Monthly Archives: October 2013

How Can Mary Hear Thousands Simultaneously?

In his 1999 book, Evangelical Answers – A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists, Eric Svendsen claims the Catholic Church makes Mary into not just a god, but the God:

Suppose someone in the United States were to pray to Mary at a certain time during the day. Suppose further that, at exactly that same moment, someone in Europe begins also to pray to Mary… suppose at that same moment hundreds of thousands of devoted Catholics all over the world begin praying the rosary… In order for Mary to hear all those prayers at once she would have to be omniscient (“all-knowing”)—an attribute that is the property of God alone.

The simplest Catholic response would be to first reference Rev. 5:8:

And when [Christ, the lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints…

Catholics simply believe this text of Scripture. These twenty-four elders are human beings in heaven and they are depicted as “each one [having] vials of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (emphasis added). Each one of them was responding to multiple prayers from multiple people. What does that mean? It means these saints in heaven somehow have the power to do what Eric Svendsen claims to be “the property of God alone.” Obviously, it is not. We would do well to recall the words of Sacred Scripture at this juncture: “With God all things are possible” (cf. Luke 1:37). If we have faith, we will have no problem with believing God’s word over our own feeble and fallible intellects.

Moreover, we also see this same ministry being performed by the angels in Revelation 8:3-4:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Not only are the saints and angels depicted as hearing the prayers of multiple people at the same time, but these prayers are then taken to God and they affect change on the earth as symbolized by the “peals of thunder, loud noises, etc.” I once had a Protestant pastor I was debating say to me when I presented this text to him, “There is no evidence that these saints and angels hear and comprehend those prayers. They just take them to God.” Obviously, the language of “being given incense” representing the prayers of the saints is metaphorical. One cannot “grab a hold of prayers” without knowing what they are any more than one can grab a handful of incense. In order for these pure spirits in heaven to “take prayers” to God, they must be intellectually comprehended and then communicated.

And when you think about it, why wouldn’t they? If Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of God and “he always lives to make intercession for [us]” as Hebrews 7:25 says, would not the angels and saints want to do what Jesus does? I John 3:1-2 says if or when we get to heaven, “We will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Why would the saints in heaven see Jesus interceding for us on earth and just sit around and watch him without joining in on the prayer? They would want to do what Jesus does and Jesus would want them to do what he does as well. That’s what “following Jesus” is all about!

LET’S GET METAPHYSICAL

But we still haven’t answered Svendsen’s main objection. We need to demonstrate the reasonableness of Rev. 5:8. If infinite power is required for the saints and angels in heaven to hear multiple prayers simultaneously, it is true, only God would be up to the task. Even more, God could not communicate this power outside of the godhead because that would be tantamount to creating another infinite God, which is absurd. God alone is the one, true and infinite God by nature and there can be no other (cf. Is. 45:22).

So, would it require infinite power to hear the prayers of, let’s say, one billion people at the same time? The answer is no. One billion is a finite number. So it would not require infinite power. If we take a look at this universe of ours and consider that we are beings on one planet in one solar system amid billions of stars in one galaxy among billions of galaxies, we are a drop in the ocean next to the vastness of space. All the power a saint, like Mary, would need would be enough to hear just these little creatures on this one little blue dot called “earth.” We are not even in the ballpark of “infinite power” here.

I have to give Eric Svendsen credit because in response to my colleague, Patrick Madrid, who made this very same argument that I just made, Eric Svendsen makes a very insightful critique:

But Madrid’s suggestion creates so many consequent theological difficulties that it is difficult to believe he could be satisfied with it. One may as well argue that omniscience is not needed even by God himself since all things that can be known—no matter how many—are nevertheless limited to a finite number.

In spite of Madrid’s assertions to the contrary, one must indeed be omniscient or omnipresent (or both) before he can hear more than one prayer at a time.

When Svendsen says “omniscience is not needed even by God himself,” he betrays a lack of understanding of the Catholic and biblical position on this matter. Apart from a gift of grace, it would be impossible for created, human nature to be able to hear the prayers of millions at once and to be able to respond to them all. In fact, I argue it would be beyond unaided angelic power as well. God alone can do these things by nature and absolutely.

