" by God, even from conception. Recall the importance of naming to the Hebrews. They believed that, in a very real sense, our essences -- our beings – were reflected by our names. Hence the great significance when holy men like Abram, Jacob and Simon were given new names. And don’t forget the power which the very name of God possessed. This verse, then, shows that an individual was regarded as whole and complete, even from conception.
Ps. 51: 7 – "...I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me." We see that conception is in some sense a birth to our spiritual existence. This passage is also an affirmation of the doctrine of original sin.
Lk. 1: 15 – "He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother's womb..."
definition, he was a fully vested human person, with a body and a soul.
Lk. 1: 41 – "When
Lev. 20: 10-12 – "If a man disgraces his father by lying with his father's wife, both the man and his stepmother shall be put to death; they have forfeited their lives. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; since they have committed an abhorrent deed, they have forfeited their lives." Penalties for adultery and incest are death for the perpetrators, but not for the children that might be conceived through such acts. The children are innocent.
Lev. 18: 21 – "'You shall not offer any of your offspring to be immolated to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God.'" Abortion sacrifices children to the idols of money, convenience and career.
1 Cor. 6: 19 – A woman's right to control her body is superseded by God's claim on her being, both body and soul: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?"
Ps. 127: 3 – "Children too are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward." Any couple who has encountered difficulty conceiving knows firsthand what a gift it is to bring new life into existence.
Abortion doesn't just kill the individual. It also destroys every thought the person would have ever had, every action the person would have ever undertaken, every contribution to the kingdom the person would have ever made. In short, abortion tears a piece out of the fabric of creation by destroying God's plan for a person's life, and the lives of the person's descendents. The earliest community of faith explicitly forbade abortion. In one of the most ancient non-scriptural documents of the Church, the Didache, we find this absolute and unequivocal admonition: "You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a new-born child." ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 2).
Rom. 1: 26 – "Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural..." The Bible makes it clear: There are in fact unnatural sexual relations possible between human beings. This is a point disputed by our culture, where the doctrine of 'consenting adults' prevails. The 'consenting adults' doctrine states that, to be permissible, any behavior needs only to be desired. So the simple fact of wanting to engage in a behavior automatically justifies it. Thus, in the eyes of our world, lust has supplanted children as the overarching value of sexual relations.
Ps. 127: 3-5 – "Children too are a gift from the Lord..."
Gen. 30: 22 – God remembers Rachel and gives her the gift of a son.
Gen. 9: 7 – "'Be fertile, then, and multiply...'"
When sexuality is separated from procreation, it becomes self-directed and exploitative. All of the abuses against women and against life that Pope Paul VI predicted would result from contraception have come to pass in our culture – with a vengeance. (In his prophetic 1968 papal encyclical, 'Humanae Vitae', we find these words: "It is... to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anticonceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion." [Pauline Books & Media, p.8].) Who can deny that our culture has gone down that precise path?
Rom. 1: 27 – Every time homosexuality is referred to in the Bible, it is unequivocally condemned: "Males did shameful things with males..."
1 Cor. 6: 9 – "Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the
1 Tim. 1: 8-11 – "We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching..." Homosexual acts are listed with the most serious of offenses.
Lev. 20: 13 – "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives." The teaching here could not be clearer. Homosexual acts are a deadly sin.
The early Church likewise forbade homosexual acts. In the Didache, one of the earliest examples of non-scriptural Christian writings, we find these unequivocal proscriptions: "You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys…" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 2). Of course the fact that homosexuality is sinful does not mean those who suffer that particular temptation are any less children of God than those who are tempted in other directions. It is the act that is sinful, not the temptation or the 'orientation.' There is not a person who has ever lived who has not been tempted to sin. Judging others is no less sinful than homosexual acts.
The moral laxity that so many Protestant congregations have fallen into – permitting at-will divorce, contraception, homosexuality, abortion – is a terrible tragedy, and we Catholics ought to pray diligently for our brethren in faith. Since this laxity flies in the face of so many clear Bible teachings – many coming from the lips of Jesus himself – it is a further sign that the fullness of truth is not found in the Protestant tradition.
1 Cor. 7: 10-11 – "To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): a wife should not separate from her husband – and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband – and a husband should not divorce his wife."
Mt. 19: 3-9 – "'…they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.'"
