Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Truth About Miracles

Some of the greatest gifts God has given to the Church for evangelism are the gifts of miracles. As a Pentecostal before I became Catholic, I always believed God still performs miracles, but I never saw anything close to what Catholics too often take for granted in both the number and kind of miracles God pours out upon his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in every generation. Everything from the raising of the dead, to restorative miracles of the body and more have been experienced in the Church for 2,000 years fulfilling our Lord’s prophetic words of Mark 16:17-20:

“These signs shall follow those who believe”… And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.

And yet, these miracles are too often the best kept secret in Catholicism. I am convinced that untold millions of souls would come to Christ in his Church if we as Catholics would simply inform them of these incredible gifts.

What is a Miracle?

The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives an excellent definition of what constitutes a miracle:

A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power. The miracles of Jesus were messianic signs of the presence of God.

The key here is the notion that a true miracle “can only be attributed to divine power;” it cannot be explained by the action of created beings. Thus, when the Church investigates whether or not a particular phenomenon is miraculous all natural possibilities must first be eliminated. In fact, in its discernment process the Church will often use non-believing experts in pertinent areas, whether they are doctors when discerning a physical healing, or various scientists when examining some other material phenomena as we will see below, in order to avoid any possible bias in favor of demonstrating a miracle. If anything, the Church would prefer the investigating expert to have a bias against rather than in favor of demonstrating an authentic miracle. The principle involved here is simple. God does not need our help to communicate miracles. He is plenty able to do it all by himself and in a way that will be convincing to any and all who seek the truth honestly.

Why Miracles?

Vatican I, in session 3, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter 3, “On Faith,” declared:

Nevertheless, in order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.

Moreover, in its accompanying canons, the Council fathers declared infallibly:

(Canon 3) If anyone says that divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore men and women ought to be moved to faith only by each one’s internal experience or private inspiration: let him be anathema.
(Canon 4) If anyone says that all miracles are impossible, and that therefore all reports of them, even those contained in sacred scripture, are to be set aside as fables or myths; or that miracles can never be known with certainty, nor can the divine origin of the Christian religion be proved from them: let him be anathema.

It should be noted that God does not overwhelm us when it comes to miracles. God respects our freedom. Indeed, without freedom there is no true love as we understand it. Miracles are aids to those who honestly seek truth, never guns to the head forcing belief. For those who do not want to submit to God and his truth, there will always be ways to explain away miracles, even if these “explanations” range from the weak to the absurd. Jesus’ words in Luke 16:31 come to mind:
“If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

This is not to dismiss the importance of miracles. Of course not! The Church has rightfully declared them to be “the most certain signs of revelation” and certain proofs of “the divine origin of the Christian religion” as we cited above. But it is a help for keeping things in perspective. Not everyone is going to be convinced because there is more to this thing than just being persuaded intellectually. The will sometimes gets in the way!

Eucharistic Miracles

1. In ca. AD 700, at the Monastery of St. Longinus, in Lanciano Italy, a priest-Monk whose name is unknown to us today was celebrating the Holy Eucharist. He had been struggling with his faith in the Real Presence when our Lord in his infinite mercy would deign to grant to this priest and to the world a miracle that even to this day continues to be visible proof of the truth of the Eucharist. Shortly after the consecration—after the bread and wine he offered had been transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ—the accidents of bread and wine he was then holding in his hands were transformed into real human flesh and real human blood.

Over the centuries there have been multiple occasions where the Church permitted this miracle to be examined, but perhaps the most thorough of these examinations took place in 1970, under the expert scrutiny of Dr. Odoardo Linoli, university professor-at-large in anatomy and pathological histology, and in chemistry and clinical microscopy, head physician of the United Hospitals of Arezzo, and Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, a professor emeritus of normal human anatomy at the University of Siena. The findings of this study were truly amazing:

• The flesh was proven to be the muscular tissue from the myocardium of a human heart.
• The blood tested from both the flesh and coagulated blood was discovered to be AB positive and human in origin.
• The proteins in the coagulated blood were “found to be normally fractionated, with the same percentage ratio as those found in normal fresh blood.” In other words, this blood was not later planted from a cadaver; it came from a living body and maintained properties of fresh blood.
• Inexplicably, though the receptacles containing the miracles were not hermetically sealed, nor did they have any preserving agents that could be detected, the flesh and blood had been preserved for well over 1,200 years, even though they would have been exposed to all sorts of variant temperatures and atmospheric conditions, the smoke of incense, etc.

