At times Fundamentalists talk as if they thought no case could be made for the Catholic faith. Thats understandable. After
all, if youre a Fundamentalist instead of a Catholic, it is because you reject Catholicism. You reject it because you think
it is false. But make sure what youre rejecting is Catholicism, not merely a caricature of it. If you think Catholics worship
Mary, pray to statues, and claim the pope is equal to God, then you arent rejecting Catholicism, but someones misrepresentation
of it. You deserve to have the facts before you make up your mind. This tract, which is just an overview, states a brief case
for Catholicism in a few important areas. Catholic Answers has available tracts which consider in detail these and other topicsincluding,
perhaps, just the ones you are most interested in.
Christ established one Church with one set of beliefs (Eph. 4:45). He did not establish numerous churches with contradictory
beliefs. To see which is the true Church, we must look for the one that has an unbroken historical link to the Church of the
New Testament. Catholics are able to show such a link. They trace their leaders, the bishops, back through time, bishop by
bishop, all the way to the apostles, and they show that the pope is the lineal successor to Peter, who was the first bishop
of Rome. The same thing is true of Catholic beliefs and practices. Take any one you wish, and you can trace it back. This
is just what John Henry Newman did in his book An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
He looked at Christian beliefs through the ages. Starting with the nineteenth century (he was writing in 1844), he worked
backward century by century, seeing if Catholic beliefs existing at any particular time could be traced to beliefs existing
a century before. Back and back he went, until he got to New Testament times. What he demonstrated is that there is a real
continuity of beliefs, that the Catholic Church has existed from day one of Church history, that it is in fact the Church
established by Christ.
Newman was not a Catholic when he started the book, but his research convinced him of the truth of the Catholic faith,
and as the book was finished he converted. Fundamentalist leaders make no effort to trace their version of Christianity century
by century. They just claim the Christianity existing in New Testament times was like todays Protestant Fundamentalism in
According to modern Fundamentalists, the original Christian Church was doctrinally the same as todays Fundamentalist churches.
When Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in A.D. 313, pagans flocked to the Church in hopes of secular preferment,
but the Church could not assimilate so many. It soon compromised its principles and became paganized by adopting pagan beliefs
and practices. It developed the doctrines with which the Catholic Church is identified today. Simply put, it apostatized and
became the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, true Christians (Fundamentalists) did not change their beliefs but were forced to remain
in hiding until the Reformation.
The trouble with this history is that there are no historical facts whatsoever to back it up. Distinctively Catholic beliefsthe
papacy, priesthood, invocation of saints, sacraments, veneration of Mary, salvation by something besides "faith alone," purgatorywere
evident long before the fourth century, before Constantine. They were believed by Christians before this supposed "paganization"
took place. Another difficulty is that there are no historical recordsnone at allwhich imply an underground Fundamentalist
church existed from the early fourth century to the Reformation. In those years there were many schisms and heresies, most
now vanished, but present-day Fundamentalists cannot find among them their missing Fundamentalist church. There were no groups
that believed in all or even most, of the doctrines espoused by the Protestant Reformers (e.g. sola scriptura, salvation
by "faith alone," and an invisible church). No wonder Fundamentalist writers dislike discussing Church history!
Since the Christian Church was to exist historically and be like a city set on a mountain for all to see (Matt. 5:14),
it had to be visible and easily identifiable. A church that exists only in the hearts of believers is not visible and is more
like the candle hidden under the bushel basket (Matt. 5:15). But any visible church would necessarily be an institutional
church that would need an earthly head. It would need an authority to which Christians could turn for the final resolution
of doctrinal and disciplinary disputes. Christ appointed Peter and his successors to that position.
Christ designated Peter head of the Church when he said, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build
my Church" (Matt. 16:18). Fundamentalists, desiring to avoid the natural sense of the passage, say "rock" refers not to Peter,
but to his profession of faith or to Christ himself. But Peters profession of faith is two sentences away and cant be what
is meant. Similarly, the reference cant be to Christ. The fact that he is elsewhere, by a quite different metaphor, called
the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:48) does not mean Peter was not appointed the earthly foundation. The apostles were also
described as foundation stones in a sense (Eph. 2:20, Rev. 21:14), meaning that Christ is not the only person the Bible speaks
of as being the Churchs foundation. In one sense the foundation was Christ, in another it was the apostles, and in another
it was Peter. In Matthew 16:18 Christ has Peter in mind. He himself would be the Churchs invisible foundation since he was
returning to heaven, from where he would invisibly rule the Church. He needed to leave behind a visible authority, one people
could locate when searching for religious truth. That visible authority is the papacy.
