The Bible Verses Catholic Tradition

Who is Trustworthy?

I imagine that just about everyone reading here is aware that, as far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, the Word of God includes both the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, as interpreted by the Teaching Authority of the Church.

95. "'It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.'[DV 10 # 3.]"

97. "'Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God' [DV 10] in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Doubleday:New York, © 1994 United States Catholic Conference, Inc. – Libreria Editrice Vaticana, pp. 34, 35)

The RCC claims Tradition originates with God and, in fact, some certainly may. However, it does seem that a great deal of Rome’s Tradition – with a capital “T” – wells up out of the minds of men. Surely, it can be easily demonstrated that the men, the church fathers, so frequently referenced by modern Catholic apologists and wannabe apologists took different views of issues at different times in their careers.

To this day, Romish apologists can be shown to be influenced by their own prejudices in matters of foundational importance. One example might be drawn from the response of a well-respected RCC apologist, writing in Catholic Digest, to a question concerning Jesus’ siblings.

“If anyone without doctrinal background and awareness of Christian tradition would simply pick up the Gospels and read these references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus, I suppose he would take for granted that they were the children of Mary and Joseph. But it is a remarkable thing that none of the early Fathers or writers of the Church – except possibly Tertullian, who was a heretic – ever thought of considering these brethren as children of Mary. Some took it for granted that they were children of Joseph by an earlier marriage, but there was always a firm and constant doctrinal tradition that Mary had remained a virgin all her life. Origin and St. Basil are particularly strong in pointing this out.” (J. D. Conway, What the Church Teaches, Harper & Brothers:New York (1962), p. 87; w/Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur)

Just a single paragraph lifted from a longer study, yet so many errors and so many untruths. I do not accuse Monsignor Conway of deliberately lying, though I do believe him to have accepted as true many lies that originated in the infallible Teaching Authority of the RCC. Let us examine in detail a few points made by Conway.

“But it is a remarkable thing that none of the early Fathers or writers of the Church – except possibly Tertullian… ever thought of considering these brethren as children of Mary.” That is patently not true, as I demonstrated in some detail in my article Mary – Eternally Virgin? . In that article, the reader will discover that Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church and an early writer of the Church, apparently indeed did have such thoughts:

"There is a letter in which this same Clement writing to JAMES THE LORD'S BROTHER, gives an account of the death of Peter, and says that he has left him as his successor, as ruler and teacher of the church;. . . But it is time that we should pay attention to the beginning of Clement's own narrative, which he addresses to James the Lord's brother. " (Philip Schaff, Ed. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers," Vol. 3, Jerome, The Preface to the Books of Recognitions of St. Clement, p. 1135-6) (Emphasis not in original)

The Clement Jerome refers to – who addressed his own narrative to James the Lord’s Brother – was a Bishop of Rome, a pope, if you will. Surely his writings, while not infallible in this case, merit some consideration.

Moving right along, I offer the words of another early Church Father, writer and Doctor of the Church, Cyril of Jerusalem, who also appears to have given some thought to the subject:

"But now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that are asleep; — And He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; (for if thou believe not the one witness, thou hast twelve witnesses;) then He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; (if they disbelieve the twelve, let them admit the five hundred;) after that He was seen of JAMES, HIS OWN BROTHER, and first Bishop of this diocese. Seeing then that such a Bishop originally saw Christ Jesus when risen, do not thou, his disciple, disbelieve him. But thou sayest that His brother James was a partial witness; afterwards He was seen also of me Paul, His enemy; and what testimony is doubted, when an enemy proclaims it? "I, who was before a persecutor, now preach the glad tidings of the Resurrection." (Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, S. Cyril, Archibishop of Jerusalem, Lecture 14, P. 269) (Emphasis not in original)

Did you notice Cyril's clear statement, "He was seen of James, HIS OWN BROTHER?" Can any words be more clear? Can there be any legitimate understanding of these words other than what they plainly say? From Cyril’s words alone, one can argue that some of the early Church Fathers not only gave the thought some consideration but actually believed it to be true.