St. Thomas Aquinas answers this question succinctly when he says the ability to perform actions that transcend nature comes from a “created light of glory received into [the] created intellect.” It would require infinite power to “create the light” or the grace given to empower men and angels to act beyond their given natures. Only God can do that. But it does not require infinite power to passively receive that light. As long as what is received is not infinite by nature or does not require infinite power to comprehend or to be able to act upon, it would not be beyond men or angel’s ability to receive. Therefore, we can conclude this “created light” given by God to empower men and angels to be able hear millions of prayers and respond to them simultaneously is reasonable as well as biblical.

If you want much more information on this topic, check out my CD set called “Friends in High Places” available here.

Praying to Saints

In his book, Answers to Catholic Claims, A Discussion of Biblical Authority, Protestant Apologist James White claims praying to saints is contrary to Scripture:

The Bible strongly condemns communication with the dead. It does not matter if those who died were good or bad, saintly or evil, there is to be no communication between the living and the dead. The only communication with spirit beings that originates with man that is allowed in Scripture is that of prayer to God and He alone.

Biblical texts like Deut. 18:10-11 and Isaiah 19:3—each of which condemns necromancy—are employed to say “communication with the dead” is condemned absolutely.

Actually, what is being condemned in these texts from Deuteronomy and Isaiah is conjuring up the dead through wizards and mediums, not praying to saints. The Church has always condemned this that is commonly called necromancy. Mediums attempt to conjure up spirits and manipulate the spiritual realm at will. This is categorically different from Christians asking for the intercession of their brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not “conjure up” or manipulate anything or anyone. True prayer—whether to God or the angels and saints—changes the pray-er, not the pray-ee.

If one says recklessly as Mr. White said, “… there is to be no communication between the living and the dead,” where does this leave Jesus? He is clearly guilty according to Luke 9:29-31:

And as [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.

According to Deuteronomy 34:5, Moses was dead. And yet Jesus was communicating with him and Elijah about the most important event in human history—the redemption. Obviously, Jesus does not agree with Mr. White.

FIRST CONTACT

There is another point to White’s argument that requires a deeper level of response. Notice, he said, “The only communication with spirit beings that originates with man that is allowed in Scripture is that of prayer to God and He alone.” This point taken alone would not exclude communicating with the dead in any context. It would only exclude such communication if contact originates from the earth dweller.

In one sense, it seems Mr. White, as well as our Protestant friends he represents by his statement, is stuck in an Old Testament mindset. It is true that we do not see Old Covenant faithful initiating prayer to the dearly departed, but this is to be expected because the faithful dead before Christ and the beatific vision afforded by him would not have had the power to either hear or respond to those prayers. Moreover, the Old Covenant People of God did not have the developed understanding of the after-life that only came with the Revelation of Christ.

Jesus Christ introduces a radical development the Old Covenant saints could not have imagined when he clearly initiates the communication with the faithful departed unlike anything we saw in the Old Testament. I say “clearly” because even Protestant Apologist Eric Svendsen seems to see it, though I’m not sure how cognizant he was of the rammifications of this statement he made about the Transfiguration in his book, Evangelical Answers:

The transfiguration was an apocalyptic event choreographed directly by the Son of God to give the apostles a glimpse of his eschatological glory…

If Jesus “choreographed” it, then he initiated it. Some may say, “Well, he’s God, so he can do that.” Yes, he is. But he is also fully man and we are called to imitate him. If Jesus initiated communication with the dead, there is no reason to believe followers of Jesus cannot do the same. This is precisely what we mean as Catholics when we say we “pray to the saints.”

