I had a lot of problems with Catholicism. What the Church believed (or at least what I thought they believed) was quite different from what I was taught as a Southern Baptist and as a Protestant. I figured that to find out what the Church really believed, I should read some books on theology written by Catholics. Perhaps this would shed some light on why Catholics believed what they did. Following this paragraph are statements or beliefs to which I objected, and then the answers that I found to those objections.
1. The “Lord’s Supper”, or Eucharist, is the true Body and Blood of Christ, and not just a symbol.
6. The souls of the faithful departed who were not free of all (venial) sin, or who have not done sufficient penance for mortal sins that have already been forgiven, upon their deaths are cleansed in Purgatory before entering Heaven.
1. The “Lord’s Supper”, or Eucharist, is the true Body and Blood of Christ, and not just a symbol.
One big problem that I had with Catholic belief was that of transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is the word used to describe the miracle that happens when the priest consecrates the bread and the wine during the Mass. When he does this, the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. While the appearances (or accidents, as they are sometimes called) of bread and wine remain, the substance is wholly replaced miraculously by Christ’s flesh and blood, body and soul, Divinity and humanity. Catholics call this the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucaristia (eucharistia) which means “thanksgiving.” When a priest consecrates bread and wine, it is said that he “confects” the Eucharist. Obviously, as a Baptist, I
did not believe this at all. I believed that the bread and wine (grape juice in a Baptist church) were ONLY symbols, and nothing more. When I read the Bible, though, Christ did say “This is my body…this is my blood?” NOT “This represents my body, etc.” As a Baptist, I had always believed that the Bible was to be believed literally, so to believe that the Eucharist was merely a symbol would have been difficult in light of that Scripture. Also, St. Paul said, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, KJV)” It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense that God would hold us responsible for Christ’s death for “unworthily” partaking of some crackers and wine. However, if these things actually were the Body and Blood of Christ, it would all make sense!
2. Catholics pray to Mary and the other saints.
One problem that almost all Protestants have is the idea of praying to saints. A saint is someone whom we Catholics believe is already in Heaven. Also, only those who lived exemplary lives ever acquire the title “Saint.” Several miracles must have been performed because of prayers to the saint-to-be after
their death before the Church will consider them for canonization (sainthood). (Before someone is declared a saint, the Church “beatifies” the person. This means that the person was found worthy of veneration because of the example that he/she set for us through his/her life. Those who are beatified have the title “Blessed.”) These miracles are evidence that the person is in fact in Heaven and
that their petitions are being fulfilled by God. The idea of praying to saints really should not be that alien to even a Baptist. Both Catholics and Protestants often ask our friends to pray for us. When we Catholics pray to saints, we are asking that they pray to God for us. We are not giving saints the
honor that is only due to God. That would be idolatry. The idea of praying is usually linked with worship in a Protestant’s mind, but it is necessary to pray to a saint because the saint is not here, he/she is in Heaven! One might ask, “Why don’t you just ask a friend to pray for you rather than the saints?” We Catholics figure that since the saint is in Heaven and this person obviously had the favor of God, God might be more moved to respond to the prayer of a saint as compared to that of someone here on Earth. Catholics give particular honor and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We give her this honor because she was the mother of Jesus, and since Jesus is God, rightly has the title the Mother of God. The best explanation I ever heard was this: if you went to your best friend’s house, and his mother was there, you wouldn’t ignore her, would you? For this reason, among others, we show Mary a great amount of respect. Mary is said to be the New Eve. In the book of Genesis, the first Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Through this sin, called Original Sin, all of humanity inherited a sinful nature. Because of this sinful nature, we could no longer have communion with God, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. God promised that He would send a Redeemer, a Messiah, to save people from their sins. God bestows everyone with
Free Will. God chose Mary to be the vessel that brought this Messiah into our world, and she accepted this duty without reservation. She could have refused. It was her choice to be “the handmaid of the Lord” that made her the New Eve. Her choice to bear the Redeemer began the process of redemption which was necessitated by the rebellion of the first Eve. For this reason, we give Mary special honor among the saints. We do not, however, give Mary the honor that is due only to God. Again, that would be idolatry. The devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that is most well-known is the Rosary.