Leo the Great, another early Church Father, writer, pope and Doctor of the Church, penned these words, thereby manifesting that he not only had considered the idea but also believed it to be true:

“it is evident that after the incarnation of the Lord no one can be saved, even of those who hold His faith, who have not the life of faith; since it is written, They acknowledge that they know God, but in deeds they deny Him (Titus 1:16). And John says, He that saith that he knows Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar (1 John 2:4). JAMES ALSO, THE BROTHER OF THE LORD, writes saying, Faith without works is dead (James 2:20). If, then, believers now are not saved without good works, while the unbelieving and reprobate without good action were saved by our Lord descending into hell, then the lot of those who never saw the incarnation of the Lord was better than that of these who have been born after the mystery of His incarnation." (Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol. 12, The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great, Epistle 15, pp. 919-20) (Emphasis not in the original)

Well, the foregoing sources were but men and, as even a Catholic apologist will admit, fallible. How about an ecumenical council of the Church? These words from one such council clearly show that, as late as A.D. 695, there was a strong body of belief that Jesus of Nazareth had at least one sibling:

". . . For also JAMES, THE BROTHER, ACCORDING TO THE FLESH, OF CHRIST OUR GOD, to whom the throne of the church of Jerusalem first was entrusted, and Basil, the Archbishop of the Church of Caesarea, whose glory has spread through all the world, when they delivered to us directions for the mystical sacrifice in writing, declared that the holy chalice is consecrated in the Divine Liturgy with water and wine. And the holy Fathers who assembled at Carthage provided in these express terms: "That in the holy Mysteries nothing besides the body and blood of the Lord be offered, as the Lord himself laid down, that is bread and wine mixed with water." Therefore if any bishop or presbyter shall not perform the holy action according to what has been handed down by the Apostles, and shall not offer the sacrifice with wine mixed with water, let him be deposed, as imperfectly shewing forth the mystery and innovating on the things which have been handed down" (Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol. 14; The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, The Canons of the Council in Trullo; Often Called The Quinisext Council, A.D. 692, Canon 32, p.716) (Emphasis not in original)

There are other proofs that Monsignor Conway was talking through his hat when he claims that NONE of the early Church Fathers or writers, except perhaps Tertullian, ever considered that Christ had siblings, but interested readers can read their words on the linked page.

Conway lays a label on Tertullian, whom he called a heretic. Well, history certainly records that Tertullian was the most important of the converts to Montanism.

“[Montanism’s] greatest conquest was the gifted and fiery, but eccentric and rigoristic Tertullian. He became in the year 201 or 202, from ascetic sympathies, a most energetic and influential advocate of Montanism, and helped its dark feeling towards a twilight of philosophy, without, however, formally seceding from the Catholic Church, whose doctrines he continued to defend against the heretics. At all events, he was not excommunicated, and his orthodox writings were always esteemed.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, Ante-Nicene Christianity, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids (1987), p.420)

In as much as Tertullian held to Montanism, Conway’s assertion that the man was a heretic clearly holds water. Yet other Catholic writers, including Pope John Paul II, are not put off from using Tertullian’s teachings to support their doctrinal arguments. In the encyclical Fides et Ratio, John Paul II uses Tertullian’s words to support his arguments concerning the distinction between theology and philosophy. And isn’t this something we often see with Catholic theologians and apologists? A source is a heretic or mighty man of God, depending upon how his words are to be used. This is one of the major failings of reliance on Tradition for dogma and doctrine.

After discounting Tertullian’s opinions as those of a heretic, Monsignor Conway then calls upon another Doctor of the Church, early church father and writer – Saint Basil – to support the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Interestingly, Conway also points to Origin to lend strength to the dogma of Mary’s unrelenting virginity. This calling upon the work of Origen is particularly interesting when one considers Conway’s scathing use of the label HERETIC in reference to Tertullian (whose position on the issue apparently ran contrary to that of the Monsignor). Tertullian was not excommunicated, but Origen was in fact anathematized by a Church council.

If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema. Medieval Sourcebook: Fifth Ecumenical Council: Constantinople II, 553, Canon 11 [Denzinger 223])

An ecumenical council anthematized Origen and his writings, yet Conway – and any number of other Catholic theologians and apologists draw support for their positions from his writings. Once again, proof that a figure, ancient or modern, can be either a dog or a goat, depending upon the purpose of the Catholic writer. This is Tradition. And it is utterly unreliable as a source of doctrinal truth.

One final comment on Conway’s words quoted above. The opening sentence carries very heavy elitist overtones. The inference is that “anyone without doctrinal background and awareness of Christian tradition” is unequipped to understand or grasp biblical truth. Yet, as I have shown, Conway – an apologist who surely must have had both a doctrinal background and an awareness of Christian (read Catholic) tradition – manifested his own inability, or unwillingness, to understand biblical truth.

God’s truth is in the Sacred Scriptures. Look for it there, not in the self-serving utterances of men with axes to grind. When presented with doctrinal statements or issues of a theological nature – even on this board – I urge the reader not to accept them at face value. Rather, open the Scriptures and prayerfully search to see what the Lord God had to say on the issue at hand.

Ye Must Be Born Again