THE BIBLE SAYS SO

The New Testament presents to us very plain examples of the faithful on earth initiating communication with the saints in heaven. First, we have Hebrews 11-12. Chapter 11 gives us what I call the “hall of faith” wherein the lives of many of the Old Testament saints are recounted. Then, the inspired author encourages these to whom he referred earlier as a people who were being persecuted for their faith (10:32-35), to consider that they are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” encouraging them to “run the race” of faith set before them. Then, beginning in 12:18, he encourages these New Covenant faithful by reminding them that their covenant—the New Covenant—is far superior to the Old:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire … darkness … gloom … and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them…

But you have come to… the city of the living God… and to innumerable angels… and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven… and to… God… and to the spirits of just men made perfect… and to Jesus…

Notice, in the Old Covenant the faithful approached God alone and with trepidation. But in the New Covenant, the faithful have experienced a radical change for the better. “But you have come to … and to … and to … and to.” In the same way we can initiate prayer and in so doing “come to” God and Jesus, we can also “come to” the angels and “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Those would be the saints in heaven. In the fellowship of the saints, we have the aid and encouragement of the whole family of God.

The Book of Revelation gives us an even better description of this communication between heaven and earth:

The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints … the elders fell down and worshipped (5:8-14).

These “elders” are offering the prayers of the faithful symbolized by incense filtering upward from the earth to heaven. And because they are seen receiving these prayers, we can reasonably conclude they were both directed to these saints in heaven and that they were initiated by the faithful living on earth. We also see this same phenomenon being performed by the angels in Revelation 8:3-4:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

And these prayers offered to God through the mediation of the angels are answered as symbolized by “thunder” and “lightning” that are then cast upon the earth through those prayers:

Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The bottom line is this: Both the faithful on earth and our brothers and sisters in heaven (and let’s not forget our “cousins,” the angels) are all acting just as Catholics would expect. Believers on earth are initiating prayers which the saints and angels in heaven are receiving. Is this the necromancy condemned in Deuteronomy and Isaiah? Absolutely not! This is New Testament Christianity.

Call No Man Father

The other day I received a rather lengthy email from a fellow responding to a chapter in my book, Nuts and Bolts – A Practical How-To Guide for Explaining and Defending the Catholic Faith, specifically responding to my defense of calling priests “father.”

Score One Up For the Protestants

I have answered this question hundreds of times over the years, but this fellow’s critique caught my attention first of all because he used my own style of argumentation against me. I liked that. “Matthew 23:9,” he reminded me, “says, ‘Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.’ What would Jesus have to say to you, Tim, to get you to believe you can’t call your priest ‘father,’ other than by saying, ‘Call no man your father on earth?’”

I have to believe this fellow has heard me speak before because I have often (too often?) used a similar line, “What else would Jesus have to say…” to argue in favor of various Catholic doctrines. In fact, I used that very approach in my debate with Dr. Peter Barnes on the Eucharist in Sydney, Australia, when we were discussing John 6:53.

Cudos to my interlocutor at this point, but that would be, quite frankly, about the only round he had in his magazine.

An Earthly Argument

In Nuts and Bolts, I point out the fact that notwithstanding Jesus’ words in Matthew 23, St. Paul calls people “on the earth” father in Ephesians 6:2-4:

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Is this a contradiction?

Many will respond at this point and claim Jesus is not just condemning calling anyone father; rather, he is condemning calling religious leaders “father.” As I explain in my book, this is easily dismissed when we consider the words of our Lord from Luke 16:24:

And he (the rich man) called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.”

Abraham is clearly a “religious leader.” And Jesus is not alone in referring to him as “father.” St. James refers to Abraham as “father” in James 2:21, while St. Paul refers to Abraham as “father” seven times in Romans 4:1-18. If you believe in the inspiration of Sacred Scripture, St. James and St. Paul cannot contradict Jesus in Matthew 23:9.

At this point, my new friend argued something slightly different from what I’ve heard before. He said words to the effect of: “The key here is found in the words ‘on the earth.’ Abraham was not on earth. So Jesus was not simply condemning giving the ‘title’ of ‘father’ to men, but giving it to religious leaders who are on earth. And that is precisely what Catholics do!”

