Here is an early Christmas present! Trent shares his 2019 Catholic Answers Conference presentation on the historical evidence for the Catholic faith and shows how to respond to Protestant interpretations of that evidence.
Welcome to The Counsel of Trent Podcast, a production of Catholic Answers.
Hey everyone. Welcome to The Counsel of Trent Podcast. I’m your host, Catholic Answers apologist and speaker, Trent Horn. And Christmas is almost upon us. So I thought why not send you all a special bonus Christmas present? For today’s episode of the podcast, I’m going to share with you the presentation that I gave at the Catholic Answers Conference this year. The theme was The Early Church Was The Catholic Church. And my talk was on how to answer Protestant scholars and apologists who claim that the church fathers weren’t really Catholic or they don’t really support Catholic believe, answering Protestant distortions of the church fathers.
So this was a special episode that was given out a few months ago right after the conference for the subscribers to my podcast as a bonus episode. And so if you want access to similar bonus content right as it becomes available, be sure to go to trenthornpodcast.com for as little as $5 a month. You get access to this kind of bonus content and you get to submit questions for future episodes. You get all other kinds of sneak peeks and you help keep the podcast going. So be sure to go to trenthornpodcast.com. Or at the very least, leave a rating at iTunes or Google Play. That helps people see the podcast as worthwhile and something to invest their time in.
And so without further ado, though, here for anyone who listens to The Counsel of Trent Podcast is the talk I gave at this year’s Catholic Answers Conference. It’s always the last weekend of September, by the way. So if you want to go to this year’s conference or the following years, leave the last weekend of September open. You’re not going to want to miss it. Next year’s conference next September will be, Who do you say that I am? A conference defending the person of Christ, who he is. Explaining who the real Jesus is. I’m going to give a talk on five ways to spot a counterfeit Christ. So you can go learn about that at catholicanswersconference.com. But here is my last year’s conference presentation for all of you, How to Answer Distortions of the Church Fathers.
This conference, we’re talking about the early church fathers, saying that the early church was the Catholic Church. I remember reading a Protestant scholar, an article he wrote a few years ago. He said that the most arrogant thing he thought that a Catholic had ever said, and it was not that our pancake breakfasts are better than their potlucks hand down, he said the most arrogant thing was to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. Of course, from Cardinal John Henry Newman. It’s a great quote, I think, for our conference. So when you look at the history of the church, Catholicism fully blooms. Now, he took great chagrin at this because this particular scholar was a Protestant church historian.
So you may encounter Protestant friends. Maybe we have some Protestants here, I hope that we do, who may think that it’s arrogant to say, “Oh, if you just read the church fathers, you’ll automatically become Catholic.” There are very good Protestant church historians. I cite several of them in my own work. Jaroslav Pelikan, he was Lutheran, became Eastern Orthodox. J. N. D. Kelly was a great Anglican scholar, lots of them. So if you’re so confident that the early church fathers are Catholic, why haven’t these people converted? What I would say is that when people look at the church fathers, there are Protestants who look at them, and then of course, see things in a different way and misinterpret what they say or make an error in their thinking. That’s what I want to point out in this talk today.
Protestants, they’ve been stepping up their game in this regard. If you listen to debates between Karl Keating and Patrick Madrid in late 1980s, early 1990s, you’ll hear people getting smashed. They don’t even bother touching the church fathers. Protestants saw a need to do that. So in the late 90s, early 2000s, you see more works coming that try to analyze the fathers from a Protestant perspective. So what I want to offer you today in my presentation are four rules for reading… These aren’t the only rules that you should use, of course. But these are rules that I think are helpful when dealing with Protestant claims of the church fathers weren’t really Catholic. You can really break these four rules down into two subsets.
The first two deal with the idea that the fathers didn’t believe this Catholic doctrine. So the argument saying that the early church fathers, yep, solid fathers, did not believe Catholic doctrine. There’s no evidence they believed then what the Catholic Church believes now. The other two can be summarized in the phrase the fathers believed the opposite. So not merely that there’s an absence of evidence, that the fathers didn’t believe this. But that if you read them, they actually believe the opposite of what the Catholic Church teaches. So let’s break those down starting with the first one.
It’s rule number one. It’s a simple rule you can do. Whenever you’re doing history, whenever you’re citing things, if you read any of my books, you’ll know I love doing this. You should check your sources. My favorite thing to do in my books are the end nodes. I pack them full of stuff because there’s just geeky details that would bog down the reader in the text but I want to share it. So I pack it away in the end notes and I make sure to cite what I’m talking about because when I… I have declined actually to endorse books on apologetics for the sheer reason they had no footnotes. Someone gave me a book once, asked for an endorsement. I politely declined because they had no footnotes.
