Many Protestants do not understand why Catholics view their Masses differently than a Protestant would view his or her church service. Basically, a Mass is more than just a worship service. In a Mass, Christ becomes present upon the altar in the form of bread and wine, through the miracle of transubstantiation. In fact, ONLY within the context of a Mass is a priest allowed to confect the Eucharist. Many Protestants have railed against the Church, saying that the Mass was somehow sacreligious or even diabolical, because of the idea of re-sacrificing Christ. First of all, the Mass IS a sacrifice in the truest sense of the word. However, this sacrifice is NOT a new sacrifice; it is the exact SAME sacrifice that Christ gave us on the Cross. This sacrifice, called the Sacrifice of the Mass, is said to be unbloody, because no more blood must be shed. Christ died for us and was resurrected, once and for all. Also, His sacrifice was complete. That is not something that the Catholic Church has ever argued against. However, His sacrifice on the Cross was visible only to those who were alive and present in Jerusalem on Good Friday in the year 33. The Mass was His gift to all generations in all places, that they all might see and consume His Body and His Blood. In this way, peoples in all times and places may apply the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice to their souls by receiving His Body and Blood. In other words, the Mass does not add to His sacrifice; it merely makes it present before us. The reason I say that the fruits of the Mass may also be applied to the souls of the dead is because each Mass is celebrated in honor of specific people who have died and are hopefully in Purgatory, assuming they have not already reached Heaven. The very first Mass was celebrated by Christ Himself, on Passover the night before He died. It was this first Mass that has been called “The Last Supper.” Incidentally, if you are wondering why it is called a “Mass,” it comes from the Latin phrase “Ite, missa est.” This phrase was spoken at the end of the Mass by the priest, or by the deacon, if the deacon was present. “Ite, missa est” simply means “Go, this is the dismissal.”
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.
This is a major obstacle for all Protestants who attempt to understand the Catholic economy of salvation. The very idea of Purgatory is a complete paradigm shift from what virtually all Protestant churches teach regarding the Last Things. In the Catholic Faith, there are the Four Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and the General Judgement. Heaven is the place where the God and the angels live, along with the souls of those who died free of mortal sin and have completed all penance associated with forgiven mortal sins and free or cleansed of venial sin. In other words, one must be literally perfect before one can enter Heaven. Protestantism has contested the idea that one can ever be perfect before entering Heaven; as Martin Luther believed that God viewed Christians as “dunghills covered with snow.” In other words, the Protestant idea of justification is that if one has been justified (which to a Baptist is the same as being “saved”), one is still inherently sinful, but God ignores our sinfulness. A Baptist version of this concept would be that if one had been “saved,” but later committed some atrocity, God would automatically forgive that sin and still allow that person to enter Heaven unscathed. (Of course, a Baptist would say that if someone committed some terrible sin such as murder or perhaps even genocide after being “saved,” one might wonder if that person had actually been “saved.” From my perspective, the Baptist belief in justification does not give the assurance of salvation in which the Baptist Church would have you believe.) We know that people are capable of being perfect with God’s help because Christ commanded us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, KJV)” God does not ask the impossible of His children.
When mortal sin is forgiven via the Sacrament of Penance, there is necessarily a penance, or payment to God, that is attached to that forgiven sin. The classic example is after receiving absolution from the priest, the person who was forgiven is told to pray “ten Hail Marys” or some other prayers. Or perhaps the priest tells the person to read a passage from the Bible, or perform some other good work. The penance is decided upon by the priest, and theoretically should be linked to the amount of sin that was confessed. This penance is not optional; if one who was absolved deliberately refuses to do penance or carelessly forgets what was assigned, he commits a sin. If, indeed, the lack of penance was done deliberately, the sin is mortal because of the lack of respect for both the authority of the Church and the nature of the Sacrament itself. If this penance or some penance equivalent to it is not completed, it will have the same effect as venial sin in delaying one’s entrance to Heaven. The only thing that could “erase” this debt completely other than actually doing penance is receiving a Plenary Indulgence, which will be explained shortly. Many Protestants think that the need for penance somehow takes away from the salvific actions of Christ. This is not so. While it is true that the work of Christ was completed, as is recorded in Sacred Scripture, that does not mean that we do not have to make up for what we do in some fashion. For example, a child is playing baseball in the front yard and carelessly breaks a window in his house: he has done wrong. A loving parent, after seeing that the child was truly sorry for what he had done would probably not severely punish the child, but would forgive the incident. At the same time, the parent might say that the price of the window would have to come out of the child’s allowance. This is done for two reasons: to render justice, and to help discourage this behavior in the future. Penance that we do as Catholics does the same thing: it causes us to pay back God for what we have done wrong (but not with an eternal penalty, which is what Christ spared us) while also causing us to focus on God and His work rather than behavior which may lead to sin.
