OTHER TENANTS AND DOGMAS OF THE ROMAN CHURCH
Among the many tenets and dogmas held by Roman Catholics there are some that have biblical foundation like, for instance, the so-called sacrifice of the mass developed from the Lord's Supper, while others have been introduced into the Church without any scriptural basis, being only the result of tradition or human reason. It is not our intention, however, to discuss all of them in this third part of our book, because the number of those tenets is such that it would require a full library to treat them one by one in a rather exhaustive way. Therefore, in the following chapters, we shall present only the most common ones in order that they may be used by our brethren as examples to prove the fallacy of the Roman Catholic teachings. If we should succeed, in the course of our religious discussions, to convince our Catholic friends of the absurdity of only one of these dogmas, then we should immediately apply the principle that, in matter of faith, the commission of one error destroys the truthfulness of the entire doctrinal system, especially when the error is taught by a Church which claims the gift of infallibility. And indeed the error cannot go along with the truth and, consequently, one sole mistake could cause the loss of eternal salvation regardless of how good and holy one may be otherwise. In his letter (2:10) James affirms the very same thing when he says: "And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all."
It is a Roman Catholic teaching that goodness is the result of the faithful acceptance of the total body of truths and virtues, while evil is produced by the disobedience of only one precept, and this is also in accordance with the Latin saying, "Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quo-cumque defectu," which, in conclusion, means the same thing. Now, if this is true in our moral life, it must be also true in connection with our intellectual activity, because without knowledge there can be no virtue or goodness. Therefore the admission that an infallibly defined doctrine is Scripturally false should help our Catholic friends to draw the only logical conclusion that their Church cannot be the true, infallible church of Jesus Christ. In fact, it would be inconceivable to believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired a doctrine which is in open contradiction with the Word of God as revealed in the Bible. Such contradictions can be made by men, never by God. That is why Romanists have made Herculean efforts in order to substantiate all their traditional tenets with scriptural quotations. They are fully aware of the probative strength of the Word of God, and therefore want to use it even for proving untenable positions. But because in most of the cases their biblical references bear the mark of misinterpretation, our brethren must be extremely careful in separating the true interpretations from the erroneous ones. With the material that we have gathered together in the following five chapters, they should be able to dismantle the doctrinal fortress of the opposition in discussing some of the most fundamental tents of Roman Catholicism, like purgatory, indulgences, mass, Mary's perpetual virginity, her immaculate conception, and her bodily assumption into heaven. We have tried to present these traditional dogmas in a way that we hope should make our Catholic friends, if sincere and in good faith, realize the falsity of teachings that they have learned from the mouth of their own priests. Would to God that while their mind may be opened to the truth of the gospel, their heart may accept with humility and sincerity Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
THE ROMAN DOGMA OF PURGATORY
In the gradual development of the Roman Catholic system down through the ages, the belief in purgatory constitutes one of the most striking departures from the divine truths revealed in the Bible. Undoubtedly it came into being as a result of pagan traditions which were little by little introduced in the early church by half-converted men who failed to free themselves completely from the heritage of the old mythologies of the ancient world, concerning the life of man beyond the tomb. Imbued with the practice of praying for the repose of the souls of their ancestors, they could not understand the simplicity of the gospel message about an everlasting life for the righteous and an eternal torment for the wicked. They wanted to graft in the apostolic teaching a middle state of being, a place of purification after death which, although not mentioned in the Bible, was however taught from time immemorable by priests and philosophers and poets of heathen religions. Only in this way can be explained the invocations of the early Christians in behalf of their dead found in the catacombs; the affirmation of Tertullian that "the faithful wife will pray for the soul of her deceased husband, particularly on the anniversary day of his falling asleep" (De Monogamia, N. 10); the expressions of Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ephrem, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and others concerning the prayers of the living saints as beneficial to the souls of the dead. With such influential precedents it was natural, although not excusable, for the Roman Catholic theologians to build up later on their ponderous doctrine on purgatory which is not only unscriptural because it is not contained in the Bible, but also unreasonable in the sense that it nullifies the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, making void the fruit of his redemption in behalf of Christian believers.
MEANING OF PURGATORY
Although the word "purgatory" is of late origin, the idea of a state of expiatory suffering for those whose goodness was not great enough for heaven and whose sins were not great enough for hell is rather old and is traceable in the most explicit terms at the close of the sixth century when Gregory I clearly spoke about that peculiar doctrine. Before that time, purgatory was designated with different names by the early fathers as, for instance, "a place of pains and tears," "a purifying fire," "a prison where the souls remain confined until they pay to the last penny all the debts due for sins," "a profound lake," "a part of hell," and so on. But since the thirteenth century the name of purgatory has prevailed.
Today, by purgatory Roman Catholics generally understand an intermediate place and state of being in which the souls of the just are purged from their sins. This place is separated from hell, which is reserved exclusively for the wicked, and from paradise, which is destined for the everlasting rest and joy of the righteous. According to A Catechism of Christian Doctrine "those are punished for a time in purgatory who die in the state of grace but are guilty of venial sin, or have not fully satisfied for the temporal punishment due to their sins. There will be no purgatory after the general judgment. Since we do not know how long individual souls are detained in purgatory, there is need for persevering prayer for the repose of the souls of all who die after reaching the use of reason, except those who are canonized or beautified by the Church. The souls in purgatory are certain of entering heaven as soon as God's justice has been fully satisfied." (p. 143)
It is clear that the whole doctrine of purgatory rests upon the alleged necessity of expiation and satisfaction of venial sins, which have never in life been remitted through an act of repentance or love or by good deeds, and of mortal or grave sins, whose guilt with its eternal punishment has indeed been removed by God after an act of repentance but for which there is still left a debt of temporal punishment due to his justice on account of the imperfection of that repentance. (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 437)
To better understand such a doctrine it can be added that, according to Roman Catholic theologians, sin embraces two things: offence of God (guilt) and violation of justice which cannot be restored without an adequate amends (penalty). With repentance and confession the offence of God or guilt is fully remitted together with the penalty of eternal punishment, but there remains to pay for the violation of justice. There is a temporal punishment that must be satisfied in this life or in the next. Now, it is understandable that for those who did not repent before dying there is no purgatory but only hell, while for those who, although repented, had no will or time to satisfy on this earth for the temporal punishment due to their sins, will go to purgatory where they will suffer until all the debt has been paid.
As to the nature of pains suffered by "the poor souls in purgatory" besides the loss of the blissful vision of God, it is commonly believed by Romanists that they will also endure some pain of sense, inflicted probably by material fire.
EXISTENCE OF PURGATORY
The Councils of Florence and Trent, after declaring that "there is a purgatory," add that "the souls detained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful and above all by the acceptable sacrifice of the Altar." (Trent, Sess. 25) Two things are stressed by the authority of the above councils, namely the existence of purgatory and the correlative dogma about the utility of praying for the dead. Naturally the dogmatic pronouncement of the Roman Church was made against the Reformers, who, denying the existence of purgatory and the efficacy of the prayers for the dead, affirmed boldly that "after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt of the penitent sinner is so remitted, and the penalty of eternal punishment so annulled, that no penalty of temporal punishment remains to be paid either in this world or in the future in purgatory before the kingdom of heaven can be opened." (Encyclop. Brit., vol. 20, p. 114)
The reasoning with which Romanists strive to prove the existence of purgatory is taken from the following passages of Scripture. In the book of Revelation 21:27 it is said that "there shall not enter into it (heaven) any thing defiled," and in Matthew 12:26 that "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account of it in the day of judgment." Now, from what we know about human nature, it is not improper to say that many who die in the grace of God are still burdened with some imperfections or venial sins. Such people cannot possibly enjoy the beatific vision of God without an adequate purification from their sins. On the other hand, since they are not enemies of God, they can not be sent to hell. Therefore, Romanists conclude, there must exist an intermediate place and state where the righteous can be purged and cleansed from all their imperfections, so that later on they may proceed to heaven spotless and pure.
The fallacy of the above reasoning lies on the fact that before God, according to the divine revelation, there is no distinction whatsoever between venial sins and mortal sins as affirmed by the Roman Church. All sins are equally grave in the scale of the divine justice, although there can be more or less deliberateness on the part of the sinner. By true repentance all sins are washed away and there remains not any debt to be paid. The Bible speaks unmistakably about it in many passages concerning God's gracious pardon upon repented sinners. In Isaiah 1:18 He says: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." In Micah 7:19 God is said to cast sins and punishment in the bottom of the sea: "He will put away our iniquities and He will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea." And in the first letter of John 1:9 we read: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity." The apostle with amazing clearness states that by acknowledging our sins not only do we receive complete absolution from our guilt, but also we are purged immediately from all our unrighteousness, and that is from the penalty of eternal and temporal punishment. If this were not so, how may our Roman Catholic friends explain the fact that Christ upon the cross rewarded the faith and confession of the penitent thief with a full discharge of all his sins both as to the guilt and punishment, admitting him soon after death in the blissful enjoyment of paradise? He was a thief and a murderer and, although repented, he remained with a huge load of temporal punishment to satisfy even after receiving the grace of justification through repentance, according to the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. How is it then that the Lord cleansed him so suddenly from the guilt and penalty of sin? Will Jesus, the righteous judge, treat all other repented sinners in a different way than that adopted with the thief? We fully disagree with them because we are told in the Bible that "there is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2:11), while the beloved disciple assured us that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John 1:7.
However, in order to substantiate their spurious dogma of purgatory with a more acceptable argument, Romanists must come back to an apocryphal book of the Old Testament, because the evidences of the New Testament, even according to them, have not enough weight for proving their man-made doctrine. This book, Second Maccabees, was never considered as inspired by the Jews, and therefore excluded from the canon of their Scriptures; was never quoted in the New Testament, as generally was the Old Testament, neither by Jesus nor his disciples, and, finally, was rejected by the early Roman Catholic fathers. Among them Jerome, who translated from the original text the Romanist Vulgate and refused to translate this book on the account that it was not listed in the Jewish canon. The second book of Maccabees was added to the Roman Catholic list of sacred writing very late and only in the sixteenth century definitely recognized as inspired by the council of Trent.
Besides, the internal evidences of the book show beyond any doubt that its unknown author not only does not claim divine inspiration, but he explicitly affirms to have done a work of abridgement, summarizing in one book all the matter that Jason of Cyrene wrote in five books long before: "And all such things have been comprised in five books by Jason of Cyrene, we have attempted to abridge in one book." 2 Macc. 2:24. The question comes naturally, "Who is the inspired writer, Jason or the abridger?" Moreover, at the close of the book the author plainly says to have written only for historical purposes, begging the readers to forgive him for any eventual imperfection or mistake they would find in his work: ". . . I also will here make an end of my narration. Which if I have done well and as it becometh the history, it is what I desired; but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me." 2 Macc. 15:38-39. Can we imagine an inspired writer being doubtful and confused about the truths he was supposed to proclaim in the name of God and with the infallible assistance of the Holy Spirit?
Although the Roman Church easily admits that in this book there is no direct or indirect reference to the word "purgatory," yet the doctrine of it may be deduced from the belief of Judas Maccabee and his fellow-soldiers concerning the usefulness of praying for the dead. The classical text used by Romanists on the matter is 2 Macc. 12:43-46:
"43. And making a gathering, he (Judas) sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.
"44. (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.)
"45. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid up for them.
"46. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."
The deduction that the Roman theologians commonly draw from the above testimony is three-fold: 1) that both Judas and his comrades were convinced that the dead could be helped by prayers and sacrifices; 2) that such a practice was a general belief of the Jews which was still extant at the time of Jesus, who, although condemning many other human traditions grown on the body of the Jewish ecclesiastical code, never reproved this one; 3) that the dead soldiers, in whose behalf money was sent to the temple, were not guilty of grave sin since they had fallen asleep with godliness. (Synopsis Theologiae Dogm. by Tanquerey, vol. 3, p. 798)
But evidently the theologians have missed to see the difficulties working against their own conclusion. They have overlooked the contradictions which would come up by accepting their inferences. Compelled to defend at all costs an untenable position, they have taken the text out of its context with the consequence of hiding an internal contradiction between the statement of Judas and the commandments of God which alone should destroy any alleged inspiration of the book, and another contradiction between the belief expressed in the Maccabees and the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory.
In order to substantiate with facts the two irreconcilable discrepancies in which Romanists have incurred, it is necessary to give the full story of Judas Maccabee by quoting the five previous verses which have been purposely omitted by the theologians from their classical text recorded above, namely 2 Macc. 12:43-46.
"38. So Judas, having gathered together his Army, came into the city of Odollam; and when the seventh day came, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath in the same place.
"39. And the day following, Judas came with his company to take away the bodies of them that were slain and to bury them with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers.
"40. And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law for-biddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain.
"41. Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.
"42. And so betaking themselves to prayers they besought him that the sin which has been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened because of the sins of those that were slain."
In Deut. 7:25 there is an explicit command of God forbidding the Jews to appropriate for themselves the things offered to the idols: "Their graven things thou shalt burn with fire. Thou shalt not covet silver and gold of which they are made: neither shalt thou take to thee anything thereof, lest thou offend, because it is an abomination to the Lord thy God." That the transgression of such a law was a very serious and grave sin is shown from the fact that the fellow-soldiers of Judas, who committed it, were permitted by God to be slain mercilessly at the hand of the enemy, and this just judgment of the Lord was blessed by all. How is it then that in verse 45 Judas says that the same sinners died "with godliness" and "had a great grace laid up for them"? The contradiction between the two statements is such that it has been deeply felt by the Roman Catholic commentator of the Douay Version who, in the lack of a better explanation, says in a footnote: "Judas hoped that these men who died fighting for the cause of God and religion, might find mercy: either because they might be excused from mortal sin by ignorance, or might have repented of their sin, at least at their death." The embarrassment of the commentator is evident; he is forced to make hypothetical assumptions in which he himself does not believe at all. The truth of the matter is that there is an open contradiction in the quoted passages, and such a thing must absolutely exclude the divine authorship of the second book of Maccabees.
CONTRADICTION WITH THE DOGMA OF PURGATORY
But not only is the above text contradiction within itself, it also contradicts the whole doctrine of purgatory. As we have seen before, the Roman Church teaches that purgatory is a place exclusively reserved for unforgiven venial sins and unexpiated temporal punishments. Hence, all those who die in mortal or grave sin are destined to hell and not to purgatory. The same Church also teaches that idolatry is such a grave sin that once, in early Christianity, it was considered to be unforgivable on earth. Now, Judas Maccabee, as said in the passage, made a sin-offering and prayers for men who were killed exactly because of this idolatry, committed by them in the unduly appropriation of the donaries or votive offerings to idols explicitly forbidden by the law. They died, therefore, in mortal sin and, consequently, their souls went to hell and not to purgatory, according to the Roman Catholic teaching. In that case the effort to prove the existence of purgatory with the above passage is absolutely illogical. Or if those souls went to purgatory and not hell despite the mortal sin they committed and in which they certainly died, for the donaries of the idols were found under their coats after they were slain and not before, the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory as a middle state of purification only for the just, before entering heaven, crumbles down into pieces. So, Romanists find themselves on the sharp points of a terrible dilemma. In either way they are wrong. The second book of Maccabees does not help them a bit. Besides being uninspired, it is in contradiction with the Word of God and, worst of all for the Roman Church, it nullifies a doctrine which has been so cleverly built up in the course of time.