The Catholic Response

The first problem here is Jesus did not say “give no spiritual leader on earth the title father.” He simply said, “Call no man on earth your father.” More on that in a moment. For now, let’s follow the argument. So now our Protestant friend is saying it is okay to call our dads “father” because they are not “spiritual leaders” in the Church. We can also call our spiritual forefathers like Abraham or Jacob (John 4:12) father because they are no longer “on earth.”

Sounds okay so far, but here’s the problem. In I John 2:13-14, St. John refers to the leaders of the church in Ephesus to whom he is most likely writing as “fathers” twice. And notice he gives them the title “father.”

I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning…

Notice, he does not say they are “fathers” because they are married with children. They are “fathers,” spiritually speaking. And they are presumably “on the earth.”

In Acts 7:1-2, St. Stephen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls both Abraham and the elders of Jerusalem “father” in the same breath:

And the high priest said, “Is this so?” And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham…”

And in I Corinthians 4:14-15, St. Paul refers to himself as “father”:

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

What Does the Bible Actually Say?

What we need to do is get back to Matthew 23:9 and let the surrounding verses clarify things for us:

(8) But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. (9) And call no man your father… for you have one Father… (10) Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.

We have “one teacher,” and yet, many are called “teacher” in the New Testament (see James 3:1; Ephesians 4:11, etc.). We have “one master,” or leader, and yet, we have many “leaders” in the body of Christ to whom we are called to submit (Hebrews 13:17 uses the same Greek root for “leader” when it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”).

Ultimately, the key to understanding all of these seemingly contradictory texts is found in a proper understanding of the nature of the Body of Christ.

I am going to call upon the Douay-Rheims (Confraternity Edition) translation of Ephesians 3:14-15 to help me out here:

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father (Gr. – Patera – “Father”) of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom all paternity (Gr. – patria – “fatherhood”) in heaven and earth is named.

God, the Father, is our one true Father. Any other case of true fatherhood, be it a father “on earth,” a spiritual leader in the Church, or a spiritual forefather in heaven, participates in the Father’s unique Fatherhood and represents it to us. It neither takes away nor adds to this one unique Fatherhood; it establishes that fatherhood on earth via participatio. 

In his famous Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1, Para. 23, St. Athanasius makes this very point explaining how Ephesians 3:14-15 employs a play on words when it says, “For this cause I bow my knees to the father of lights…” Father here is patera, in Greek. It then says, “… of whom all paternity (fatherhood, paternia in Greek) … is named,” or, “is derived.” The play on words brings out the truth that true paternia (fatherhood) participates in our one, true Pater in heaven.

The context of Matthew 23 emphasizes the sin of pride among the scribes and Pharisees. They loved to be called “teacher”, “father”, or “Rabbi,” but their pride pointed men to themselves rather than to God the Father from whom they received true fatherhood and in whom their fatherhood subsisted. Outside of God the Father, there are no fathers at all in the true sense of the term. But in God, we have all sorts of true “fathers.”

Moreover, we must recall that Roman Caesars all the way back to Caesar Augustus, thirty years before our Lord would utter these words, demanded divine adoration from citizens of the empire. Many early Christians were martyred not simply for refusing to adore that pantheon of the gods, but for refusing to adore (worship) the emperor. And guess what one of the emperor’s titles was? “Father!” He was the “father” of the empire and the citizens were his children who had to worship him as a god.

This brings a whole knew light to Jesus’ words, “Call no man father…”

Ultimately, Jesus is condemning the usurpation of the fatherhood of God in Matthew 23:9, not the proper participation in that fatherhood.

The Trouble With Luther

It is no secret that Martin Luther eliminated all works as having anything to do with our justification/salvation. In what most call his “greatest work,” The Bondage of the Will, Luther commented on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

The assertion that justification is free to all that are justified leaves none to work, merit or prepare themselves… For if we are justified without works, all works are condemned, whether small or great; Paul exempts none, but thunders impartially against all.

