I was approached by a Protestant regarding the Catholic Church, giving the standard claims of “you have a gospel of works” and “you’re hellbound”, etc. However, the Protestant provided a website with a list of questions directed towards the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Apparently, they’re “irrefutable”. I decided to take a crack at them during my lunch and found them to be the usual kind of questions: full of misconceptions, false assumptions and bad arguments which clearly were not irrefutable. I present to you now my responses to the questions. I must point out that some of the questions within the link were directed to the Orthodox only, so I took the time to erase those and respond to the ones which addressed the Catholic Faith. Enjoy!
1) If the Roman Catholic church gave the world the Bible, being infallible, then why did Rome reject or question the inspiration of James and Hebrews , then later accept it? Conversely, Rome accepted as scripture books that were later rejected. If the Catholic church really is illuminated by the Holy Spirit so that men can trust her as “God’s organization”, why was she so wrong about something so simple? Should not the “Holy See” have known?
I’d have to first ask for citations for such a claim. I am aware that Martin Luther is the one who questioned the inspiration of Hebrews, James and Revelation, even going so far as to include them in a back part of his Bible separate from other versions. Who rejected Scriptural books? Certainly not the Protestants (the Protestants did not exist for 1500 years). I’d have to ask for a clarification regarding the who’s and the what’s that are being presented in this question and other questions, as it appears that these questions are not geared towards giving empirical evidence regarding the questions for Catholics. Thus, I cannot answer the other two questions within this “question” because of the lack of information being presented in the first two questions (citations as well as identification).
2) If the Roman Catholic church gave the world the Bible in 397 AD, then why did many different versions of canons continue to circulate long afterwards?
The Catholic Church didn’t give the world the Bible in 397 AD, it has been given since Pentecost. I say this because since Pentecost the Church has compiled, protected and authoritatively canonized the Scriptures that were being used by local churches at the time. Furthermore, what many different versions circulated? What did they have and what did they lack? Where is the information that can be given so I can verify the question and answer it properly?
3) If the Roman Catholic church gave us the Bible, why were the two synods of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage, (397 AD) African councils, and not initiatives of Rome?
Because the Catholic Church is not the “Roman Catholic Church”. In other words, the Catholic Church is not comprised of the archdiocese of Rome alone, it is comprised of every diocese that holds to the Holy Catholic Faith. This means that if something occurs in a particular diocese (or ‘church’), it is with regards to the Catholic Church as a whole. Thus, the several different councils which exist (the Second Council of Orange, the Council of Trent, and so on).
4) Since the synod Carthage in 393 AD stated, “But let Church beyond sea (Rome) be consulted about confirming this canon”, does this not prove that Rome had no direct input or initiative in determining the canon.
I don’t see where this question makes sense. Is the quote not saying “let the Church beyond the Sea, which is Rome, be consulted regarding the confirmation of this canon”? Is it not directly saying that the synod of Carthage in 393 AD was appealing to Rome in order to confirm the Canon? The quote given seems to disarm and destroy the intent of the question being given.
5) If the Catholic church, “by her own inherent God given power and authority” gave the world the Bible, why did she not get it right the first time? Why did the Roman Catholic church wait until 1546 AD in the Council of Trent, to officially add the Apocrypha to the Canon?
The Deuterocanonicals (or Apocrypha) were not added. Note that in the African Councils and in the writings of such people as St. Augustine and St. Jerome (who translated the Vulgate at the request of Rome), the Deuterocanonicals were included. Why does the person giving this question not read the councils which it quotes in order to present other questions? I mean, this seems like a mistake given by someone who did not spend their time doing the research about the other councils which they pointed out in the previous questions. [Edit: Regarding the last part of this question, it did this for the same reason that it defined the divinity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325 as well as other parts of the Christian faith. The only time when the faith is 'officially" defined is when either the need for clarification is discerned by the Church (Vatican II for example), or when someone is questioning a major part of the faith (Council of Trent). This is why the canon was officially defined in 1546.]