Mk. 10: 2-12 – "'So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate... Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.'"
LIFE AFTER DEATH
Some claim that souls remain in some kind of suspended animation as they await judgment at the end of time. The scriptures do not afford the evil this consolation.
Lk. 20: 38 – "'...he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.'" Jesus' own words state that the dead are alive, not in some state of suspended animation.
Mk. 12: 26-27 – Jesus tells us that the dead are indeed living: "'As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, 'I am the God of Abraham, [the] God of Isaac, and [the] God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.'"
Is. 14: 9-10 – "The nether world below is all astir preparing for your coming; it awakens the shades to greet you, all the leaders of the earth; it has the kings of all nations rise from their thrones. All of them speak out and say to you, 'You too have become weak like us, you are the same as we. '" The scenario by which the spirits in the nether world meet the newly arrived is spelled out. Note that the spirits of the dead are responsive. They have not dissolved, nor are they deceased.
Rev. 14: 9-11 – "'Anyone who worships the beast or its image, or accepts its mark on forehead or hand, will also drink the wine of God's fury… The smoke of the fire that torments them will rise forever and ever, and there will be no relief day or night for those who worship the beast or its image…'" If ‘the smoke of the fire’ that torments the damned lasts 'forever and ever,' how is it that their torment does not?
Heb. 12: 1 – "...since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." Refers to the souls of the Old Testament exemplars of faith who are not dead, but live on in the spirit.
Ps. 88: 6 – "My couch is among the dead, with the slain who lie in the grave. You remember them no more; they are cut off from your care."
2 Pet. 2: 17 – "These people are waterless springs and mists driven by a gale; for them the gloom of darkness has been reserved."
Phil. 1: 23 – "I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better."
Eph. 3: 15 – "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named..." Apparently families still exist after death.
Ezek. 32: 18-20 – "Then from the midst of the nether world, the mighty warriors shall speak to
Mt. 25: 46 – Hell is eternal: "And these will go off to eternal punishment..."
Lk. 16: 19-31 – The story of Lazarus the beggar. Lazarus is aware of himself, his situation, and that of his brothers still on earth. He does not even seem drowsy in Jesus' account. Now, admittedly, this is just a parable. But in making his point about selfishness, pride and almsgiving, Jesus would have scarcely misled us about the nature of the afterlife.
Lk. 9: 30-31 – The persons of Moses and Elijah appear during the Transfiguration of Jesus. They were neither sleeping nor dead: "And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory…"
Mk. 9: 4 – Again, the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Both are alive and aware.
Mt. 25: 41 – "'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...'" It is hard to imagine why the fire is eternal if there will be no souls to suffer it.
Mk. 9: 48 – "'...where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'" Jesus himself tells us that damnation is eternal; he is referring here to the following passage from Isaiah:
Is. 66: 24 – "They shall go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against me; their worm shall not die, nor their fire be extinguished; and they shall be abhorrent to all mankind." If each soul's torment does not die, how can the case be made that the soul dies, or even that it 'sleeps'?
Rev. 5: 8 – "Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones." Those who have died in faith present the petitions of the living before the throne of God. (See the section below, 'The Communion of Saints.')
Deut. 18: 10-12 – "Let there not be found among you anyone who... consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead." The proscription against consulting spirits assumes that the spirits are alert and aware and able to be consulted.
Eccles. 12: 7 – "...and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it." In other words, our life breath does not dissipate when our bodies die. Our souls return to God.
1 Sam. 28: 12-19 – The departed spirit of Samuel appears to Saul and speaks. He tells Saul that "'By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me…'" So we must conclude that he is not in any state of suspended animation, but alert and aware and able to "be with" others.
Heb. 12: 22-23 – "…you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant..."
2 Mac. 12: 42-46 – "...he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." To be freed from their sin, they must still exist.
2 Mac. 15: 12-15 – When the former high priest, the "good and virtuous" Onias, was praying before the Jewish community, "…another man appeared, distinguished by his white hair and dignity, and with an air about him of extraordinary, majestic authority. Onias then said of him, 'This is God's prophet Jeremiah, who loves his brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city.'" The scripture tells us (v. 11) that this vision is "worthy of belief." Since the vision includes the statement that Jeremiah is active in the afterlife, both loving and praying, this passage alone refutes the doctrine of 'soul sleep' that some denominations adhere to.
