Letter to My Non-Catholic Friend (2)

Peter is Made Chief Shepherd of Christ's Church; the Popes Succeed Peter

The unique place of primacy Peter enjoyed among Jesus' apostles is especially evident from three Bible texts: Matt. 16:13-19; Luke 22:31 sqq., and John 21:15 sqq. The first passage tells us how our Savior changed Peter's name, by calling him "Kepha," the Aramaic word for "rock," which in Latin is "petros," from which derives the English "Peter." So "Peter" means "rock." (Formerly he had been known as "Simon.") By this symbolic act, the Lord meant to designate Peter as the foundation of the Church He intended to establish; Peter was to be the sign of stability, permanence, and unity. In this same passage, moreover, Peter is promised both the keys to heaven's Kingdom and the power to bind and to loose. Luke 22:24-32 is the text relating a controversy among the disciples. On this occasion Christ foretold that Peter was about to be put to the test by Satan: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." (Luke 22:31). This test occurred, of course, at the hour of Calvary. "I tell you, Peter... that the cock shall not crow today, until you have three times denied that you know Me." (Luke 22:34). But the prayer of Christ, said for Peter in particular, would save him, so that he in turn might "confirm his brethren" in faith: "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren." (Luke 22:32). Again, therefore, Peter is the rock and bulwark of the faith. In John 21:15 sqq., Jesus fulfills His pledge to give Peter the keys of heaven. This is the beautiful passage in which Peter is made shepherd of Christ's universal flock. The Acts of the Apostles show us how Peter functioned in his role of chief shepherd. He is the primary spokesman for the apostles; even though we read of Peter's "standing with the Eleven," it is Peter who speaks. He is the principal preacher, the pacesetter for apostolic endeavor. Read, for example, Acts 1:15-26; 2:14-40; 3:1-26; 4:8; 5:1-11; 5:29; 8:14-17; etc. That Peter eventually went to Rome --clearly through the Spirit's guidance -- is the testimony of St. Ignatius of Antioch (died 107), as well as several other ancient chroniclers. As early as the first century, too, Pope St. Clement I, a successor of Peter in Rome (even though St. John the Apostle still lived), demonstrates possession of full responsibility for the whole Church in a dispute involving the Corinthians. Tertullian and Hippolytus, both second-century witnesses, acknowledge Peter as the first in the succession of Bishops of Rome; St. Cyprian, in the third century, views the unity of the Church as originating from Peter. And from the second century on, the Bishop of Rome was asked for judgment in controversial ecclesial issues. (St. Peter and St. Paul's relics are in St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome.)

The Apostolic Teaching Body Continues to the Present Day

Passing through the ages, we find the same Apostolic system of teaching. Down to the 16th century, there existed in Christendom no other than this idea. The Bishops were looked upon as successors of the Apostles, and their unanimous teaching under the Pope was regarded as absolutely trustworthy -- as truly representing the doctrine of Christ. The Church as a whole could not possibly fall into error -- this was guaranteed by the promises of Christ: "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18); and those who claimed scripture in support of new doctrines, and against the prevailing doctrine of the Church, were regarded as heretics and rebels against Christ, and against his authority delegated to the Church.

The Church Came to be Known as the Catholic Church

The following is quoted from the book Outlines of European History by James Breasted and James Robinson, copyright 1914, which was used as a textbook at Classen Public High School in Oklahoma City in the 1930s. (So it is not a Catholic school history book.): "It was not until about the third century that Christians came to call their Church 'Catholic' (meaning universal). The Catholic Church embraced all true believers in Christ, wherever they might be. To this one universal Church all must belong who hoped to be saved." (page 308). And then it quotes St. Cyprian (died 258) as follows: "Whoever separates himself from the Church is separated form the promises of the Church... He is an alien, he is profane, he is an enemy; he can no longer have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the Ark of Noah, so also may he escape who shall be outside the bounds of the Church." (Note: Breasted & Robinson's text errs, however, as to the date the Church came to be called Catholic. St. Ignatius of Antioch (died 107) called the Church Catholic in his writings.)

So until the 16th century when Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church, the overwhelming majority of Christians were Roman Catholics.