6) Both Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox church leaders make the identical claim that they gave the world the Bible. If both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches make the same claim they gave the world the Bible, why do they have different books in each of their Bibles? Whose “church authority” shall we believe? Whose tradition is the one we should follow?
This question has been discussed in other places such as the link I am going to give here, which provides an explanation which is far more detailed and helpful than a soundbite from myself: http://newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm However, what I can say is that both Churches accept the Catholic Canon (and have accepted this canon for the first 1000 years). This cannot be said for Protestantism. However, I would reference the link above as it provides a better answer to the question which is being asked.
7) Provide a single example of a doctrine that originates from an oral Apostolic Tradition that the Bible is silent about? Provide proof that this doctrinal tradition is apostolic in origin. Provide a single example of where inspired apostolic “oral revelation” (tradition) differed from “written” (scripture)?
Sure; The Canon of the Bible. The Canon of the Bible is not found in the Bible; it does not provide an explicit list of what is or what isn’t Scripture. Furthermore, it is Apostolic, as those who determined the Canon held the Apostolic authority necessary in order to confirm this canon. Or as Protestants often say, “the early Church discerned the canon”. Again, Written Scripture does not provide a basis for the Canon. It provides us with the Torah (which was exclusively used by Sadducees and Samaritans, who rejected the modern Jewish Bible and Protestant Old Testament) and with an affirmation of St. Paul’s writings, though not a list of which ones (As we know of letters that exist from Paul which were lost and did not make it into the Canon).
8) If you are not permitted to engage in private interpretation of the Bible, how do you know which “apostolic tradition” is correct between the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and the Watchtower churches, for all three teach the organization alone can interpret scripture correctly, to the exclusion of individual?
I’m not sure the person writing these questions understands what the Catholic Church teaches regarding private interpretation. According to the Church, the Catechism in Paragraph #94 points out that Christians should spend their time reading Scripture and studying it and Paragraph #85 points out that the Magisterium holds this ability authoritatively. To explain, it means that Christians can learn and interpret the Bible, but not against or away from the Church. This would be similar to Protestantism saying that you can research the Bible and study it, but you cannot reject the Five Solas (or TULIP if you’re a Calvinist, etc.). The concept of a church providing authoritative interpretations and having members check their understanding of Scripture against them is common in liturgical churches such as in the Reformed and Lutheran Churches (thus the different Catechisms). In the same way, Catholics can study the Bible and check it against the authoritative interpretation of the Church. Thus, if someone interprets the Bible and thinks that it says that Jesus isn’t God, or that God isn’t a Trinity, or that Baptism isn’t regenerative, or that Mary isn’t Jesus’ mother or any such thing, they must come to the Church who shall correct their false interpretation. I know which Apostolic Tradition is correct due to the deposit of faith which has been taught for the past 2000 years and written about by faithful members of the Church who have explored and taught and defended and died for this apostolic tradition (also known as the Gospel).
9) Why did God fail to provide an inspired and infallible list of Old Testament books to Israel? Why would God suddenly provide such a list only after Israel was destroyed in 70 AD?
Why would God need to provide a list? Did Israel work on Sola Scriptura as well? And where is this list that Israel has? I don’t see where this list is or why it was given to Israel after the destruction of the Temple. The problem is that the person giving these questions clearly asks things that seem to assume rather than to prove.
10) How could the Jews know that books of Kings or Isaiah were Scripture?
Many didn’t; There were three different understandings of the Jewish canon (Sadduccees and Pharisees and even today with the Ethiopian Jews who hold to the Septuagint (or Catholic/Orthodox) Canon. Many Jews rejected Kings and Isaiah precisely because these books condemned their sins. Those who accepted the books did so on the authority of their own Magisterium (as in the leaders) Why would they need to “know these books”? Where does this question irrefutably damage the Catholic or Orthodox position?
