Dear Dr. Sungenis,
My name is Ritesh Roy Zacharias and I am from Bangalore, India. I was born Catholic but never raised as a 'serious' one. For the last 10 yrs, I have been on this unsettling 'quest' for the truth for the true church. Fortunately, I am married to the best gift God could have put in my life, who is rooted in the catholic faith. She just knows that it would be wrong to leave the church though she is not well versed in apologetics as such. I have a few troubling questions on which I would deeply value your clarifications:-
1) Why does the gospel of John make no mention of the offering of the bread and wine especially when the church basis the whole dogma of transubstantiation of what is found in John 6, no less with the anathema itself. Surely John more than any other gospel writer should have mentioned this if the significance of Jesus' words in John 6 implied transubstantiation. This is a common Protestant objection and the most troubling one for me as well.
R. Sungenis: Because John was written well after the three Synoptics. John assumes we already know the Last Supper story. He does this often in his Gospel. He will assume we’ve already read the Synoptics, and then he will branch off his commentary from that vantage point in order to give us the theological aspects of what the Synoptics covered only historically (which is why John 6 goes deep into the theology). If you get my commentary on the Gospel of John you will see all the places John did this kind of thing.
2) In Exodus, we are commanded by God not to make any statue resembling anyone or anything in heaven or earth. Sure, He later commands statues for the temple or the bronze serpent but these were God's specific instructions in specific instances and surely do not imply a general disregard of the command itself. After all even Jesus made it clear that He came to satisfy the whole law and that no part of it should be treated lightly. God's commands to Moses for the serpent or later on to Solomon,in that sense, cannot be treated as part of the law. So why does the Catholic church 'demand' veneration to statues (latria/dulia) and place the anathema on those who do not do so?
R. Sungenis: First, the commands in the Old Covenant do not apply in any legal sense today. The Old Covenant, specifically the Mosaic covenant, has been abrogated. It does not exist, legally. The only thing that exists is the New Covenant. If and when the New Covenant decides to use a law in the Old Covenant, it can do so; or it can ignore any law it deems fit to ignore. That is because the New Covenant is the authority, not the Old Covenant. Since that is the case, the New Covenant picks those laws from the Old Covenant that it believes will enhance our relationship with God and provide salvation. As such, the seventh day Sabbath law was ignored and replaced with Sunday. As regards images, the strict application of that was abrogated and replaced with a more liberal view. This was because in the OT the command against images was mainly due to the foreign nations which believed the images themselves were gods. But now that the Gospel is in the custody of the nations (not Israel), the image was not considered the same kind of problem as it was with the OT nations. Moreover, everything changed when Jesus came as the God-man. Col 1:15 says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” This was not the case in the OT. This now put a whole different focus on images, what they represent, and the benefit they provide. An image now becomes something sacred, not something profane. The NT Church can make these judgments because she has authority to do so, just as she has the authority to determine the canon of Scripture, that sacraments provide salvation, and that her dogma is infallible.
3) I have Protestant friends who remind me of the immorality of popes especially in the area of fathering illegitimate children and worse still getting them high ranking positions in the clergy. How then can apostolic succession be valid in such cases?
R. Sungenis: For the same reason that David didn’t lose his kingship when he murdered and committed adultery. Although we hope that the person in office lives a moral life, if he does not do so, it does not affect the office he holds (unless it was specifically stated previously that sin would cause the office to be vacated).
4) Is it true that as per the Catholic teaching on salvation, Jesus only creates a way for us to be saved. I have seen a few posts by William Webster and others which states that this is the problem with the Catholic church since the Bible claims that Jesus 'who knew no sin became sin on our behalf' and suffered and died for our sins (as mentioned in Isaiah) and hence that he 'paid' the price in full. I studied from my youngest years till high school in a protestant school and this what they stressed on as well.
R. Sungenis: Webster is wrong. The Bible does not say that Jesus paid the full price for our sin. The closest it comes to any such notion is 1 Cor 6:20’s “you have been bought with a price.” But 1Cor 6:20 doesn’t state what the price is or that Christ paid for our sins in full. It is a metaphor for what Christ did at the cross. That’s all. The question is: what did Christ do at the cross? Did he pay the full price for sin? If so, then no one should be going to hell, since the full price for sin has been paid. But since people do go to hell, Webster is then forced to say that Christ only paid for the “elect’s” sins, and thus predetermined that He would not pay for the rest of the human race and that they must pay for their own sins in hell. But the problem with that view is that the Bible is clear that Christ’s atonement was for the whole world, not just for the “elect” (cf. 1 John 2:1-2; John 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4). Further, there is no passage that teaches that Christ became sin. 2 Cor 5:21, per St. Augustine, means, according to the context and the rest of Scripture, that Christ became a sin sacrifice, not sin itself. It is precisely the opposite of what Webster believes. The only reason Christ COULD be a sacrifice is if he remained sinless. Moreover, the Isaiah passage, correctly translated, says that it was Christ’s suffering that appeased the Father, not that Christ became sin and was punished as if he was a sinner. Please get my book Not By Bread Alone. I cover this issue in great detail.
5) I have listened to your debate with Dr. White on the whether the mass is a propitiatory sacrifice or not. What troubles me is if the mass is needed to be offered repeatedly for our sins and to turn away the wrath of God, how does it make the mass superior to offering undefiled lambs, for instance, to satisfy God's wrath since both achieve the same goal. Very honestly, today the only verse keeping my faith in the Catholic teaching on the mass is Hebrews 9:23 which as you mentioned in your debate, has puzzled protestants and hasn't produced any single convincing explanation of this verse in any of their commentaries.
R. Sungenis: This is also covered in Not By Bread Alone. The Mass is superior because it is a re-presentation of Christ’s accomplished sacrifice. In the OT, Christ’s sacrifice was not accomplished, and therefore could not be represented in full by an animal sacrifice. But since the animal sacrifice pointed to the cross, God at least allowed it to have temporary power to appease him, and so it was.
I tried sending these questions a couple of times through your website but am not sure if they reached you. In one of the youtube videos, I saw this email address and hence am attempting to mail you directly.
I apologize for the lengthy email but sincerely seek out your answers which will be crucial for me deciding for the 'faith'. I thank you in advance for your time and responses.
God bless you and warm regards,
Ritesh Roy Zacharis
R. Sungenis: I don’t remember seeing your questions come in, but perhaps I overlooked them. Sorry about that. God be with you.