NEW TESTAMENT TESTIMONY
Moreover, Romanists have no better chance to prove the existence of purgatory with some quotations taken from the New Testament. Cardinal Gibbons in fact, being aware of this, plainly says that in the New Testament the doctrine of purgatory is only insinuated but not proved. The passages most used are Matthew 12:32; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 3:18-20.
In Matthew, Jesus, condemning the obstinacy of the Pharisees who attributed the miracles of Christ, wrought by the Spirit of God, to Beelzebub, the prince of devils, says: "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come."
In commenting this passage, Augustine (De Civit. Dei, book 21, c. 13) and Gregory (Dialog. 4, c. 39) gather that some sins may be remitted in the world to come; and, consequently, that there is a purgatory or middle state. Such a queer interpretation became later on a common belief of the Roman Church which is exposed by Cardinal Gibbons as follows: "When our Savior declares that a sin against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven in the next life he evidently leaves us to infer that there are some sins which will be pardoned in the life to come. Now in the next life, sin cannot be forgiven in heaven, for nothing defiled can enter there; nor can they be forgiven in hell, for out of hell there is no redemption. They must, therefore, be pardoned in the immediate state of purgatory." (Faith of Our Fathers, p. 212)
But such a deduction is both unscriptural and unreasonable. It is unscriptural because in the quoted passage there is no biblical ground to support it. The expression of Jesus about "the world to come" has nothing to do with purgatory, it is only a rhetorical figure of speech called hyperbole by which the Lord said with an exaggerated statement that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is such an enormous sin that it cannot be forgiven anywhere. Verse 32 is but an emphatic declaration of verse 31 in which Jesus states: "Therefore I say to you: every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven." That this interpretation is true can be shown from the parallel passages of Mark 3:29 and Luke 12:10 in which there is no mention whatever about "the world to come."
Besides, the interpretation of Romanists is unreasonable because it is inapplicable to their doctrine of purgatory. In fact, according to them, purgatory will end at the final judgment and thus there can not be such a place in "the world to come." Moreover, the Roman Church holds that purgatory exists not for obtaining remission of sins, but as a place of payment to the last penny for "unremitted venial sins and unsatisfied temporal punishments." Finally, the same Church teaches that the blasphemy against the Son of man is such an extremely grave sin that a person dying without previously receiving remission from it is headed to hell and not to purgatory.
Another passage quoted by the Roman Church in defense of purgatory is 1 Cor. 3:13-15:
"Every man's work shall be manifest. For the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire. And the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." Cardinal Gibbons, commenting on this passage, offers as the unanimous voice of the fathers of Christendom the interpretation that the soul of man "will be ultimately saved, but he shall suffer, for a temporary duration, in the purifying flames of purgatory." (Ibid., p. 213)
That this is a false interpretation is evidenced by the fact that Paul does not mention the flames of purgatory as purifying the soul of man, but he simply states that the fire shall try every man's work. Now to try has a completely different meaning from to purge or purify. According to Webster's Dictionary, to try means to test or make trial of; put to proof; while to purge or purify gives the idea of cleaning, to become free from impurities both material and moral. Therefore, there is no indication or insinuation of a Roman Catholic purgatory in the quoted passage. Paul with wonderful imagery shows the different kinds of buildings put by different men on the same foundation: Jesus Christ. Their respective value will one day, on the great and final day, be determined. They will break in with the accompaniment of fire, and the fire will test the superstructures. Then two possibilities arise. One man's superstructure will stand the test, and he will be rewarded; another man's superstructure will perish, and he will have to pay, yet he will not fail of salvation, though he will only just escape the fire which has burnt up his work. (Commentary on Holy Scripture by Gore, Goudge and Guil-laume, p. 490)
The fire-imagery applies to the last day and not at all to a preceding purgatorial period as Romanists infer. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that purgatory will cease to exist at the end of the world, in the day of the final judgment. Therefore, there is an evident discrepancy between the official teaching of the Church and the interpretation given to the passage of Paul. Besides, purgatory has been stated to be only a place of purging souls and not a testing-trial for the work of God's ministers as it is in our case. The existence of purgatory cannot be proved by 1 Cor. 3:13-15. It only shows contradiction and misinterpretation on the part of Romanists who, once again, have failed to substantiate Scripturally their claim of a middle state of purification after death.
"Because Christ also died for our sins, the just for the unjust; that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit. In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noah, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is eight souls, were saved by water."
A footnote in the Douay Version interprets the "spirits that were in prison" as follows: "See here a proof of a third place, or middle state of souls: for these spirits in prison, to whom Christ went to preach after his death, were not in heaven; nor yet in the hell of the damned: because heaven is no prison: and Christ did not go to preach to the damned."
Although the passage in question is very difficult to understand in its true meaning, it is absolutely certain that it has nothing to do with Catholic purgatory. The main inference which the apostle intends for us to draw from it is the contrast between our sins and the victorious power of the Passion. Christ, the just par excellence, died for the unjust of all times, past, present and future. As the second Adam He had to pay for the sins of humanity since the fall of man. So, after his mission was fully accomplished, He went spiritually, that is not by a local motion, but by a special operation as God is frequently said to move in the Bible (Gen. 11:5; Hosea 5:15; and Micah 1:3), to the spirits in prison in order to show them his great victory over sin and death. By the "spirits in prison" cannot be undertood the traditional limbus patrum (limbo of the Fathers), consisting in an awaiting place of rest for all the just who died before Christ's ascension, because there is no evidence of such a place in the Bible, and besides it is clearly inferred from Luke 14:22 and 23:43 that the souls of the righteous were admitted to paradise immediately after their death. It is very likely therefore that the expression of Peter refers to the ever-living Spirit of Christ, preaching to the ante-diluvians in the person of Noah who was a preacher of righteousness. In this respect, Matthew Henry in his Commentary explains the "spirits in prison" in this way: "He went and preached, by his spirit striving with them, and inspiring and enabling Enoch and Noah to plead with them. Because the hearers were dead and disembodied when the apostle speaks of them, therefore he properly calls them spirits now in prison, not that they were in prison when Christ preached to them." At any rate, whatever Peter meant in his letter, it is true that he had not in mind the third place or middle state of souls claimed by Romanists, because the Bible says that the people in Noah's day did not believe in God, refused his divine invitation and despised his mercy, so that when they died, they could not possibly be saved because of being in mortal sin, and therefore, according to the Roman doctrine, they went straight to hell and not to purgatory, reserved exclusively for those who die in the grace of God.
TESTIMONY OF TRADITION
Unable to demonstrate the existence of purgatory with reason and Scripture, Romanists base all their hope on the argument of tradition, appealing to the fathers of the church, to the ancient liturgies of the Oriental and Western Church, and, finally, to the emotional feeling of the human heart. But not even such a kind of reasoning helps them any. First of all, the fathers of the five early centuries are not always clear in their writings, having incurred many substantial errors as even Romanists must admit. Secondly, they are not unanimous in affirming the same thing, and in many instances they are in contradiction one with another Thirdly, they never mentioned purgatory by name, and many of them, like Origin, Ambrose, Jerome, and others, believed in a temporal duration of hell, denying an eternal punishment for the wicked as contrary to the justice and mercy of God who, in the end of time, through an universal palingenesis or renovation, would restore all things in him. Surely this is not purgatory as taught by the Church of Rome.
As to the ancient liturgies of both East and West, they were of a later origin and, therefore, the practice of praying for the dead did not descend from apostolic times as Romanists claim, but was a pagan custom inherited from the contemporary heathen religions. In fact, as we have already mentioned, the belief in a place of purification after death is incredibly old. The first news about it was found in India thousands of years before the coming of Christ. The Egyptian priests taught the theory of torments after death sixteen centuries B.C., and Babylonians, Persians, and Phoenicians believed the same. Still now Buddhist priests in their liturgies and rituals have prayers for the souls suffering in fire that have been transmitted unto them through an unbroken succession of clergymen from time immemorial. Even the great Greek philosophers, as Socrates and Plato, who lived in the fifth century B.C., fix up an amazing purgatory theory along the lines of earlier pagan mythologies. Among the Greek and Roman gods Pluto was considered to be the god of hell and purgatory. At least in ten writings of Virgil, the Latin poet, can be found a description of how dead sinners are "purged in fire." With such precedents and environments it can be easily understood how the early fathers and the ancient liturgies could introduce in the church a practice which was developed later on by Romanists into the Catholic dogma of purgatory. Exactly so it happened that the many gorgeous ceremonies were added little by little to the severe simplicity of the New Testament church. How then can a practice of the old liturgies be traced back to apostolic times? A claim such as this is not only presumptuous but even dishonest.
Neither can it be said that the doctrine of purgatory is a comfort and consolation to the deepest sentiments of the human heart. No one can see, in fact, how it is possible to be comforted and consoled by the expectation of terrible punishments with fire, tortures, and torments of all kinds soon after death. And, although such punishments are said to be temporary, yet any good Christian would be really frightened to death in thinking of the horrible place where he could be confined for an indefinite period of time before being allowed to enjoy the blissful vision of his God. This is not at all the wonderful joy experienced by the early Christians at the close of their lives; this is not at all the manifestation of the infinite mercy of God but rather the exhibition of his wrath; this is not at all the incorruptible reward promised by Jesus to the good and faithful servant: "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Matt. 25:21. Oh no, Roman Catholics shall never convince Christians that purgatory is the answer to the longings of their hearts. Their comfort and consolation do not rest upon such a dreadful place but upon the everlasting promise of joy, blessedness, and happiness of heaven, upon the assurance of seeing face to face the mightiness and omnipotence of God. This is the kind of comfort and consolation that Christians experience at the departure of their beloved ones. They do not need to pray for them, because they believe in the unbreakable promise of God who not only forgives, but forgets our sins: "And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more." Heb. 10:17.
FULL SALVATION IN CHRIST
If it would be unfair for a human tribunal to forgive a criminal the guilt of his crime and still send him to prison to expiate for it, how much more offensive to the mercy of God would be this half-measure of forgiveness. That is why Christians cannot believe that God deals with repented sinners in a way less dignified and generous than that adopted by human beings. That is why they reject purgatory as an invention of men, as a bare-faced falsehood, as one of the most gigantic frauds of all times. The dogma of purgatory cannot be proved either by reason or by Scripture, either by tradition or by appealing to the tenderest affections of human hearts. It is only an essential belief of the Roman Church because, as has been cleverly said, "the source of Catholic power is in the graveyard." Through it, in fact, the hierarchy controls the life and death of the faithful and, above all, the purse of millions of gullible and superstitious people who have been taught to give money for masses in order to relieve from the torments of purgatory their deceased relatives. On the contrary, the Word of God states with all authority that we are "not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver; but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled." 1 Pet. 1:18-19. Through the expiatory oblation of himself Jesus obtained for us, once for all, full salvation, justification and sanctification, so that He is in the true meaning of the word the Lamb of God who takes away all our sins: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29. By faith and obedience in him we are indeed sure that our sins are washed away, and completely forgiven as to the guilt and to the penalty of temporal punishment, "because the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John 1:7. The belief in an intermediate place of purification or purgation for the just and the necessity for the living to pray for their souls would destroy the full efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, would nullify the promises of God, who cannot lie, and, finally, would remove from the heart of Christian believers the glorious hope of an immediate and endless happiness in the triumphant kingdom of heaven. For this reason, we urge our Catholic friends to re-examine their blind acceptance of purgatory and find out by themselves, through an unprejudiced study of the Bible, if what they have learned from the Roman Catholic priests is in accordance with the infallible Word of God.Back to Table of Contents
THE DOCTRINE OF INDULGENCES
It has been rightly remarked that in the Roman Catholic system each doctrine finds its origin in a previous one and that all are so intimately related that one can not stand separated from the other. This is especially true for the doctrine of indulgences which flows from the spurious dogma of purgatory not less naturally than a river from its source. In fact, by teaching that the prayers and devotions of the faithful may shorten the sufferings of the "poor souls in purgatory," where they are purging themselves from the stain of venial sins and unexpiated temporal punishments, the Roman Church smoothly paved the way for the acceptance of its authority in granting indulgences whose main purpose is precisely the partial or total release, under certain conditions, from the temporal punishment due to sin. As in the case of purgatory, the reason for the doctrine of indulgences is essentially based on the distinction between the guilt and the penalty of sin. While through repentance the guilt of sin is fully remitted by God, there remains a temporal punishment to be paid in this world by any satisfactory action, but if not sufficiently paid here it will be exacted till the last farthing in purgatory by sufferings and pains of different nature and degree. According to Romanists the Church has the power by divine right to remit this temporal punishment, in whole or in part, here and in purgatory, and such a remission is called an indulgence. In A Catechism of Christian Doctrine (p. 134) indulgences are mentioned together with masses and other good works as one of the many means by which Catholics may satisfy for the temporal punishment of the dead: "The faithful on earth, through the communion of saints, can relieve the sufferings of the souls in purgatory by prayer, fasting, and other good works, by indulgences, and by having Masses offered for them."
Contrary to such a belief we must say to our Catholic friends that indulgences have no foundation in the Bible, were introduced in the Church as a result of tradition, are against God's plan of salvation and pardon, and in contradiction with many doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church itself.
NATURE OF INDULGENCES
In order to avoid any kind of misrepresentation of the Roman Catholic standing on the question of indulgences, our brethren should clearly understand that indulgence does not mean a remission of sins and still less a permission to "indulge in sin," as many Protestants believe. It is rather a pardon of the temporal punishment which is granted by the Church to all those whose sins have already been forgiven by confession or because of an act of contrition. Etymologically the word "indulgence" come from the Latin indulgeo or indu-licentia which means leniency, relaxation, grace, remission or condonation. In the Canon Law it is defined as follows: "The remission before God of the temporal punishment due to those sins of which the guilt has been forgiven, either in the sacrament of Penance or because of an act of perfect contrition, granted by the competent ecclesiastical authority out of the treasury of the Church to the living by way of absolution, to the dead by way of suffrage." (c. 911)
However, although Romanists affirm that the remission of the temporal punishment does not imply any relaxation from the guilt of sin either past or future, either mortal or venial, there have been times in the Church during which indulgences were granted under the formula "a culpa et poena" or "in remissionem peccatorum" which expressions implied precisely a complete and full condonation of the guilt and penalty of sins. That this had been for a long time the practice of the Roman Church can be proven by the fact that, later on, the council of Trent was forced to abolish all such abuses which had grown up, in the course of time, on the granting of indulgences.
According to the Roman Catholic theologians, the remission of the temporal punishment through indulgences is not only valid in the external forum,1 before the Church, but also in the internal forum, before God; otherwise the Church, says Thomas Aquinas, would rather damage than help the condition of sinners who would be condemned to more grievous punishments in purgatory while believing to have been absolved from them by indulgences.