Heb. 9: 27 – "…human beings die once, and after this the judgment..." There is no bodily death followed by a death of the soul, as some claim. In this passage, the author is disputing that error.
Sir. 14: 16 – "Give, take and treat yourself well, for in the nether world there are no joys to seek." If the dead were dissolved or unconscious, this passage would make no sense.
Rev. 21: 7-8 – "'The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved... their lot is in the
burning pool of fire...'"
1 Jn. 3: 2 – "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been
revealed." The end times are obscure.
Jer. 15: 1 – "...even if Moses and Samuel stood before me..." Apparently the possibility exists that Moses and Samuel could stand before God – as indeed Moses and Elijah, fully awake and aware, did stand before Jesus as they spoke to him (Lk. 9: 30-31).
There are scripture passages that do appear to refer to death as sleep (Job 14: 12). But they are speaking in physical terms. Our earthly bodies do appear to be asleep when we die, even as our spirits live on.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
The Church believes that the perfection achieved by the faithful is not extinguished at death, but lives on in heaven, as the holy ones take their places as newly victorious members of the Mystical Body . As the documents of
Acts 9: 1-5 – "Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in
1 Cor. 12: 12-27 – "But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy."
Eph. 1: 22-23 – "And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way." Again,
Eph. 4: 15-16 – "Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love." Love represented by the concern that is implicit in the Communion of Saints and is fulfilled through the ancient practice of intercessory prayer.
Rom. 12: 4-8 – "For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another." This is an excellent description of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints.
Gal. 3: 28 – "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Col. 1: 18 – "He is the head of the body, the church." Again,
Rom. 8: 35-39 –
Col. 3: 15 – "And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body." Having Christ as our 'personal savior' is only part of the story. Our faith is more than just a personal matter. It brings us into union with the entire community of believers.
Jn. 17: 11-21 – "'I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.'" This is Jesus' astonishing 'unity prayer.' Jesus is upholding the union of all believers, through all time, in the communion of saints.
1 Cor. 10: 17 – The Church is one in Christ in the Eucharist: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." The Communion of Saints culminates in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The sacrament is the source of our unity in Christ.
In 350 A.D., St. Cyril wrote a remarkable and exquisitely detailed description of the Mass, which clearly corresponds with today's
Intercessory prayer is an ancient tradition among the faithful. The examples of it in scripture are numerous. When we 'pray to' the saints, we are merely asking one another to intercede with God, just as Abraham, Moses, Job and
Job 42: 8 – The three verbose friends of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, express dismay that God intends to punish them for their pride and their glibness. Whereupon God's response is quite telling. He says, "'…let my servant Job pray for you, for his prayer I will accept, not to punish you severely.'" Not only does God refuse to accept their pleas for forgiveness, he directs them to ask Job to intercede for them. Only when Job prays for them does God grant them his forgiveness.
1 Tim. 2: 1-3 – "First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be offered for everyone..." We are explicitly urged by
2 Tim. 1: 16-18 – "May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord..." Here
2 Tim. 1: 3 – "…I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day." If all that's needed is for Timothy to pray for himself, directly to God, without any intervention from Paul, then why does Paul bother to undertake such an ambitious prayer schedule on Timothy's behalf? The answer of course is the spirit of charity which the Communion of Saints so strongly recommends.
Mt. 5: 44 – "'...'pray for those who persecute you.'" Here Jesus himself commands us to intercede on behalf of others, including our enemies.
Rom. 10: 1 – "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God on their behalf is for salvation." Again,
1 Jn. 5: 16 – "If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life." The apostle is urging us to pray for the sanctity of others.
Heb. 5: 1 – Throughout salvation history, priests have been called upon to offer prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the community: "Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins." Both intercession and expiation are explicitly referred to here.
James 5: 13-16 – We are instructed to summon a priest to pray for us; we are told his prayer will be more powerful than ours: "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up... The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful." James is referring to the Sacrament of Healing.
James 5: 16 – "… pray for one another, that you may be healed." St. James is directing us to offer intercessory prayer for those who are ill.
Gen. 18: 23-28 – Abraham intercedes with God on behalf of
Matt. 19: 28 – "'Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'" Jesus has graciously given mankind a role in the
Rev. 5: 8 – "Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones." Those who have gone before us in faith are clearly shown to intercede on our behalf, as they present our prayers before the throne of the living God.