Even today tens of thousands of regular visitors to Lanciano, Italy, where the miracle is preserved, can view flesh that maintains a pinkish hue with visible blood vessels remaining as a sign of the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

2. On August 14, 1730, in Siena, Italy, thieves broke into the Church of St. Francis, picked the lock on the tabernacle, and stole the golden ciborium containing hundreds of consecrated hosts. After an intensive search, the sacred hosts were thankfully found having been stuffed into an offering box in a nearby church, St. Mary of Provenzano. The ciborium had obviously been stolen for its monetary value. The hosts were immediately returned in procession to St. Francis Church.

Many people ask why the sacred hosts would not have been consumed at that time. Most likely, they were not consumed because of their soiled condition. After cleaning the hosts as best they could, they were probably left to deteriorate naturally until they could no longer be called bread. They could then be discarded respectfully. At least, that is one theory. But most importantly to our point, the priests of the parish were startled to find that the sacred hosts not only did not deteriorate over time, but they maintained a freshly baked consistency and a pleasant scent. The Franciscans who ministered at St. Francis Catholic Church became convinced in time that they were witnessing a miracle.

Fifty years later, on April 14, 1780, an official investigation was begun into the authenticity of the miracle. After fifty years, the sacred hosts were found to be fresh, as if they had been prepared the day before. The miraculous nature of this phenomenon had become inescapable.

Over the years there have been multiple investigations including a most thorough examination in 1914 by direction of His Holiness, Pope St. Pius X. During this investigation the sacred hosts were examined by a panel including scientists, professors as well as theologians and church leaders. This distinguished panel concluded that there is no natural explanation for the fact that these hosts still exhibited the characteristics of freshly baked unleavened bread without even a hint of deterioration, and so they have endured for over two hundred and eighty years and can been seen today in that same pristine state.

Incorruptibles

1. St. Bernadette Soubirous (b. 1844, d. April 16, 1879, at 35 years of age) is most famous for the Blessed Mother having visited her from heaven in 1858, where our Lady revealed herself as “the Immaculate Conception.” Occurring just four years after Pope Blessed Pius IX had declared this to be a dogma, it was as though the Church had received confirmation from heaven of this truth the Pope had “bound on earth” in accord with the power Christ promised to him in Matthew 16:18-19.
These apparitions provided much more than confirmation of a dogma, however. Below, we will examine two bodily healings from among the scores of approved miracles from the sight of this apparition, but for now we want to examine what is perhaps a lesser known miracle involving St. Bernadette. At least, it is lesser known among people outside of the Church.

On September 22, 1909, thirty years after her death, Bernadette’s body was exhumed as is sometimes the case when the cause of canonization is first begun. When they opened the coffin, two doctors and multiple sisters of the community observed a body that was as perfectly preserved as on the day of her death. Her face had even maintained its natural skin tone. The rosary she was holding in her hands had rusted and the crucifix that had been laid upon her chest was covered with verdigris and yet she was absolutely pristine. All was recorded and she was again placed in the tomb.

Ten years later, her corpse was exhumed once again at the end of the canonization process and found to be just as perfectly preserved. Her body can be viewed today at the Chapel of St. Bernadette in Nevers, France, where 135 years after her death she still looks as though she has just fallen asleep.

2. St. Catherine Laboure (b. 1806, d. Dec. 31, 1876, at 70 years of age) is also well-known among Catholics for being chosen by God to be the recipient of heavenly visits. Hers came from Our Lord himself, St. Vincent de Paul, who was the founder of her Religious Order, her guardian angel, and most famously, our Blessed Mother who gave the Miraculous Medal to the world through St. Catherine in 1830. This great gift to the Church has been the instrument of numerous miracles and blessings over the years.