“What is the difference between venial sin and mortal sin? Those terms are not used in the Bible, so do they even exist?” These are questions that are commonly posited by Protestants. As to the second question, their use in the Bible or lack thereof does not mean that they do not exist. Indeed, the term Holy Trinity (which was coined at the Council of Nicaea in 325) is accepted by all Protestants, and yet it cannot be found in the Bible either. There are verses in the Bible which refer to venial and mortal sin, without using the words “venial” and “mortal”: “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. (I John 5:16-17, KJV)” In these verses, the “sin unto death” refers to mortal sin, and the “sin not unto death” refers to venial sin. Two basic types of sin exist: mortal sin and venial sin. Mortal sin is that sin which separates us from God to the extent that if we were to die in a state of mortal sin, we would go to Hell. There are three ways for mortal sin to be forgiven: receiving the Sacrament of Penance, having perfect contrition (true sorrow for having offended God) with the intent of receiving the Sacrament of Penance at the time of death, and the Sacrament of Baptism (which you can receive only once). There is not a cut-and-dried list of mortal sins, though many theologians have attempted to make one. Good examples of mortal sins are offenses against the Ten Commandments. In order for a sin to be mortal, it must meet some conditions. The sinner must be aware that the action he is committing is a sin agaist God. Also, he must be deliberately committing that act of his own free will (not under duress). The only sin that might be mortal even if the sinner is under duress is that of rejecting God and His Church. St. Paul says, “Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, KJV)” It is obvious that those who engage is such activities cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless they are reconciled with God before their deaths. We see that while the word “mortal” is not used in the Bible to describe this type of sin, it does illustrate the effect of such sin on our souls. But what about venial sin? Venial sin is sin that we commit unintentionally or through ignorance of the sinfulness of the deed. In some cases, ignorance (if the ignorance is through no fault of the person) will actually mitigate all blame, and no sin will have been committed. Example: under penalty of automatic excommunication, it is forbidden for a Catholic to be a member of the Freemasons or any other organization which plots to defame or inflict injury upon the Church. This is a law that is somewhat obscure and many Catholics are never made aware of it. Many Catholics are members of the Masons, and most are probably not aware of this law. Those who are not aware through no fault of their own have committed either no sin at all, or at most a venial sin. Another example: under penalty of automatic excommunication, direct abortion is forbidden in all circumstances. (Indirect abortion is allowed through the principle of double effect: these are cases where the unborn child dies during an attempt to save the mother’s life, so long as that attempt did not deliberately intend the death of the child, though that death may have been foreseen or even an inevitable consequence of the attempt.) This is a very well known law of the Church and virtually all Catholics who commit this action have committed a mortal sin, and are automatically excommunicated. If a Catholic were to plead ignorance on the immorality of abortion, one would have to wonder if that person had ever actually been exposed to any Catholic teaching. The effect of venial sin on the soul is such that one who has committed venial sin, but not mortal sin, is in a state of grace. This means that if the person were to die in that state, he would eventually get to Heaven, though not immediately. This is where Purgatory comes in. Again, the word “Purgatory” is not found in the Bible, yet its existence is certain. Remember that someone must be perfect (free from all sin) in order to enter Heaven. Yet those who are in a state of grace, but have committed venial sins do not deserve to go to Hell. So where will they go when they die? The Church has deduced that there must be a place where the faithful may be cleansed of these minor sins before entering Heaven. Christ Himself said, “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matthew 12:32, KJV)” In this verse, Jesus said that this sin was not forgivable in this world, OR IN THE NEXT ONE! The fact that He felt it important to mention that this sin could not be forgiven in the next world implies that there are sins that can be forgiven in the next world. These sins are venial sins. The ways that venial sins can be forgiven are: through the use of Sacramentals such as holy water, through receiving the Holy Eucharist (which, by the way, it is forbidden to do if you are in a state of mortal sin), receiving the Sacrament of Penance (where it is mandatory to confess mortal sins, but beneficial to also confess venial ones), the reception of Indulgences (which are given by the Church through the power to “bind and loose” that was given to the Apostles), and lastly through a stint in Purgatory. The time one spends in Purgatory may not be time at all, but perhaps a level of punishment. No