Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 14, 1961
NUMBER 19, PAGE 4,9,13b

Errors And Dangers Of Roman Catholicism --- No. 4


Frank Van Dyke (Spiritual Life, June, 1961)

The next claim of the Catholics that I want to discuss with you is their claim that the Catholic Church has the exclusive right to interpret the scriptures. That simply means this: If you were a member of the Catholic Church you would not have the right to read the Bible and understand it according to your own good common sense and knowledge of language. To the Catholic Church herself, they say, that right belongs exclusively, and a good member of that fellowship accepts without question any and every interpretation that is handed down by the clergy. To make sure that I am not misrepresenting them at all in that respect, I want to read to you a few of their own statements. Here is a statement from Cardinal Hosius: "If anyone has the interpretation of the church of Rome concerning any text of scripture, although he does not understand how the interpretation suits the text, yet he possesses the identical word of God." Now, that means if one has the interpretation that the Catholic Church places upon a passage of scripture, even though he cannot see or understand how that interpretation suits the text; that is, if it seems to his own intelligence and knowledge of language that such is not the meaning of the words, he has no right to quibble or question but is to be satisfied with the assurance that he has the identical word of God! Just to put it in plain language, the Cardinal is saying that the ordinary person does not have sense enough to read and understand the Bible; that he cannot read plain language and understand what it means. I think that is an insult to everyone's intelligence. But again: "That we may in all things obtain the truth, that we may not err in anything, we ought ever to hold it as a fixed principle, that what I see white I believe to be black, if the hierarchical church so define it to be." That is a statement from Ignatius Loyola, a name of prominence and renown in Catholic history. That was his way of emphasizing the need of accepting what the church says about the meaning of scripture regardless of how it may seem to the individual. "What I see white I ought to make it a principle to believe it to be black, if the church says it is."

The third article of Pope Pius' creed requires this vow of Catholics: "I also admit the scriptures according to the sense which the holy mother church has held and does hold, to whom it belongs to judge the true sense of the interpretation of the scriptures, nor will I ever take nor interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers." Do you get the force of that statement? A vow to the effect that I will accept the scriptures according to the interpretation of the church, because to that church belongs the exclusive right to judge of the sense and interpretation thereof, and I solemnly vow that I will never interpret them in any other way except according to the unanimous consent of the fathers! When one takes that vow, he throws away his intellectual liberty, his moral freedom, and binds himself to accept what the fathers, so-called, said centuries and centuries ago, even though they were as fallible as he himself. But apart from the ridiculousness of that fact, from our standpoint, and in the light of our knowledge of gospel truth and liberty, it requires two impossibilities anyway.

First, it is not possible to know what the voice of the church is on the meaning of all the scriptures. It is amusing and ironical that they have never set forth the official interpretation of the scriptures. I think that is a dead giveaway that they know that they do not have that infallible power. Don't you know good and well that if they verily believed that, then all that is necessary would be for them to write a commentary once and for all and say, "here is what each passage of scripture means," then all for all ages would be bound to accept that. But no, it is a convenient tool to leave those interpretations not given so they can change their interpretations from time to time according to the demand of the ages. And we shall show later that this is exactly what they have done. I believe it is said that there are just six or seven passages of scripture that have been "infallibly' interpreted by the Catholic Church, and that is all that they have dared hand down a formal, official decision on. That is one impossibility that this vow requires.

Another impossibility is to have the unanimous consent of the so-called fathers on Biblical interpretation. That is impossible for the simple reason that those "fathers" have not always been unanimous in their interpretation of certain passages. Let me give you one or two examples of divergence of ideas among the so-called church fathers on scripture interpretation. In the year 1352, there appeared a book called THE GLORIES OF MARY, written by Liguori, a prominent Catholic scholar. The Sacred Congregation of Rites is a committee in the Catholic Church, really, that passes upon the literature that is good for Catholics to read. Now this committee said about this volume, "There is nothing about this book to be censored." Now, that book gave this explanation of that passage back in Genesis 1:16 where it is said that God made the two lights; "the greater to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night:" "Those two lights represent Christ and Mary. The greater light represents Christ to rule the righteous and the lesser light represents Mary to rule the sinners." Now, that interpretation of that passage was given in that book. It is a false interpretation itself, but I am simply giving you what that volume said was the meaning of that passage. Then Pope Gregory IX in a decretal epistle gave this meaning of that passage. He said that the two lights represent two powers or realms of authority. The greater light represents the pontifical power and the lesser light represents the temporal authority. You can see that is an entirely different interpretation than that given in Liguori's book. I think neither one of them is correct. I know they are not, but the main point here is that they have not been unanimous on the meaning of that language in Genesis 1:16.

But let us take another example. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." What about their idea that that rock means Peter? Have they always been unanimous in that interpretation? Cardinal Bellarmine once made the statement that the "fathers" had been unanimous in the idea that the "rack" in the passage refers to Peter. Mr. Lunoy, a famous Catholic writer, mind you, took issue with Bellarmine's statement, gathered historical information, and came up with these conclusions: Among the church fathers, there were 16 who referred the language to Christ and not Peter. There were eight who said Christ promised to build the church upon all the apostles. Fourteen of them said the language referred to the truth that Peter confessed, and there were only seventeen who said that the expression "rock" referred to Peter himself. Don't you see how far that is from being a unanimous verdict among the so-called church fathers in regard to Matthew 16:18 relative to the meaning of the "rock" upon which Christ was to build the church? Suppose that I am taking the vow which the third article of Pope Pius' creed requires of Catholics: "I promise solemnly never to take the scriptures and interpret them in any way other than that which has been the unanimous consent of the fathers." So then, if I am going to apply that rule and keep that vow, I could not believe the language in Matt. 16:18, regarding the "rock" upon which Christ was to build the church, referred to Peter. Why? Because that has not been the unanimous consent of the fathers! So that vow requires at least those two impossibilities.