Fifty-six years after her death, when her beatification was announced by the Vatican, her body was exhumed only to be discovered perfectly intact by the medical and ecclesiastical team assigned to the task. Two fingers on her left hand appeared to be blackened, but upon further investigation the cause was found to be the disintegration of the sleeve of her habit, not from any decay of her skin. Amazingly, her arms and legs were found to be supple and even her bones had not suffered decay. They were still elastic and cartilaginous. Her eyes were still intact, complete with irises still retaining the blue-gray color Catherine was born with. Her hair remained attached to her scalp, her fingernails and toenails were perfectly preserved. Just as St. Bernadette above, the preservation of St. Catherine’s body could not be explained naturally. Not a few men I can think of would love to have their hair remain as perfectly attached to their scalps in life as this great saint’s hair remained in death!

Healings

1. Born Christmas day 1939, in Ribera, Sicily, Gemma Di Giorgi was legally blind. She was born without pupils in her eyes. Doctors declared there was nothing that could be done for her. Yet, at the age of seven, she was taken by her grandmother on the long journey to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio. There are differing accounts of the actual process of how the healing took place, but there is no disagreement over the fact that through the intercession of Padre Pio, this little girl received her sight. Fr. Charles Mortimer Carty recounts:

They were both lost in the crowd… attending [Padre Pio’s] Mass, when at the end while the silence was still intense, everyone heard a voice calling: “Gemma, come here!” The grandmother pushed her way to the altar… [Padre Pio] smiled at Gemma and told her that she must make her first Communion. He heard her confession and then stroked her eyes with his hand…

The healing did not take place immediately, but as Fr. Carty explains:

Padre Pio saw them later and said: “May the Madonna bless you, Gemma. Be a good girl!” At this moment the child gave a frantic cry, she could see…

What is perhaps most remarkable about this healing is that from a medical and scientific perspective, Gemma should still be blind. When she was healed, she did not miraculously receive new pupils. Her eyes to this day (and she is still alive) still look like the eyes of a blind woman. Carty goes on to say:

The cure was permanent and complete, although her eyes still had no pupils. She was examined by many doctors who testified to the case and were able to offer no scientific explanation.

2. “The Medical Office of Lourdes” was established in 1882 as an aid for the Church in discerning which alleged miracles at Lourdes would be approved as such by the Church. In 1947, the “National Medical Committee of Lourdes” (in 1954, the name was changed to the International Medical Committee of Lourdes) was established to further scrutinize phenomena presented by the Medical Office as inexplicable. It consists of ca. 30 physicians appointed by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes and applies intense scrutiny to each case presented. Of the over 6,000 documented miracles in the archives of the Medical Office, the Church has only approved 67 of them.

It is not that all of the other “miracles” are not truly miracles. Many of them, perhaps thousands, probably are. The Church establishes the highest of standards to ensure only the most certain are presented to the faithful as worthy of pious belief. In order to be approved, the miracles have to be “sudden, unforeseeable, involving no convalescence… total… lasting (at least 4 or 5 years before being taken into consideration)… serious (that is, a threat to life)… organic and not functional…” In fact, the committee considers whether or not previous therapies or means of care may have had an impact on a healing. Only those entirely inexplicable by natural causes can be considered to be miraculous.

I will list two of these miracles here that occurred on successive days—August 20th (Marie Lebranchu) and 21st (Marie Lemarchand) of 1892. Both of these women suffered terribly from severe pulmonary tuberculosis (Koch’s baciallus) and were in the final and terminal stages of the disease. Lebranchu, 35 years-old, was emaciated, weighing less than 60 lbs while Lemarchand, 18 years-old, actually had ulcerous caverns in her face caused by the tuberculosis that were absolutely hideous to behold.

Both women were instantaneously healed upon bathing in the miraculous waters—Marie Lemarchand received brand new pink skin where before there were only holes. She would later marry and give birth to eight children.

Priceless Gifts

When Jesus uttered the famous words, “I and my Father are one” in John 10:30, boldly declaring his divinity, he knew that most would not believe him. After all, this was an incredible claim to make to a 1st century Jewish audience. However, notice our Lord’s response:

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 10:37-38).