3. Catholics confess their sins to a priest, rather than directly to God.
Another issue that I had with the Catholic Church was the confession of sins to a priest (called the Sacrament of Penance), rather than to God. As a Baptist, I had always believed that if I confessed my sins to God, they would automatically be forgiven, provided that I was sorry for what I had done. I
believed that using a priest or the Church was putting an unnecessary mediator between God and myself. However, Scripture indicates otherwise: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:22-23, KJV)” In these verses, Jesus told the
Apostles that they had the power to not only forgive sins, but also to not forgive them! If one could simply confess sins to God and have them automatically forgiven, this verse would not make much sense. In order for the Apostles to know whether or not to forgive someone’s sin, they would have to be aware of the sin. In other words, the sinner would have to confess the sin to the Apostle. Now, if the Apostle said that the sinner’s sins were NOT forgiven, it would hardly seem logical that the sinner could then confess his/her sins to God and then have them automatically forgiven. That would negate the authority that Jesus gave to the Apostles! Now, you may wonder where that leaves us today,
seeing as all the Apostles died and were canonized long ago. Logically, Christ would not have given such power to these men if that power would die with them. He would have provided for some way that this power could be passed on to future generations. If we are familiar with both the New Testament and with history, we can see how this power was passed on to our day. St. Paul describes the attributes of the early Church: “This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he
take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:1-15, KJV)”
You might notice that the above Scripture speaks of both a bishop and a deacon being “the husband of one wife.” What this statement meant was that they could not have more than one wife, as was common practice back then. If you’re wondering about bishops being married, the Church has required that bishops be celibate almost since the beginning of the Church, and has required that priests be celibate in the Western Church (that is to say, the Roman Rite, which comprises about 95% of the Catholic Church) since the eleventh century. Deacons in the Church can be married before they ecome deacons, but cannot marry after becoming a deacon. However, this is a subject beyond the scope of this discussion. According to history, the Apostles were the first bishops. This makes perfect sense since the bishops ran the churches in each city, and the Apostles were the ones appointed by Christ Himself to go throughout the world to spread the gospel.The power that the Apostles (the first bishops) had was given to them by Christ when He breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy
Ghost.” When Christ did this, He was ordaining the Apostles. It is through ordination (called the Sacrament of Holy Orders) that the power which Christ gave to the Apostles was passed on to the bishops that followed them, up until the present. Of course, the bishops were able to delegate this power to assistants when they ordained presbyters (priests) and deacons. The Catholic
Church today and throughout its almost two thousand year history has had both bishops, priests, and deacons. The word priest is actually a distortion of another English word: presbyter. A presbyter is an assistant to the bishop, and is mentioned in the next chapter of the first letter to Timothy: “Till I come,
give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:13-14, KJV)” The presbyters, or priests, were necessary to assist the bishop as the churches in the cities and as the Church as a whole grew. It follows that there should not be a bishop at every church in a particular region, otherwise there would be “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” as they say. Each region, called a diocese (sometimes an archdiocese if headed by an archbishop), is an area in which there is one head church, called the cathedral. This church has the bishop as its pastor. There
may be other slightly lower-ranking bishops called auxilliary bishops, who assist the bishop at the diocesan headquarters. The other churches in the diocese are headed by priests, who are all subordinate to the head bishop of that diocese. Some of these priests may hold the title “Monsignor” (abbreviated “Msgr.”). This title has fallen into disuse, though there are many older monsignori. Monsignor is not a higher rank; it is simply an honorary title, bestowed by the Pope onto a priest who has made a special accomplishment in the Church, or has set a very good example to other Catholics through his life as a priest. An archdiocese is a diocese which has either been historically Catholic,
or simply has a much higher proportion of Catholics as compared to neighboring dioceses. Of course, all bishops are subordinate to the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. For some reason, the Diocese of Rome is not an archdiocese, even though it is the center of the Catholic Church. So the bishops delegated the powers to forgive and retain sins on to these priests, that they might more readily assist the community of the faithful. Also, the bishops passed on the power to confect the Eucharist to the priests. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is not actually conferred by a bishop, priest, or deacon, but is conferred onto a wife by her husband and onto a husband by his wife. The only Sacrament which cannot be given by a priest, but only by a bishop, is that of Holy Orders. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is received by men who are becoming deacons, priests, and bishops. Of course, bishops do retain the power to confer all Sacraments, save Holy Matrimony. One who is “ordained” in the Catholic Church has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The ordination of
the deacon is necessary so that he may be allowed to read from the Gospel at Mass. Though all confirmed Catholics may be allowed to read the First Reading, Second Reading, or Responsorial Psalm, only one who is ordained may read from the Gospel at Mass. No Sacrament except Baptism can be conferred by a deacon. You should now see why Catholics believe that priests do have the power to
forgive sins, and to retain them. It is that same power which Christ originally gave to His Apostles. Also, it is not actually the priest or the bishop that forgives the sins, it is God Himself. Because of the power that Christ gave to the Apostles (which was passed down to subsequent bishops and the priests under them), the priest (or bishop) acts in Persona Christi, which means “in the Person of Christ”, when he administers the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. What this means is that when the priest says, “I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” it is as if Christ Himself said, “You are forgiven.” When the priest offers the bread and wine at the Mass, it is the same action that Christ performed at the Last Supper when He proclaimed, “This is My body…this is My blood.” If you are wondering about how many Sacraments there are, there are exactly seven. No more, no less. These Sacraments are Baptism (though
usually conferred by one who is ordained, Baptism can be conferred by anyone, even a non-Christian, as long as the matter, form, and intention of the Sacrament are correct), Confirmation (generally conferred by a bishop, but can be conferred by a priest), Holy Eucharist, Penance, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction (also called Anointing of the Sick, or informally, the Last Rites).
4. It is believed by many Protestants that the Church that Christ envisioned did not have a definite structure or hierarchy. It is supposed to be an “invisible” Church.