Paul’s point in saying justification is a free gift was not to eliminate works as necessary for justification, or salvation, in all categories. Men must, among other things, choose to open the free gift (see II Cor. 6:1), do good works (see Romans 2:6-7; Gal. 6:7-9), be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10; Matt. 10:22), keep the law (Romans 2:13; Matt. 19:17), be obedient (Romans 6:16; Heb. 5:9), etc. in order to be finally justified or saved.

St. Paul was answering “Judaizers”—believers in Christ who were attempting to re-establish the law of the Old Covenant as necessary for salvation in the New. This was tantamount to forfeiting Christ, or rejecting the free gift, because it represented an attempt to be justified apart from Christ. Paul says, in Galatians 5:4-7 and 2:18, those Christians who were being led astray in this way had “fallen away from grace” precisely because they were attempting to “build up again” the law that had been “torn down” through the cross of Christ.

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth (Gal. 5:4-7)?

For St. Paul, any works done either before entering into Christ or apart from Christ profit nothing. But works done in Christ are a different story. Before Christ, unregenerate men are “dead in trespasses and sins,” and “by nature children of wrath,” as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1-3. But after entering into Christ, Phillipians 4:13 says, “I can do all things in [Christ] who strengthens me.” And according to Romans 2:6-7, “all things” includes meriting eternal life.

A Compounding Problem

Unfortunately, Luther’s error did not cease with bad exegesis of St. Paul. As is so often the case, one error leads not just to one more but to a litany. For example, Luther was so consumed with the notion that man can have nothing to do with his own salvation—no works—he claimed any belief that man must actively cooperate in salvation at all to be equivalent to a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. In one of his sermons, Luther declared:

[Catholics] know very well how to say of him: I believe in God the Father, and in his only begotten Son. But it is only upon the tongue, like the foam on the water; it does not enter the heart. Figuratively a big tumor still remains there in the heart; that is, they cling somewhat to their own deeds and think they must do works in order to be saved—that Christ’s person and merit are not sufficient. . . . They say, Christ has truly died for us, but in a way that we, also, must accomplish something by our deeds. Notice how deeply wickedness and unbelief are rooted in the heart.

Saying man must “accomplish something” in Christ does not deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice; it merely states, in agreement with St. John no less, that man must, among other things, “walk in the light” of Christ in order for Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice to become efficacious in his life:

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:7-9).

Notice, we must walk, and we must confess.

The Errors Continue

In The Bondage of the Will, Luther takes the next logical step in denying works to be involved in salvation in any sense by declaring man’s will to be absolutely passive when it comes to salvation; and consequent to that, he expressly denies the truth of man’s free will:

So man’s will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills. . . . If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it.

Luther’s famous notion of simul justus et peccator (“at the same time just and sinner”) is another error rooted in leaving man completely out of the equation when it comes to his own justification. It means, in effect, man’s justification is accomplished extrinsic to him. God declares a man just via a divine, forensic declaration—a legal fiction—rather than the biblical notion of a real inward transformation that makes him truly and inwardly just (cf. II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24).

Moreover, if it is grave error to acknowledge man has a causal role in his own salvation, claiming other members of the body of Christ have a role would be equally errant. There goes an essential element of the communion of saints. St. Paul obviously did not get the memo here, because he wrote: “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Tim. 4:16).

There are many other errors we could add to this litany of Lutheran misstandings, but what I would argue to be Luther’s most egregious errors came as a direct consequence of his denial of free will. Think about it. If you deny free will, but you also teach that at least some people will end up in hell—and Luther did just that—then it necessarily follows that God does not will all to be saved. This is logical if you accept Luther’s first principles. The problem is it runs contrary to plain biblical texts like I Tim. 2:4: “God wills all to be saved” (see also II Peter 3:9: I John 2:1-2), and Matthew 23:37, which records the words of our Lord himself:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets. . . . How often would I have gathered your children . . . and you would not!