one really knows what Purgatory is like, though there have been many good hypotheses on the subject. Most believe that Purgatory is like Hell, except the people there are actually happy because they know they will get to go to Heaven. This is also where the fruits of the Mass are applied to the dead. When a Mass is said for someone in Purgatory, their “sentence” will be reduced. The same goes for prayers for the dead, and Indulgences applied to the souls of the dead. There is a quote from the Bible regarding prayers for the dead, but unfortunately it is not found in most King James Version Bibles because it is in one of the seven books that Luther removed. Here is the quote from the Douay-Rheims Version, which was the first authorized translation of the Bible into English: “And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. (2 Machabees 12:45-46, DRV)” If, after someone dies, they are either in Heaven forever or in Hell forever, praying for the dead would be useless. Only if the state of their souls could be changed after death would such prayer be useful. Indulgences are a topic that have caused much confusion within the Church. The sale of Indulgences by a monk named Tetzel was what prompted Martin Luther to revolt against the Church and start the Protestant Reformation. So what are these Indulgences? A common Protestant misconception about Indulgences is that they are a “license to sin,” which is absolutely untrue. An Indulgence reduces or even eliminates the time you would have to spend in Purgatory, if you were to die after receiving it but before you commit any more venial sins. There are two types of Indulgence: a Partial Indulgence, which remits some of the punishment for venial sin, and a Plenary Indulgence, which remits all of the punishment for venial sin. One reason you cannot say this is a “license to sin” is because any sin committed deliberately with full knowledge is a mortal sin, which is not cov
ered by Indulgences. The Church derives its power to grant Indulgences from the “Power of the Keys to the Kingdom of God,” which is also known as the power to “bind and loose.” Here is the Scripture that grants this power (Jesus is speaking to Peter): “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18, KJV)” A side note regarding excommunication: Excommunication means to separate someone from the Church by forbidding them to attend Mass or receive the Sacraments. This is not necessarily a permanent condition. Some excommunications can be absolved by a priest (only after repentance, of course). Others, such as the one incurred by having an abortion or assisting someone in having an abortion can be absolved only by a bishop. The most serious form of excommunication can be incurred for only two actions: profaning the Eucharist (such as using it for pagan rituals, or deliberately treating It with disrespect) and assault upon the Pope. This form of excommunication can be lifted only by the Pope himself. Contrary to popular misconception, one who is excommunicated can be reconciled to the Church. Also, even if one dies in a state of excommunication, that person does not necessarily go to Hell. In order for this to be, his or her excommunication must be flawed or unjust. St. Joan of Arc (who was excommunicated for heresy; her excommunication was later found to be unjust) was burned at the stake by the civil authorities in Rouen, France because she was found guilty of heresy by the Inquisition, yet she is a canonized saint and is in Heaven as we speak.
A major problem that I had with the Catholic Church was the claim that it was the Church founded by Christ Himself. According to Tradition, the Catholic Church was founded by Christ in the year 33, and the manifestation (or, “birthday”) of the Church was on Pentecost of the same year. For one thing, many Protestants believe that the Catholic Church did not come into being until the fourth century, when Emperor Constantine legitimized Christianity in the Roman Empire. They believe that somehow, Christianity was a pure religion until A.D. 325 when Constantine converted to Christianity. At this point, he “Romanized” it and somehow corrupted the faith of all of the believers. This same theory teaches that the Christian faith was brought back to purity through the Protestant Reformers when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg in the sixteenth century and started the Protestant Reformation. A similar theory is taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). The Mormons believe that the Church became
corrupt directly after the deaths of the Apostles and was “restored” by Joseph Smith in the early 1800s. Once examined, these theories fall apart. First of all, if the Faith were impure from 325 (or some earlier date) until the early 1500s, what happened to all of the Christians who lived between those dates? How could they have come to know God if the Faith had been corrupted? The answer is that the Faith has NEVER been corrupted. Remember, Christ told His disciples in the Gospel of St. Matthew (verses quoted two paragraphs below) that the gates of Hell would never defeat His Church. If God allowed Constantine (or anyone, for that matter) to corrupt the Faith for almost twelve centuries (or any other length of time), then Jesus would have lied when He made that statement. Of course, those of us who