It is the teaching of the Roman Church that indulgences can be granted only by those to whom has been committed the dispensation of the so-called treasury of the Church, and that is the pope or a general council for all the Church, cardinals and bishops locally for their own subjects. By the treasury of the Church is understood "the superabundant store of the merits and satisfactions of Christ, which were beyond the needs of our salvation, to which are added the excess of merits and satisfactions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Saints." It is exactly from this treasury that the Church grants indulgences. It is a kind of compensation taken out from this spiritual store of merits in order to satisfy the justice of God in the place of the temporal punishments which have been remitted to sinners through the gaining of indulgences.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF INDULGENCES
By reason of effect, indulgences can be either plenary or partial; plenary indulgences remit the whole of the temporal punishment which has been incurred by a sinner according to the justice of God. Unless the contrary is stated, all plenary indulgences may be applied for the benefit of the souls, or of an individual soul, in purgatory, but the decree of its acceptance depends on the will of God, so that there is no certainty that the penalty of these souls is fully remitted. Partial indulgences remit a part of the punishment due for sin at any given moment, the proportion of such part being expressed in terms of time as, for instance, 30 days, 7 years, etc. The precise meaning of these time periods has never been defined; their use is a relic of the former penitential discipline of the Church out of which the granting of indulgences arose and in which the time periods had their natural and practical significance. (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 266)
(1) Forum means a judicial court, and is the sphere in which the Church exercises her jurisdiction, especially her judicial authority. The forum is of two kinds: external, to deal with matters affecting the public welfare of the Church and her subjects; internal, to deal with matters which concern the private spiritual good of individuals especially in the direction of their consciences. The Church exercises her jurisdiction of the internal forum chiefly in the tribunal of Penance. (A Cath. Dictionary, p. 209)
By reason of subject, there are indulgences for the living and indulgences for the dead, namely those applicable to the "poor souls in purgatory." Indulgences are granted to the living only by way of juridical absolution and are reserved for those who are in full communion with the Church and have resorted to the sacrament of penance, in which alone, after due contrition and confession, provision is made for the remission of the graver penalty of sin. It must be born in mind that these indulgences are never absolutely gratuitous, being always conditioned to certain religious and pious practices, like prayers, fasting, alms, rosaries, medals, etc., which must be faithfully observed by the recipients in order to gain them. On the contrary, the indulgences for the dead are accorded by way of suffrage, and that is by an intercessory prayer whose efficacy depends on God's response to it due to the fact that the Church has no jurisdiction whatever on the souls in purgatory. The dead cannot gain any indulgence properly speaking, but the living are permitted by the Church to apply in behalf of the dead certain indulgences that are gained by the former. However the living are not allowed to apply indulgences for other living.
By reason of mode, indulgences can be personal, when granted to a person or an entire community; real, when attached immediately to a material thing, like crucifixes, rosaries, medals and other images blessed by the pope personally or by his delegates; and local, if they are granted to a religious place, like churches, shrines, sanctuaries, and so on.
A special mention must be made here of the great indulgence of Jubilee, consisting in a universal plenary indulgence, or remission of all temporal punishments, granted by the Holy See with special solemnity for a definite time to all those who, "truly penitent and having confessed and communicated, shall piously visit the Basilicas of the Blessed Peter and Paul, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major in Rome." The Jubilee is generally associated with the Holy Year, which begins with the opening of the holy doors of the said Basilicas on the Christmas eve of the previous year and ends with the closing of the same twelve months later. The idea of a year of special celebration at fitted periods is referred to by Moses (Lev. 25:10-15). Boniface VIII was the first pope to begin the series of the Holy Years in 1300 A.D. and, after him, a year of Jubilee was celebrated in the beginning of every century. The period was later reduced from 100 years to 50, to 33, and finally to 25 by Paul II in 1475. However, since Pius XI there has been an amazing increase in the celebration of the Holy Years (5 in 28 years), and we wonder if the modern popes are more concerned about the material gifts dropped into the Vatican treasury by the visiting pilgrims rather than about the spiritual relief from temporal punishment granted to the souls of the faithful. Surely God cannot be pleased with this cryptical form of religious exploitation which once, with an old-fashioned term, was called simony.
As we may see, the Roman Church has been granting and multiplying indulgences in so many ways and in such an abundant manner that it can be hardly believed how Catholics may still be fearful about the alleged pains of purgatory, and how priests may still continue to ask money for masses and alms in behalf of the poor souls of the dead supposed to be suffering in the purgatorial fire. Surely something must be wrong with them if they do not take full advantage, while living, of an opportunity by which they may purify themselves from all temporal punishments due to their sins in such an easy and cheap way like that of indulgences.
EXISTENCE OF INDULGENCES
Roman Catholics claim that the Church has been entrusted by Christ with the power of granting indulgences to all those who, having reached the use of reasoning and being therefore capable of falling in sin, meet the specified conditions. The Council of Trent, in order to condemn, once for all, the alleged errors of the Reformers, who called indulgences pernicious and useless and denying to the Church the power of granting them, issued the following decree: "The Church being endowed by Christ of the power of granting indulgences and having exercised from time immemorable such a power divinely transmitted to her, the Holy Synod teaches and commands all Christian faithful the practice of indulgences as useful and recommended by the authority of the past Councils, condemning with anathema any contrary teaching." (De Indulgentiis, Sess. 25) The theologians say that such a power flows directly from the dogmas of the communion of saints, of the superabundant satisfaction of Christ, and from the power of the keys.
By the communion of saints is understood the unity under and in Christ of the faithful on earth (Church militant), the souls in purgatory (Church suffering) and the blessed in heaven (Church triumphant). Among all the members of this spiritual body, whose head is Christ, there exists such an intimate relationship or communion that each one shares of the merits of the other, so that the living pray to God and the blessed in behalf of the suffering, and to God in honor of the blessed; the blessed intercede with God for the suffering and the living; the holy souls pray to God and the blessed for others, while Christ intercedes continually for the living and the dead by virtue of his infinite and superabundant satisfaction merited for all. In view of this spiritual and reciprocal help indulgences may be gained by the living for themselves or applied to the souls in purgatory.
But the scriptural text upon which the Roman Church bases its power to distribute indulgences is taken from Matthew 16:19, where Christ promises to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven: "And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." The same declaration was made by Christ also to the other apostles assembled together later on (Matt. 18:18). In commenting upon the quoted verse, Cardinal Gibbons states: "By these words our Saviour empowered his Church to deliver her children (if properly disposed) from every obstacle that might retard them from the kingdom of heaven. Now there are two impediments that withhold a man from the heavenly kingdom—sin and temporal punishment incurred by it. And the Church having power to remit the greater obstacle, which is sin, has power also to remove the smaller obstacle, which is the temporal punishment due on account of it." (Faith of Our Fathers, p. 376)
NO SCRIPTURAL FOUNDATION
Once again we find the Roman Church making conclusions which were absolutely foreign to the mind of the Lord, whose main object was to entrust the apostles in general and Peter in particular, because of his inspired confession, with the authority to preach the gospel of grace and redemption. In the quoted passage there is no reference whatever about indulgences or the alleged authority of the Church in distributing spiritual privileges which are never mentioned in the Bible. The Roman Catholic belief that with the promise of the keys Jesus gave to Peter and to the Church an unlimited power of doing and undoing is completely false. Peter in Matthew 16:19 was only promised to become an administrator, a steward of the kingdom of heaven, which the context identifies with the Church, and as such would have a divinely recognized authority to teach and discipline the future community. When the time came for the fulfillment of his promise, Jesus made all the apostles stewards of the mysteries of God, scribes of the kingdom, entrusting everyone with power to interpret his will in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 18:17-18; John 20:22). The figure of the key is rather familiar in the Scriptures and is generally used to mean power, authority, jurisdiction exercised in the name of the household or master. It never signifies an absolute or independent power to do as one pleases. Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, is promoted instead of Shebna as the minister of the house and bears the key of the house of David (Is. 22:15-22). In Luke 12:42 our Lord speaks of the faithful and wise steward, who is to give his household their portion of food in due season, while in 11:52 He speaks of the scribes as taking away the key of knowledge and, consequently, shutting the kingdom of heaven against men (Matt. 23:13). In our case, therefore, the main thought meant by Jesus in the promise of the keys seems to be that of teaching (Matt. 13:52), and of the disciplinary power by which it is to be enforced. This is confirmed by the words that follow. "To bind" and "to loose" are technical Rabbinic terms for the power of the doctor of the law to "pronounce forbidden" or "pronounce permitted" some actions about which a question has arisen, while the terms are occasionally applied to disciplinary measures such as excommunication. Now the power of the church to bind and to loose is a power to interpret the law of Christ and not a power to add to it or to take from it, just as the power recognized in the scribes was a power to interpret the law of Moses and not to add to it. (Commentary on Holy Scripture by Gore, Goudge and Guillaume, p. 168)
On the contrary, the practice of the Roman Catholic Church in granting indulgences is diametrically opposed to such a logical interpretation, and, consequently, presupposes an authority which is "beyond the things that are written." The duty of a minister, steward, or administrator is necessarily limited by the will of his master, so that he can do only what he is authorized to do. The apostles in the beginning and now the Church have always bound and loosed not through the alleged power of remitting imaginary temporal punishments, but through the natural channel of preaching, baptizing, correcting and punishing in due time. Matthew 16:19 does not endow the Roman Catholic Church with any peculiar power and indulgences are indeed an invention of the priests in order to deceive and exploit the invincible ignorance of innumerable superstitious people.
The same thing can be said concerning the communion of saints about which not even Romanists may find a reasonable passage in the Scripture in order to support their complicated theory of the three churches, militant, suffering, and triumphant. Neither can they prove the existence of the so-called treasury of the Church, formed by the superabundant satisfaction of Christ and by the merits of the Virgin Mary and of other saints, which have been accumulated throughout the centuries nobody knows where. And yet it is amazing to see endless crowds of people of all kinds and conditions believe in the doctrine of indulgences with such a fanaticism that they would make any sacrifice in money and personal mortification for the privilege, they say, of gaining the partial or total remission of the temporal punishments due to their sins on the occasion of a Jubilee in Rome. Such is the power of a religious custom practiced from generation to generation in intellectual blindness and spiritual serfdom.
RESULTS OF TRADITION
The true origin and foundation of the doctrine of indulgences is not to be found in the Word of God, but rather in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church; a tradition which has changed and transformed holy things, practiced for good in the early Christianity, in what is today the most ponderous system of politico-religious organization in the world. Unfortunately for Christendom this tradition is still at work through the progressive increase of dogmatic definitions, and on Nov. 17 1950, we have witnessed the papal proclamation of another dogma, that of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven. We may easily guess how many new doctrines shall be defined a hundred years from now.
According to the Roman Catholic theologians, the doctrine of indulgences has developed from the penitential discipline of the early Church. Christians who had been convicted of crimes were required to make confession of them publicly before the entire congregation, to implore pardon, and to undergo whatever punishment the Church thought best to impose on them. This was done as well for example as to prevent reproach to the Christian religion among infidels. However, these punishments were not supposed to be satisfactory to God in the so-called internal forum, but only unto the Church or the external forum. The idea about the remission of the temporal punishment valid before God as understood by Romanists today cannot be traced in any of the writers of the age who mention the practice. At the latter end of the third century, when many had lapsed through fear of persecution, the punishment and period of probation became more severe and lengthened before they were readmitted. Sometimes the period was protracted for a series of years. Hence, arose the custom of prescribing times or periods—five, ten or more years of penance; but, lest the penitent should lose heart, or be driven to despair, the bishops took upon themselves, under certain circumstances, to mitigate the period of punishment. This act was called a relaxation or remission, that is an indulgence. (A History of Reformatory Movements by Rowe, p. 267)
An early and explicit proof of such a practice can be found in the fifth canon of the Council of Ancyra (314). This discretionary leniency was sometimes granted by the bishops on the intercession of those who were witnessing for the truth in prison, as appears from the writings of Cyprian and Tertullian (De Pudic., c. 22; De Lapsis, c. 5) ; sometimes also at the instance of the civil magistrate. The episcopal power was occasionally exercised, not only in a shortening of the canonical duration of the penance, but in some mitigation of the nature of the penalty itself (Syn. Anc., c. 2). We find indication at a very early period that some of the minor ecclesiastical offences could be readily and canonically atoned for by almsgiving (Aug. De Fide et Operibus, c. 19) ; thus gradually arose, by steps which can readily be conjectured:, a regular system of commutations (redemptiones, commutationes), set forth in penitential books (libri penitentiales), offering striking analogies to the provisions made by the various criminal codes by which the Theodosian Code was supplanted throughout Europe. In the Penitential of the Greek Theodore of Canterbury for example (690), which is to be found in Migne's Patrologia, a canonical fast of days, weeks, or years may be redeemed by saying a proportionable number of psalms, or by paying an adequate fine. For more than four centuries this work held a position of great authority all over Europe. At the time of the Crusades, to go to Palestine and take part in the war against the infidels was considered to be a work of such extraordinary merit as to render unnecessary any other penitential act on the part of the sinner who engaged in it. Thus at the council of Clermont, held under Urban II (1095), it was decreed that "that journey would be reputed for the remission of all penance." Later on the greatest schoolmen reduced to a theory the praxis which had gradually sprung up within the Western Church. (Enclycl. Brit., vol. 12, pp. 846-47)
However, it must be said that even when the doctrine of indulgences was first systematized, it was understood in a far different sense from its modern use. It signified only a discharge, a mitigation, or pardon of the canonical censures and penalties inflicted by the church, and not at all a remission of the temporal punishment due to the divine justice for the sins of the penitent already forgiven otherwise. Neither was there any mention about indulgences applicable in behalf of the souls of the dead suffering in the purifying fire of purgatory. The actual idea of indulgences cannot be traced back before the thirteenth century. That is why we want to tell our Catholic friends that the doctrine of indulgences has not come to us as a practice derived from the divine revelation, but as a result of Roman Catholic tradition, and as such is of human origin and, therefore, must be rejected as an apostasy from early Christianity.
AGAINST GOD'S PLAN OF PARDON
Another reason why indulgences should be utterly condemned is because they are against God's plan of pardon. Although everyone recognizes that God is loving and merciful and is always ready to meet the needs of the sinners, nevertheless He has established a definite plan in order to grant them full remission of their sins. This involves not only the guilt or offence to God, but also the penalty which is the consequence of sin. The plan of God is very simple: baptism for those newly-converted to Christianity, and repentance for Christians who have fallen into sin. There is no other way of obtaining the divine pardon. As far as baptism is concerned, Romanists concede that both the guilt and the penalty of sin is fully remitted by it, while this is not so in the case of repentance in which there remains to be paid the alleged penalty of temporal punishment. On the contrary, the Bible assures us that God's forgiveness is not only full and complete, but likewise abundant: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Is. 55:7. Could the prophet say that God's pardon is abundant if his forgiveness would not include also the total extinction of the temporal punishment due to sin? Can Romanists produce any passage in which God, our supreme lawgiver, has ever followed a different policy than that shown in Isaiah? Can we imagine our merciful and loving God forgiving a repented sinner as to the guilt and, at the same time, condemning him to pay for the debt of temporal punishment attached to his sins? This is exactly what the Roman Church teaches in its doctrines of purgatory and indulgences: a half-forgiveness whose final outcome has been placed in the hands of the priests, who may bind or loose at will the spiritual future of their unfortunate subjects. The power of granting indulgences for the remission of the temporal punishments, which otherwise should be paid here or in purgatory, as claimed by the Church of Rome, is not only above and beyond the authority of the Word of God, but is in open opposition to the divine plan of pardon. It is foolish therefore for our Catholic friends to gain indulgences whose existence is in the realm of the fables and whose benefit is only imaginary. They should better put their trust and confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins, our advocate with the Father who will forgive us not only the guilt but also the penalty due to our trespasses if we truly repent and sincerely ask for his pardon. Let them listen to the affectionate words of the beloved disciple: "My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2.
