Roman Catholicism may be one of the most important lectureship books published by brethren in recent years. Not only is the subject matter of vital interest in today's world, but it drew a great deal of attention in Spring, Texas the last few days of February. A letter was received from the Anti-Defamation League; a telephone interview was received from a national news agency, and a debate has been tentatively scheduled with a Catholic professor from the University of St. Thomas.
The reason that this book is so valuable is that it is the first major work to examine the teachings of Roman Catholicism in almost four decades, and there have been a number of changes in the Catholic Church since then. The writers of the chapters of these books look at some of the old teachings, many of which were established by the Council of Trent (1545-63), as well as some of their new policies, as set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994.
The book begins with three historical sections that are worth the price of the book all by themselves. "Apostasy in the Church" discusses what happened in the first few centuries after the establishment of the church; it discusses the influence that Constantine had on the church, as well as the Council of Nicaea (325). Included are sections on Gnosticism, Montanism, and Ebionitism. The origins of "holy water," infant baptism, and the use of mechanical instruments of music are explained. The second historical chapter traces the now-apostate church from A.D. 700 to 1500. This "Dark Age" period outlines some of the problems and conflicts within the papacy and between the papacy and civil government. The Crusades are noticed, and the chapter closes with the beginnings of the Reformation. The third historical summary looks at the Catholic Church from 1500 to the present day. Martin Luther played an important role in the changes that soon took place, which prompted the Catholic Counter Reformation during the close of the 16th century. Various councils and popes are highlighted with respect to their accomplishments and significance.
Chapter 4 deals with Mariolatry, the worship of Mary. Catholics do not like this term; they prefer Mariology (93). But the fact is that they do venerate and worship Mary. If Mary can hear and answer prayers, what does such imply? This material will provoke one to think (101-102). The chapter following it deals with some of the worship and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. The use of relics and the rosary are described and analyzed (125-29). An even fuller treatment of these two subjects is found in the next chapter, along with a look at Catholic holidays and feasts.
It has been claimed in debates that the New Testament does not predict any apostasy of the church; so there is a chapter devoted to that subject. It is then followed by one which emphasizes some of the differences between the first century church and the Roman Catholic Church. There is a vast difference between the two in organization, since the Bible does not mention cardinals or popes. Numerous discrepancies in doctrine can also be cited; in fact, similarities might be more difficult to find. Nearly every New Testament teaching has been changed or altered in some way.
One question that many have wondered about concerns "The Apocrypha: Is It Part of the Bible?" What are these books which the Catholic Church has in their Bible? Do they belong there? Why or why not? This thorough chapter leaves no doubt concerning these books; Christians should have knowledge of their contents.
Scarcely could a subject be more pertinent than a comparison of the "Standard of Authority for the Catholic Church and for the LordŐs Church." Probably, it is no surprise that all authority in the Catholic Church does not reside in the Word of God-but rather in the pope: "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered" (219). This statement is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994. The author includes 23 points about the Catholic Church which contrast their practices with the Scriptures (239-42). Following this chapter is one which examines a number of Roman Catholic teachings: "The Dogmatism of the Roman Catholic Church."
The material on "Bishops, Priests, Nuns, Monks, Synods, and Councils" is well-researched (as, in fact, every chapter is). No one had any desire to misrepresent Roman Catholicism; each writer took great care to make certain of his accuracy. The difference between a nun and a sister is noticed (275). The author summarizes briefly 21 Roman Catholic councils, citing the reasons for their fame. The aforementioned Council of Trent had as its purpose to refute the "errors" of Luther. "It produced the largest number of dogmatic and reformatory decrees and reformed the discipline of the church" (280). Another chapter is devoted exclusively to "The Organization of the Catholic Church."
"False Miracles of the Catholic Church" is something that the reader probably has some familiarity with already, since they have claimed for a number of years these types of things. The material delves into apparitions, some of which were in evidence in Mary, the Mother of Jesus, which was reviewed here recently. The superstitious nature of Catholicism is called attention to by newspaper accounts of an alleged "image of Mary" in a bank window in Clearwater, Florida (309-10). One always wonders how someone knows that a rather vague image is that of Mary, rather than, say, Lucretia Borgia or Joan of Arc. Then there is the account of a statue of Mary, which has been weeping tears, but after the initial flurry of attention, no one has been allowed to investigate the "phenomenon" (310-11). The author provides, from a Catholic Website, a list of "saints' bodies" that have not deteriorated since they died (312-14). It is odd however that St. Bernadette's incorruptible body was covered in wax and that St. Vincent DePaul's bones are encased in a wax figure!
This rather unusual material is followed by "A Review of the Stevens-Beevers Debate (323-38). This event took place May 13-16, 1952 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, between Eldred Stevens, who then was working with the Stillwater Church of Christ, and Dr. Eric Beevers, pastor of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the same town. The first proposition was: "The New Testament Is the Supreme Authority in the Christian Religion." The second proposition was : "The Roman Catholic Church Is the Original, Apostolic, Church of Christ." Included are four charts that were used in this debate (330, 332, 333, 337).
"The Celebration of Mass and the Doctrine of Transubstantiation" receives sufficient treatment, which it should, since this is a cardinal teaching of Roman Catholicism. It is also covered more briefly in the chapter on "The Seven Sacraments." Non-Catholics should be familiar with these facets of Roman Catholic worship so they can better understand this religion.