are Christians know that Christ never would have lied about anything. Therefore, those theories must be wrong. When I was still a Baptist, I remember some people talking about how the “true Christians” hid from the “corrupted Church” for hundreds of years until the Protestant Reformation. This was taught in order to make it seem like a small fraction of the original Church must have survived despite the “corrupted Church.” The problem is, history does not support this claim. The only groups that hid from the Church were groups of heretics, many of whom believed things inimical not only to Catholicism, but even also to Protestantism in most cases. These “heretics”, as we Catholics call them, definitely did not believe all of the same things as the early Church. Many of them did not believe in the Divinity of Christ, or the Holy Trinity, or believed various other pernicious errors. Also, none of these groups ever survived for very long. Eventually their causes died because they could not gain enough support to last for more than a few hundred years, at the very most. In actuality, Christianity was made legal in the Roman Empire in the year 313. Twelve years later, the first Ecumenical Council (a council where the bishops of the world are gathered together) was held in Nicaea. This Council affirmed several beliefs of the Church as dogmas. Dogmas are
beliefs which members of the Catholic Church must believe without reservation if they are to remain members of the Church. Several of these dogmas included the Divinity of Christ and the Godhood of the Holy Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three Persons, one God. Did Constantine corrupt the Church? Well, he was at the Council of Nicaea, but only to give support and to announce his decision
to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. At the same time, he outlawed the cult of the Emperor and the old Roman religion (Jupiter, Venus, Mars, etc.). Lastly, you must understand why the Catholic Church is called catholic (and not Lutheran, Calvinist, Baptist, etc.). The word catholic comes from the Greek word kaqolikoV (katholikos), which means “universal.” To say that the Church is catholic means that it does (or should) exist in all times and places, throughout the world. For this reason, the Catholic Church is not a denomination: denomination means “of a name” (i.e., the Lutherans are of Luther, the Calvinists are of Calvin, etc.). The Catholic Church is also not a sect: sects are divisions within a religion not necessarily named after their founders, and Catholicism is the epitome of unity, not division; that is to say, Catholicism is the original Christianity! All forms of non-Catholic Christian groups are sects, and some are denominations. Even those who call themselves “non-denominational” are in reality a small sect. Thusly, the reason that I interchange “Catholic” and “Christian” when writing of these early times, is that at this time ALL Christians were Catholic! With the exception of a few heretical sects such as the Gnostics, no group used the name Christian except those in the Catholic Church. This would remain so until the year 1054, when the Eastern Orthodox churches would become separated from the Catholic Church because of schism. The adjective “catholic” was first applied to the Church by St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the Church Fathers and the third Bishop of Antioch, in the early part of the second century, when he said, “Wherever the bishop appear, there let the multitude be; even as wherever Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church. (St. Ignatius of Antioch in his Epistle to the Smyrneans, chapter 8, verse 2)” One last note on this subject: many non-Catholics do not believe in the Catholic Church because they think that if Christ had intended for a visible Church to exist, He would have made its capital in Jerusalem, where the Temples had been, and (most certainly) not Rome. There have been speculations on why Jerusalem was not chosen, such as the fact that the majority of the Jews rejected Christ as their Messiah, so God wanted to base the Church elsewhere. While it is true that most of the Jews rejected Christ and His Church, the actual reason why the Church is based in Rome will be explained in Question 10. Rome also made evangelization quite convenient, insofar as “all roads lead to Rome.” From Rome, the early Christians were able to spread the Gospel throughout the entire known world in relatively very little time.
One of the paradoxes within Protestantism is this: the Bible is supposed to be the final word in doctrinal matters, but where did the Bible come from? As I mentioned in the table above, one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation was a philosophy called Sola Scriptura, which is Latin for “Scripture alone.” The idea of Scripture alone makes sense to one who doesn’t know where the Bible came from, but assumes that God simply dropped it into the hands of the Christians. While the Bible was written by men through Divine inspiration, God did NOT hand us the Bible as He handed Moses the Ten Commandments! In the early years of Christianity, the word “Scripture” referred only to what we call the Old Testament. The Old Testament was origianlly written in Hebrew and Aramaic, but was translated into Greek before the time of Christ.