11) If the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches both believes that the scripture: “the church is the pillar and foundation of truth” means the church is protected from error then: a. Why do they teach doctrine so different that they are not even in communion with each other? b. How do you account for the vast number of documented theological errors made by the pope and the church in general? If the both the Orthodox and Catholic churches follow apostolic oral tradition exactly, how come they teach doctrine so different, that they are not even in communion with each other?
What doctrines do they teach that are so different as to the schism? Does the writer of these questions even have an inkling about why the Schism occurred and what the reasons where? Does the author not take the time to look at how much time the two Churches have spent working towards this communion? The Catholic Church (and many members of the Orthodox Church) accept each other as valid Churches and work towards unity. And where is this list of theological errors made by the Pope and the Church? Why does the author make such audacious claims without providing any evidence in order to substantiate such claims? This question only seems to serve as evidence of someone who does not understand even to a slight bit what the issue was regarding the Schism and how it is being resolved.
12) Both Tertullian and Jerome gave a list of oral traditions that were not found in the Bible. (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4), (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8) Tertullian said of these practices that “without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone”. These include, baptizing by immersion three times, giving the one baptized a “drink of milk and honey” then forbidding the person from taking a bath for a week, kneeling in Sunday mass was forbidden, and the sign of the cross was to be made on the forehead. Jerome, echoing Tertullian, said that these “observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law”. Why does the Catholic church not immerse thrice and allow kneeling? Why do both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches not keep any of these traditions, with the exception of thrice immersion by the Orthodox? Why do Roman Catholic churches today have knelling rails in front of every pew? If the “apostolic tradition” was to make the sign of the cross on the forehead, why do both Orthodox and Catholic churches change this to the current practice of the sign on the chest and head? If extra-biblical oral tradition is to be followed, then why don’t the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches practice all of these things?
Oral “small t” traditions do not = Apostolic Tradition. This is where we have a problem of terminology; the person does not understand what Sacred Tradition is or what the difference is between Tradition and “small-t” traditions. First, from the Catechism:
83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium.
Furthermore, Jerome actually writes this in the work which was quoted:
“Thirsty men in their dreams eagerly gulp down the water of the stream, and the more they drink the thirstier they are. In the same way you appear to me to have searched everywhere for arguments against the point I raised, and yet to be as far as ever from being satisfied. Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance4087the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of4088tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy;4089and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.”
Note that Jerome was writing regarding Baptism and other traditions saying that they do not need to be validated with Scripture in order to be accepted. Is this not a perfect ECF condemnation of Sola Scriptura? If you wish to use this passage, it proves too much; it proves that the Christian Church did not accept Sola Scriptura but was taught to hold to both Scripture AND Tradition as having equal authority.
13) Why do Roman Catholics always use 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:14 as Bible proof that extra-biblical oral tradition is to be followed through apostolic succession, when tradition says Timothy became the bishop of Ephesians, which through succession, is now part of the Greek Orthodox church headed out of Constantinople? If 2 Timothy 2:2 proves succession, doesn’t this prove the Roman Catholic church is not part of that succession?
Remember that the Churches existed for 1000 years; and the Catholic Church accepts the Orthodox as having Succession (and many Orthodox likewise consider the Church in the same manner). It proves succession by pointing to the Greek Orthodox Church which is accepted by the Catholic Church as having that succession which is pointed out. This question merely proves rather than disproving what the claim entails.
14) When you see the word tradition, why do you always assume it to be oral tradition rather than scripture tradition, when the Bible calls scripture tradition in 2 Thess 2:15, and Athanasius call scripture tradition: “the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, ‘Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh” Athanasius then quotes: 1 Peter 4:1; Titus 2:13; Heb 2:1 (Athanasius, To Adelphius, Letter 60, 6)?
Scripture tradition? I’ve never heard of such a phrase used like this, though this proves far more than you would like. The Bible calls Scripture a product of Apostolic Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15, which says that we are to hold to the traditions given to use by the Apostles, whether they are SPOKEN or WRITTEN. The Verse proves that there is an existence of both, and that Scripture comes from the Apostolic Tradition (which the Church teaches). Yes, Scripture is a part of Apostolic Tradition, as St. Athanasius proves and as the Church teaches in CCC Paragraph # 81-83:
81 “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
“And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”
82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.