I say if you’re going to make an argument, you need to source your material. Let me give you some examples about checking your sources. This comes from the late Norm Geisler who passed away recently and Ralph Mackenzie’s book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals Agreements and Differences. Right? This is what he says about the mass. The description of the mass as a sacrifice is found as early as Gregory the Great who lived in the sixth century. Then he says the notion of the mass eventually became standard doctrine of the Western church. Now, as they say in the old Connect Four commercial, pretty sneaky sis. This is true in a sense.
I wanted to say it’s a whopper but the way it’s phrased, yes, the state and the description of the mass as a sacrifice is found as early as Gregory the Great. The problem is when you read that, it makes it sound like that’s as early. It is found as early as that, but it’s also found earlier. So it’s not false. It’s just highly misleading because you can go back much further than Gregory the Great. You can go to St. Justin Martyr for example, in his dialogue with Trypho, the rabbi. He talks about how the mass that Catholics celebrate and read Justin Martyr first apology on the mass. A point for point correspondence to how we celebrate the mass today. It’s truly striking.
He talks about how the mass is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 1:11. In Malachi 1:11, the Prophet says, “In every place, incense is offered to my name. Apure offering for my name is great among the nations.” So that is what Justin Martyr says, that this prophesy was fulfilled in the Eucharist, which is a sacrifice. So Protestants will say, “Yeah, they believe in the Lord’s Supper. But the first Christians just thought it was a memorial, not a sacrifice.” That’s not what Justin Martyr says. I can do you one better. I can go back earlier than Justin Martyr who’s writing in the middle of the second century.
I can go back to The Didache. The Didache is one of the first catechisms in the church’s history. It’s the teaching of the 12. It wasn’t authored by the apostles, but it is associated with their teaching. It’s so early in fact. There is a relationship between The Didache and the Gospel of Matthew. Either Matthew drew from The Didache in showing the correspondences between the Lord’s teaching and the teaching of the early church or The Didache derives from Matthew. That’s it’s easily late first century. It says that the Eucharist gather on the Lord’s day and give Thanksgiving after you have confessed your transgressions. You got to go to confession, then you can go to mass. Why? Because your sacrifice needs to be a pure one. You don’t want Your sacrifice to be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord.
“In every place and time, offer to me a pure sacrifice for I am a Great King,” says the Lord. “And my name is wonderful among the nations.” Now, what is that from the Old Testament? Malachi 1:11. Good. We’re awake. We’re here. So you see right there, you’ll have people who will make a claim about the fathers. Negative claims saying that the first Christians did not believe X are fairly easy to disprove because you just have to go back and find one example of where they did believe X. So that’s something if you see a claim that, “Well, the early church didn’t believe this,” don’t take that at face value. It could be true, but then you should go back to a reliable collection of the church fathers.
Jimmy has a wonderful collection of them, The Fathers Know Best, that collects them all and is an easy reference book to go through in that regard, which by the way, this rule, check your sources, it cuts both ways. It goes for us too. You may not recognize this. This is one of my books. About 12 people bought it because nobody wants their bubble burst about the same quote they have on the Post-it Note by their computer that turns out to not be true. So it’s so alarming to people. No one wanted to hear the hard truth in that regard.
But I cover one of these because sometimes we will quote the fathers. That’s not exactly what they said. That’s not good because if you are dealing with someone who’s intelligent, is well read, they can throw you for a loop. You may have heard this. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Rome has spoken, the case is closed. St. Augustine. Seems pretty open and shut, right? Watched a debate once with a Catholic priest debating a Protestant apologist on the issue of purgatory. They were debating and the Catholic priest said, “Well, we should believe the early church’s teaching on purgatory because St. Augustine said when Rome has spoken, the case is closed.” You could just see the Protestant eyes light up. He said, “Father, where is that in St. Augustine’s writings?” He was just completely flummoxed and couldn’t produce it. It was not a great moment in the debate.
Now, what I would say is that this phrase is not a quote, but it’s a paraphrase of what Augustine says in sermon 131. So there, he’s talking about the Pelagian heresy and how the Pelagian heresy has gone through two regional councils in his area. Rescripts or reports have already come back from the Apostolic See or from Rome. Causa finita est, the cause, the Pelagian cause is finished. The Pelagian heresy that says you can work your way to heaven. You don’t need grace. Would that, the error, also be finished? So it’s not Roma locuta est, but you can say rescripts have come.
My thing is I wouldn’t get into this quote because you get into the nitty gritty about what was said, what wasn’t said. As I say in What the Saints Never Said, go with a genuine Augustine quote that’s more powerful and you can’t dispute. In his disputes with the Manichean heretics, Augustine said to them, “Okay, so you guys think that you’re the one true church. All right. Well, perhaps you’ll read the gospel to me. Can you find a testimony to your founder, Manichaeus, in there? But what if you met somebody,” he says, “Who doesn’t believe in the gospel? Why should I believe in this gospel you have in the first place?” Well, Augustine says you heretics are out of luck, but for my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church because for Augustine, anyone can come up with writings. Why should we believe in their authority or their integrity?