The Protestant Rebellion

The Protestant rebellion continues to be in fact what its adherents call it today -- a protest, and themselves Protest-ants, Protestants. A protest against what? Against Christ's divinely constituted teaching authority in the world -- His Church -- and the substitution of the Bible, interpreted by each individual, in its place. This ran counter to the almost unanimous conviction of Christendom for 1,500 years!

What Were the Causes of the Protestant Rebellion?

First, there had been a gradual relaxation of discipline which had weakened authority and opened the way to many scandals and unpunished abuses in the ranks of the clergy. "At the close of the Middle Ages and dawn of the new era, the Papacy had been too eager in the pursuit of humanistic aims, had cultivated too exclusively merely human ideals of art and learning, and at the same time had become entangled in secular business and politics, and was altogether too worldly." (Grisar, "Luther," p. 427). Moreover, in Germany at this time the Bishops were mostly younger sons of princely or noble houses who were quite unfitted for their spiritual work. And as for the lower clergy, secular and religious, while many were zealous to diffuse religious knowledge by catechetical teaching, sermons, instructive publications and educational work in the elementary and middle schools, many others were quite neglectful of these sacred duties.

So there were abuses in the Church then, as there are today, and as there always will be. But "Blessed is he who shall not be scandalized in Me." (Luke 7:23). Christ did not guarantee His Church from scandal, but from error: "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will teach you all truth." (John 16:13). There were scandals in the Church even while Jesus was with it: Judas was a thief, a traitor, and a suicide; Peter, the head, swore to a falsehood; James and John quarreled over supremacy; St. Peter and St. Paul were at variance over circumcision, and St. Paul excommunicated one of the faithful for unspeakable lust. The Church is made up of men, not angels. The triumph of the Church is not in being composed of sinless mortals, but in supplying sinful men with means to carry on the struggle against their vicious tendencies. But Jesus by His divine power granted that His Church, even though composed of weak and sinful men, would never teach error. The Church may have needed house cleaning in the 16th century, but the way to clean house is not to dynamite it. A child may have a very dirty face and yet be absolutely pure in body and soul. "I am black but beautiful," sings the Church to all men in the words of Solomon (Canticles 1:4); that is, although the Catholic Church, the very Body of Jesus Christ in time and space, may appear to the eyes of men as it were black and contemptible; but inwardly, that is, in its faith and morals, fair and beautiful in the eyes of God.

You cannot heal a diseased member of the body by cutting it off. Cut away a member of the body from the heart's blood, and it dies. The spark of life animating the body does not follow the severed member. The spark of life remains with the body, and the severed member begins to disintegrate and decay. This is precisely what happened to the followers of the revolution of the 16th century, as we shall soon see. "It follows that those who are divided in faith and in government cannot be living in one Body... and cannot be living the life of its one divine Spirit." (Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, The Mystical Body of Christ.)

No people can form by themselves a congregation or church, claiming that they follow the teachings of Christ. Christ did not say: "Thou art Luther and upon this rock I will build my church" (or "Thou art Calvin, Knox, King Henry VIII," etc.). Numberless are the false churches. "Among you there will be lying teachers who will bring in destructive sects... and many will follow... " (2 Peter 2:1,2). ..."and by pleasing speeches, and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent" (Romans 16:18). "In the last times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils..." (1 Tim. 4:1-2); "For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine. But according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having to themselves itching ears; and will turn away their hearing from the truth." (2 Tim. 4:3-4). "They received not the love of truth that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying." (2 Thess. 2:10-11). "There is a way that seemeth just to a man, but the ends thereof lead to death." (Proverbs 14:12).

Cause of the Rapid Spread and Establishment of Protestantism

How was it possible that the Revolution became so widespread in such a short period of time, and that whole nations gave up the faith of their forefathers? One cause which greatly contributed to the defection was that the civil rulers in Germany, Scandinavia, England, and elsewhere, took advantage of the disorder, seeing in the rebellion a coveted opportunity of gaining absolute control over the people and of confiscating the property of the Church; and they gave to the leaders of the rebellion a support, without which the revolution everywhere would have failed utterly.

The traitorous political ambition of France helped set up Protestantism permanently in Europe. It was Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), Prime Minister and real ruler of France under Louis XIII, who, to ensure the political victory of France in Europe, took the side of the Protestant princes of Germany against the Catholic Emperor, Ferdinand II, at the most critical moment of the Thirty Years' War between the forces of Protestantism and Catholicism. Cardinal Richelieu hired the Protestant military genius, Gustavus Adolphus, for five tubs of gold, to enter the war against the Catholics. The defeat of Ferdinand made impossible his dream of a Europe united again as one family by the Faith, so close to realization but for the treachery of the French Cardinal.

