Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 12, 1961
NUMBER 23, PAGE 3,10-11b

Errors And Dangers Of Roman Catholicism --- No. 5

Frank Van Dyke, Henderson, Tenn.

We continue our study of some of the claims of the Catholic Church. The first one to which we give our attention is their claim that the "church" is the infallible authority, hence we are talking about their doctrine of "infallibility and immutability," Let us keep in mind now that a basic doctrine of the Catholic Church is that final authority inheres, not in the scriptures, but in the church; that the church is above the Bible. Let us also keep in mind that as they speak of the church having this authority, they say that this church is infallible in the exercising of that authority. Of course, a companion idea with that is that the Catholic Church is immutable — that it has never changed. Again, we are going to present to you their claims in their own words.

Their doctrine respecting the infallibility of the church is stated in a little book called "FAITH OF OUR FATHERS" written by Cardinal Gibbons. On page 65 of that book there is this statement: "The church has authority from God to teach regarding faith and morals and in her teaching she is preserved from error by the special guidance of the Holy Ghost." By this he means that the church has special, divine guidance by the Holy Spirit to the extent that she is preserved from error when she speaks in the realm of faith and morals. Now, get that, because right there is a lurking danger and an opportunity for them to make a quibble sometimes which is a little misleading. When we point out errors which they have made in the past, they say, "0, we don't claim infallibility in anything except in the realm of faith and morals." "If the popes or bishops express their opinions or judgments, why they are subject to mistakes; it is only in the realm of faith and morals that we claim infallibility." But notice, who has the right to lay out and define the realm of faith and morals? "Why, the Catholic Church has that right," so they say. Hence, they have the right to decide when they are speaking in the realm of faith and morals, and therefore the right to decide when they are infallible and when they are not. If it be a political issue, an economic question, a social problem, a boycott against a certain teaching, a certain book or other issues, they claim the sole right to decide whether it is a question of "faith and morals," and therefore the right to speak out on that matter infallibly.

While exercising this supposed right through the centuries, they have had some difficulty in deciding just where this "infallibility" lies in the church. Just who is the voice of the church to speak infallibly? That was settled in the year 1870 A.D. when they declared the infallibility of the pope. That was done in the Vatican Council, the last general council that they have held. Up until that time, they could not decide just who was to speak "infallibly," whether the pope or the bishops in general councils. It was generally looked upon as being infallible if it came from either source. But since 1870, there has been no further need for a council because since that time, they have had the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope. If he is the one to speak infallibly, all the council could do is simply ask the pope what he wanted them to say, and they would have to say it. To do otherwise, would be for them to refuse that which is infallible, according to them. You can see why they have not had a general council since 1870.

Let us look at some of the arguments which they have set forth from scripture in an effort to prove the infallibility of the church. We summarize these arguments from the book which we mentioned awhile ago which was written by Cardinal Gibbons. He gives three or four different lines of "proof," so-called. The first is what he calls "presumptive proof" or arguments. That is simply this line of reasoning. He says, "Certainly the Lord has given to the church now what he gave to the church in the beginning." He assumes that the Lord gave to the church infallibility in the beginning, therefore he concludes that the church is given infallibility now. He makes the blunder of assuming the point at issue. He assumes that when the Lord gave to the church an infallible authority in the beginning, that such infallibility inhered in the church itself. Certainly, the Lord gave to the church an infallible authority in the beginning, but where was that infallibility? Not in men, but in the inspired message which he caused men to give. So then, that which Mr. Gibbons calls a "presumptive argument" is purely presumption after all!

The next argument that he gives is supposedly based upon scripture also, one of which is in Matt. 16:18, 19. Mr. Gibbons reasons this way: "If the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, that means the church is infallible. If the church were not infallible, then the gates of hell could prevail against her." There is also a fallacy lurking in that reasoning. In the first place it is not at all certain that the antecedent of the pronoun "it" ("Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" — Matt. 16:18) is the church itself. Many good Bible scholars have thought that the pronoun "it" is not the church but the act of building the church; that the Lord simply said, "Upon this rock I will BUILD my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against the building of it. Though I am going to die and enter the hadean world, my death will not prevent the church being built." That is certainly true whether or not the Lord was alluring to that in this passage. But if we understand the antecedent of the pronoun to be the church, it still does not follow that the church was here promised infallibility. Notice it: "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The meaning of the whole thing would hinge around the meaning of that word "prevail." That would not mean that the church could not lapse into error for a time, but taking the over-all scope of the church in her experiences through the centuries, and the final work of the Lord and the ending of all things, can it be said in the end that the gates of hell have prevailed over the church? Why, certainly not. Yet in all of her years and centuries of experiences, there could have been times and moments when she was guilty of error and even lapsed into apostasy, but in the course of time be restored and in the end, be triumphant and victorious, and it could be said that the forces of evil did not prevail or overcome the church. This passage is very far from proving the infallibility of the church.

Another passage that Gibbons uses in an effort to establish the claim of the infallibility of the church is Matt. 28:19-20. The Lord gave the apostles the great commission and said unto them, "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: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Catholics have a convenient method of taking language that was directed to the apostles and applying that in general to the church for all times to come. Gibbons reasoned that this could not have been a promise exclusively to the apostles, because they were not going to live unto the end of the world, therefore, it must have been a promise to the church; that the Lord would be with it and preserve it from error unto the end of the world. We understand, of course, that the apostles could not live until the end of the world, but "I will be with YOU, and all those who succeed you in the preaching of the gospel, even unto the end of the world." It is a bare, bold assumption to say that Matt. 28:19, 20 means that Jesus was saying that he would be with the church as an ecclesiastical organization in a special guidance through the Holy Spirit to preserve her from the possibility of error. The promise was simply a blessing that was conditional. Notice the order: "You go and you teach — that is, you be faithful to the task that I am giving you, and I will bless you and be with you." But the Catholics turn it around and have Jesus saying, "I will be with you and that will enable you to be faithful, even unto the end of the world." His being with them was conditioned upon their being faithful, not their being faithful the result of His being with them.