Augustine said, “Well, we have the unbroken chain of apostolic tradition residing in the Catholic Church that vouches for it. You heretics, drop your list of bishops. So they’re always incomplete. You can never establish a chain back to the apostles but we can. That is what mattered to him. So that’s a quote that I think would be better to use than Roma locuta est. If you’d like to hear more about that, of course, you can check out What the Saints Never Said. Be one of the nine people who have read this book.
By the way, I’d like to give a shout out to Andrew in the video. He has a promising career as a stock photo/video model or photography model. I mean, I want to get into that business. I just sit in the church. Yeah. Can you look more pensive? All right. So that is rule number one. Check your sources. Let’s try rule number two for the fathers. This is still under the subset that the fathers didn’t believe doctrine X and that Catholics invented such doctrine in the Middle Ages. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. Not necessarily evidence of absence. This is an article by a Protestant author, Wayne Jackson, and the Christian Courier. False Teaching Regarding Mary. It’s your standard anti-Mary and tropes. I think we have a book on Mary, I’m not sure. You could check that out. I think we do.
He writes in there, “The concept of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was wholly unknown to the early church. First, that’s correct. You won’t find the phrase the Immaculate Conception in the first several centuries of the church’s history. You won’t find that explicitly. But then again, you won’t find church fathers writing explicitly about the celibacy of Christ. That Christ was not married. You won’t find them writing about the fact that Christ has two wills, a human and divine will, the heresy of Monothelitism, the idea that Christ had only one will and so it wasn’t really truly human wasn’t settled until the third Council of Constantinople several centuries later, about 600 years after Christ lived.
So the fathers oftentimes will not write about everything that the church believes at that time. Usually, when they write, they’re writing to combat some kind of heresy. That’s where their attention is focused. If someone is not critiquing a doctrine, the doctrine often doesn’t get written about because there’s only so much parchment and ink and there’s so many heresies. St. Irenaeus has a five volume work on heresies in his age. There’s always so many to deal with. I know how it feel sometimes. Every day I get on the internet and find something that’s wrong, and I want to stay up late and deal with. There’s this great cartoon of a stick figure man looking at the computer screen like this. His wife says, “Honey, come to bed.” He says, “I can’t. There’s someone wrong on the internet.”
That’s how I feel sometimes. But we do have evidence, though, that points in the trajectory of understanding that Mary was protected from sin throughout her entire life and very early evidence. We had the Ascension of Isaiah and the Odes of Solomon. Early Christian documents from the first century that described Mary having a pain-free childbirth. If you remember in Genesis chapter three, one of the curses of original sin is pain in childbirth. So if someone is spared from the pain of childbirth, it would naturally follow they were spared from the curse of original sin. Likewise, the church fathers, Irenaeus is one of them, compares Mary to Eve who was also created without original sin.
St. Ephrem the Syrian writing the fourth century says there is no flaw and no stain in the mother. You see the eastern father’s talking about Mary being pure, being incorruptible. But there are, of course, people who disagree. I was watching a debate recently between a Protestant and Catholic on the question of whether Mary was sinless or not. This is Pastor Tony Costa. And in middle of the debate, he was talking about church fathers and whether they believed Mary was sinless or not. He just said this quick line. He was quoting J. N. D. Kelly who is an Anglican Church historian, one that I quote often in my own works. He’s not Catholic, but he’s very honest in his scholarship and many things he reveals actually really do support Catholic teaching.
So pastor Costa said, “Augustine did not hold…” He’s quoting Kelly. Augustine did not hold as has sometimes been alleged that she, Mary, was born exempt from all taint of original sin, the later doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.” Once again, what do they say in the old Connect Four commercial? Pretty sneaky sis, retrotvjunk.com. My wife says, “How do you write all these books and watch all these videos at the same time?” I’ve got a system. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Got a system here. Because somebody might call the open forum and ask about the old Connect Four commercial. I got to be prepared for any question that comes on Catholic Answers live.
Here’s what Kelly wrote though. Here’s what he wrote before this quote. He said, “St. Augustine agreed that Mary was the unique exception. She had been kept sinless.” Because if you just heard Pastor Costa, he makes it sound like Augustine believed Mary was a sinner, which is not the case at all. Kelly affirms that Augustine believed that Mary had been kept sinless, however, not by the effort of her own will, but as a result of grace given to her in view of the incarnation. Because you see, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the Pelagian heretics, Pelagius is their founder, they believed you did not need grace. You could work your way to heaven. One of their arguments for how you could do that was that Mary lived a life without sin. So even the heretics acknowledged Mary was sinless. They used that for their arguments saying, “Well, you could be a righteous pious person just like Mary if you just work hard enough.”