A common objection that non-Catholic Christians have about the Catholic Church is that they believe that Christ did not intend for the Church to be a visible, hierarchical structure, but merely an “invisible Church” made of all the believers in Christ. This seems highly implausible, for several reasons. The
first of them deals with the Scriptures quoted above. The fact that St. Paul clearly saw a structure formed by the bishops, the presbyters (priests), and the deacons makes a “stuctureless” Church seem almost anti-Biblical. Along with the fact that Christ had made St. Peter the head of His Church, one would wonder: “Why would Christ have made Peter the head of His Church, and enlighten Paul as
to its structure, if it was to be an ‘invisible’ and ‘structureless’ Church?” Another defense against the “invisible Church” hypothesis is this Scripture: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Matthew 18:15-17, KJV)” From this passage, one can deduce that the Church is a body with
Divine authority and power, not merely a loose association of the believers in Christ. Christ Himself said, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they
may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:21-23, KJV)” From these and other verses, it would seem that Jesus was quite intent on one body of believers. There are three major divisions within Christianity: Catholicism, (Eastern) Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Outside of these are churches which have
been founded separate from Protestantism within the last century or so (i.e., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.). Protestantism began in the early sixteenth century with Martin Luther’s revolt and with the founding of the Church of England by King Henry VIII. Most of us only think of “mainline” Protestants such as Lutherans, Episcopals, Methodists, Baptists, and so on. These groups
themselves have split into smaller factions, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Missouri Synod of Lutherans. Since then, almost TWENTY THOUSAND sects have splintered from the original Protestants. Eastern Orthodoxy originally split from the Catholic Church in 1054
when the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. While both sides have lifted the excommunications (the Catholic Church never recognized the legitimacy of the excommunication of the Pope, and I’m certain that the Orthodox never recognized the excommunication by the Pope), the division remained. Since the eleventh century, the Orthodox churches have split, not for doctrinal divisions, but for political ones. Now we have the Greek
Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Ukranian Orthodox, and so on. Considering Christ’s plea for unity, where can one find it? So how do we know what the attributes, or the “marks” of the True Church are? The True Church must have four marks: one (reflecting unity), holy (founded by Christ Himself and
therefore indefectible), catholic (not necessarily the proper noun; catholic = universal; in all times and all places, or at least existing from the beginning of the Church and destined for all places), Apostolic (having the authority passed from the Apostles). We know this from ancient Church history: in 325, the Nicene Creed was accepted at the Council of Nicaea as a proper Profession of Faith. In other words, this creed contained the basic beliefs of Christianity. This is the Nicene Creed (the words in brackets were used in the Latin, rather than the original Greek translation):
We believe (I believe) in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God) light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no
end. And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess (I confess) one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for (I look for) the resurrection of the dead and the life of the
world to come. Amen.
Many churches still use the Nicene (also called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan) Creed as their profession of faith. The Eastern Orthodox use the Creed, as do the Lutherans and some other Protestant churches. The Eastern Orthodox have one of the marks: Apostolic. Because of their
Apostolicity, their Sacraments are still valid. However, they are not “one,” because they are divided by political or racial lines. They are not “holy” because they can only trace their existences (as being separate from Rome) to 1054, and therefore not one of the Orthodox churches can claim Jesus as its author. They are not “catholic” because they have never existed to any great degree outside of eastern Europe. As far as Protestantism, it has none of the marks. The only Church that can
truly claim to be “one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic” is the Catholic Church! By the way, you may notice that I never use the term “Roman” Catholic Church, though it’s obvious that the Church I’m writing about is based in Rome. The term “Roman Catholic,” while used by many Catholics today, was actually coined by Protestants in an attempt to justify the schism caused by King Henry VIII with
the separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church. The Anglican (Church of England) bishops said that there were three branches to the Catholic Church: the English Catholics (the Anglican Church, with the King or Queen of England as its earthly head), the Greek Catholics (referring to the Eastern Orthodox churches, which can be traced to the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1054, but
now have many different leaders), and the Roman Catholics (the Catholic Church, which does and has always recognized the Bishop of Rome as its earthly head). In saying this, they were rationalizing that the Church of England was still part of the Catholic Church while no longer being united to the Bishop of Rome. From a Catholic point of view, it is better not to use the term “Roman Catholic” so
as not to perpetuate this error. Also, a word of warning: there are even sects claiming to be “Roman” Catholic, but who are not! Just as the “Old Catholics” developed after the close of the First Vatican Council in 1870, most of these sects are groups that formed since the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Groups such as the Society of St. Pius X* (SSPX), the Society of St. Pius V (SSPV), and the so-called “True Catholics” (who believe the last real Pope was Pius XII) are good examples of these sects. Any group that is not in full communion with Rome or does not acknowledge the validity and legality of the all of the approved rites of the Church (which would, ipso facto, preclude full communion with Rome) are NOT really Catholic! (For more information on such groups, click here.)
*Recent development – There have been a great deal of communications between the SSPX and the Holy See of late, and it seems that the excommunications have been lifted. That is not to imply that the SSPX now enjoys the same status as the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter), but things may be moving in that direction. – Updated Sept. 24, 2009