It was as though our Lord was saying, “I know what I am saying seems hard for you to understand—even blasphemous—but the miracles I have performed prove that what I am saying is true.” The Church makes incredible claims as well, claiming divine authority, the power to forgive sins, etc. This seems outrageous to our incredulous age as well. When attempts at giving reasoned explanations for what we believe seem to fall on deaf ears, perhaps our response to the unbelieving multitudes can be similar to our Lord’s. If given the opportunity, perhaps a presentation of just some of the many documented cases of miracles in the Church will lead many to “believe the works” so that they can then “know and understand” the rest.

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Sola Scriptura – An Unbiblical Recipe for Confusion

Sola scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

The fact is, the Bible does not and cannot give us the answer to this question about the canon. It is an historical fact that the Church used Sacred Tradition outside of Scripture for her criterion for the canon. And the early Christians, many of whom disagreed on the issue of the canon, also needed the Church in council to give an authoritative decree on the whole matter.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” Would the Protestant respond with a hearty, amen? I think not! I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular.

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’ emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. Traditions of Men Vs. The Tradition of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word. Further, when St. Paul wrote II Thessalonians, he urged the Christians there to receive both the oral and written Traditions as equally authoritative. This would be expected because both are referred to as the word of God.

So, then, brethren stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (II Thess. 2:15).

A common problem among Protestants at this point is a matter of semantics. “Tradition” is often viewed in a negative light because of Jesus’ condemnation of “the tradition of men” in Mark 7:8.

You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.

Notice, this verse makes very clear what kind of tradition it was that Jesus condemned. Jesus condemned the tradition of men, not all tradition. And obviously so; otherwise, you would have Jesus contradicting St. Paul. In fact, you would have Jesus contradicting himself in Matthew 23:2-3:

The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

Jesus both refers to an oral tradition—the chair of Moses—and commands the apostles to believe and obey it.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!

But Didn’t Jesus Himself Believe Sola Scriptura?

When the Devil tempted Jesus three times in Matthew 4, Jesus always responded with Scripture. In fact, with the second of the three temptations the Devil himself began with Scripture. As an aside, I would have to say that was not very smart of the Devil. If you are going to tempt the Word of God, do you really think you are going to outsmart the Word of God with the word of God?

At any rate, in Matt. 4:6, the Devil begins, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the Temple]; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’ (quoting Psalm 91:11-12).”

Jesus then responded with Scripture in Matt. 4:7, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’ (quoting Deut. 6:16).” Doesn’t this prove Jesus believed in sola scriptura?

Absolutely not!

Just because someone quotes Scripture as an authority, this does not mean he believes in sola scriptura. The Catholic Church quotes Scripture all the time and teaches that Scripture is the inerrant word of God. But what does that prove?

The key here is to understand Jesus not only quoted Scripture as authoritative, but he also referred to Tradition as authoritative in texts like Luke 16:22 (ever read anywhere of “Abraham’s Bosom” in the Old Testament? No, this was Jewish Tradition), Matt. 2:23 (Jesus refers to an Oral Tradition “spoken by the prophets” that is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament), and Matt. 23:1-3, which we saw above, where he speaks of the Tradition of “the chair of Moses”).

He also refers to his own authority when he says over and over, “You have heard it said,” and he often quotes Scripture immediately thereafter, but then he says, “But I say unto you…” He then either introduces new revelation or gives an authoritative interpretation of a biblical text (see Matt. 5:21-48) or, sometimes he simply gives an authoritative interpretation of what Scripture truly means, such as in Matt: 5:10-20.

So did Jesus Christ believe in sola scriptura? By no means! Neither should his Church. And while the Church cannot give new revelation as this ended with the death of the last apostolic man (and we know that because of, you guessed it, Tradition in order to understand texts of Scripture like Jude 3), the Church employs Scripture and Tradition just like her Lord, using her teaching authority she receives from her Lord (Matt. 18:15-18).