Augustine said you’re right she was sinless, but you’re wrong that she did it on her own. She did that with the grace given to her in view of the incarnation. So we see he says… Kelly says this. But then Kelly says, “Well, Augustine did not believe in the later doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. That makes sense. He doesn’t believe in what the church explicitly defined because that wouldn’t happen for another 1300 years. Immaculate conception would not be formally defined till the year 1854. But Kelly goes on to say Julian of Eclanum maintained this is a clinching argument in his onslaught and the whole idea of original sin. He’s one of the Pelagians. But Augustine’s rejoinder was that Mary had indeed been born subject to original sin like other human beings, but had been delivered from its effects by the grace of rebirth.
So you see 1300 years before the dogma was formally defined, we’ve got the church fathers unanimously agreeing that Mary is free from sin, but they’re still struggling to figure out how is it reconciled that original sin curses all human beings but Mary is free from it? So Augustine says, “Well, she’s delivered from original sin by a grace of rebirth,,” like an immediate baptism after she comes into existence. That’s also what St. Thomas Aquinas struggled with. People will say, “Well, St. Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe in the Immaculate Conception.” No, he believed in the idea that Mary was preserved from sin, but tried to wrap that around the understanding of how the rational body develops in the womb.
What Aquinas got wrong was, when did Mary come into existence? He believed in the Aristotelian idea that in the womb, you got a little vegetable soul, then an animal soul, then a rational soul. So Mary’s infusion of grace came after her conception because that’s when she actually got her rational soul. Now, of course, today, as William May, the Catholic moral theologian says if Aquinas were alive today and knew about DNA and now humans develop, he would have abandoned that argument entirely. Though I find some Protestant writers not just saying that Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception, but saying flagrantly false things beyond that. So rule one returns here. This is from the late R. C. Sproul. I actually met his grandson when I debated James White several years ago at a big Calvinist Conference in Atlanta.
So Sproul wrote this book, Are We Together? I was amazed when I read it and came across this line. He said Thomas Aquinas repudiated the notion of the sinlessness of Mary in his day. I think what Sproul was trying to argue that Thomas Aquinas debated the idea of the Immaculate Conception, which was not a dogma at this time. It was something theologians were still trying to understand and fine tune but he goes one step further to say Aquinas denied Mary’s sinlessness. Once again, with rule number one, all you have to do is go back to the source and check it. Because then we have in the Summa Theologiae, we have Thomas saying of Mary, she would not have been worthy to be the mother of God if she had ever sinned. The Blessed Virgin committed no actual sin, neither mortal nor venial. But what was understood is that the fathers beginning of the Patristic age going up to the Scholastic age understood that Mary was sinless. But they tried to understand how could it be that Mary had a Savior? Original sin curses all mankind.
Then we have John Duns Scottus in the Scholastic age who said that Mary was saved from original sin. He gave that famous example of how a man can be saved from falling into a pit either by pulling him out of the pit, which is what happens to us in baptism. We’re pulled out of the pit of original sin, or by being kept from falling into it in the first place, which is what happened to Mary through the grace that Christ accrued for her on the cross being applied retroactively to her because God is outside of time.
Now, you’ll see people, some Protestants will say, “Yeah, okay. There are church fathers who say Mary was incorruptible without sin, but they don’t say before the fourth century that she was without original sin.” Well, here’s the problem. That’s true. But the concept of original sin is not debated before the fourth century. That is something that Augustine formulated in his theological writings to explain the universality of sin. That term original sin developed later just as other terms like Trinity developed later and Hypostatic Union developed later. So it’s funny. I’ll read Protestant writers who will point this out, and then fall into the error of the Pelagians. For example, I’ll go back to Wayne Jackson’s article. He said, “Mary’s Immaculate Conception was wholly unknown to early church.” People will say, “Why do you guys get so worked up about the Immaculate Conception? What is the big deal?” Well, brace yourselves because the oxygen will get sucked out of this room. Brace yourselves.
That’s two. I’m not going to do a third because I don’t need to look for another job. What happens when you deny these dogmas? Well, what Jackson goes on to say is that the Immaculate Conception is a silly idea because there is no such thing as original sin. Who needs their oxygen tank? That notion is a myth without biblical support. We always think the heretics like, “Oh, the Pelagians.” We think they live in this far off time of knights and stage coaches and Roman Centurions. These heresies are buried… We hear of a heresy 1400 years ago. We can’t imagine it being here today, but it is. There’s a lot of Protestants who deny original sin, including academics who write about it and say that it’s a later invention of Catholic theology. So we see what happens then, that when people take these arguments against the Catholic faith, they actually undermine other important doctrines without realizing it. So that’s what’s important here.
All right. Let’s continue on. This also happens with purgatory. Gerald Bray is an Anglican scholar who says purgatory is a medieval invention. I cannot count the number of times I have read Protestant writers who say that purgatory was invented in the 12th and 13th centuries. They’ll say that purgatory was invented in the 12th and 13th centuries. They’ll cite this book, is a good book, by Jacques Le Goff. I don’t know. I butcher British. I butcher French. I butcher any accent that is out there. My impersonations are okay. You can listen to my podcast, judge for yourself. The Birth of Purgatory, University of Chicago Press. It’s a good book on the history of purgatory, but Le Goff or Le Goff, he says that when he says purgatory was invented in the Middle Ages, he means the idea of it being a physical place came to prominence in the Middle Ages. That’s not a part of Catholic teaching. That’s a part of theological speculation.