CONTRADICTION WITH OTHER CATHOLIC DOCTRINES
Finally, the doctrine of indulgences contradicts other Roman Catholic tenets as, for instance, confession, extreme unction, and purgatory, besides opening the way to spiritual idleness and shameful abuses.
First of all, indulgences, being a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, devoid the sacrament of penance of its efficacy and validity. In fact, it is the official teaching of the Roman Church that in order to have a valid confession it is necessary to comply with three conditions, namely sorrow of sin, auricular account to a priest of one's trespasses, and satisfaction which is "the act by which the sinner endeavours to make reparation to God for offences committed against him by undergoing some form of punishment." Moreover, the Church goes on to say that "the effect of sacramental satisfaction is the remission ex opere operato (wrought from the work) of temporal punishment due to sin." (A Catholic Dict., p. 475) If through indulgences the sinner is completely freed from the temporal punishment due to his sins, the satisfaction, requested by the sacrament, is made void and therefore confession becomes invalid.
Furthermore, indulgences nullify the meaning of the sacrament of extreme unction which, according to the Roman Catholic position, "comforts in the pains of sickness and strengthens the patient against temptations; remits venial sins and cleanses the soul from the remains of sin; and restore to health when God sees fit." By the expression "remains of sin" the theologians mean "the inclination to evil and weakness of the will as well as the temporal punishment due to sin." (Synopsis Theol. Dogm. by Tan-querey, vol. 3, p. 691) If this is so, extreme unction would be useless, the temporal punishment being already remitted by indulgences which are granted by the Church abundantly and without any condition upon all those who are in danger of life (in articulo mortis).
But the doctrine of indulgences is even more contradictory when considered in relation with the dogma of purgatory from which it derives. Knowing, in fact, that the primary purpose of indulgences is the remission of the temporal punishments due to sins, and being also assured by the Roman Church that "venial sins can be remitted by prayer or other good works," there is no need any more for an intermediate place of purification. What should be purified when the so-called treasury of the Church has already provided for a full relaxation of the very same things which are supposed to be punished in purgatory? If indulgences really work and are so easy to gain, especially in articulo mortis, why purgatory? And if purgatory, to which the majority of Roman Catholics, it is said, will have to go, why indulgences? We wonder if the hierarchy is making joke of its own subjects, blessing with one hand and punishing with the other.
CAUSE OF LAZINESS AND TRAGIC ABUSES
Even though we disagree with those who have considered indulgences as "a remission of past sins, or a license to commit sin granted by the pope as a spiritual compensation to the faithful for pecuniary offerings made him," nevertheless we cannot but emphasize the fact that indulgences are at variance with the spirit of the gospel, stimulating spiritual easiness and dangerous laziness in facing temptations and sins. They constitute a slippery road that may hinder, if not kill, the religious life of the vicarious merits of others than upon the obedience to the commandments of God. That this is true can be seen from the scandalous abuses that flooded the Roman Catholic Church at various times, particularly in the sixteenth century during the infamous traffic in indulgences. Even Romanists are compelled to admit such abuses, especially in the case of John Tetzel who, being appointed as chief preacher to announce the great indulgence in Germany for collecting money in order to bring to completion the church of St. Peter in Rome, used methods and words which were the proximate cause of the Protestant Reformation. This Dominican monk with unparalleled zeal and energy made appeals for money that today could be considered as powerful examples of salesmanship. Among similar appeals the following is particularly moving for its emotional efficacy: "Even repentance is not indispensable. But more than all this: indulgences save not the living alone—they also save the dead. Ye priests, ye nobles, ye tradesmen, ye wives, ye maidens, and ye young men, hearken to your departed parents and friends, who cry to you from the bottomless abyss: 'We are enduring horrible torments! a small alms would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not!' The very moment the money clinks against the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory, and flies free to heaven." (Dowling, History of Romanism, p. 443)
Tetzel was not even ashamed to fix prices according to the rank of his client and to the gravity of sins, guaranteeing that indulgences, gained in change of resounding money, would assure not only full pardon of all sins, but that "at death the gate of the place of torment shall be shut against thee." Such and other abominable practices used by Tetzel and Catholic company show very clearly the kind of abuses to which indulgences even today might open the way. Although Romanists say that the abuses have been removed by forbidding the taking of money for indulgences, yet a so-called free-will offering is not considered a fee and is permitted. Besides, there are thousands of purgatorial associations within the Roman Church today, whose memberships are usually sold from $5 per individual to $25 per family. As compensation the members are assured of a perpetual remembrance for their deceased relatives and friends and of having a share in masses, prayers and good works offered by the association. (Paulist Calendar, April, 1952) Of course, Romanists would be highly scandalized if we would call practices such as these a raising of money under false pretenses, or a selling of spiritual deeds for material goods. It is their privilege, however, to believe as they want to, but we feel it to be our imperative duty to denounce the fraudulent practices of Roman Catholicism whose world-wide success is mainly due to the superstitious ignorance of the people, enslaved and deceived from time immemorable by the insatiable avarice of their priests. We are deeply concerned about our poor Catholic friends, unconscious victims of an erroneous tradition that has taught them man-made doctrines instead of New Testament truths. We want to discourage them from continuing to gain fallacious indulgences which can neither remit the alleged temporal punishment due to their sins nor release their departed beloved ones from the excruciating flames of a non-existent purgatory. We want them to know that indulgences have not the least foundation in the Bible, have been introduced by men as a means of enriching the material rather than the spiritual treasury of the Church, are at variance with God's plan of pardon, contradicting other Roman Catholic doctrines and causing spiritual inactivity and possible ruin to many souls. We want and pray that the light of our Lord may finally shine in their minds, may warm up their hearts in such a way that from, now on they will put their only hope in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and man: who gave himself a ransom for all." 1 Tim. 2:5-6.Back to Table of Contents
THE CATHOLIC MASS
Undoubtedly the Catholic mass is one of the most important rites celebrated in the Church of Rome, because it constitutes in a real sense its chief religious service that absorbs into itself nearly all public acts of worship. It is a fact that in all the manifestations of their spiritual life Catholics turn to the mass as the source of all benefits, in which they find strength for their daily cares and courage to fight the battle of their faith. The mass is recited at any important occasion as, for instance, the opening of a convention, the blessing of a marriage, the dedication of a church, the consecration of a nun, the profession of a monk, the burial of the dead. It is said both for imploring divine help and as a thanksgiving for received blessings, it is celebrated for the living as well as for the benefit of the dead. In a word, there is no act in the Catholic life where the mass does not play an all-important part. For this very reason masses are celebrated daily in all churches and in churches where there are many altars many times a day.
With regard to the doctrine Romanists unanimously proclaim that the mass has been instituted by Christ and, therefore, is a sacrament; that it is the true sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner through the ministry of the priest; and that it is a communion with the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus through the Catholic miracle of transub-stantiation. That such gratuitous and peremptory statements are a distortion of the simple ceremony of the Lord's Supper may be seen in the course of our discussion in which we shall expose point by point the main positions held by the Roman Church on the matter.
MEANING OF THE MASS
To begin with, it is necessary to know what the Roman Catholics truly mean and believe in their central act of worship called the mass. According to some theologians the derivation of the word "mass" comes from the Hebrew term "missach" (Deut. 16), which means a free offering. But according to the majority of Catholic scholars it is derived from missio, meaning dismissal, and has reference to the dismissal of the cathechumens, public penitents, and ener-gumens (demoniacs) before the offertory, and that of the faithful at the end when the priest says: "lte missa est" (Go, the mass is over). Such is the formula with which the Roman eucharistic service concludes. "By degrees," writes Waterland, "it came to be used for an assembly and for church service. From signifying a church service in general, it came at length to denote the communion service in particular, and so that most emphatically came to be called the mass." That such a name was not in use in the early church is shown from the fact that until the sixth century it was never adopted to signify the ordinance of the Supper which, instead, was usually referred to as "Eucharist" (thanksgiving), "Oblation" (offering), "Holy Communion", "Mysterium" (mystery), etc.
From the Roman Catholic viewpoint there are four distinct types of the celebration of mass, each one of which is an equally true and proper offering of the sacrifice. They are (1) Pontifical Mass (of which Papal Mass is a special form) ; (2) High or Solemn Mass; (3) Sung Mass; and (4) Low Mass. (A Cath. Dictionary, p. 330)
DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE MASS
The liturgy or rite of the mass ordinarily consists of the following parts: introit or preparation, collects or prayers, epistle, gospel, Nicene Creed, offertory of bread and wine, washing of hands, secret, preface, consecration of the elements, communion of the celebrant and then of the people, ablutions, post-communion prayers, dismissal, blessing, last gospel. However, the most important parts of the mass are three, namely offertory, consecration and communion. In the offertory the celebrant first offers up the bread or host on the paten (plate) saying, "Receive, O Holy Father...this spotless host;" and after having poured the wine and a few drops of water in the chalice, he offers up the cup with the prayer, "We offer unto thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation." In the early church the offertory consisted of the antiphonal or alternate singing of a psalm by the whole congregation during which the people made their offerings in kind. Such a custom was discontinued about the eleventh century. Today the Christian congregations have the collection in its place, which is in accordance with the apostolic practice (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7), while the Roman Church has introduced mass-stipends without any biblical authority.
By consecration is understood the action by which the priest changes miraculously the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This happens when he takes the bread, saying, "This is my body" and the wine, saying, "This is the chalice of my blood." After these words of consecration, which have the astonishing power of changing in the twinkling of an eye the whole substance of the bread and wine into the whole substance of Jesus, the celebrant genuflects, adores, and raises for the adoration of the people the host and the chalice. Such a form of idolatry can hardly be found even in the most pagan systems of worship. In this action we may see a complete departure from the primitive simplicity of the eucharistic ordinance which Romanists have transformed in a magic performance of religious charm. A "supper" is something to be partaken of, not to be worshipped. Bread and wine are viands to be eaten and drunk, not to be adored. That on which they are placed is a table, round which the guests gather as for a common meal, not an altar.
The third important part of the mass is the communion by which Catholics have been taught they receive, under the appearance of material elements, the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in his entirety exactly as He is actually living in heaven. However, it must be born in mind that this does not mean that they really believe to eat and drink the material flesh and blood of Christ for such a thing would be a metaphysical absurdity even for Catholics; what they believe in the communion is the sacramental reception of the Lord in their souls substantially, not physically. The holy communion may be received only by those who have been baptized and have the requisite dispositions, namely, state of grace, right intention, and, normally, fasting from midnight. The Council of Trent, after having established that at least once a year the faithful must receive the host, recommended the frequent reception of the communion for the following reasons: "Our Saviour wished that this Sacrament should be received as the spiritual food of souls, whereby may be fed and strengthened those who live the life of him who said 'He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me'; and as an antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and preserved from deadly sin. He would, moreover, have it to be a pledge of our glory to come and everlasting happiness" (Sess. 13, 2).
Usually Christians wonder why the Catholic laity communicate under one kind, namely bread; but Romanists explain that it is because in the Council of Constance (1415) as well as in that of Trent (1545-63) it was stated that Christ is "as much contained under either species as under both; for Christ, whole and entire, exists under the species of bread and under each part of that bread; and whole under the species of wine and under its separate parts . . . and they who receive under one species alone are deprived of no grace necessary to salvation" (Sess. 13, 22). But this explanation is by no means satisfactory, because a practice such as this is thoroughly unscriptural and completely devoids the primary meaning of the Supper. Anyone who has a little knowledge of the Bible may see this. Our Catholic friends should recognize that in taking away the cup from them the Roman Church has violated the commandment of the Lord who requested his followers to communicate under both elements of bread and wine, and has split a ceremony which, being instituted as a meal in loving commemoration of the Lord's death, cannot be rightly celebrated by using only one species. Can there be a complete meal without drink? If the taking of bread alone would suffice for the observance of Christ's ordinance, why, we may ask, did the Roman Catholic Church itself give the wine to the laity for so many centuries previous to such a restriction? Was the church then right or now? This fact is an irrefutable proof that the Church of Rome has gone astray from the apostolic practice still extant in all Eastern churches as well as in the Christian congregations. Our Catholic friends are here confronted with a very serious problem concerning a fundamental belief of Christianity, the second great ordinance of the gospel, the Lord's Supper. Can a Church, which claims infallibility, be fallible on such an important matter of faith? And yet by refusing the wine to its laity and by allowing its faithful to take communion outside the celebration of the Supper the Roman Church has committed the most flagrant disobedience to the commandment of Jesus Christ.
DOCTRINAL CONTENT OF THE MASS
The official definition of the mass can be found in any Roman Catholic catechism, in which it is said that the mass is the sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearance of bread and wine. Cardinal Gibbons defines the mass in this way: "The consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and the oblation of this body and blood to God, by the ministry of the priest, for a perpetual memorial of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The sacrifice of the Mass is identical with that of the cross, both having the same victim and High Priest, Jesus Christ." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 311)
The Council of Trent (Sess. 22, c. 2) declares that only the manner of offering is different, "In the Mass the same Christ is present and immolated in an unbloody manner while on the altar of the cross He once for all offered himself in a bloody manner." On the cross He purchased our ransom, and in the Eucharistic Sacrifice the price of that ransom is applied to the soul. Hence all the efficacy of the Mass is derived from the sacrifice of Calvary. Thus the Mass gives supreme honour and glory to God and offers him thanks for his benefits, both in an infinite degree; moreover, it begs and obtains God's pardon for our sins and is effective in obtaining further graces and blessings, to an extent dependent on the worthiness and devotion of the priest saying the Mass, of the faithful assisting, and of the whole Church on earth. (A Cath. Dictionary, p. 468)
Now, Romanists claim that Jesus Christ did really institute this complicated and highly developed religious ceremony called the mass, and that the apostles taught it and left it to the future Christian generations. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever knew about the Catholic mass and therefore they could not institute or celebrate it as the Roman Catholics pretend. As a matter of fact, it came into being only late in the history of the Church and was an evolution of the Lord's Supper mixed with pagan rites and Jewish ceremonies. In the New Testament there does not even occur the word "mass" by which the "Eucharistic Sacrifice" is meant. The earliest known example of its use is in Ambrose (Epist. 20 ad Marcellinum) "missam facere coepi," and it is unmeaning and inappropriate as a name of the sacrament to which it has accidentally attached itself. Before Gregory the Great (590-604) there was no peculiar liturgy for the celebration of the mass, whose name was certainly taken from an old ceremony common among pagan Roman priests, who, when their devotions were concluded, discharged the throng with the words: "Ite missio est." This, by gradual corruption, passed into missa. In this respect, Polydore Virgil, a Catholic scholar, says: "When the Mass is ended, the deacon, turning to the people, sayeth, "Ite Missa est," which words are borrowed from the rite of the pagans, and signifieth that then their company may be dismissed. It was used in the sacrifice of Isis, that when the observances were duly and fully performed and accomplished, then the minister of religion should give warning or a watchword what time they should lawfully depart. And of this springs our custom of singing Ite Missa est for a certain signification that the full service was finished" (Book 5, c. 9, p. 110). How then can Romanists assert that the Catholic mass was instituted by Jesus Christ? Are their minds completely darkened?