Since the Reformers rejected the papacy, they also rejected the teaching authority of the Church. They looked elsewhere
for the rule of faith and thought they found it solely in the Bible. Its interpretation would be left to the individual reader,
guided by the Holy Spirit. But reason and experience tell us that the Bible could not have been intended as each mans private
guide to the truth. If individual guidance by the Holy Spirit were a reality, everyone would understand the same thing from
the Biblesince God cannot teach error. But Christians have understood contradictory things from Scripture. Fundamentalists
even differ among themselves in what they think the Bible says.
The Bible also tells us that private interpretation is not to be the rule for understanding the Bible. Peter declares this
to be a matter of prime importance, saying, "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter
of ones own interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20). Later he warns what can happen if a person ignorantly approaches Scripture on his
own or is unstable in clinging to the apostolic teachings he has received. He states of Pauls letters, "There are some things
in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures"
(2 Pet. 3:16). Private interpretation and instability in clinging to the doctrines passed down from the apostles can thus
result in one twisting the scriptures to ones own destruction.
The Bible also denies that it is sufficient as the Churchs rule of faith. Paul acknowledges that much Christian teaching
is to be found in the tradition which is handed down by word of mouth (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Tim. 2:2). He instructs us to "stand
firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). We are
told that the first Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles teaching" (Acts 2:42), which was the oral teaching that
was given even before the New Testament was written.
The Reformers saw justification as a mere legal act by which God declares the sinner to be meriting heaven even though
he remains in fact unjust and sinful. It is not a real eradication of sin, but a covering or non-imputation. It is not an
inner renewal and a real sanctification, only an external application of Christs righteousness.
Scripture understands justification differently. It is a true eradication of sin and a true sanctification and renewal
of the inner man, for "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and "if any one is in Christ,
he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (Rom. 8:1 and 2 Cor. 5:17). Thus God chose us "to
be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13).
Scripture conceives of forgiveness of sins as a real and complete removal of them. The words used are "wipe out," "blot
out," "take away," "remove," and "cleanse" (Ps. 51:2[50:3]; Is. 43:25; Mic. 7:18; John 1:29; Ps. 103 :12). Scripture
shows justification as a rebirth, as a generation of the supernatural life in a former sinner (John 3:5; Titus 3:5), as a
thorough inner renewal (Eph. 4:23), and as a sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11). The soul itself becomes beautiful and holy. It
is not just an ugly soul hidden under a beautiful cloak.
When on earth, Christ used his humanity as a medium of his power (cf. Mark 5:2530). He uses sacraments to distribute his
grace now (cf. John 6:5358, 20:2123; Acts 2:38; Jas. 5:1415; 1 Peter 3:21). Not mere symbols, sacraments derive their power
from him, so they are his very actions. In them he uses material thingswater, wine, oil, the laying on of handsto be avenues
of his grace. Although one can receive grace in other ways, a key way is through sacraments instituted by Christ. A sacrament
is a visible rite or ceremony which signifies and confers grace. Thus baptism is a visible rite, and the pouring of the water
signifies the cleansing of the soul by the grace it bestows. There are six sacraments other than baptism: the Eucharist, penance
(also known as reconciliation or confession), the anointing of the sick, confirmation, matrimony, and holy orders.
The Old Testament predicted Christ would offer a sacrifice in bread and wine. Melchizedek was a priest and offered sacrifice
with those elements (Gen. 14:18), and Christ was to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110 :4), that is, offering
sacrifice under the forms of bread and wine. We must then look for a New Testament sacrifice distinct from that of Calvary,
because the crucifixion was not of bread and wine. We find it in the Mass. There, bread and wine become the actual body and
blood of Christ, as promised by him (see John 6:5358) and as instituted at the Last Supper.
The Catholic Church teaches that the sacrifice of the cross was complete and perfect. The Mass is not a new sacrificing
of Christ (he doesnt suffer and die again, cf. Heb. 9:26), but a new offering of the same sacrifice. While what happened on
Calvary happened once, its effects continue through the ages. Christ wants his salvific work to be present to each generation
of those who come to God "since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). He surely has not abandoned us.
Through the instrumentality of the priest, he is present again, demonstrating how he accomplished our salvation: "For from
the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name,
and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 1:11).
A Modest Proposal
You have heard any number of people speak against the Catholic Church. Some do it casually, while others have made it their
profession. Some are blunt, while others are subtle. They all paint an uninviting picture of a Church that believes in the
most peculiar things. But do you really think a fourth of all Americans would be Catholic if their religion were as odd as
its opponents claim? Isnt it rather likely that you havent been told the whole story? To make an informed decision, you need
to hear both sides. Why not write to Catholic Answers for additional information and tracts? Either your suspicions will be
confirmed, or you will discover that there is more to Catholicism than you once thought.