But when you read the Catechism, there’s only two paragraphs, two or three paragraphs, on purgatory. It says that purgatory is the final purification of the elect before they enter into heaven. What it’s like, how long it is, whether it’s a physical place or not, the church does not officially weigh in on that matter. So people will say that this one fact proves it was invented in the Middle Ages, which doesn’t make sense because you go back to St. Augustine in his work, The City of God, writing near the end of the Roman Empire in that time period. He talks about temporary punishments after death. He uses the Latin phrase poenae purgatoriae, purgatorial punishments.
So clearly, the idea of purgatory was known long before the Middle Ages. Now, some Protestant apologists are more shrewd in this regard and won’t commit a blunder like this. The Church of Rome at the Bar of History is probably the most popular work that aims to say Catholic doctrine is not historical. The fathers didn’t believe in this. It’s written by William Webster. He says in that book, for at least the first two centuries, there was no mention of purgatory in the church. So that’s true, but it’s misleading. For example, you can make the same argument against the Trinity. In fact, this is a 19th century Unitarian who denies the divinity of Christ, Henry Moorhouse. He says that the Trinity, the word Trinity, was not used until Theophilus in the later part of the second century. He claims Tertullian brought about the idea of the Trinity in the third century. But of course, you can find the Trinity all the way back to the New Testament documents.
So just because the word comes about later, it doesn’t follow that the idea was unknown. That is an important rule for you to remember. Just because a theological term arrives in history at a certain point, that does not mean the idea was unknown before then. The idea was just known by different names. How do we know that? Or by different ways of describing it. So it’s true, you won’t find the word purgatory in the first two centuries of Christian writing, but you do find other interesting bits of evidence. This is the Abercius stone. So Abercius was a bishop of Hierapolis. Hierapolis is a very happening place in Asia Minor, which is Turkey, Turkey and the border of Assyria. He was a bishop there and he had a headstone that we discovered is dated about the year AD167. On that headstone, he actually asked for this epitaph to be written before he died because the church was dealing with Roman persecution, things like that.
He asked on his epitaph to have it written, let him the reader of the epitaph, of this headstone, pray for Abercius. Now, here’s the thing about praying for the dead. If someone’s going to heaven, they don’t need our prayers. They’ve already got everything perfect. They don’t need any more from us. If they’re going to hell, our prayers aren’t going to help them anyways. So why would you pray for someone who’s died when they either go to a place where they don’t need the prayers, or they go to a place where the prayers won’t help? Well, it would make sense if there were a place where prayers did help them such as an intermediary state where they’re being purified and need to go through this purification process before entering into heaven. We see similar inscriptions on other early Christian catacombs. So we don’t see the word purgatory, but the idea is clearly here and it’s within the cut off that Webster says it doesn’t really exist.
All right. So we went through the first two rules saying the fathers didn’t believe it. When people claim that, check the source, go back to the source. Odds are you will find a citation that they did. Or you will find the idea of it in their writings, if not this explicit term being used or technical description of it. Well, let’s go to the next one. People will say the fathers actually believed the opposite of what Catholics believe today. This is a more damning charge, that the fathers believed the exact opposite of… I’ve heard people say the fathers were actually Proto-Protestants. How do we get to that?
This was published about a year ago, two years ago. Matthew Barrett’s book, God’s Word Alone – The Authority of Scripture. It’s a modern defense of Sola Scriptura. He says this. Innovation is often the first indication of heresy. This is why the reformers sought to tie their exegesis all the way back to the Patristic tradition. So even the reformers, Luther and Calvin, they understood the idea that heretics usually go astray. So even if they won’t give the fathers and the Ecumenical Council the authority they deserve, they give them some authority to prove, “Hey, we didn’t just make this up. This goes back. How do they do that?” Well, they cite people like St. Athanasius who said that the sacred and inspired scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth. They’re sufficient. You don’t need a church. You don’t need a priest. You don’t need all that. The scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth.
What does that mean? Well, sufficiency is not the same as sola Scriptura. There are two kinds of views on the sufficiency of Scripture. There is material and formal sufficiency. All right? So material sufficiency is the idea that all the truths that we need for our salvation can be found in Scripture. Any of the fathers did believe this that what we need to believe as Christians and for our Salvation can be found in the Bible. But just because it’s found there doesn’t mean you’ll put it together the right way. So material sufficiency is you have all the truths in Scripture just like you have all the lumber, the wiring, the conduit at Home Depot. You have everything there to build a house. But here’s the thing. If I went to Home Depot and got all that stuff to build a house or a log cabin, I would not get this pristine log cabin you have here. I would probably get this if I tried to do it.