Interestingly enough, in The Bondage of the Will, Luther attempts a response to this last text that becomes quite telling:

Here, God Incarnate (sic) says: “I would and thou wouldst not.” God Incarnate (sic), I repeat, was sent for this purpose, to will, say, do, suffer, and offer to all men, all that is necessary for salvation; albeit he offends many who, being abandoned or hardened by God’s secret will of Majesty, do not receive Him thus willing, speaking, doing, and offering. . . . It belongs to the same God incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish.

So what is Luther’s response to Jesus’ obvious willing all to be saved? Certainly, he would acquiesce to the Master and acknowledge God’s universal salvific will, would he not? After all, Jesus Christ is, in one sense, the will of God manifest in the flesh. Unfortunately not. Luther claimed Christ’s human knowledge to be lacking when it came to understanding “God’s secret will of Majesty,” which led our Lord’s human will to find itself in opposition to the divine will. Poor Jesus. If he only knew what Luther knew.

We could multiply texts like “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Matt. 11:27) that render this kind of thinking untenable. We could talk about the Hypostatic Union. But that would go beyond what we can do in this short post.

In the final analysis, we see here in Martin Luther the old addage, error begets error, painfully pellucid. What began in denying man has anything to do with his own salvation ends with problems Christological stretching from here to eternity . . . literally.

Is Pope Francis the Final Pope?

Have you heard? Tom Horn and Cris Putnam have written the book of books demonstrating Pope Francis to be the last pope. Yes, folks, the end of the world is upon us. The book is called Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here, published in 2012. This is not to be confused with their sequel, Exo-Vaticanus, published in 2013, which exposes a secret plan of the Vatican to usher in the arrival of a savior who is actually an alien a la E.T. I suppose now that the end is here and all, we need to know just what the end is going to look like. Explaining that one would require another post.

The 2012 book is based on an increasingly popular alleged prophecy, which is really more of a litany of prophecies, of the great reformer Bishop St. Malachy (1094-1148), who served as bishop of Conner, then Down, and finally as Archbishop of Armagh, all in Ireland. The authors claim St. Malachy predicted the final 112 popes beginning with Pope Celestine II (elected in 1143), not by name, but by a short epithet, or motto, for each, leading us to the final pope before the Apocalypse, who is none other than our own Pope Francis.

The “prophecy” in question is real in the sense that it exists and is claimed to be written by St. Malachy. But when examined critically, it turns out neither to be true (meaning it contains things that don’t hold up the level of scrutiny required of a true prophecy) nor actually written by St. Malachy. At least, that is what the overwhelming majority of modern scholars believe. The so-called “prophecy of St. Malachy” appears to be a fraud.

There are multiple takes on the “prophecy” itself, and not all who believe it also believe a space alien is going to be revealed as “savior” by the Vatican, either. Over the centuries, it has been believed by Catholics of note, Cornelius a Lapide among them. So it is not as though its fraudulent nature is self-evident.

From what I have read from those who believe the prophecy to be of supernatural origin today, they generally agree on three central points: Francis is the final pope, the end is therefore upon us, and St. Malachy proves it to be so.

Problems with the Prophecy

While there are more problems with this prophecy than we have space to address in this post, perhaps its major problems, or categories of problems, could be broken down into two: 1. The prophecy was not penned by St. Malachy; therefore, it is a fraud. 2. The epithets, or mottos, that describe each of the 112 popes are fraught with ambiguities to the point that some are impossible to defend as true prophecy.

Who Wrote the Prophecy of St. Malachy?

The prophecy was first published in AD 1590-1595 by a Benedectine monk named Arnold Wion in a book titled Lignum Vitae, which was a history of the Benedictine order. Critics say Wion did more than publish it; he most likely created it. This is evidenced by the fact that the alleged prophetic mottos were remarkably accurate when the popes from Celestine II (pope when St. Malachy was alive and when the “prophecy” was allegedly given to him) until Urban VII (pope when Wion published the book) are mentioned. After these popes the epithets become ambiguous and, as we’ll see below, some of them virtually impossible to tag to the popes they were supposedly referring to.