Another claim of the Catholic Church that I want to mention is their doctrine that oral tradition is of equal authority with the written scriptures. That decree was passed in the council of Trent that met in the year 1546. I believe some of the historians give the first year of its meeting in 1543, but it met over a period of nearly 20 years. I think this particular decree setting forth authority of oral tradition was passed in the year 1546. Anyway, that council of Trent passed a decree to the effect that oral tradition, that which has been handed down from generation to generation in the church, shall be considered with equal reverence with the written scriptures. All I want to say about that at this time is to point out an obvious conflict with that and something which the Bible plainly says. In 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, we read: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the mart of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Now, notice, "All scripture" is sufficient that the man of God may be perfect, and "scripture" is that which is written. Now the Catholic Church has come along and said, "No, that which is written is not enough. There is another deposit of truth that has been handed down through oral tradition that is equal in authority with that which has been written, and we need it along with what is written in order that we might be furnished completely." My friends, that is the clear cut issue between what the Bible teaches and what the council of Trent said about that point. Out of justice to them, I think we ought to say that, theoretically at least, they do not claim that the church has the right to manufacture new truth, if I may use that expression, but in practice, that is actually what they do, as we shall see later. They say that all of the revelation was originally included in one great deposit of truth given by inspiration, but not all that was revealed by inspiration was written down. Some of the truth given by inspiration was orally handed down from generation to generation. I make that statement out of justice to them. I am trying to be fair and present everyone's claim just as he makes it. Theoretically, that is what they claim about that; actually it amounts to their inventing new so-called truths as they go along.

The last claim that we wish to notice in this issue is their claim that the "clergy has the right to forgive sins." This supposed blessing is given through the channel of the sacrament of penance. The sacrament of penance consists of three distinct steps or parts. There is what we would ordinarily call the repenting, though technically, it is attrition instead of outright contrition. They say that it is imperfect repentance; that it is a degree of penitence; and they call it "attrition." After one has come into that condition of heart and soul, he goes to the priest and makes his confession — auricular confession — confessing in the ear. As a result of that confession, there is satisfaction or some physical punishment which the priest may and does impose as the satisfaction for that wrong. He grants absolution or forgiveness, but they say there must be some physical satisfaction, so he imposes such. That last one is usually what we think of as penance. When some penalty has been imposed such as foregoing some particular thing which is desired for a designated period, we call that "doing penance." Actually that is only part, and the last part, of the whole sacrament of penance. Now then, the cate chism of the council of Trent, speaking of that sacrament of penance says, "There is no sin so grievous, and no crime so enormous, and regardless of how frequently repeated, but that the sacrament of penance will remove the guilt." Furthermore, that same catechism says that the sacrament of penance has connected with it in such a special manner the absolution of the guilt of sin, that without its intervention, we cannot obtain or expect absolution. It is stipulated that in the sacrament of penance, after the attrition and the confession, the priest is to say, "I absolve thee." The catechism further states that so important is that form, that without it, no absolution can be had. Unless the priest goes through that little ceremony and says, "I absolve thee", there can be no forgiveness. Again, to be perfectly fair with them, they do make this claim. If there could be such a thing as perfect repentance, absolute contrition of heart instead of just "attrition," as they make the distinction, then the absolution would be granted then and there by God without the confession and the further part of the sacrament of penance. But, they go on to say, that even then, perfect repenting would have to be done in view of and with a desire to go ahead and participate in the rest of the sacrament of penance anyway. So after all, they have not changed the position of absolute necessity of the sacrament of penance in which the priest says, "I absolve thee." Such a doctrine places a man called a "priest" between an individual Christian and his Lord in the act of obtaining forgiveness. One cannot approach the throne of grace and find mercy and grace in every hour of need without going through the medium of a human ecclesiastical system, according to Catholic teaching from the council of Trent until the present hour.

One of the first things which this doctrine overlooks is that each Christian is a priest within his own right; (Rev. 1:6) hence he does not need another to serve him in this capacity. Furthermore, there is but "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5) This eliminates the priest and his act of "I absolve thee." When Simon the sorcerer sinned, Peter, whom the Catholics erroneously claim was their first pope, did not absolve Simon but told him to "repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God," in order that he might be forgiven. (Acts 8:22) James 5:16 admonishes us to "confess our faults one to another, and pray one for another." He did not tell us to confess our faults to a priest in the sense in which the Catholics use that term. So, the sacrament of penance in order to forgiveness as is taught by the Catholic Church is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the conscience of right thinking people. This is simply another of the absolute powers which the hierarchy assumes for herself, which perhaps is better seen when we look at the statement of Leo XIII when he said, "The pope holds upon this earth the place of God." It is reflected in reference to the priestly exercise of the consideration of the Mass in these words: "The priest speaks and lo! Christ the eternal and 'omnipotent God bows his head in humble obedience to the priest's command."

In the next lesson, we shall consider their doctrine of the infallibility and immutability of the Catholic Church.