Another line of argument that Gibbons gives in his book is this: "People are exhorted to listen to what the church has to say. If people are to hear what the church says, then certainly that church must be infallible, otherwise it would not be safe for the people to hear the church's message." That is his reasoning. But again, his basic fallacy lies in the very beginning of his argument by his assuming that people are to hear the church in a special way. Of course the church is to teach the truth, but people are to listen to the truth and not to the church. People are to listen to what the church says only so long as the church advocates, teaches, and upholds the truth in God's word. Now Gibbons assumes that people are charged to listen and accept what the church says, regardless of whether or not it is in harmony with the will of God, and there is his fallacy. The church is in possession of the standard of truth which is the Bible and has the obligation of teaching that standard of authority, and people are exhorted to listen and accept what the church has to say only so long as its teaching is in harmony with this objective, final standard of truth which is God's word.

But another argument which Cardinal Gibbons gave in his book, we give to you to show you how great minds — men who are considered great scholars, can commit glaring blunders in logic and reasoning. Mr. Gibbons referred to this decree that was passed by the Council of Constantinople in 869 A.D. This council made this statement: "In the apostolic See (that is, in the Roman See) the Catholic religion has always been preserved immaculate and holy doctrine has been proclaimed." That is what the Council of Constantinople said about the Roman Bishopric. The word "See," as we have been using here means a "bishopric" or "diocese." This council, then, went on record as saying that in the apostolic See, in the Roman Bishopric, which was the seat of government of the Catholic Church, and still is, that "Catholic religion has been preserved immaculate and holy doctrine has always been proclaimed." Then Mr. Gibbons said this about that: "How could this be said of her if the Roman Pontiffs ever erred in faith?" See his argument for infallibility of the church? He quotes the decree of the council to the effect that the Catholic religion has been preserved in the Catholic Church immaculate and holy doctrine has always been taught in and by her; then he reasons, "How can that be said if the pontiffs ruling over her have ever erred in faith?" Of course, if that decree of the council were true, then it would follow that they had never made an error, but the decree of the council is the very thing with which we take issue. Gibbons proves the infallibility of the church, he thinks, by what he considers to be an infallible decree of one of the church's councils. But in attacking the idea of the infallibility of the church, we question the accuracy of the decree of that council. We deny the correctness of that statement as much and as strongly as we deny their claim of infallibility. After all, he is attempting to prove the infallibility of the church by assuming the infallibility of the council. He is just going around in a circle. He makes this statement in effect: "The church is infallible." Well, how do you know she is? "Well, the church says she is infallible." But how do you know the church is right when she says she is infallible? "Because she is infallible and if infallible, she could not be wrong, therefore she is right when she says she is infallible!" Some proof! That is called in logic "begging the question" or "assuming the thing at issue." One could prove anything by that kind of reasoning. Suppose I tell you that I am a millionaire, and you ask for proof. The proof is, I say I am a millionaire. You ask, "But how do we know that you are telling the truth?" You know I am telling the truth because I am infallible. But how do we know you are infallible? Because I am telling the truth, therefore, that proves that I am a millionaire, because I say I am! That is exactly the kind of proof that Cardinal Gibbons, a prominent Catholic Cardinal of years gone by, used to try to uphold the doctrine of the infallibility of the church.

Now we pass to this question which is a companion idea of the one just discussed. They say since the church is infallible, that it has through the years been immutable, that is, unchangeable. Let me give you their' claim again in the words of Mr. Gibbons in his book "FAITH OF OUR FATHERS." He was speaking concerning the doctrine of papal infallibility which was set forth in the Vatican Council in 1870. He said, "The council did not create a new creed but rather confirmed the old one. It formulated into an article of faith a truth which in every age had been accepted by the Catholic world, because it had been implicitly contained in the deposit of revelation. In like manner when the church issues a new dogma of faith, that decree is nothing more than a new form of expressing an old doctrine, because the decision must be drawn from the revealed word of God." Now the revealed word of God to Cardinal Gibbons did not mean the written word exclusively, but in addition to the written word, a deposit of unrecorded truth which he claims was included in the original deposit of revelation. See what he claims — that the Catholic Church never does set forth a new doctrine? They have a convenient escape-hatch here. If they come up with a new decree, they claim it was back there in that unrecorded deposit of truth all the time. Such was the case of the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope which was set forth only 82 years ago. Relatively speaking, that has not been very long, but Gibbons says when they set forth that doctrine, they did not formulate a new creed, but they simply set forth as an article of faith that which the Catholic Church had held and taught all through the centuries. That is his claim, and he says it has been that way with all other doctrines which they have advanced from time to time.

Is that claim true? Has the Catholic Church ever set forth doctrines which she did not teach and hold before that time? Has she ever manufactured a new teaching and practice — something that has up until that time been unknown in Catholic circles? Has she always held and taught that which she finally got around to formulating into articles of faith? In our next article we shall show you some doctrines which the Catholic Church has set forth from time to time that were new; that were not a part of the Catholic doctrines prior to the time that those doctrines were set forth and were even repudiated by them at one time in their history.