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Mother of God

For many in the more traditional Protestant communities, believing Mary to be the Theotokos (Gr.—God-bearer), or Mother of God, is an area of agreement with Catholics. They may not see all of the theological implications of this dogma, but they believe it as such. They would acknowledge Mary to be the Mother of God as the logical result of their faith in Jesus as one divine person. If Jesus Christ is truly God, then Mary is truly the Mother of God. But for millions among Fundamentalist and Evangelical communities, it is a different story. Let’s just say they would not join in on January 1st when we Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

One can basically narrow down the objections to this great dogma of the faith to essentially three. The first states “the obvious.” No where in Sacred Scripture do we find the words “Mother of God” used to describe Mary. “If this doctrine were as important as Roman Catholics claim, would not at least one of the inspired writers have used it?” The second objection is rooted in Luke 1:43—a text used by Catholics to demonstrate a biblical foundation for the Theotokos—wherein Elizabeth “exclaimed [to Mary] with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” The Protestant Fundamentalist will point out this text does not call Mary Mother of God; it calls her “mother of my Lord.” The New Testament uses the term lord (Gr.—kurios) in the context of divinity at times, but it also uses it with reference to human persons in various contexts. This text, it is argued, does not refer to the divinity of Christ, but to his humanity. And finally, the point is made that it is impossible for God to have a Mother. “God is a Trinity. If Mary is the Mother of God, she is the mother of the Trinity! Therefore, the Trinity is no longer a Trinity, it would be a Quadrinity!”

Objection One: Where is That in the Bible?

To say Mary cannot be the Mother of God because sacred Scripture does not use those explicit words places the Protestant in a very uncomfortable position. He would also have to conclude multiple essential Christian doctrines to be erroneous because they are not found verbatim in the Bible either. Let’s just take the Trinity for example. This is “the central mystery of the Christian faith” (CCC 234), and yet the term “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. This is not to mention terms like homoousios (Gr.—same nature, Jesus has the “same nature” as his Father), hypostatic union, the circumincessions of the persons of the Blessed Trinity, etc. The question the Protestant really needs to ask is: Is the concept of Mary, Mother of God revealed to us in Sacred Scripture? And we will see that it is. Thus, this first point is quite easily dismissed.

Objection Two: Jesus is “Lord,” But Not “God” in Luke 1:43

Objection #2 is not so easily dismissed. The Greek word kurios or “lord” can indeed be used to denote divinity but not necessarily so. In fact, a great example of the latter is found in Corinthians 8:5:

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” –

Here the term “lord” (Gr. – kurios) is obviously not used to refer to divinity. Moreover, Christ himself refers to the “owner of the vineyard” in his parable of the householder in Matthew 21:33-40, as kurios, or “lord of the vineyard,” in verse 40. Thus, kurios can be used specifically with regard to a human person. However, if we go back to I Cor. 8:5, the very next verse gives us an example of kurios being used with regard to divinity:

Yet to us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Notice two key points: Jesus is called both the one Lord and he is called creator of all things. There can be no doubt in this context that our Lord’s divinity is being referenced. Every Jew knew the truth of the great Sh’ma of Deut. 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” There is only one Lord in Israel. And according to our text quoted from I Corinthians, Jesus is that one Lord. Moreover, Jesus is called the creator of all things. Genesis 1:1 cannot make it any clearer that it is almighty God who is the creator of all things. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The title kurios applied to Christ as creator of all things in I Corinthians 8:6 is clearly a title of divinity for Christ. It is the context that makes this ever so apparent.

The key to our discussion then is to ascertain how kurios is being used of Christ in Luke 1:43. Was it being used to describe Jesus with regard to his humanity alone, or with regard to his divinity? There are at least two reasons we can know for certain it refers to Christ as a divine person. First, if we understand its Old Testament antecedent, the conclusion becomes clear. Elizabeth was referring, almost verbatim, to a text from II Samuel 6:9 wherein David exclaims concerning the Old Testament ark of the Covenant:

And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?”

When Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud cry… Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:42-43), Mary was revealed to be the New Testament Ark of the Covenant. The question is: Was the ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament the ark of an earthly potentate, or was it the ark of almighty God? The answer is obvious. In the same way, the more glorious New Covenant Ark of the Covenant is not an ark of an earthly potentate, but it is the Ark of Almighty God.

The second and most important reason we know Luke 1:43 is referring to Mary to be the Mother of God is summed up nicely in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 495:

Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord.” In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos).

Mary is the Mother of God precisely because Jesus Christ, her Son, is God. And when Mary gave birth, she did not give birth to a nature, or even two natures; she gave birth to one, divine person. To deny this essential truth of the faith, as the Council of Ephesus (AD 431) declared, is to cut oneself off from full communion with Christ and his Church. In the first of many “anathemas” of St. Cyril, the famous fifth-century bishop of Alexandria, which would be accepted by the Council, it decreed:

If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the Word of God become flesh by birth), let him be anathema.

Notice, the Council referred to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 in its definition. This prophetic text prophesied over 700 years before the birth of Christ, the Messiah was to be born of a woman and yet he was to be “God with us.”

The real problem with denying Mary as Mother of God and affirming Mary to be only the mother of the man Christ Jesus is in doing so one invariably either denies the divinity of Christ (as the 4th century Arians did), or one creates two persons with regard to Jesus Christ. Either error results in heresy. The Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (AD 325) and Constantinople (AD 381) dealt decisively with the Arian heresy. The Council of Ephesus (AD 431) as mentioned above dealt with this latter heresy as it was being taught by the followers of Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople. Rather than teaching the truth that Christ is one divine person with two natures—one human, and one divine—hypostatically unified, or joined together without admixture in the one divine person of Christ, they were teaching Christ to be two persons with a mere moral union. The Council fathers understood this could never be affirmed by Christians. The Bible declares to us: “… in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). And, “… in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (Colossians 1:16) No where do we read in them; we only read of him. One cannot overstate the importance of what we are discussing here because we are ultimately talking about essentially different Christs. Jesus is truly one divine person. If one prays to a Jesus who is two persons, one prays to a “Jesus” who does not exist!

Objection Three: The Quadrinity Problem

“If God is Trinity, and Mary is the Mother of God, would that not mean Mary is the Mother of the Trinity?” Actually, it does not. Paragraph 495 of the Catechism, quoted above, was very clear that Mary is the mother of the second person of the Blessed Trinity because neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit were incarnate. Simple enough. But I am going to suggest the problem here to be deeper than just a confusion of persons within the Godhead. In my experience, this simple explanation almost invariably leads to another question that reveals the real problem in the mind of many Fundamentalists: “Even if Mary is only the Mother of the second person of the Blessed Trinity, he is just as eternal as the other two divine persons. Thus, in order to be his mother, Mary would still have to be equally as eternal.” The root of the Quadrinity problem is really a false understanding of what is meant by Mary’s true motherhood and perhaps a false understanding of what is meant by motherhood in general.

The Bottom Line

By saying Mary is the Mother of God, the Catholic Church is not saying that Mary is the source of the divine nature among the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, nor is she the source of the divine nature of the second person of the Blessed Trinity. But then again, she doesn’t have to be in order to be the mother of the second person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate. Perhaps an analogy using normal human reproduction will help clarify the Catholic and biblical truth of the matter. My wife is the mother of my son, Timmy. But this in no way implies that she is the source of Timmy’s immortal soul. God directly and immediately created his soul as he does with every human being (see Eccl. 12:7). However, we do not conclude from this that my wife, Valerie, is merely “the mother of Timmy’s body.” She is Timmy’s mother… period. This is so because she did not give birth to a body. She gave birth to a human person who is a body/soul composite… Timmy.

Analogously, though Mary did not provide Jesus with either his divine nature or his immortal human soul, she is still his mother because she did not give birth to a body, a soul, a nature, or even two natures—she gave birth to a person. And that one person is God. The conclusion to the whole matter is inescapable. Just as many of the more traditional Protestants would confess with us as Catholics: If Jesus Christ is one, eternal and unchangeable divine person—God—and Mary is his mother—then Mary is the Mother of that one, eternal and unchangeable person—God.

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