Rev. 8: 3-4 – "He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones..." Our prayers on earth are offered before the throne by the holy ones in heaven. We are all united in our faith and in the sacrifice of the Lamb.
Rev. 6: 9-17 – The prayers of the martyrs in heaven are responsible for God's wrath being unleashed against the earth for the spilling of their innocent blood: "They cried out in a loud voice, 'How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?'… Then the sky was divided like a torn scroll curling up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. The kings of the earth, the nobles, the military officers, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid themselves in caves and among mountain crags. They cried out…" The prayers of the holy ones have a direct and significant effect upon the world. This is the very definition of intercessory prayer.
2 Cor. 1: 11 – "...so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift granted us through the prayers of many." The power of prayer is tied to the gifts given by God to the community of the faithful.
Mt. 21: 22 – "Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith you will receive." Note that Jesus does not put limitations on our prayer. Instead, "whatever" we ask for will be granted – including, we must assume, intentions we seek on anothers' behalf.
Acts 12: 5 – "Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf." This is another clear example of intercessory prayer, one in which the entire community of the faithful prays for Peter's safety.
2 Mac. 3: 31 – "Soon some of the companions of Heliodorus begged Onias to invoke the Most High, praying that the life of the man who was about to expire might be spared." This is a clear case of a group of individuals engaging in intercessory prayer on behalf of a specific shared intention.
2 Mac. 12: 42-46 – "Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." Clearly, intercessory prayers for the dead pre-dated Jesus' own time – by hundreds of years, in fact.
Num. 12 – Miriam rebels: "Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks? Does he not speak through us also?" When Miriam is punished by contracting leprosy, Moses prays for God to remit Miriam's punishment. Only after Moses prays does God relent.
Gen. 48: 15-16 – Jacob prays for his grandsons: "May the God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked... bless these boys..."
Tob. 12: 12 – In heaven, the Angel Raphael presented Tobit and Sarah's prayers to God. The angel was acting as an intercessor for them: "'I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord…'"
Lev. 5: 5-6 – "...whoever is guilty in any of these cases shall confess the sin he has incurred, and as his sin offering for the sin he has committed he shall bring to the Lord a female animal from the flock, a ewe lamb or a she-goat. The priest shall then make atonement for the sin." Intercessory prayer for atonement has been part of our spiritual tradition since the beginning.
Rom. 15: 30 – "I urge you, [brothers,] by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf…"
Zech. 1: 12-13 – An angel prays for Jerusalem: "Then the angel of the Lord spoke out and said, 'O Lord of hosts, how long will you be without mercy for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that have felt your anger these seventy years?'" The angel is interceding on
James 4: 3 – Our sins actually reduce the effectiveness of our prayers: "You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
1 Pet. 3: 7 – When we commit sin, God is less likely to answer our prayers: "Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered."
Gen. 4: 4-5 – God does not view all prayers equally: "The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not."
Mt. 5: 23-24 – Sin affects the acceptability of our sacrifice – our prayer – to the Lord: "'Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar; go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.'" Jesus is telling us that the state of our soul is examined by God when he considers our prayers. Our relationships with others affect the acceptability of our prayer. That fact makes the concept of intercessory prayer easier to grasp, since it is first and foremost, 'relational' prayer – prayer that is offered in community.
Ps. 45: 13 – In this psalm, which is a prophetic passage referring to Mary as a princess who stands at the right hand of the Messiah, we find these words: "Then the richest of the people will seek your favor with gifts." This is a clear reference to the faithful who seek Mary's intercession.
It is a historical fact that the earliest Christians prayed for the souls of the dead. In 213 A.D., Tertullian wrote: "A woman, after the death of her husband… prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice" ('The Faith of the Early Church Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 158). The objection to praying for the dead is another innovation of the Reformation. Note also Tertullian's allusion to 'the sacrifice,' a clear reference to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which dates back to apostolic times. Finally, it is worthwhile to point out that praying for the dead clearly points to a belief in a process of cleansing that takes place after death – a 'purgatory' – for there is no need to pray for souls in heaven, and no use in praying for souls in hell. Once again we see that the beliefs of the earliest Christians were thoroughly Catholic.