The books that were written after the resurrection of Christ (which we came to call the New Testament) were not considered Scripture as soon as they were written. The Bible as we know it, Old Testament and New, first took shape in the fourth century. St. Jerome, a multilingual scholar, translated the Bible (which he called Divina Bibliotheca, or Divine Library) into Latin. This Latin translation, known as the Vulgate, is considered by many scholars (even modern ones) as being the most accurate translation of the Bible ever made. St. Jerome knew at least four languages fluently: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. This fact made him the perfect choice for translation of the Bible into Latin, since it was written in the other three languages. As a side note, many Protestants
believe that the Catholic Church would not let the Bible be translated into the vernacular languages, but Latin WAS a vernacular language throughout Europe until around A.D. 1000, and remained so in Italy until the fifteenth century when Dante’s The Divine Comedy became popular. St. Jerome spoke and wrote those four languages fluently, NEAR IN TIME TO WHEN THE NEW TESTAMENT WAS WRITTEN! This is important, because words in living languages can change meaning over periods of time. Consider how much English has changed over the last two hundred years! When scholars today translate Greek and Hebrew from two thousand or more years ago, the meaning can be approximated, but not exactly known. Latin is, for all practical purposes, a dead language, and has been so for almost a thousand years. While many people still read Latin (and a few speak and write it), only a few words are added to Latin every year, and the existing words do not change meaning. Understand this: the Catholic Church determined the Canon of the Bible! There have been two “versions” (for lack of a better word) of the Old Testament, throughout history: the Alexandrian Canon, used by Greek-speaking Jews, and the Palestinian Canon, used by Hebrew-speaking Jews. The Alexandrian Canon was completed by either 70 or 72 Greek scholars between 250 and 125 B.C. This canon was also known as the Septuagint, which comes from the Greek word for seventy (the number of translators). At this time, Hebrew was a dying language, and most Jews in Palestine spoke Aramaic and Greek. Since Greek was the primary language of the entire Mediterranean region at the time of Christ, the Jews of that era (including the authors of the New Testament and Christ Himself) used the Alexandrian Canon of the Old Testament. In fact, about three hundred quotations from the Alexandrian Old Testament are found verbatim in the New Testament (which was also written in Greek). One improtant note: the Alexandrian Canon contains 46 books. The Palestinian Canon (the Hebrew Canon) contains only 39. Why is there a difference between the two canons? The Palestinian Canon of the Old Testament was compiled AFTER the Alexandrian. It was compiled around A.D. 100 by Jewish rabbis at a place called Jamnia. The books omitted from the Palestinian Canon (which, not coincidentally, are the books omitted from Protestant Bibles) are Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, Baruch, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees and portions of Daniel and Esther. The Church continued to use the Septuagint, and never accepted the Palestinian Canon. Several bishops proposed Canons of the Bible between A.D. 175 and 325, but the first binding Canon of the Bible was declared by Pope Damasus in A.D. 382 after the Council of Rome. This decree presented the Bible as containing 73 books (46 in the OT and 27 books in the NT). The Council of Hippo in 393 reaffirmed this same list of books. The Council of Carthage in 397 again approved this list. It is this council that caused the Protesants to accept the New Testament canon of 27 books. In 405, Pope Innocent I approved the 73-book Canon of the Bible, and closed the Canon of the Bible. Before the Canon was decided, there was much debate about what books were inspired, and which ones were not. Many held the opinion that the now-canonized books of Hebrews, St. Jude, the Apocalypse (Revelation), and the Second book of St. Peter (2 Peter) were not inspired. There were also books such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Letter of Barnabas, and other such books circulating among the faithful as if they were inspired. The decision of the Church to close the Canon of the Bible settled the question for the next eleven centuries. Martin Luther, who would later contest the Canon of the Bible, said “We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists (pejorative term for Catholics) – that they possess the Word of God which we received from them, otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it. (from Ch. 16 of Martin Luther’s Commentary on St. John)” In 1529, Luther said that the Palestinian Canon of the Old Testament should be used, effectively removing seven books from the Bible (for Protestants). He also said that the canonized (and still accepted by Protestants) books of James, Esther, and Apocalypse (Revelation) should not be used. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful in removing any books from the New Testament. He also deliberately added the word “alone” to his German translation of Romans 3:28, changing this verse: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28, KJV)” to this verse: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith ALONE without the deeds of the law. (Emphasis mine)” His reasoning behind removing the seven books from the Old Testament were that those seven books in Greek had no known extant Hebrew counterparts. These had actually been concerns of St. Jerome and some other Catholic theologians prior to the closing of the Canon in the fourth century. In recent years, however, Hebrew versions of those books have been discovered in the Dead Sea Scroll findings. Logically, without the TRADITION of the Catholic Church, the Bible would not even exist! The official canon of the books of the Bible was authoritatively determined by the Catholic Church in the fourth century. Therefore it is only because of the Catholic Church that the Protestants have a Bible at all. Following their own arguments of Sola Scriptura, the Protestants actually have NO REASON to quote from the Bible because they have no way of determining which books are Divinely inspired, unless they accept the authority of the Catholic Church! It is completely contradictory for Protestants to accept the Bible and then reject the Church. Without Sacred Tradition, there is no Sacred Scripture. Therefore, Sola Scriptura is a “catch-22”! St. Augustine may have put it best when he said, “I would put no faith in the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church directed me to do so. (St. Augustine’s Contra Episto Jam Manicha)”