We don’t assume that tradition = oral tradition, we assume that Scripture is a part of Sacred Tradition, as the person asking this question has just admitted.
15) The Church Fathers believed what Paul said in Eph 3:3-5, that the scripture could be understood by merely reading it. They indicated that the scriptures themselves were clear, so clear, they even criticized the heretics for getting it wrong. If those outside the church and common pew dwellers are unable to understand the Bible themselves as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach, then why did the apostolic fathers expect the heretics to understand the Bible with their own human skills? (Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ, ch 20), (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, 56), (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 1, 35), (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 7, 16)
No one denies that the Scriptures are clear (Except St. Peter who writes that Paul’s writings are hard to understand and that the unstable and ignorant twist them and the other Scriptures, and that private interpretation does not lead to prophecy from Sacred Scripture). However, you’d have to provide historical evidence for the Early Church Fathers accepting the perspicuity of Scripture argument. Mind you, no one seriously denies that the Scriptures are clear, we simply deny that you can rely on yourself and the Scriptures alone in order to interpret them correctly. Note 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Ephesians 4:11-14 and their similarity of words. God gave us teachers and apostles and pastors to use the word to aid us; this is a perfect example of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium.
As you’re quoting Catholics, we wouldn’t say that people cannot understand the Scriptures, though we would argue that there are many people who can’t due to cultural issues and sin. My question would be to the person writing this is, “where do you see the Bible ever saying that a person should use the Bible alone, apart from any teacher?”. Does the Eunuch not turn to Philip and say that he does not know what the prophecy is about? And again, look at the verses from 2 Timothy and Ephesians for further clarification.
16) If each individual possessing a copy of the scriptures is an essential pre-condition to sola Scriptura, then how do illiterate Catholic and Orthodox pew-dwellers know the Catholic and Orthodox Catechisms? If illiterate Catholics and Orthodox can have the Catechisms read to them, then why not the scripture? If universal distribution of the Bible in every home is an essential pre-condition of sola Scriptura, then how could Catholic and Orthodox pew-dwellers know the message of the Pope before the time of modern instant live communication?
I don’t see where an individual possessing a copy of the Scriptures is necessary for Sola Scriptura. Where do you see anyone making such an argument? Furthermore, you’d have to look at the Church’s writings (such as in Dei Verbum) and with the Scriptures, which point out that we individual Christians are called to study the Word and know it. To quote from Dei Verbum:
“The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”(5)”
I don’t see why Sola Scriptura relies on bibles in every home. The first printed bible was the Catholic Gutenberg Bible, in case if you weren’t aware. Can you provide a reason why this individual possession must equal Sola Scriptura? Does Sola Scriptura not merely require a rejection of valid authority? Clearly, one can hold to this principle and pastor a flock with it without having everyone own or read a bible; they just have to reject any other authority that comes from the Church and thus from Christ.
17) If the ability to read is an essential pre-condition to sola Scriptura, then how do the illiterate Catholic and Orthodox commoner know for certain that the priest is faithfully teaching the dogma, canons and edicts of councils if they could not read the documents?
No one would say that Sola Scriptura needs people to read. I’m assuming this comes from the argument that people didn’t HAVE bibles due to how expensive bibles were and due to the fact that Christians didn’t have the ability to read during this certain period of time. The commoner would know due to the actions of the Church; the Church is not a dead organism which works only through written documents. There are living authorities (Bishops, Popes, and so on) who take the time to deal with those priests who AREN’T faithfully teaching the Gospel and the historic Christian faith. That’s how a commoner would know. And before you think “that begs the question”, note that we’re discussing people who have apostolic authority, who can trace their succession back to the Apostles. They can also look at the Saints who would defend this faith. And there were those who could read and understood that the Church was teaching the same faith. No, a conspiracy theory of “commoners didn’t know anything and those who were literate hid it from them” is not a valid response to my statement.