Jesus Christ did not institute anything except the Lord's Supper which is a perennial memorial of his sacrifice upon the cross. In commemorating his precious death we have fellowship and communion with our Lord who is spiritually present in a singular way at the Table when we partake of both elements of bread and wine. For many centuries before the institution of the mass Christians had no other understanding of the Lord's Supper than that expressed in the New Testament with such a beautiful simplicity and spiritual meaning. In 1 Cor. 11:23 ff., Paul emphasized the necessity of being pure and clean without spot in receiving the communion with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, after having given a complete account of the holy ceremony practised by all in the same way he received it: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye and eat: This is my body, which shall be delivered for you. This do for the com-memoration of me. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as often as ye shall drink, for the commemoration of me. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, ye shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come." From the Acts we know that upon the first day of the week the disciples used to meet together not to celebrate the mass, but to break bread, and that is to have the Lord's Supper. From the early history of the church we also know that elders, deacons, cantors, and the entire congregation took part in the eucharistic services, breaking the bread together and partaking of the cup according to the apostolic practice. These services are so clearly described by the fathers that Roman Catholic scholars are often embarrassed when treating on the history of the mass. For instance, Justin Martyr (130) delineates, in the following words, the touching simplicity of the worship as it was practised in the primitive Chris-tionity, which has nothing in common with the Catholic mass: "On the day that is called Sunday, there is an assembly in the same place...and the histories of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read; then the reading ceasing, the president verbally admonishes and exhorts the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise in common and offer prayers, bread and wine and water are offered, and the president offers prayers and thanksgiving . . . and the people joyfully cry out, saying, Amen. And the distribution and the communication is to each of those who have returned thanks... And this food is called by us the eucharist" (2 Apology, p. 97). Roman Catholic theologians do not offer us any scriptural evidence to substantiate their claim, because the biblical references they quote are exclusively related to the Lord's Supper and not to the Catholic mass.
THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS
In all official definitions of the mass Romanists emphasize the sacrificial action of it by affirming that Jesus Christ, instituting the mass, intended it to be a continuing sacrifice, expressing Christian adoration, praise, contrition, and petition. They say that it not only is a commemoration of the sacrifice of the cross, but is itself a true sacrifice in the strict sense of the term. "It is a true sacrifice because it has all the essentials of a true sacrifice: its Priest, Jesus Christ, using the ministry of an earthly representative; its Victim, Jesus Christ, truly present under the appearances of bread and wine; its sacrificial offering, the mystic rite of consecration." That this is another gratuitous assumption of the Roman Catholic Church no conscientious student of Scripture and history may deny. Not only the Romanist statements cannot be justified by the Bible but directly contradict it. In fact, in the letter to the Hebrews it is said very clearly that Christ, once for all, suffered and died on the cross for the salvation of mankind (9:25-26); that there remains no more reason for further sacrifices as far as Christ is concerned (10:26); that he is "our passover," having been sacrificed for us, and no further sacrifice prevails (1 Cor. 5:7). And indeed, in this one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice on Calvary, Christ offered perfect obedience to the Father in the atonement for the sins of the whole world. This was an act of expiation made once and for all and is not repeatable (7:27; 9:27-28). Christians were commanded not to offer unbloody sacrifices as that of the Catholic mass, in which Christ mystically is offered and immolated again upon the altar, but spiritual sacrifices as Peter said: "Ye also, as lively stones, are build up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. 2:5. And the apostle Paul in many instances, like Rom. 12:1; Ph. 4:18; Heb. 13:15-16, has stressed the same thought concerning the only type of sacrifice which was requested of the faithful in the churches of the Lord.
Moreover, we may add that the Petrine and Pauline idea about the new kind of sacrifice to be offered by Christians finds its source in the contemporary Jewish and Greek literature which reflects a clear-cut modification of the traditional meaning of the old sacrifice. Among the Jews the preaching of the prophets had been a constant protest against the grosser forms of sacrifice, and there are indications that when Christianity arose bloody sacrifices were already beginning to fall in disuse; a saying which was attributed by the Ebionites to our Lord repeats this protest in a strong form, "I have come to abolish the sacrifices; and if you do not cease from sacrificing the wrath of God will not cease from you" (Epiph. 30, 16). Among the Greeks the philosophers had come to use both argument and ridicule against the idea that the offering of material things could be needed by or acceptable to the Maker of them all. Among both Jews and Greeks the earlier forms of the idea had been rationalized into the belief that the most appropriate offering to God is that of a pure and penitent heart, and among them both was the idea that the vocal expression of contrition in prayer or of gratitude in praise is also acceptable. The best instances of these ideas in the Old Testament are in Psalms 49 and 50 (King James 50 and 51), and in the Greek literature the striking words which Porphyry quotes from an earlier writer, "We ought, then, having been united and made like to God, to offer our own conduct as a holy sacrifice to Him, the same being also a hymn and our salvation in passionless excellence of soul" (Euseb. Dem. Ev., 3). The ideas are also found both in the New Testament and in early Christian literature: "Let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name" (Heb. 13:15); "That prayers and thanksgiving made by worthy persons, are the only perfect and acceptable sacrifices I also admit" (Just. Mart., Trypho, c. 117); "We honour God in prayer, and offer this as the best and holiest sacrifice with righteousness to the righteous Word" (Clem. Alex., Strom., 7, 6).
Besides prayers, in the Scripture there is mentioned another form of sacrifice, which probably arose from the conception that God, being in an especial sense the protector of the poor, accepts as a sacrifice of praise unto Him, the offerings or alms bestowed upon the needy. Biblical instances of this idea are: "He who doeth alms is offering a sacrifice of praise" (Eccle.); "Thy prayers and thy alms are ascended for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4); "To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:16); so the offerings sent by the Philippians to Paul when a prisoner at Rome are "an odour of a sweet smell, well pleasing to God" (Phil. 4:18). (Encyclop. Brit., vol. 21, p. 138)
Now, from these and other forms of spiritual sacrifices, practised by the Jews and perpetuated in Christianity through apostolic examples, gradually developed the conception that the elements of bread and wine used in the Lord's Supper constituted a true oblation of the fruits of the earth to the Creator and, therefore, came to be considered, in the course of time, as a real sacrifice of the New Law. Elders, called presbyters and priests, became sacrificing mediators between God and men, and the new "Sacrifice of the Mass" was transformed in a cure-all for spiritual and physical ills. But for many centuries before this transformation came into existence the "eucharist" was considered only as a "relationship of glory and benediction and praise and singing," completely ignoring the liturgical ceremonies and sacrificial meaning attached later to the Catholic mass.
Roman Catholic scholars are well aware of the late origin of the sacrificial character of the mass. Rev. Dr. Joseph Pohle, professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Breslau and one of the greatest authorities on the history of the mass, cleverly starts his treatise by quoting Harnack as saying "that the early Church up to the time of Cyprian contented itself with the purely spiritual sacrifice of adoration and thanksgiving, and that it did not possess the sacrifice of the Mass, as Catholicism now understands it." Explaining in more details his thought, the professor goes on to say that "an impartial study of the earliest texts seems indeed to make this much clearer, that the early Church paid most attention to the spiritual and subjective side of the sacrifice and laid chief stress on prayer and thanksgiving in the Eucharistic function... That there has been an historical dogmatic development from the indefinite to the definite, from the implicit to the explicit, from the seed to the fruit, no one familiar with the subject will deny." (Converted Catholic Magaz., April, 1952)
Another Roman Catholic scholar of the 16th century, Melchior Canus, explains how step by step the Lord's Supper was changed into a sacrifice: "When the word 'sacrifice' was used by the Fathers, it was not in the sense in which it is now used; and this is evident from the fact that they used the same term as applied to 'baptism.' Truly, because in baptism we die together with Christ, and by this sacrament the sacrifice of the cross is applied unto us to the full remission of sin, hence they call baptism metaphorically a sacrifice. And for the same purpose did they call the sacrament of the Lord's Supper a sacrifice, metaphorically being a memorial of the sacrifice of the cross." (Theology, vol. 12, pp. 424-426)
From the above statements flows the only logical conclusion that the Catholic mass is neither a sacrifice nor was instituted by Jesus Christ, as Romanists claim, but is a result of tradition grown and developed around the holy ordinance of the Supper.
THE MIRACLE OF TRANSUBSTANTIATION
The heart and core of the mass, according to the Catholics, is in the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which action or miracle is called with a technical term, "transubstantiation." This big word was coined by the theologians at the end of the eleventh century and was officially approved in the Lateran Council of 1215. It comes from the Latin "trans" (beyond) and "substantia" (substance) and is defined by the council of Trent as "the wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood, the species of bread and wine alone remaining." (Sess. 13, c. 2) This means that both the matter and the form of the bread and wine cease to be; that body and blood begin to be in a new way; and that the common bond between these two pairs of terms is the species. (A Cath. Dictionary, p. 528)
After the words of the consecration by the priest, through an alleged miracle Jesus Christ becomes present in both elements with his body, his blood, his soul, and his divinity. And such a presence remains as long as the species are not corrupted. That is why Catholics may adore the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, believing that Jesus is really and constantly present inside the tabernacle. However, it must be repeated here that his presence is not to be understood in a corporeal or fleshly way, as many could be inclined to believe, but in a mystical (spiritual reality) way. According to Aristotle, from whom Thomas Aquinas borrowed his doctrine on transubstantiation, substance is the essence or nature of a thing; that in which the exterior qualities inhere; that which constitutes anything what it is, and therefore it cannot be but a spiritual reality. Now, in transubstantiation this spiritual reality (substance) of bread and wine is changed into the spiritual reality (substance) of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, even this is a miracle which has no ground in the Bible. When Jesus Christ said: "This is my body, this is my blood," he meant that he would be really present in the elements without changing their substance, which would constitute a useless miracle. In other words, he would be with the communicants' souls while they are eating and drinking bread and wine, symbolizing his body and blood, rather than be in the material elements only. Likewise the expression "this do in remembrance of me" is not exclusively referred to the elements, but to the whole service as a commemoration of his sacrifice on the cross.
This is the way in which the Lord's Supper always has been considered in all ages even by the Roman Catholic Church before the doctrine of transubstantiation was introduced. In fact, Gelasius, bishop of Rome in 492 A.D., made a dictum concerning the "eucharist" which is in complete contradiction with the decree of the council of Trent quoted above. He said: "Certainly the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord, which we receive, is a divine thing; because by these we are made partakers of the divine nature. Nevertheless, the substance or nature of the bread and wine cease not to exist; and, assuredly, the image and similitude of the body and blood of Christ are celebrated in the action of the mysteries." We wonder if the fathers of the council of Trent ever read Gelasius' statement which shows such a striking contrast with theirs. We wonder also if, during the definition of the papal infallibility, the fathers of the Vatican Council did notice the contradiction between the decree of pope Gelasius and that of Trent. Anyway, we hope that our Catholic friends will understand at least the difficulty involved in the statements of the Roman Church and be stimulated to study the matter with the seriousness and dedication required by the importance of the issues discussed.
In conclusion, we may say that Jesus Christ did not institute the Catholic mass, which was a gradual evolution and transformation of the Lord's Supper produced within the Roman Church; that he did not intend any other sacrifice except his own made once for all for the salvation of sinners, and, finally, that the central act of Christian worship is not the priestly mass expressed in the transubstantiation, but the one mentioned in the New Testament which commands participation of the Lord's Table upon the first day of every week. We invite our Catholic friends to read these beautiful words of Latimer: "Let us trust upon Christ's only death and look for none other sacrifice propitiatory than the same bloody sacrifice, the lively sacrifice propitiatory than the same bloody sacrifice, the lively sacrifice, not the dry sacrifice but a bloody sacrifice. Christ, our passover, is offered, so that the thing is done and Christ hath done it once and for all and it was a bloody sacrifice."Back to Table of Contents
MARY'S PERPETUAL VIRGINITY
Among the many privileges that Roman Catholics believe to have been bestowed by God upon Mary, that of her perpetual virginity has been considered as one of the most important for its intimate relationship with the birth of Jesus Christ. According to them, Mary, the mother of Jesus, by a unique grace has always remained a virgin: before, during and after the birth of our Saviour. The Baltimore Catechism puts it in this way: "Mary, the Mother of God, remained a virgin not only in the conception of Christ but also in His birth and during the rest of her life." Romanists say that it would be a blasphemy and a sacrilege to believe the contrary, and therefore endeavor to support the doctrine with Scripture references and, of course, tradition expressed in the writings of the Church fathers, especially Origen, Jerome, Ambrosius, and Epiphanius, Needless to say that such a doctrine was introduced in the Roman Church as a result of the effort to adjust Christianity to the custom of contemporary pagan religions which honored goddesses together with gods. Exalting Mary above all God's creatures, it was natural to pave the way for her coronation as queen of heaven, sitting at the right hand of Jesus and in the attitude of dispensing graces in behalf of her devotees. So that, in the process of Mary's deification, she was believed to have been supernaturally conceived, to have lived as a perpetual virgin and without original or other sin, and at death to have been protected from mortal dissolution by the elevation of her body to heaven. Finally, the Very Rev. John A. Flinn, president of the Catholic University of St. John, has assured us, in a public address in March, 1954, that three more Marian dogmas would be established by papal authority within the next hundred years; and that is the belief in Mary as Co-Redemptrix of the human race; as Mediatrix of all graces; and as Queen participating with her Son in the power of ruling the world. It is no wonder therefore that Catholics call Mary, "Mother of God." In the present chapter we shall see what the Scriptures really say about the perpetual virginity of Mary, whom we do honor and respect and admire as the blessed mother of our Lord, but reserving only for God our humble tribute of cult and worship.
"BEHOLD, A VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD"
The wonderful place of Mary in the divine project of redemption has been portrayed by Matthew and Luke in such a way that it does not offer any escape for misunderstanding. The mother of Jesus appears in the gospel as the favorite of God, as the virgin predestined to give human flesh to the eternal Word, as the spouse of the Holy Spirit through whose seed it was made possible for the Son of the Almighty to assume our own nature. For this high and unique privilege of being chosen to become the mother of our Saviour, Mary can be called truly blessed in the truest meaning of the word. In fact, with this sweet appelative name she was greeted by the angel Gabriel in the day of annunciation as it is recorded in the gospel of Luke who preserved for us that touching episode: "And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Luke 1:26-28. With this same expression the cousin Elisabeth welcomed Mary while visiting with her: "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Finally, Mary herself, brimming with joy over being pregnant with the Son of God, foresaw in her beautiful song, "Magnificat," that future Christian generations would call her "blessed":—"My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for, behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." Luke 1:46-48.
The reason for such a distinguished blessing is to be found in the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary while still being a virgin, thus fulfilling, according to Matthew 1:23, the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bring forth a son: and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." Mary, therefore, was the virgin mother of our Redeemer who was born of her in the "fulness of time." With a primitive simplicity Matthew describes this astonishing event as follows: "Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shall call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins." Matt. 1:18-21.
From the above passages of the Scripture we agree with our Catholic friends that Mary was a virgin before the birth of Jesus Christ and that she remained a virgin during the time of her pregnancy. To say the contrary not only would be Scripturally erroneous, but would constitute an explicit denial of the divinity of Christ. In fact, those who believe that Jesus was born from the natural intercourse of Mary with Joseph deny also the divine origin and nature of the Son of God, a thing which is against the revealed truth and which would undermine the very foundation of our Christian faith. But we can in no wise agree with the theory that Mary remained a perpetual virgin during her lifetime because of the unique privilege of being the "mother of God." In no passage of the Bible may we find any hint concerning such a fallacious doctrine, as we shall see in the sequel of our discussion. The name with which faithful Christians shall always call Mary is the same given to her prophetically by the cousin Elisabeth when she first saw her coming unto her house: "And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Luke 1:43. Mary is indeed the mother of our Lord who remained virgin, according to the Scripture, until the birth of Jesus.