If you are a member of many of the Protestant denominations, you are likely to be quite surprised upon entering a Catholic church for the first time. Though Catholic churches built in recent years (mostly since the Second Vatican Council) do not tend to make use of as many images as those built in years past, even modern churches have more statues and paintings than a Baptist church. In the book of Exodus, God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses. God gives Moses the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6, KJV)” Protestants consider these verses to be not only the First Commandment, but also the Second. By separating the statement “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” from “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…”, the Protestants have hoped to emphasize the forbidden nature of “graven images”. Does this (or these, depending on your perspective) Commandment(s) prohibit all statues or paintings? Does God hate art? Obviously not all images should be banned, only those which are made as idols. As to the idea that God hates art, think of the beauty with which the Ark of the Covenant and both Temples were crafted! Regardless of whether one believes these verses to be one Commandment or two, it should be clear that God is speaking of idols and objects of worship when He refers to images, “graven” or otherwise. Remember that when the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, many peoples (including the Jews themselves) had taken up the practice of worshipping idols (i.e., the Golden Calf). God was furious that anyone would prefer to worship a nonexistent god rather than the true Creator. It also seems a little strange that anyone would worship a part of the Creation rather than the Creator Himself. At any rate, one might wonder where this leaves the Catholic churches, with all of their statuary and icons (paintings of holy figures). First of all, Catholics do not pray to statues and icons. We make use of statues and icons to remind us of the holy figures which they depict. For this reason, we do show these images respect, out of respect for the figure being depicted. We are well aware that the statue or the icon is a piece of plaster or canvas (or whatever material it is made of), and not a god (certainly not God Himself). When we pray in front of a statue of Christ (or a saint), we know that we are praying to Christ (or the saint) in Heaven, and not the statue in front of us. To illustrate the rationale behind our respect for images, let us speak of images of a different sort. We sometimes see riots or protests in which someone is burned in effigy. We know for certain that this effigy is not the person that it depicts, yet we can see the hatred and lack of respect for whomever this effigy resembles. The image is treated with extreme disrespect precisely because of the hatred of the person. For the same reasons (yet opposite intentions) we treat images of holy figures with respect.
The last major issue that I had with the Catholic Church had to do with the Pope. The Pope, or the Holy Father, as Catholics often refer to him, is the head of the Catholic Church on Earth. (Christ is the ultimate head of the Church, but we say that the Pope is the visible head and Christ’s representative on Earth.) First of all, why do Catholics practically worship this man? Is he not like the rest of us? To understand why Catholics believe that he is not, one must first look to the Bible, and then to history.
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-19, KJV)”
From these verses, MANY books of theology may be written. However, for this discussion, we will focus on the fact that Christ actually renamed Peter here. Peter, until this time, was known as Simon. Because of Simon’s revelation that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus gave him the name Peter. At this point, we must remember that the New Testament was written in ancient Greek. In the original language, Peter is PetruV (Petrus) and the rock upon which Christ said He would build His Church was petra (petra). Though I was by no means a Greek scholar, I was aware that the two words were equivalent, except that Petrus was masculine in gender (Petrus, which means “rock,” was used for his name because it was masculine and obviously he was a man) and petra was feminine in gender (petra was the word normally used for “rock”). Because both words mean “rock” in Greek: Peter = the rock upon which Christ would build His Church. This is why Tradition says that Peter was the first Pope. (Though the word “pope” was not used for several centuries after Christ, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome was acknowledged in Peter’s time. In fact, since ancient times, a greeting that one might say to the Holy Father as a gesture of respect is “Tu es Petrus,” which is Latin for “You are Peter.”)
From history, we know that St. Peter went to several cities before he was crucified upside-down in Rome. St. Peter was first the Bishop of Antioch, then became the Bishop of Rome, where he was martyred.
Since Peter was the man Jesus left in charge of the Church and Peter died while he was the Bishop of Rome, Tradition dictates that the Bishop of Rome is the successor to St. Peter and the ruler of the Church on Earth. For this reason also, the Church is headquartered inside Rome, in the smallest sovreign nation on Earth: Vatican City.