I can’t even make dinner. My wife will say, “You should make dinner for me sometime.” My act of charity is to use my personal money to buy you food because if I made you dinner, that would be a venial sin at worst. Why would I subject you to that? Why would I subject you to that? I don’t want to do that. I’ll get to the buffet though later. That sounds very tasty. So formal sufficiency is to say that theologies are in Scripture. All we need is scripture. You open scripture. You get your theology just like you can walk into that log cabin, and you can have your little Aspen getaway. The Catholic Church does not believe in the formal sufficiency of Scripture. You can’t just open the Bible and you get your theology ready and packaged for you.
2nd Peter 3:16, St. Peter says there are things in Paul’s letters that the ignorant and the unstable twist to their own destruction. So the truths are there, but how do you put them together? That is precisely what St. Athanasius said. Now you know why I did this little indention here because really, what he said was for although the sacred and inspired scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth, while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which what the teachers have compiled, a man will gain knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures and be able to learn what he wishes to know. Still, as we have not at present in our hands, the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate. They don’t have what they wrote down but they got something better. They have their teachings right up here. We must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them the faith namely of Christ the Savior.
The same thing happens. You all Protestant apologists will cite St. Basil. St. Basil the Great who debating heretics, he said, “Let God inspired scripture decide between us.” Protestants say, “See, he’s not saying listen to the church. He’s saying let God inspired scripture decide.” Well, what’s happening here is St. Basil’s debating with heretics who don’t believe in the church’s authority. They don’t believe in the church’s authority. He said, “Okay, fine. We will debate using common ground. We both agree on the scriptures then. Let’s see what the Scriptures decide between us.”
The same thing if I debated purgatory with a Protestant, and I could cite 2nd Maccabees 12:46 that talks about how the Jews made atonement for the dead, I would say that, “Well, this is historical evidence for the doctrine of purgatory.” But I wouldn’t cite 2nd Maccabees as biblical evidence for purgatory in a debate with a Protestant. Why? Because they don’t believe 2nd Maccabees is inspired. It’s deuterocanonical work. So I might say in that instance, “Okay, fine. Let the God inspired canon you and I agree on decide this.” We’ll go to 1st Corinthians 3:15, for example. But we know St. Basil did not believe in the formal sufficiency of Scripture because he says some Catholic beliefs and practices, some of these things we possess derived from written teaching. Others we have received delivered to us in a mystery by the tradition of the apostles. He did not believe in Sola Scriptura. That everything that’s essential for Christians to believe is found explicitly in Scripture. Some of that comes from traditions that were handed on.
Now, Timothy Ward is a Protestant scholar and his book, Word and Supplement. He agrees. He says, “Look, the fathers assert the material sufficiency of Scripture. All the truths are there for our salvation, but not that our theologies are there and you have no need for the church because the fathers believed the church was the proper interpreter of the Scriptures.” Same thing happens that sufficiency is misinterpreted. You’ll see this another common misinterpretation is with the Eucharist. Protestant scholars will cite Tertullian. He says, “Of the Eucharist, this is my body. That is the figure of my body.” It’s like, “Well, see right here. Tertullian is saying it’s a figure. It’s a symbol.”
But let’s go back to J. N. D. Kelly who, remember, is an Anglican non-Catholic scholar. He says that for the Latin fathers like Tertullian, the symbol in some was the thing symbolize. The verb repraesentare, in Tertullian’s vocabulary, retained to its original significance of to make present. So when people cite the fathers and they do get a citation, make sure they’re interpreting what they say correctly. Something else that will come up with the Eucharist is people say, “Well, where do the fathers talk about transubstantiation? That was invented in the Middle Ages.” Once again, just because a term arrives in history doesn’t mean the idea was unknown before that point. The term transubstantiation was formerly defined at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. But the idea was known long before it.
St. Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century described the change in consecration at mass of the Divine Liturgy as with the term metastoicheiosis, not transubstantiation. Can’t they get some smaller Greek and Latin words here? But metastoicheiosis which in English means transelementation. So he might have not said transubstantiation, but he used a different word to communicate the same idea. In fact, Jaroslav Pelikan who’s a wonderful church history scholar, he was a Lutheran, and then he met Pope St. John Paul II and became Eastern Orthodox. So pretty close. We’re getting there. That shows an openness to change and understand the ancient foundations of the faith. He says the effort to cross-examine the fathers of the second or third century about where they stood in the controversies of the ninth or 16th century about the Eucharist is both silly and futile.
So when people say the fathers believed something opposite, or that they didn’t use these specific terms, point out, yeah, they don’t use the term transubstantiation. They don’t use the term Hypostatic Union. They don’t use the term original sin. Yet those doctrines were believed and then would be later defined. Now for the last one that deals with this rule of the fathers believing the opposite, provisional lists of the canon should not be confused with solemn definitions of the canon. So I thought it’d be good to talk about the fathers that many times we appeal to them when we’re discussing the deuterocanonical books of Scripture.