TRUE MEANING OF THE VIRGIN BlRTH
When speaking about the birth of Jesus Christ our Christian brethren employ an expression which apparently would seem to support the Roman Catholic belief that Mary remained virgin in the very act of delivery or parturition. But it is not so, because by "virgin birth" they understand that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that Joseph was only the reputed father of the Lord. They acknowledge his divinity by accepting literally the New Testament version of the virginity of Mary. However, in order to avoid confusion, I would like to suggest to change the expression "virgin birth" of Protestant origin to that of "virgin conception" which is more exact and Scripturally meaningful.
In supporting their belief about Mary's virginity in the act of birth, Romanists have no Scripture references to quote, but declare that the fathers of the Church, commenting on the expression of the evangelists, have deduced that Jesus was born without breaking the vaginal organs of his mother. In other words, he passed through the hymen miraculously without opening it. Catholic theologians have also endeavored to explain this miracle with some illustrations. They say that Jesus Christ came forth from the womb of his mother in the same way he rose up from the tomb without breaking the stones or as he entered in the meeting place of his disciples after the resurrection by passing through the closed doors. However, all this is a mere product of imagination and cannot be proved with serious facts. On the contrary, such fathers as Tertullian and Origen, expressly affirmed that Mary was virgin as far as man is concerned but not in relation to Jesus' deliverance, that is, in conception but not in birth. This opinion is in accordance with the Bible and especially with reason. In fact, God in the accomplishments of his purposes does not operate miracles unless they are absolutely necessary. Even Roman Catholics believe in this old saying of the theologians: "Non sunt admittenda miracula sine necessitate" which means that miracles are not to be expected without a necessity. Now, it is not at all believable that God in the birth of his Son worked a completely useless miracle which could have not been checked by anyone and which would have derogated the laws of nature without any reasonable motive. The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ came into this world in the likeness of man, although being a divine person; that he assumed the human nature from the bosom of his mother by the virtue of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, while the virginal conception of Mary is a divine privilege bestowed by God upon her in order to insure the eternal existence of the Word, her alleged virginal parturition or deliverance must be excluded as unscriptural, unreasonable and offensive to the plans of God.
MARY'S VIRGINITY AFTER THE BIRTH
Roman Catholics not only believe that Mary remained virgin before and during the birth of Jesus, but they also claim that she, although living for many years with her husband Joseph, had no sexual relation with him and therefore her virginity was preserved unspotted till the end of her life. Immediate consequence of such a belief is that Mary had neither sons nor daughters, having made in mutual agreement with Joseph a perpetual vow of chastity and virginity which both kept faithfully during their lifetime. In the lack of scriptural passages in behalf of this fantastic doctrine, Romanists have nothing to offer but so-called reasons of convenience. According to them, a Mary with many children would constitute (1) a derogation of Christ's perfection because, being the only begotten Son of God, it would have been inappropriate for him to have brothers and sisters; (2) it would be an offence to the Holy Spirit who, having been in the virginal womb of Mary as in a sanctuary for the formation of the flesh of Christ, would have made it unfitting for her to be touched by man; (3) it would be against the holiness of Mary to suppose that she, not contented to be the mother of such a Son, had renounced willingly her miraculous virginity; (4) finally, it would be against the sanctity of Joseph if he had been so presumptuous as to have sexual relation with a woman who had conceived by virtue of the Holy Spirit. Can we imagine a more vicious reasoning than this one? And yet there are millions of superstitious people who accept as pure gold such extravagant assertions of visionaries.
Moreover, in the process of building up the dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity, Roman Catholic scholars have twisted the Scriptures interpreting the answer of Mary to the angel, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34), as a promise or vow to remain forever a virgin. Some others have arrived at a point of seeing Mary's virginity foretold in the following passage of Ezekiel 44:2: "And the Lord said to me: this gate shall be shut. It shall not be opened and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it." The inference is clear, although extremely vulgar: the gate of Mary's womb was shut to man because through it passed our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be very difficult for us to find a worse example of misinterpretation of God's Word. Even in Scripture Romanists apply their old fallacious principle that the end justifies the means. Everything is good and fitting if it may be used to prove their false tenets. However, they can never prove with the Bible on hand that Mary had no other children besides Jesus. On the contrary, the revelation of God is clear enough to quote from it many passages whose authoritative strength cannot be challenged by any fair-minded person.
THE BRETHREN OF JESUS
That Jesus had four brothers and several sisters is a fact recorded in the New Testament. All those who read without dogmatic prejudices the simple stories of the gospel not only have no reason to evade the natural sense of the several biblical passages concerning the family of our Lord, but they will find it very difficult to interpret them in a different way. In fact, the New Testament literature speaks so clearly and so abundantly about it that it is impossible to change the literal meaning of the Scripture without destroying also its logical connection. When, for instance, Jesus presents his disciples in the place of his brothers (who with his mother had come to take him home), saying,— "Behold my brethren!"—He is not speaking about children of another mother, but about his own natural brothers, otherwise there would be no sense in Christ's expression. In other words, he is contrasting his human family with the divine relationship that he has with those who do the will of God, because he said: "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" Matt. 12:50. Now, if this mother and these brethren should belong to a different family, the previous question of Jesus:—"Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?"—would be completely out of place. But let us examine the Scriptures.
From the first chapter of Matthew we find a clear-cut statement concerning the sexual relations between Joseph and Mary. With a simplicity that shows the knowledge of an eye-witness of the recorded event, the evangelist says: "And Joseph...took unto him his wife. And he knew (possessed) her not till she brought forth her first-born son." Matt. 1:24-25. Despite the efforts to explain the word "till" as denoting only what is done, without any regard to the future, Roman Catholics have not succeeded, however, to give us an understandable interpretation of the whole passage. The evangelist, who shows that he knows very well about other children of Mary and Joseph, was interested in emphasizing the divine origin of Jesus Christ by excluding any sexual relation between them until the birth of our Saviour. In a word, he intended to make it clear that our Lord was not Joseph's son. A different explanation not only would be improper, but would not make any sense at all.
Although in the most ancient manuscripts of Matthew the word "first-born" is omitted, yet we find it in Luke 2:7: "And she brought forth her first-born son." Naturally Romanists say that the meaning of "first-born" is, not that Mary had afterwards any other child, but it is a mode of speech among the Hebrews, to call also the first-born, who are the only children. But, in this case, we do not understand why Luke did not use the expression the "only-son" of Mary as does John when he speaks about Jesus as the "only begotten Son of God." John 1:14-18; 3:16-18.
However, the troubles of Catholics increase when they come to interpret passages such as this: "As he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him. And one said to him: Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee." Matt. 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21. Who are these brethren? Certainly not the sons of Joseph born by a previous marriage as some fathers of the Church insinuate, because there are no evidences substantiating this theory; not the sons of Mary's sisters or brothers as Catholics believe, because they belonged to different families and it was not their business to go around with Mary seeking after Jesus. It is very unlikely that Mary was accustomed to have her nephews accompany her in her researches about her son. Neither can it be said that they were disciples, because John 2:12 distinguishes the "brethren" from the disciples, saying: "After this, he went down to Capharnaum, he and his mother and his brethren and his disciples." At a later stage, the "brethren" are still unbelievers, because in John 7:5 we read: "And his brethren said to him: Pass from hence and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see thy works which thou dost. For neither did his brethren believe in him." Again, the Acts 1:13-14 clearly excludes the "brethren" from the number of the twelve apostles who are listed separately from them: "And when they were come in they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James of Alpheus and Simon Zelotes and Jude the brother of James. All these were persevering with one mind in prayer, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."
Furthermore, in Matthew 13:55-56 (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30) we have even the names of the Lord's brothers and all the context definitely precludes that the evangelist is speaking about brothers and sisters not according to the flesh. Jesus was preaching in his own country, where the people knew him and his family very well and they were scandalized by his conduct, saying: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? And his sisters, are they not all with us?" How then may Catholics say that these were the children of Mary the wife of Cleophas, sister to Mary the mother of Jesus? Such a thing requires us to believe that there were two sisters bearing the same name, Mary, which is unlikely; nor does the text permit us to evade this difficulty by taking "sister" to mean "sister-in-law." According to the logical sense of the text it must be accepted that those brethren and sisters were children of Mary and Joseph, respectively the mother and reputed father of Jesus. Otherwise we cannot understand why the listeners should have cared so much to mention one by one the name of persons who were not directly related to his family. The theory of Jerome, followed by the Roman Catholic Church, that they were cousins of Christ can not be proved in any way. We do not deny that sometimes the Hebrew word for "brother" can have several meanings, but here the question of the language is excluded, because the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the apostle Paul have written in Greek, a language absolutely precise, and they have all called these supposed cousins "the brethren of the Lord." Did not they understand the distinction between the Greek term "anepsios" (cousin) and "adelphos" (brother) ? It is impossible to believe such a thing when we know that Paul writing about Mark called him a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10), while speaking about James called him the brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19). How is it then that they were so confused about such an important matter? But, fortunately for the church of Christ, the confusion is only on the side of Jerome and Roman Catholics who wanted at all costs to build up the dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity.
Besides, we could ask our Catholic friends why Jerome, who advocated the theory of cousins instead of brethren, has translated in his Vulgate as brother and sister the same word that in Hebrew, he says, means "cousin" or something else? It is a fact that there is no ground for assigning to "brethren" the unnatural meaning of "cousins." Jerome's theory was his own private critical theory, unheard of until his time, and in later days declared even by himself to be doubtful (Epistula ad Hedibiam). It is astonishing that it should ever have passed for Catholic tradition.
On the basis of these considerations we invite Romanists to study the Bible without dogmatic prejudices, to interpret it according to the natural and logical meaning of the words, avoiding to confuse the issues with prefabricated traditional doctrines that are in disagreement with the Word of God. Mary's perpetual virginity not only is not based on the Scriptures, but is against them in many ways. The several passages quoted above show unmistakably that the mother of Jesus was a virgin only till the birth of our Lord and that the alleged virginity during and after the birth is nothing else than an imaginary creation of Jerome and followers. A Mary with children is not at all inferior to a Mary ever virgin; nay, according to the Jewish mentality of her time, the blessings of God to a woman were in direct relation with the number of her children. In view of this incontrovertible fact we must deduce that it was reasonable, scriptural, and holy for Mary to live with her lawful husband Joseph in a marital way, instead of creating fantastic tales that are hard to be believed by anyone. The illimitable exaltation of virginity above the marriage status was an idea completely unknown to the Jews and there is no ground in the New Testament to believe the contrary. It came into being only late as an imposition rather than as a recognition. It was a product of tradition rather than the consequence of New Testament teaching. The earlist fathers of the Church never dreamed of interpreting "cousins" in the place of "brethren"; they had clear ideas about "the brethren of the Lord," because they lived in the footsteps of the apostolic traditions. In fact, the most reputable witness on the matter, Hegesippus, a Palestinian Christian Jew of the middle of the second century, in fragments of his writing preserved in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., 2, 23) speaks of James as the "brother of the Lord" and of Jude "called His brother according to the flesh." Likewise Tertullian (180) plainly affirmed that the "brethren of the Lord" signified sons of Joseph and Mary, born after Jesus.
The fact that our Lord when on the cross commended his mother not to his "brethren," but to John does not imply that Mary had no other sons of her own, because we have already seen in John 7:5 that "his brethren did not believe in him" and therefore they were not there on that tragic hour. Jesus was near to die, and his mother was alone, desolate, without anyone who could comfort her; it was natural for our Lord to leave her in the care of his beloved disciple, who was standing with her at the foot of his cross, the only man available in that sorrowful circumstance. Besides, if the Catholic argument would be right we could for the same reason infer that John had no mother at that time, for Jesus said to him with the most clear language, "Behold thy mother," meaning Mary, and yet his own mother was there with him standing beneath the cross. Hence, how may Romanists exploit this simple and absolutely explainable event as an irrefragable proof in behalf of Mary's perpetual virginity?
After the resurrection Jesus converted his brethren, appearing separately to James according to the testimony of Paul (1 Cor. 15:7). We may see all of them in Acts 1:13-14 assembled together with the apostles, the women and the mother of Jesus in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. Later on Paul will testify about James calling him in all simplicity "the brother of the Lord" (Gal. 1:19) and recognizing him as one of the pillars of the Church together with Peter and John. He also will mention the other brethren as working in the Christian ministry: "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as the other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord?" 1 Cor. 9:5.
In conlusion it can be stated without any doubt that the theory of Roman Catholics about the brethren of the Lord is fundamentally wrong, because it can be supported neither by Scripture nor by history. It was suggested by the necessity of defending the invented dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary and, consequently, all intelligent Catholics should refuse to accept both as a matter of faith. Will they have the courage to disclaim a doctrine which scriptural and historical investigation has proved to be untenable? We sincerely hope they will do so for the glory of God and their own personal salvation.Back to Table of Contents
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF MARY
After having secured for Mary the belief in her perpetual virginity, Romanists went further on in their irrepressible enthusiasm to deify the mother of Jesus with the wondrous discovery of another privilege which was said to have been bestowed by God upon her soul at the very act of her conception, namely, the immunity from the stain of original sin. Such a belief received, in the course of time, the official name of Mary's Immaculate Conception and its doctrine is contained in the bull, Ineffabilis Deus, with which Pius IX in 1854 proclaimed to the world this new dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. In it, it is affirmed that Mary "in the first instant of her conception was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." It must be noticed that, contrary to a common error, the doctrine has nothing to do with the virgin-birth of Christ, which is an entirely separated doctrine (Incarnation); nor does it involve a virgin birth of Mary; she was conceived and born physically as any other person, only her soul was preserved from all the stain of original sin the very same instant of her conception, and that is when her soul was united to her body. In other words, unlike every other human being Mary was endowed with God's grace at conception, instead of being conceived and born in original sin. She thus became the new Eve, free from all sin. This doctrine is said to be "revealed by God and therefore must be believed firmly and constantly by all faithful," so that if anyone should dare to deny it, he not only would commit mortal sin, but would be also automatically excommunicated for heresy. (A Catholic Dict., p. 260)
Contrary to the Roman Catholic claim that the belief in the Immaculate Conception "had always formed part of the apostolic faith," we may affirm fearlessly that this doctrine is neither scriptural nor apostolic and came into being very late as a result of the mariolatrous tendency of the Church of Rome. For at least twelve hundred years, in fact, the Immaculate Conception was unknown to the Christian world, and when, later, the doctrine began to be introduced most of the Roman Catholic theologians and saints were against it.