When you couple these facts with the facts that St. Bernard of Clairvaux—a close friend of St. Malachy, who wrote the biography of this great saint—never mentions anything of this prophecy, and, indeed, nothing that we know of was recorded about it for the roughly four hundred years between St. Malachy’s time and the publication of the prophecy, this is a definite problem.

Proponents argue the prophecy was lost and only rediscovered by Wion, but this hardly answers the problem of why St. Bernard, in whose arms St. Malachy died, would have known nothing of it.

Prophecies Not Prophetic

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the claims of the prophecy can be seen by examining the actual prophetic epithets themselves. The epithets of the popes between Celestine II and Urban VII are generally related to their birthplaces, family names, their coat of arms, or to some title they held before each became pope. And they are generally quite obvious. However, the subsequent popes . . . let’s just say their mottos get very interesting at times. Here are some of my favorites.

Pope Benedict XIV is referred to as “rustic animal”—in Latin, animal rurale. This means something akin to what southerners might call a “country boy.” But Benedict XIV was anything but a country boy. He was a brilliant scholar educated in Rome at the Collegium Clementium, which he entered at the age of 13! He was well-known for his learning in science as well as theology, philosophy, and canon law. He was also an exceptional administrator and a man of many talents, respected within and without the Church. He was anything but animal rurale!

Proponents of the prophecies attempt to say this could refer to his “plodding determination” like an ox in a field. Can anyone say “Weak?”

Pope Clement XIII is referred to as “Rose of Umbria.” Supporters of the prophecies attempt to say this is a reference to the several Franciscans this pope canonized. You know. . . roses . . . St. Francis. The “Rose of Umbria.”

Really?

Clement IV is referred to as “Swift Bear.” Proponents claim his family, the Ganganelli family, had a running bear on their coat of arms, but there is no evidence for this.

Pius VII is referred to as “Rapacious Eagle.” There is nothing even close to this in relation to the Pope himself, so supporters claim this may be a reference to the arms of Napoleon who reigned during the time of Pope Pius. It definitely seems as though we are stretching things here in Jonathan Edwards-esque fashion.

John Paul I is referred to as “of the half moon.” Your guess is as good as mine.

And finally, we should mention our present Pope Francis. He is referred to as “Peter the Roman” in the prophecy. The best the proponents of the prophecy have been able to do is point out that our good Cardinal Bergoglio took the name of St. Francis, whose father’s name was Pietro. Of course! Plus, even though he is Argentinian, his parents are Italian. Huh? Huh?

There are many more examples we could cite here demonstrating the overwhelming evidence that the so-called “prophecy of St. Malachy” is a hoax, but perhaps it would be best to close now with a word to the wise.

We must always be careful with private revelations—and that is essentially what this is—whether approved or not. The “prophecy of St. Malachy” has not been approved by the Church, but the Church teaches us that we must never place divine faith in any private revelation even if it is approved. Their role is to lead us to Christ in his Church and to the divine faith that is able to save our souls. They are means and never ends in themselves.

If we keep our focus on Christ, his Church, the Eucharist, and our Blessed Mother, we will never go wrong.

Can We Lose Our Salvation?

Hebrews 6:4-6 reveals a rather unsettling truth: We can lose our state of grace and fall away from the Lord.

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

For those who teach what Calvinists call “the final perseverance of the saints,” this text presents real problems. Some will argue the above description only refers to people who “knew about the Lord,” but were never really saved to begin with. I have always wondered if those making that argument can really be satisfied with it. It seems the inspired author makes clear, almost to the point of redundancy, that he was speaking about those who have been saved and then “commit apostasy.”

Another Protestant tack is to claim the author is presenting an impossible hypothetical. In other words, he’s saying it would be impossible to restore again to repentance one who had truly been baptized into Jesus Christ because it is impossible for such a person to fall away to begin with.

This doesn’t work, either. The author is presenting a warning of the peril of falling away from the Lord. He would hardly warn his readers of something that is impossible to actually happen.

Do Catholics Prove Too Much?