So Gary Michuta has written a wonderful book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger. I thought for the longest time, I wonder when the Protestants are going to get around to writing Why Protestant Bibles Are Smaller. Well, I’d have to wait long because I had this emailed. I found this online a few months ago and I bought the book. I’ve been going through it. It’s authored by a Protestant pastor, Steve Christie. In there, he cites Gary. He cites Jimmy, and he cites me. So it’s always nice to see yourself cited in somebody else’s book, even if they’re ripping into you. It shows they’re taking the argument seriously. That’s a good thing. I’m actually going to try to have Steve Christie on my podcast so we can discuss this one on one like gentlemen.
So I went through the book to see if the arguments were new, if it’s anything I hadn’t dealt with before. It’s all the stuff that I had covered in my book, The Case for Catholicism. I’ll give you an example of this rule in action. So in order to describe the deuterocanonical books, Christie says Melito of Sardis, the Bishop Melito, was a second century Catholic bishop and a canonized saint in the Catholic Church. Melito did not include any of the deuterocanonical books in his Old Testament list. So he’ll say, “Look, if the deuterocanonical books: Maccabees, Baruch, Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, portions of Daniel and Esther, if they were Scripture, and Melito is giving us a list of the Old Testament, he doesn’t include them. So clearly, the deuterocanonical books were not thought to be Scripture among the early church fathers.
So what’s wrong with this argument? You’ll notice rule two pops up here. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. So what is going on? Well, we see that Melito was writing a book called The Extracts. The Extracts were a collection of defenses of the Christian faith against Jewish attacks trying to find common ground with Jewish believers to defend the Christian faith. So in order to find that common ground, Melito says that he went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done. I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament and sent them to the as written below. This is very strange. The place East where these things were done is Israel. Melito lived here in Sardis, Asia Minor, modern nation of Turkey today. To find out the Old Testament canon, let’s say you lived here. You had a question about Judaism. Okay? You lived to your back home. You have question about Judaism. You don’t have the internet. Would you maybe go to the synagogue in your town and ask the local rabbi a question? Or would you get on a plane and go 3,000 miles over here to ask somebody, or go to Jerusalem?
Just ask the guy in your local synagogue. But Melito doesn’t do that. He has a question about Judaism. He goes back to Israel. Why does he do that? In fact, Protestant scholars ask the same question. Lee McDonald in his book, The Biblical Canon, said why didn’t Melito not go across the street and talk to the nearest Jew to find out if the cannon was well known? McDonald reaches the conclusion that Jews of his time did not have a uniform canon. They were in disagreement about what the canon was.
Another scholar, Jeffrey Hahnemann, says that the list… Origin has a similar list Protestants will cite that lack the deuterocanonical books. Yeah, they lack the deuterocanonical books. But these lists of the Old Testament are Jewish lists of the Old Testament. They’re not Christian lists. Melito is compiling evidence for his extracts to get into disputes with Jews. So he’s only going to use books that they agree with. But even at that time, there was a dispute among the Jews about what constituted the Old Testament canon. The Old Testament canon was not closed before the time of Christ. Jews believed in the deuterocanonical books and Christians because they cited these books as prophecy. They didn’t just cite them as historical documents. They cited them as prophecy, is a favorite one they would cite. This is from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is on the cross. He’s being reviled. The crowd is saying, “Let God deliver him now if he desires him for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”
The Jewish leaders were reviling Jesus and alluding to a promise that the Son of God will be delivered. Where’s that promise found? Let us see if his words are true. Let us test what will happen at the end of his life. For if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. This is clearly the passage they’re referring to about delivering the Son of God from his adversaries, the one who claims to be the Son of God, because you don’t find that in the Psalms. You don’t find that in the prophets, but you do find it in the deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom. Wisdom 2:17-18.
In the Protestant Fortress Bible Commentary, it says that this is either a genuine prophecy of the crucifixion, or Matthew used it as one of his source material. They at least admit to that to show the deuterocanonical books as being an ancient orthodox witness to the Christian faith.
One last thing I want to talk about are double standards. So this is in 2017. I had a debate with James White about whether it was appropriate to wear bow ties in a debate. I said it had been conducted at 2nd Isaiah. James said he doesn’t believe in the authority of 2nd Isaiah. That’s what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about the doctrine of eternal security. The idea that your salvation cannot be lost. A Christian can never lose his salvation. I challenge James, can you cite anybody before Calvin who believed this? He mentioned Fulgentius but didn’t give an actual citation. He couldn’t produce anything because even other Protestants like John Jefferson Davis have said this doctrine was unknown before the time of Calvin.