18) How do the Catholic and Orthodox commoners who can read, know for certain that the priest is faithfully teaching the dogma, canons and edicts of councils if they did not possess copies of such documents?
They go and collect the documents or visit the libraries of those of the Religious life (monks and others) who protected such documents. That’s how. If they can read it would mean that they have the money for an education, which means that they have the money to find what they require. I don’t see how this is an earth shattering question, more of a waste of time.
19) If the earliest, universal oral tradition clearly states that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, why does the Roman Catholic church question this tradition to this day? (The Orthodox, are at least consistent in accepting this tradition, not that they are correct.)
First, can you prove that this tradition says this? Second, this is not a part of Apostolic Tradition but of “small-t” tradition. If you wish to understand what Apostolic Tradition is, please refer to the previous comment where I give you the quotation of what it is. Before one writes questions, one must look at why the Church does this or doesn’t do this. Would that be reasonable?
20) Name one sure way or method, that a new believer in Christ, can know that the Roman Catholic church is the one true church. (The challenge: make sure this method cannot apply also to the Orthodox church.)
The succession of those Bishops who have sat in the Chair of Peter is a historical testimony to the consistency of the Catholic Church that the Catholic Church is the Church. Note that the Catholic Church does not deny that the Orthodox Church is equal to the Catholic Church with valid sacraments/succession and so on.
21) If the personal illumination of the Holy Spirit upon each believer to understand the Bible is not a valid method of determining truth because of the many denominations that use this approach, then does it not follow that apostolic succession and oral church traditions are likewise invalid because the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are two denominations that use this method yet are divided on doctrine? Does this not prove both methods are wrong and a third method, one which we and the apostolic church practiced must be the correct method?
What doctrines do the Catholic and Orthodox Church separate themselves on? There are very, very few that actually are doctrinal issues, and what issues that do exist are already being worked on by the Churches. Again, we have to look at what the difference is between Sacred Tradition and “small t” traditions, which is what is being confused here. No, it would not prove that the method is wrong because of the fact that the Church ran and still runs on this method since Pentecost and has defended the Sacred Deposit of Faith. The 500 year old Sola Scriptura adherents have already spiraled out of control and have hundreds of churches who claim Sola Scriptura and teach Modalism and New Age nonsense and other false teachings (as well as a false Christology). Rather, it proves that the methods are right since we have the orthodox, historic Faith which both Churches do share and do acknowledge before each other every single year.
22) If sola Scriptura cannot be the correct method of determining truth because of the religious division among churches that claim to use sola Scriptura, then does this not also disqualify the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches method of using tradition, since they are divided against themselves?
No. The reason why is because within Protestantism there is no single thing that cannot be questioned and rejected through the use of Sola Scriptura. Thus why the Jehovah’s Witnesses exist in the first place (as well as why thousands of Churches teach modalism and New Age ideology and bad Christology which accepts Nestorian ideas in order to reject Catholic theology). The Catholic and Orthodox Churches use Tradition AND Scripture, and thus share the Historic Christian Faith. In fact, the notion that the Churches are divided against one another runs flat once you realize that they have been working together to form unity and to deal with false teaching since the Schism. Rather than disqualifying the Churches, it validates them.
I have responded to every single one of these questions, most of which ran off of misconceptions about Sacred Scripture and Tradition and what the Church teaches about them. Other questions were based out of ignorance regarding Church history and the history of the Schism between the West and East Churches. I hardly found any of this to be “irrefutable questions that a Roman Catholic can’t answer”, more of “questions which have no merit and do not use evidence to support its claims.
Please revise your questions to use more citations and less assumptions and misconceptions, and I’ll be glad to do a round two of this. These are my responses to these “irrefutable questions”, though it only takes one response: Don’t rely on ignorance in order to evangelize.