Another cause was the popular unrest and love of novelty which characterized the 16th century, and the discontent and evil elements that are present at all times in every society. Furthermore, the recent invention of printing enabled the Protestants to circulate their teachings, thus confusing and deceiving the minds of simple folk.

The Catholic Counter-Reformation

Long before the Protestant revolt, all serious-minded Catholic men and women were convinced that a purification of the Church in her hierarchy and in her members was needed. Not the Catholic religion, as the Protestants maintained, but the people who professed that religion, required reformation. "Men must be changed by religion," as one of the champions of true reform remarked, "not religion by men." Our Lord told us not to be scandalized when we see "cockle and wheat in His Church." (Matt. 13:24-30). By why blame the Church for bad Catholics? All the bad Catholics in the world are not the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church holds the "deposit of Faith," spoken of by St. Paul (1 Tim. 6:20-21). The bad Catholics are bad not because of being Catholic, but because they neglect their Catholic duties and disgrace their exalted condition. "The Church is a perfect body, composed of imperfect men. This is the mystery of faith, which is a stumbling block to those outside it." (St. Augustine).

So the first goal of the counter-reformation was the purification of the Church in her hierarchy, and in her members. The spread of error by Protestants, who attacked the Divine Constitution of the Church and her fundamental doctrines, also imposed upon the Catholic leaders the duty of setting forth in unmistakable and authoritative terms the true doctrine of Christianity contained in Scripture and tradition. For this purpose, an ecumenical council was convened (The Council of Trent, the 19th Council of the Church) in the year 1545. The Council set up a vast program to restore religious discipline, revive faith, and check the spread of Protestantism by defining dogmatically the doctrines under attack, and censuring the errors of the rebellion.

There is no better proof for the divine origin and guidance of the Church than the fact that she not only survived the great Protestant Revolt of the 16th century, but emerged from the conflict rejuvenated and prepared to meet new ones.

With regard to the teachings of the "reformers:"

Which Was Appointed by Christ to Teach Mankind the True Religion: The Church or the Bible?

When our Divine Savior sent His Apostles throughout the world to preach the Gospel to every creature, He laid down the conditions of salvation thus: "He who believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he who believeth not shall be condemned." (Mark 16:16). Here, then, our Blessed Lord laid down two absolute and universal conditions -- Faith and Baptism. What is this Divine Faith which we must have in order to be saved? It is to believe, upon the authority of God, "all things whatsoever" (Matt. 28:20) He has revealed. Therefore if a man would be saved he must profess the true Religion. Now if God commands me under pain of damnation to believe what He has taught, He is bound to give me the means to know what He has taught. What is this means? "The Bible," say the Protestants. But we Catholics say, "No, not the Bible, but the Church of God." For if God had intended that man should learn his religion from the Bible, surely God would have given that book to man. But He did not do so. Christ sent His apostles throughout the earth and said: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:19,20). Christ did not say, sit down and write Bibles, and then let every man read and judge for himself. Since the 16th century we have seen the result of such thinking in the founding of hundreds of religions by men, all quarreling with one another about the interpretation of the Bible. Jesus never wrote a line of scripture, nor did He command His Apostles to do so, except when He directed St. John to write the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation 1:11), but ordered them to "teach all nations." (Matt. 28:19). In Matt. 18:17, He does not say, "He who will not read the scriptures, " but "he who will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican." The Apostles never circulated a single volume of scripture, but going forth, preached everywhere (Mark 16:20). It is true that our Lord said on one occasion, "Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and the same are they that give testimony of me." (John 5:39). This passage is quoted by Protestants in favor of private interpretation, but proves nothing of the kind. Our Savior speaks here only of the Old Testament, because the New Testament was not yet written. He addressed, not the Apostles, but the Pharisees, and reproaches them for not admitting His Divinity, clearly known and shown by the prophets of the Old Testament.

The Church established by Christ existed about 65 years before St. John wrote the last book of the Bible. During these years how did the people know what they had to do, to save their souls? Was it from the Bible they learned it? No, because the Bible as such was not yet composed.