Vincentian Canon and Unanimous Consent of the Fathers

In the mid 17th century English Protestant divine William Chillingworth derided the concept of an unbroken apostolic tradition. In his book Religion of the Protestants, Chillingworth asserted that "There have been popes against popes: councils against councils: councils confirmed by popes against councils confirmed by popes: lastly the church of some ages against the church other ages" [1]. This assertion attempts to negate the force of the Catholic argument that Protestantism is not a fitting expression of Christian unity, since Protestant sects contradict each other. Chillingworth argued that the Catholic "unanimous consent of the fathers" is a mere illusion, a dream of Catholic apologists. It was Chillingworth's argument in part that prompted Cardinal Newman to write his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Newman, like many Catholic apologists, responded to this attack referring the principles of the Vincentian Canon.

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The Visible Church

Though Protestants and Catholics have many points of disagreement, it seems the most fundamental area of conflict has to do with the nature of the Church. Is the Church a visible, physically identifiable reality with an institutional government that keeps guard over doctrine and discipline, or is it a kind of invisible, loose union of various communities of Christians with different opinions on doctrinal questions and no institutional reality beyond the local level? Both Protestants and Catholics acknowledge the Church has an invisible, supernatural element; Catholics, however, assert that in addition the Church has a physical, visible side - that it is physically identifiable on this earth. Protestants, following Luther, tend to view the Church as a fundamentally invisible reality. In this essay, we will examine the biblical passages that point to the Church as a physical, institutional reality in conformity with Catholic Tradition.

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Grandchildren for God? A Primer on Infant Baptism

A few years ago, I was having lunch with the Sarasota chapter of the Full Gospel Businessman's Fellowship, a group of Protestant businessmen who gather regularly to talk about business, politics, religion or whatever - it is largely a Protestant social networking organization. The conversation was light; I was the only Catholic among the group, and while I was willing to scatter seed where I could, it was not the ideal moment for an intense debate. All of the sudden, one of the older gentleman at the luncheon gazed at me and said, "Do you know what God has against the Catholic Church?" "Please tell me," I responded. "God said, 'Give me children', but the Catholic Church gave Him grandchildren." It took me a while to catch his meaning, but finally it dawned on me; he was referring to the practice of infant baptism. His quip about "grandchildren" referred to Catholic believers initiating their children into the faith when they are too young to make the commitment themselves.

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Is Halloween Pagan?

If you are Catholic, you know that the title of this is a loaded question. If we mean "is the liturgical commemoration of All Saints' Day upon which Halloween is based pagan?", the answer is an obvious and resounding no. But if we mean "is the modern popular celebration of Halloween, with its twofold focus on consuming immoderate amounts of  sugared sweets and glorifying everything bizarre and dark, a reflection of pagan sentiment?", then I think we could answer in the affirmative. Even if there is no historical connection between Halloween celebrations and pre-Christian paganism, the mass-marketed "Halloween" is certainly a manifestation of neo-pagan modernism.

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Protestant Implications for Doctrine and Unity

In this article, I'd like to break from my normal genre and speak directly to our Protestant friends for a moment. Not about any particular point of dogma, but about the concept of dogma itself, and how this relates to the question of Christian unity. What, for a Protestant, is dogma? How do you Protestants define it? For a Catholic, a dogma is a teaching that has been revealed by God and must be believed with the assent of faith that is due to God, who cannot lie and whose teaching is sure - and what falls into this category is defined by the Church's Magisterium. But for a Protestant, what is dogma? And how does it relate to the concept of Christian unity?

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Virgin Mary Crucified?

In their attempts to discredit Catholic veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and demonstrate that Mary takes the place of Jesus in Catholic piety, Protestants have sometimes made the assertion that different Catholic shrines around the world depict Mary as crucified for the sins of mankind, essentially sending the message that Mary, not Jesus, is the Savior of the world. This accusation appears in the popular evangelical book Fast Facts on False Teachings by Ron Carlson and Ed Decker (2003), where the authors speak of an altar in the Cathedral of Quito, Ecuador, that features an altar with a crucified statue of Mary above it. The same accusation is made in the video Catholicism: Crisis of Faith by Lumen Productions, an anti-Catholic video produced by disgruntled ex-Catholics. The implication is that Catholics believe they owe their salvation to Mary, not Jesus.

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I am of Paul, I am of Apollos

 In the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we see Paul in two distinct places giving warnings to the Corinthian Church about boasting about their ministers. The Church in Corinth had been built up by St. Paul with the help of Apollos, an Alexandrian Jewish convert who was known for his erudition and powerful preaching. Shortly after the founding of the Church of Corinth, around 55 AD, dissension and schism broke out among the Christians there over sectarian disputes. It is regarding these disputes that Paul addresses the following passage:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you: but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me, my brethren, of you, by them that are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?...For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of speech, lest the cross of Christ should be made void" (1 Cor. 1:10-13, 17).

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Petra vs. Petros: The Silence of Luther and the Greeks

If petros and petra are such astonishingly different words in the Greek that upon their meaning hinges the validity of the papacy, why did neither Martin Luther nor the Greek Orthodox take notice of this fact in their disputes with the popes? Most educated Catholics are probably familiar with the argument raised by non-Catholics about Peter being called the "Rock" in Matthew 16 that is based upon drawing a distinction between the two Greek words petra and petros.

If you are not familiar with this argument, Google it and you'll come up with a lot of material on it from Protestant and Catholic apologists. I think it is a rather weak argument; Patrick Madrid has dealt with it admirably here. Catholic Answers has a helpful tract about the topic as well, and Steve Ray's book Upon This Rock uses a plethora of sources, including Protestant scholarship, to dismantle this common Protestant objection.

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The Pridefulness of Sola Scriptura

Besides the many arguments against the Protestant concept of Sola Scriptura from history, Scripture and logic, I think we could posit another fourth category of objections based on the subjective dispositions such a doctrine brings about in those who adhere to it. It is my contention that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura leads to a prideful disposition in the soul, which is forced by logical necessity to invest its own opinions with the authority of divine revelation. The Catholic teaching of an authoritative Church that hands on doctrine, however, leads the soul to humility and docility, for the doctrine is received as a gift given gratuitously. Let us examine this further.

Catholics and Protestants come at the truth through two different avenues. In Catholic theology, we look at the content of Divine Revelation and interpret it through the lens of our own tradition, which we hold to be authoritative. Thus, while certain questions are open for discussion, there are many others which we hold as "settled."
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St. James and St. Paul on "Works of the Law"

In any discussion with Protestants about how we are saved, the Catholic who insists on the reality of merit and the efficacy of good works done in grace will inevitably be countered by biblical passages that seem to indicate that our salvation is not contingent upon anything we do. What are the relevant biblical passages in this debate, and what is their true meaning? In James 2:24, St. James clearly says, “Man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (the only time the phrase "faith alone" appears in the Bible). For a Catholic, this could not be more clear. Yet Protestants will typically counter by turning to St. Paul's discussion of justification in Romans, specifically Romans 3:28, where St. Paul says precisely the opposite of St. James: "We hold that man is justified by faith apart from works of law." What is the solution here?

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