FATHERS AND SCHOLARS OPPOSE DOGMA
Although the feast of Mary's Conception was not introduced into Rome till the end of the fourteenth century by the authority of pope Sixtus IV (1475), a festival in her honor was celebrated long before in several churches outside Italy. It was precisely at Lyons in France where this feast had its first appearance in 1140 and was vehemently opposed by Bernard as a novelty without the sanction of Scripture or of reason. Bernard is a canonized saint of the Roman Church and is considered to be one of the greatest fathers and scholars of all time. In spite of his tender devotion toward Mary, which merited him the title of Doctor Marianus, when he heard of this new festival he wrote an epistle of protest to the church of Lyons, wherein he said: "For this reason our astonishment is not small in seeing that some of you believed to be able to introduce a new feast that is unknown to the rite of the Church, that cannot be approved by reason, that is condemned by the ancient tradition." He asserted that the feast was founded on an "alleged revelation, which is destitute of adequate authority," and asked, "How can it be maintained that a conception which proceeds not from the Holy Ghost, but rather from sin, can be holy? Or how could they conjure up a holy day on account of a thing that is not holy in itself? Do we pretend perhaps of being either more learned or more devout than the Fathers? Do not forget that it is a dangerous thing to wish to do that which their prudence decided that it ought to be omitted. If this were not a thing that at all cost ought to have been omitted, certainly in their diligence and accurateness they would not have omitted it." And he continued to argue in this way: "What other honor should we believe of attributing to Mary? That honor may be had, you say, for her conception, which was anterior to her birth, because without this (conception) neither the other (her birth) should be honored. But then, what would you say if others, according to this your own reason, were to maintain that it is necessary to hold feasts in honor of her parents. That, also, to be logical, then it would be necessary to honor even the grandparents, and great grandparents of Mary. And thus there would be no end at all; and thus there would be feasts without number; and thus the earth would be converted into a paradise... In reality, what logic is ever this, to wish to proclaim holy the conception of Mary because of the fact that it preceded her holy born? Perhaps the birth of Mary was holy because it was preceded by her conception? It is true: Mary was born because she was first conceived. How come that the conception of Mary had in itself the sanctity that should be transmitted to her birth? Or does not it not appear more just to say that Mary once conceived stood in need of sanctification whence to be born only, precisely because sanctity was missing at her conception? Better still do you prefer to say that the sanctity of the conception of Mary is derived from the sanctity of her birth? But this is evidently impossible; because one could understand how sanctity can pass from conception to birth, which is posterior, but one cannot understand how sanctity can ever be able to reverse itself from birth in a retroactive way to the anterior conception."
After having exposed many other reasons why this feast should not be celebrated, St. Bernard concludes: "In general we may say, that although to a few it was conceded to be born holy, to no one however was it granted to be conceived holy. So that for this reason sanctity of conception should remain the privilege of one only, of Him that is, who, entering alone in the world without sin, had to purge all sin, and procure sanctity for all. Jesus Christ alone was therefore conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit, because he alone was holy before and after conception. Only He being excepted, all the others have to repeat the sad words that David used to say about himself: 7 was conceived in iniquity; my mother conceived me in sin.' And if this is so, for what reason will one want to celebrate the feast of conception?" (St. Bernard, Opera Omnia, vol. 1, pp. 390-391, or Migne Patrology, vol. 182, Col. 332)
Long before Bernard, St. Augustine, the greatest mind of the Latin Church, stated unmistakably: "He (Christ) alone, being made man, but remaining God, never had any sin; nor did He take on Him a flesh of sin, though from the flesh of sin of His mother. For what of flesh He thence took, He either when taken immediately purified, or purified in the act of taking it." (De Peccato, p. 61, Paris, 1690)
St. Peter Lombard, like Bernard, held that Mary contracted the stain of original sin: "It can be said, in fact, it must be believed, in virtues of the testimonies of the Fathers, that the flesh assumed by the Word, like all the flesh of Mary before the incarnation, was subject to sin; but afterwards, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was fully cleansed; such that at the moment of the incarnation it was immune from every infection of sin. The Holy Spirit not only cleansed the flesh assumed by the Word, but also completely purged Mary from sin...in such a manner that afterwards she had no inclination to sin." (Converted Catholic Magazine, December, 1951)
Most startling is the testimony of St. Albert the Great who, having written a lot of books about mariology, was called by the Roman Catholic theologians with the colorful title of "The Secretary and Writer of the Mother of God." Notwithstanding his profound reverence for Mary, this great doctor and saint of the Church also explicitly denied that the Virgin was immaculately conceived. "But this is asked on what account and whence it was, that she (Mary) was not conceived without orginal sin? We say that this was impossible, unless she were conceived of a virgin, and so her mother became a virgin mother and this is not her privilege." (Mariale, Opera Omnia, vol. 37, p. 239)
Even Thomas Aquinas, who is considered the greatest scholar of the Roman Church, opposed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as derogating or detracting from the dignity of Christ. In his Summa Theologica he writes: "The blessed Virgin contracted original sin, although she was delivered from it later, because if the soul of Mary were not affected by that sin since she was conceived, it would derogate from the dignity of Christ, who is the sole and universal Saviour of all." (Part III, quest. 27, art. 2)
Of the same opinion also was the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure, whose authority on the matter is very valuable, he being a great theologian of the Franciscan School, which was led by Duns Scotus to be an outstanding advocate and defender of the Immaculate Conception. He openly taught that the sanctification of Mary followed her contraction of original sin at the time of conception, otherwise she could not be sanctified by the grace of God later; and that this was the most common, safe and reasonable doctrine of his time. (III Sentence, quest. 2, art. 1)
Another Roman Catholic scholar, Melchior Canus, who taught dogmatic theology at the University of Salamanca, Spain, and was a delegate theologian at the council of Trent, affirmed with the most surprising clearness: "The doctrine which holds that the blessed Virgin was free from all original sin is nowhere delivered in the Scriptures, according to their proper sense; nay, the general law which is delivered in them embraces all who were descended from Adam, without any exception." And continuing his merciless attack against the doctrine, he adds in direct contradiction to the bull Ineffabilis: "Nor can it be said that this doctrine has descended in the Church by Apostolic Tradition, for traditions of this kind cannot have come to us through any other persons than by the ancient bishops and holy authors who succeeded the Apostles. But it is evident that the ancient writers did not receive their doctrine from their predecessors." (De Locis, vol. 1, p. 337)
Finally, St. Antoninus, who was archbishop of Florence in the 15th century and a highly esteemed author, wrote: "If the Scriptures be duly considered, and the saying of the doctors, ancient and modern, who have been devoted to the glorious Virgin, it is plain from their words that she was conceived in sin." (Theologia, Part I, chap. 2)
The weight of the above statements by so many fathers and scholars was felt by the supporters of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but the explanations given by the latter were not sufficient to remove a conviction which was based on the holy Scriptures. And indeed it is not enough to say that the doctrine was clearly believed in the early centuries, that it became obscure because of the hesitation of many saints and theologians of the Middle Ages and finally that it was clarified and defined as a revealed truth of God a hundred years ago. Such an affirmation must be supported by much better reasons if they want it to stand. The only Scripture quoted in the bull Ineffabilis in order to substantiate the dogma are Gen. 3:15, and Luke 1:28. After the fall of man, God said unto the serpent: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." It is evident here that the seed of the woman is rightly applied to Jesus Christ, but the Catholic (Latin) version of the Bible, in order to make a reference for Mary, reads ipsa (she) referring to Eve (Mary being the second Eve), instead of ipsum (it) referring to the seed (semen) which is according to the Hebrew. The inference is that if Mary had been chosen by God to bruise the head of Satan, she could not have done it in its fullness admitting that even for an instant she had been slave of the devil through the stain of original sin. In the other passage of Luke the salutation of the angel, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," does not mean anything more than its literal sense does express. The same expression is used in the Scripture several times and has nothing to do with the exemption of original sin. Both passages are very weak and modern Catholic theologians easily admit that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception cannot be proved by Scripture alone without the support of oral and written tradition. But in this case they are faced with the embarrassing problem of explaining the long and ponderous tradition against it.
TESTIMONY OF THE POPES
Also the popes, who are supposed to be infallible, have united their voice in condemning directly or indirectly the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Let us look at the declarations of just a few of them:
Pope Leo I (440), who wrote a beautiful treatise on the doctrine of the incarnation, declared: "The Lord Jesus Christ alone among the sons of men was born immaculate." Thus excluding his mother from having the same privilege. (Sermon 24 in Nativ. Dom.)
Pope Gelasius (492), who condemned several heretical practices including communion under one species, transub-statiation, and others which were later accepted as good by his own Church, stated: "It belongs alone to the Immaculate Lamb to have no sin at all." (Gelasii Papae Dicta, vol. 4, col. 1241, Paris, 1671)
Pope Gregory the Great (590) considered as the outstanding pontiff of the first thousand years of the Roman Church, who extended the temporal power and wrote the famous "Dialogues" and an important book of homilies on the gospel, sustained: "For He (Christ) alone was born holy, who, in order that He might overcome 'this condition of corruptible nature, was not conceived after the manner of men." (Homilia in Nativitate)
Pope Innocent III (1216), who brought the papacy to its highest point of splendor and defined the doctrine of transubstatiation, asserted: "She (Eve) was produced without sin, but she brought forth in sin; she (Mary) was produced in sin, but she brought forth without sin." (De Festo Assump., sermo 2)
These few excerpts from the writings of the highest authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, together with the statements of the fathers and scholars, convincingly demonstrate that the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin is not at all a divinely revealed truth, but rather a controversial doctrine that shows the contradictory pronouncements of the popes and leaves the Catholics in a much confused situation. So that a very difficult problem is presented to them through this logical question: "Which pope spoke infallibly?" It is easy to understand the weight of the dilemma which is really sharp pointed. In fact, if they accept as a matter of faith or divine truth the bull, Ineffabilis Deus, of Pius IX, then they are forced to refuse the teachings of popes Leo I, Gelasius, Gregory the Great and Innocent III. On the other hand, if they agree with the teachings of these earlier popes, they are compelled to declare that Pius IX was not infallible in defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and, in this case, they incur the grievous punishments fulminated against the rebels with the following words: "Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare wilfully to deny or to call into doubt that which We have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic faith."
THE WORD OF GOD
However there is a solution for the confused Roman Catholics, who are willing to find the truth and thus avoid further troubles for themselves, and that is, seek the answer in the Bible, in the true Word of God, which is both divinely inspired and revealed, and without contradiction. In this holy book, in fact, not only do we not find anything to substantiate the Immaculate Conception, but we do find many passages that are against it. The same passages from which they deduce the doctrine of original sin admit of no exceptions. From the Old Testament we have David, the sweet singer of Israel, who cries for himself and for all mankind, including of course Mary: "Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Ps. 51:5. And the patient Job saw no possibility for any human being of having a spotless thing from an unclean, when he asked: "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." 14:4. In the first book of Kings it is said explicitly: "For there is no man that sinneth not." 8:46. Moreover, David describes the corruption of a natural man repeating several times: "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." Ps. 14:3. Upon which promise, therefore, was Mary excluded from this original impurity or corruption?
In the New Testament Paul affirms without any exception that all have sinned: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Rom. 3:23-24. If Mary had been conceived immaculate, she would have had no need of redemption thus frustrating the divine plan of salvation. The same apostle emphasizes the universality of sin in Rom. 5:12: "As by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men (including Mary), in that all (even Mary) have sinned." And again in 1 Cor. 15:22: "In Adam all die" Neither can it be said that the Virgin was conceived immaculate for a singular and gratuitous privilege of God, as the Romanists say, because such a privilege should be mentioned somewhere in the divine revelation. Besides, the idea that in consequence of her immaculate conception she became sinless or impeccable must be excluded also, because we read in 1 John 1:8: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." On the contrary it is true that all the prerogatives advocated for Mary can be applied only to our Lord Jesus Christ. He has been the only one to be conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit and therefore he is truly immaculate, sinless, and impeccable. He and he alone was free in every way from sin, and was so because he was "separate from sinners." Heb. 7:26. On this account St. Ambrose, another great figure of the Latin Church, proclaims: "Of all that are born of women, the Holy Lord Jesus was the only one who experienced not the contagion of earthly corruption by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth." (De Peccato, Bened. Ed., Paris, 1686)
In conclusion therefore we may say that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is unscriptural, unapostolic, and unacceptable, because it is contrary to the written Word of God, is against the early and late tradition of the Church and, finally, is also against reason. Until 1854 most of the fathers and teachers of the Roman Catholic Church were opposed to it, and later, only the fear of excommunication restrained others from protesting against a doctrine which is dangerously shadowing the marvelous light of the saving work of our Redeemer whose holy sacrifice was necessary for all of us as well as for Mary. That is why we invite our Catholic friends to abandon this useless dogma proclaimed by Pius IX alone without the consent of a general council and through the evident and sinister influences of Franciscans and Jesuits who wanted a dogmatic victory over the hated Dominican scholars, who had continuously opposed the doctrine since its introduction, following the glorious path of Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great. We would like to see all Roman Catholics make a courageous step and boldly refuse their superstitious belief in the Immaculate Conception. We would like to see them exalting and magnifying the Son in the place of the mother, and confessing that "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phil. 2:11.Back to Table of Contents
THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY INTO HEAVEN
Immediate consequence of Mary's Immaculate Conception is her bodily assumption into heaven. By another unique and extraordinary privilege, Romanists say, the Virgin's body was miraculously spared from the corruption of the grave and taken up by the angels of God into the glory of paradise. Invented toward the end of the sixth century such a story became, in the gradual process of transforming the humble mother of Jesus into a pagan goddess, an important belief of the Roman Church and when, lately, it was proclaimed a dogma of faith Catholics greeted it as the crowning jewel for their "Queen of heaven." In fact, according to them, in the crown of Mary's glory there was a missing jewel until the definition of that dogma on November 1, 1950. Pope Pius XII, after having consulted 1550 bishops, archbishops, and cardinals of the Roman hierarchy, proclaimed on that date, as universal teacher of the Church, that the bodily assumption of the Mother of God into heaven is an article of Catholic faith, thus adding to her crown the last missing jewel. So, a doctrine founded exclusively on tradition, marked by a complete absence of any document or reference in the first six centuries, result of theological and philosophical deductions based on false premises, was solemnely elevated and consecrated to the rank of revealed truths contained in the Bible. How a Church that claims to be infallible interpreter and custodian of the divine deposit of revelation could reach such an extreme position is hard to tell. Many learned Catholics are still shocked by a definition that seems to be in contradiction with the traditional procedure of their own Church which has always appealed to Scripture in its previous dogmatic pronouncements. For this very reason the Roman hierarchy has even tried to change her view about tradition once based on the historical succession from the apostolic time on or vice versa. The answer given is that "historic proof of continuity back to apostolic times is not the only way to prove a tradition; proof enough can be found in the living belief of the present Church." (McVann, The Assumption, p. 9)
DOCTRINAL MEANING OF ASSUMPTION
The doctrine of this new dogma holds that the mother of Jesus at the end of her earthly life was taken into heaven by divine power. It means that as soon as Mary died, she was granted the unique privilege of an anticipated resurrection. Instead of awaiting until the last judgment like the souls of the blessed ones, her body was reunited with her soul, and now is living in glory with her entire nature just as Jesus Christ does. In one of the earliest records concerning the Assumption Mary's body is described as being carried up in a cloud: "The Lord commanded that the holy body (of the Virgin) be taken up and carried in a cloud to paradise, where after rejoining her soul she now rejoices with the elect and enjoys the endless blessings of eternity." (Gregory of Tours) This description is very much akin to the legend of Romulus, the founder of Rome, who at his death occurred in 716 B.C. was said to have been carried up to the heavens in a chariot of fire, where he became a god and undertook the merciful business of dispensing graces and blessings upon his Roman followers, precisely as the Blessed Virgin has been affirmed as doing. It is no wonder therefore that all the privileges attributed to her have been proclaimd from the same city that Romulus built.