Another chapter of great interest is "The Intolerance of Catholicism." The purpose is not to vilify or misrepresent the Catholic Church, but the truth has a right to be heard regarding their history and current philosophy. Pope Boniface VIII, for example, would flunk today's "politically correct" philosophy; he made this claim: "We declare it to be altogether necessary that every human creature should be subject to the Roman Pontiff" (361). This policy led to far more than "social" ostracism:
Francis sent an army, under Catholic leadership, which massacred hundreds and destroyed twenty-two towns completely. The persecuting spirit reached its height in the massacre on St. Bartholomew's Day and for weeks afterward, in 1572, when by different estimates from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand people perished (364).
Obviously, this tragic situation had escalated into far more than a discussion of different ideas. Who knows how many people lost their lives in various countries because they did not accept Roman Catholicism as their religion of choice? This chapter contains other events and teachings of significance that reveal the historic Catholic doctrine of intolerance.
The reader has undoubtedly heard of the Knights of Columbus. The chapter that deals with them covers their origin, the choice of their name, their purpose for existence, and their history.
Another Catholic idea frequently referred to is the doctrine of purgatory. The Council of Trent ruled that this alleged place is "where one continues to pay for his sins after baptism" (388). Say what? The New Testament teaches that baptism is for the remission of sins and that Jesus' blood fully atones for sins, but such is not a money-making proposition; purgatory is.
What is the Catholic hierarchy's disposition toward the ten commandments? They teach that they are all binding upon men today-with the exception of those they have changed or excluded. They claim that they had the right to change the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday. In actuality, they did no such thing. The Old Testament that God gave to the Israelites through Moses was done away (including the ten commandments); in the New Testament era we worship on the Lord's day. The Catholic Church had nothing to do with this "change." But even more disturbing is their omission of the second commandment! For some reason they have an aversion to the commandment that says not to make idols and bow down before them. Many of the catechisms skip the second commandment and stretch the tenth one into two separate commandments: You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" and "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods" (409).
The chapter that deals with the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures contains a list of 20 items that the Word of God accomplishes (419). It also introduces, from the Catholic Manual of Christian Doctrine and the Manual of Moral Theology, the doctrine of "mental reservation," which in effect permits lying (425).
The chapter on the Roman Catholic use of the "confessional" is likewise thought-provoking. The question asked by the scribes keeps coming to mind: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7). The reader will not want to overlook the quotation from the Cardinals who advised Pope Jules the III to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people (432-33). Augustine and "The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Original Sin" is the reason behind infant baptism; this subject merits its own chapter.
Darrell Conley was privileged to review his own debate (August, 1995) with the two men from Catholic Response (Mike Luther and Dr. Robert Narvaez). He reported that there have been 14 people converted out of Catholicism to the Truth as a result of that debate. Sadly, men like Max Lucado, who lives in San Antonio where the debate occurred, would have told these 14 people that they were all right just the way they were; when the Scriptures are handled by him, people remain lost in their sins.
A number of points in this summary are of great interest, such as the statement by John Francis Knoll in Catholic Facts: "If it is not identical in belief, government, and etc. with the primitive church, then it is not the Church of Christ" (459). This affirmation makes the work of the debater a little easier since the Roman Catholic Church bears no resemblance to the church described in the New Testament. Brother Conley gives a summary of the key issues that were discussed each of the four nights of the debate. That debate is still in print and well worth studying.
Conley's review of his own debate is followed by Tyler Young's "Review of the Campbell-Purcell Debate," which took place in 1837. These two men debated from 9:30 to 12:30 in the morning and from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. each day (except Sunday) from January 13th to the 21st (485). Purcell would only agree to debate if he could be in the negative on each proposition. That this was a debate of some substance can be seen by the first of the seven propositions:
1. The Roman Catholic Institution, sometimes called the "Holy, Apostolic, Catholic, Church," is not now, nor was she ever, catholic, apostolic, or holy; but is a sect in the fair import of that word, older than any other sect now existing, not the "Mother and Mistress of all Churches," but an apostasy of the only true, holy, apostolic, and catholic church of Christ. (487).
Some of the topics discussed in the debate (and this review of it) are: the papacy, the corruption of the popes, the so-called succession of the popes, the infallibility of the pope, the contradictory doctrines taught by popes and councils, the immorality of Romanism, the teachings of the Council of Trent, and the Inquisition. Since this landmark debate is no longer generally available, this review of it is immensely helpful. Of great interest was Purcell's denial of the infallibility of the pope: "I have repeatedly told him [Campbell, gws], that the Catholic church has never taught that the popeŐs infallibility was an article of faith" (465). Yet 33 years later (1870) that doctrine became an article of faith, and then Archbishop Purcell had to defend it.
In "Scandals of Catholic History" there are pictures of cruel and inhuman devices that were used during the Spanish Inquisition (530-34). The tortures were monstrous. Is it any wonder that we have so few records of the true church during this time?
Most of us may not be familiar with "The Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX," but it was a significant document. He is referred to as the "creator of the modern papacy" (556); during his reign (1846-70) the "Immaculate Conception" of Mary was established (1854), as well as the doctrine of papal infallibility (1870). Several points in the Syllabus of Errors are discussed.
"Catholic Forgeries and Propaganda" is another fascinating chapter. Equally disturbing with the fact that many frauds have been perpetrated upon Catholics is the Catholic Church attitude that these fraudulent artifacts are a matter of indifference! The chapter on "Was Peter the First Pope?" includes a chart of all the popes, beginning with Peter (who never claimed to be head of the church and also traveled about with a wife, 1 Corinthians 9:5). This book is a necessary addition to every thinking personŐs library. The wealth of information contained in it far exceeds the paltry price of $16.00, if ordered from Spring Bible Institute ($1500 from Valid Publications, Inc.). *Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "RECOMMENDED READING: ROMAN CATHOLICISM (3/12/00)."