Most “eternally secure” Protestants with whom I have spoken about these verses of Scripture end up acknowledging their case to be weak from the text alone. But when cornered, I have found almost invariably they attempt to turn the tables on me by claiming I prove too much as a Catholic. If this text is saying one can fall away, then it also says the one who falls away cannot be restored. This would be contrary to Catholic teaching.

The greater context of the entire epistle gives us the answer to this apparent difficulty. Hebrews was written to… you guessed it… Hebrews. But more specifically to Hebrew Christians who were being tempted to go back to the Old Covenant priesthood, sacrifices, and other practices, like circumcision, in order to be saved. It is in this context—from start to finish—that the inspired author runs the gamut on Jewish belief showing how Christ is greater than and/or is the fulfillment of the entire Old Covenant.

In chapters one and two, Jesus is revealed to be greater than the angels; he’s revealed to be God (see Hebrews 1:5-10). In chapters three and four, he is our true high priest, greater than Moses, and fulfillment of what the Sabbath symbolized (see 3:3; 4:2-11). In chapters five and seven, he is the antitype of Melchizadek (5:5-10; 7:11). In chapter eight, he is superior to and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in establishing the New (8:8-13). In chapters nine and ten, he is superior to the temple and its sacrifices (9:23-24; 10:4-10). And it is in this context that the inspired author then exhorts his readers to endure the persecution that had already begun by this time (10:32-39). He calls them to “hold fast the confession of [their] hope without wavering” (10:23), and to remain faithful to the Church Jesus established rather than go back to an Old Covenant and its sacrifices that have no power to save (10:25-31; 12:18-25; 13:7-10).

If we understand the greater context, we understand that the author of Hebrews is not saying it is impossible to be forgiven of the sin of apostasy; rather, it is impossible for those who “have tasted the heavenly gift” of the New Covenant and would then return to the Old Covenant to be saved. Why? Because they are trusting in a covenant, law, priesthood, sacrifice, and more that do not possess the power to save. They are returning to a well without water.

If these same Hebrews, or by allusion anyone down through the centuries who may have apostatized, turn back to Christ and his Church trusting in the graces that alone come from the sacrifice of Christ, then of course they can be restored to a saving relationship with God.

The Protestant Bible Verse That Isn’t

Just before Christmas last year, a Catholic friend invited me to Los Angeles to speak with some dear friends of his who had left the Catholic Faith. Their Evangelical pastor joined us for what became a lively and lengthy discussion. I thought the dialogue went very well, but one exchange seems to stick out among the many we had over about four hours. When the topic moved to the assurance of salvation, the pastor declared with confidence, “St. Paul could not be clearer that we can have absolute assurance of our salvation when he said, ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’”

This sounds pretty definitive, I agree. The problem is, St. Paul never said those words or anything like them. This is a misquotation of II Cor. 5:6,8 that I hear quite often from Evangelicals. I immediately took the pastor and all in the room to the actual text–adding verses nine and ten for clarity’s sake–which we read together:

So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord . . . we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

The only thing St. Paul claims we have absolute assurance of is the fact that while we are sojourning on earth, we are “away from the Lord.” He then states his aspiration is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” We would all concur with this sentiment. But this is not a definitive declaration that “absence from the body” means ipso facto that we would be “present with the Lord.”

Reading verses nine and ten, we find the greater point St. Paul is making. We must all live to please God at all times in view of the fact that we will all stand before God at the Final Judgment, where we will receive either “good or evil” according to our works done in this life. There is not even a hint of an absolute assurance of salvation anywhere to be found here.

I was pleasantly surprised when the pastor agreed with me that he had misquoted Paul. He said he would have to take that argument out of his arsenal for future use. It’s not often when a debate partner admits error in the heat of the battle. That is a sign of the presence of humility. Where there is true humility one often discovers the grace of God: “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble” (James 4:7).

Who knows, other than our blessed Lord, whether or not this discussion will bear the fruits of conversion or re-version to the Catholic Faith for those non-Catholics who were there that night. But I would venture to say there is one thing we can know with relative certainty: Seeds of the faith were planted. We will leave the rest to “God who gives the growth” (I Cor. 3:7).