In the beginning, the feast of Mary's Assumption was celebrated under different titles, as Falling Asleep, All-holy Mother of God, Departure or Dormition, all meaning the same thing. In one of his sermons on the feast of the Falling Asleep of Mary, the patriarch Modestus of Jerusalem says: "O most blessed Dormition of the glorious mother of God, always a virgin, who never knew the decay of the sepulcher because our Almighty Saviour Jesus Christ kept intact the flesh of which He was born . . . The most glorious mother of Christ our Saviour and our God, who gives life and immortality, was raised again by Him, shares incorruption with Him for all ages — with Him who reclaimed her from the tomb and took her to Himself, as He Himself knows, to whom be glory and empire with the Father and the Holy Spirit."
Roman Catholics are good enough to assure us that the doctrine of Mary's Assumption is not to be found either in the Scripture or in the early tradition of the Church. It is only a logical consequence of a false premise, namely that Mary was born without the original sin. The reasoning goes on as follows: in the ordinary course of life death comes to every human being as the result of Adam's fault. Christ conquered sin and death with his sacrifice of the cross, and those who through faith and baptism are born again have also, through Christ, overcome sin. However, even the bodies of the righteous are subject to corruption and only at the Last Day are joined again with their redeemed souls. But this was not the fate of Mary's body which was spared from corruption through a miraculous intervention of God. The doctrine of Assumption is therefore a direct consequence of the Immaculate conception of Mary. Because she was born without original sin her body could not possibly be slave of corruption, death being precisely imposed as a punishment of that sin. Pius XII in defining the dogma explains it in this way: "Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body."
JUSTIFICATION FOR THE DOGMA
In order to justify the definition of a doctrine that has neither scriptural nor historical support, the Roman Church has been forced to produce by necessity some theological reasons of expediency. Pope Benedictus XIV listed them as follows: "The dignity of the Mother of God, her excellent virginity, her surpassing holiness beyond that of men and angels, her close union with Christ her Son, and Christ's own regard for his most worthy mother." The theologians say that these five reasons can be synthesized into one, Mary's divine motherhood. In this respect, Thomas Aquinas argues: "By the fact that she is Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin has a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good that is God." A position such as this makes Mary a unique creature, and allows the conclusion that she could not have been likened even at the time of death to other human beings. In his Mariology (vol. 2, ch. 8), Father Matthias Sheeben considers the Assumption under this very aspect, saying that Mary was exempted from the dominion of death, from the decomposition of her body, and, finally, from the separation of her soul from her body.
As to the first point, Mary really died. "But because of her freedom from sin, the universal law of death touched her in a different way than it affects those who sin. Her death was painless, an act of love, a conformity to Christ, a true 'falling asleep,' a 'temporary retreat from bodily life.'"
Second, Mary's body escaped corruption. According to Father Sheeben, "there is something noble in death; but decomposition is at best shameful, a last earthly remnant of the curse of sin. For reasons analogous to those of Christ, bodily decay was entirely out of keeping with Mary's dignity and place. Just as she enjoyed incorruption of her virginity at the conception of her Son, at His birth, and in the absolute sinlessness of her emotional life, so now she enjoyed bodily incorruption. St. Andrew of Crete had written, 'As the womb of her who brought forth the Redeemer remained ever incorrupt, so likewise her dead body never perished.'"
Third, the last consequence of Mary's exemption from the dominion of death was the assumption itself. The reasoning is presented in this way: "Of the work of redemption the first outcome was the bodily resurrection of Christ, as the perfect victory over evil; and the ultimate outcome will be the bodily resurrection of all the just at the end of the world. Mary, like a second Eve undoing the harm of the first, shared in that redemptive work of her Son. She shared in it not only as a beneficiary but also as its chief human instrument; and furthermore, an instrument whose work of mediation would go on in heaven. In a manner her part likened her more to Christ than to the other redeemed. So her own resurrection should be more like her Son's—not postponed to the end of time." (The Assumption, pp. 27-30)
However, the theological inferences reached by Romanists have no foundation whatever on facts, they are only based on conveniency or fitness. "It was fitting," they conclude, "that Mary's body, the instrument of her divine motherhood, should share in the heavenly life of her soul." But, it is evident that the addition of many such reasonings cannot bring forth any serious proof. On the contrary, we can affirm without fear of being mistaken that the dogma of Assumption is against Scripture, against tradition, and against the Catholic dogma of papal infallibility.
ASSUMPTION CONTRADICTS SCRIPTURE
Although Romanists readily concede that the dogma of Assumption cannot be proved with the Bible, yet they say that it is not against it. To disprove such an erroneous position it is enough to quote Ps. 16:10, in which David prophetically speaks about the future resurrection of Jesus Christ: "For thou will not leave my soul in hades; neither will thou suffer thine Holy One see corruption." To no other human being was ever made such a promise, not even to Mary, as Catholics claim. In fact, Peter, quoting later this very passage in his sermon of the Pentecost, affirmed in unmistakable terms that only to Jesus Christ was given the unique privilege to be raised up from the death (Acts 2:30-31). No provision was contemplated for others. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul excluded peremptorily any exception when he said in 1 Cor. 15:21-23: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." Until the second coming of Christ therefore no one can expect an early resurrection like that asserted for Mary. This is the provision established by God for all human beings. How could Mary be exempted from similar destiny? The alleged Assumption of the mother of Jesus however fitting it may be for the Roman Church, is not at all scriptural; nay, it is against God's plan as revealed in the Bible. As such it should be repudiated by all Catholics of sincere faith and open mind exactly as it has been done by the distinguished convert Robert Speaight who wrote to the London Tablet, on the eve of the proclamation, a powerful protest against defining the Assumption of Mary an article of faith.
ASSUMPTION AGAINST TRADITION
Not only is the doctrine of Assumption against Scripture, but it is also irreconcilable with the facts of history. For many centuries, in fact, it was unknown to the fathers, and when insinuated in the Church it was discovered to be a result of an apocryphal book. In the fifth century there was spread among Christians an apocalyptic story that claimed to be "An Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God." It was also called the Departure of Mary. In such a novel are told wondrous and extravagant things that happened at the death of Mary, whose body is affirmed to have been raised up from the dead and translated by the angels to heaven in order to be reunited with her soul. Even Romanists say that the book is apocryphal and perhaps the work of a Gnostic. Nevertheless, a few credulous bishops, like Gregory of Tours (596) and Modestus of Jerusalem (635), presented the apocryphal story as a matter of revelation and unfortunately it was accepted as such by the following superstitious generations until the papal definition of 1950 put on it the irrevocable seal of faith. However, the dogma contradicts openly the old tradition of the Roman Church whose attitude was well expressed by the monk Sophronius when he wrote from Jerusalem about Mary: "Many of us doubt whether she was assumed together with her body or departed without her body. How, or when, or by whom her most holy body was taken from there, or where it was taken, or whether it rose again, is not known." Still in the ninth century St. Ado, in his Martirology omitted purposely to mention the feast of Mary's body because, he says, that the Church prefers to ignore the matter "rather than to teach anything frivolous and apocryphal by holding it." It is evident that the Roman Church in defining the new dogma reversed or contradicted itself, and has been forced to change its traditional teaching on tradition by inventing the peregrine theory that the Church does not need any more "an unbroken chain of historical proof that a tradition existed all the way to apostolic times; that adequate evidence for a dogma is its acceptance throughout the Church of a given age."
To this may be added the following consideration: how is it possible to believe that the Assumption of Mary is a truth revealed by God when the apostle John to whose care Jesus left his mother and in whose house most likely she died, did not give us any hint about such a stupendous miracle that at the distance of 1950 years would have become an article of the Catholic faith? He wrote a gospel, three letters, and the book of Revelation or Apocalypse after Mary had already passed away from this world, and yet he did not write a line to record such a marvelous event. Can we suppose that such a wonder as the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven would have been purposely omitted by the inspired writer when, later on, the faithful would celebrate the miracle with gorgeous ceremonies and profound devotion? We leave these unanswered questions to the clever imagination of our Catholic friends.
ASSUMPTION AGAINST PAPAL INFALLIBILITY
Finally, the dogma of Assumption destroys the fundamental principle upon which Romanists base the infallibility of the pope. In the Vatican Council it was established that "the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that they might make a new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the Revelation of the Deposit of Faith which has been handed down from the apostles." Now, in the definition of the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven, a new doctrine has been created and a new dogma imposed on the faithful without support either from the Scripture or from tradition. In this respect, Father McVann candidly says that "to find adequate justification for the Assumption in Scripture is impossible. Both John Damascene and Thomas Aquinas say that it is not contained there. . . The history of the doctrine in the age of the Fathers shows no record of a belief for six centuries; then a tradition marked in the Church's simple acceptance and in its worship, but confused because of the disrepute of an apocryphal account; then the unruffled account among the last of the Fathers." Can such sources justify the new dogma? Is there any warrant to allow the definition of an article of faith? And yet the Roman Catholic Church in spite of subverting its previous dispositions concerning apostolic tradition and papal infallibility, has proclaimed as a matter of belief a doctrine that marks a serious departure from the Bible and is derogatory of the glory and worship due to Jesus Christ alone. For this reason we earnestly hope and pray that our Catholic friends will recognize that the Assumption of Mary is indeed a man-made doctrine and, consequently, has nothing to do with their loyalty to God and to Christ, the only one who had been raised up from the dead according to the Scripture, and through whom we may have assurance of our future resurrection in the end of time.Back to Table of Contents
In the haste of bringing to an end the present book we have perhaps missed giving more stress to the practical side of our personal evangelism among Roman Catholics, emphasizing in its stead the doctrinal differences that divide the Church of Rome from the followers of the Word of God. While this could be taken as a lack or defect on our part, we must candidly affirm that we have done it rather intentionally because we believe that there is no better method in religious evangelism than to clarify, above all, the controversial issues that constitute the fundamental cause of misunderstanding. Naturally we feel that clarification is only possible through a detailed exposition of both sides of the problems in discussion, and this we have tried to do according to the best of our ability. However, in the introduction we have presented several suggestions concerning the gradual steps that we have to take in order to approach successfully our Catholic friends. It is not our intention therefore to repeat ourselves, but we would like to add a few more things to those already said, hoping and trusting that our efforts in winning Catholics for Christ may be rewarded with gratifying results.
First, in teaching our friends we should be sure to have the right attitude and disposition. Very often our failure in converting them can be blamed on us rather than on them. Perhaps we did not have the right attitude and did not study enough the practical situation, the disposition of the people and their need. Sometimes a method good for one is not satisfactory for another, a lesson used in one occasion can be obsolete or untimely in a different one. Jesus Christ preached in one way to the Samaritan woman and in another to the adulteress. He did not give to Nico-demus the same lesson that he gave to Zacchaeus. The apostle Paul did not teach the Athenians in the same way he taught Lydia or the jailer. So, let us try to understand the character and inclinations of the different people and teach them the right things with the right attitude.
LOVE FOR HUMANITY
Second, let us have and show genuine love for humanity. Nothing can bring us closer to our fellow-men than to show them our sincere love and interest for their souls. There is neither a greater nor more efficacious appeal in the world today than the love for others. This is, however, one of the most essential commandments in the Bible: "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The gospel message is nothing else but love. The stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan have always exercised a tremendous appeal on the hearts of men. So, let us have a working love toward others, and especially toward those whom we want to convert. Let us help them even at our own cost, even making personal sacrifices in their behalf. Like Jesus we should be ready to say: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13. If we are willing to suffer and even to die for the spiritual salvation of our friends then we will do everything in order to convert them.
Third, let us be wise in discussing with people, choosing the words we have to say and the doctrine we have to expound. We read in Prov. 25:11-12: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear." Sometimes we rush ourselves saying things which should be said in a different way or in a different time. We must be sure that people are mentally prepared to receive our lesson, otherwise they will turn away from us or reply to us with unpleasant or tricky words. Jesus told us to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Matt. 10:16. Oftentimes worldly people use more intelligence and wisdom in their businesses than we do in our work for Christ. Let us therefore have prudence and wisdom in our personal evangelism in order that we may avoid Christ's warning: "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." Luke 16:8.
GRACE AND GENTLENESS
Fourth, let us have grace in our speech exactly as the apostle Paul suggested to the Colossians (4:6): "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Harsh discussions are to be avoided as well as offensive remarks, but in all humility and understanding, smiling even when cursed, teach with gentleness and patience. To his beloved disciple Timothy Paul did recommend the very same thing: "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." 2 Tim. 2:24-26.
Fifth, let us spread a sweet-smelling ordor of holiness around us. If we really want to convert others we must first convert ourselves to a life of obedience, love and self-denial. The lesson of good example is the best talk we can ever make. Our evangelistic success is to a great extent depending on our own behavior. As Christians we ought to set a good example in all the manifestations of our interior and exterior life. That is why Paul warned us: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." Eph. 4:29. However, good example does not mean frigidness or legalism, it is the fruit of our wholesome dedication and consecration to our Lord Jesus Christ through faith and love. Being the temple of the Holy Spirit we ought to live a godly life, a Christlike existence in order that others may see in us the transforming power of the gospel. Only then shall we be able to teach and answer the questions of our friends according to Peter's admonition: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." 1 Pet. 3:15.
If our personal work of evangelism is based on such principles as those suggested above we can be sure that our Lord will bless our efforts in a truly providential way and we shall be comforted with abundant and lasting results.
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO OUR CATHOLIC FRIENDS
We have presented to you, dear friends, some of the best known tenets held by your Church. We have tried to be fair in exposing the doctrinal side of the problems at hand, having in mind to show you the inconsistencies between the Word of God and the traditional dogmas of Romanism. Perhaps, sometimes, in the enthusiasm of the discussion, our pen has been too strong in condemning or tearing down doctrines built up by men in the course of the centuries. Our sincere love for the truth has put in our mouth at times satiric remarks, ironical expressions, positive statements that to you may seem unfair, dogmatic or authoritarian. We may assure you, dear friends, that this has not been done intentionally, and we are ready to apologize for any misstatement or incorrectness that we have made, for any offensive word that we have written, because we love you with the same love of Jesus Christ. All our efforts have been centered in finding the truth regardless of the different opinions of men and, consequently, we have used all means in our possession in order to reach a definite conclusion for each doctrine, according to the inspired records contained in the Bible. We have discarded by principle any authority of man and accepted as means of discrimination and criterion of truth the revealed Word of God. We cannot find in this world an authority greater than that of God, and therefore in any conflict between man's authority and God's authority we have chosen the latter and repudiated with firmness and eagerness the former even when vested in the person of the pope or of the Church. There cannot be contradiction between God and his church, if there is, it simply means that the great apostacy foretold by Paul in many of his letters has changed the church into a man-made organization, and therefore it is no more the church of the Lord.
Being sure of such a truth we invite you, dear friends, at the end of your first reading of this book, to read it again and without prejudice, in case your mind is still doubtful; and, after having given to each problem a more serious consideration, decide frankly whether Romanism or Christianity is the answer to your quest for truth. We ask you for the sake of your eternal salvation to shake from your shoulders, once and for all, the unbearable burden of papal inventions and impositions in order to become a free child of God, after having believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is your personal Savior and Mediator and after having been buried with Him in the water of regeneration.
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