So this is someone White will critique Catholics for claiming that the assumption of Mary or the Immaculate Conception are not believed by the early church fathers. But if the early church fathers don’t believe in eternal security, or other Protestant doctrines, well, who cares? They’re not Scripture. So that’s kind of a double standard there. We need to point out and I see this all the time. Geisler & Mackenzie’s work, when faced with the apostolic evidence, the patristic evidence for apostolic succession, that clearly, there’s this procession of bishops to the apostles, all they can muster in response is, “Well, just because the teaching is early in church history doesn’t make it true.” Yeah, but also doesn’t make it false either. In fact, it gives pretty good evidence for it. That’s all they say.
Webster even admits when it comes to baptism, the doctrine of baptism is one of the few teachings within Roman Catholicism for which it can be said there is a universal consent to the fathers. Webster admits that yes, all the fathers believe that baptism is not just a symbol. It actually regenerates the soul. That John 3:5 meanth that all the fathers agree, John 3:5, unless you’re born of water and spirit, you cannot inherit the kingdom. They all agree that’s referring to water baptism. Yet Webster himself doesn’t agree with that and many other Protestants when faced with that evidence will say, “Doesn’t matter because even if the fathers all believed in baptismal regeneration, I go with what Scripture says.”
So here, it’s heads I win, tails you lose. Catholics, prove your doctrines come from the early church. Well, I don’t have to do that because I believe in Sola Scriptura. Well, did the first fathers believe in Sola Scriptura? Is that in the Bible, it’s important to point out these double standards when people try to challenge you on the patristic evidence. Make sure to hold them to those very same standards. This is a big deal for me when I read through it during my own conversion. Do you remember what this is? It’s a bookstore. I had to go to the microfiche library to find it, one of these images.
I remember I was going through a borders and I was Christian. I believed in Jesus. I wasn’t Catholic. I picked up Religions of America by Leo Rosten. I was flipping through them like SkyMall. I’m like, “Which one am I going to choose?” Doggy bowl that refills itself. Why not? Then I thought, “I can’t just pick all these. I want to go with what the first Christians believed. That’s a sure guide for me. I want to follow them.” In fact, law three of the letter the Hebrew says in Hebrews 12:1, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us continue to run the race of perseverance.” That’s who the fathers are to us. They’re a witness to sacred tradition. They are a witness whose testimony carries with us today to know that our church is not something.
I love saying, “Well, who founded your church? Who founded your church?” Well, it was some guy got tired of his old church and he founded a church. That’s the way it is when you go all the way back to the 16th century. But the church that I belong to was founded by Jesus Christ and trusted to the apostles and guarded by the Holy Spirit to maintain a continuity with us to this day. That gives me hope to show that our belief, what we believe as Catholics is not a fad. It’s not a trendy interpretation of Christianity. Rather, it is the ancient faith as St. Paul says in 1st Timothy 3:15. That he says, “Not that scripture is rather, the pillar and foundation of truth is the church of the living God.” We know that, that the witnesses of the fathers certainly attest to that. So thank you all so much for being here today.
One last thing I want to remind you of. I’ll be available for signing books in the bookstore. Happy to do that. I also have a podcast, The Counsel of Trent. I was at a group of Protestants and nobody laughed. So come on, prove you’re Catholic. Good. All right. You get the joke. Trenthornpodcast.com. I hope you’ll check it out. I do three episodes a week. What I’ve started doing recently are dialogues with people who are not Catholics, what I love doing. I do it on radio all the time, but we don’t have a lot of time on radio to get into deep territory. So I’ve invited Protestants, atheists, dissenters to church teaching to have one hour, two hour long conversations with me. These are a model for you. This is my conversation with Brandon Robertson, who is a Protestant pastor who believes that homosexuality is not a sin and tries to prove that from the Bible. So we sat down for about two hours and talked about it. So you learn from that, not just the what, not just the arguments, but I do these so that you will learn how to engage people who disagree.
We’re good at giving people answers. It’s half our name, right? But now what we have to work on is equipping you with, how do I do this? To model for you how… As venerable Fulton Sheen said, “You can win an argument but lose a soul.” I want to win an argument and win a soul by presenting it in a charitable way. You can check out that dialogue on trenthornpodcast.com. I have a dialogue coming up next week, probably air on Tuesday. It is with John Loftus. He’s a former Protestant turned atheist. He edited an anthology coming out called The Case Against Miracles. So we spoke for an hour about whether it’s rational to believe in miracles. You’ll learn how to talk about philosophy in an understandable way. That’ll debut next Tuesday. If you want access to that bonus content and keep the podcast going, consider becoming a patron at trenthornpodcast.com. You get early access to the dialogues. You get to submit questions for our open mailbag segments. I’ll answer any question you throw out there, and you get to submit them. You get access to bonus content like my study series. I’m taking people through the Catechism, through church history.
You won’t want to miss it. Consider becoming a patron at trenthornpodcast.com. Thank you all so much. Enjoy the rest of your day.
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