Questions on Catholicism 2

Dear Dr. Sungenis,

I was wondering if you had a chance to go through my queries. I would deeply value your responses which would help me take, hopefully, a final call on my faith. If you have already responded elsewhere, you could simply redirect me to the link.

I know you have a busy schedule but your responses would be most critical to my journey.

God bless you,

On Jul 13, 2015 12:02 PM, "Ritesh Roy Zacharias"  wrote:

Dear Dr. Sungenis,

I had written to you a long time back and you were were very gracious to respond despite your many commitments, as below. I am still taking my time to decide on the claims of the Roman Catholic church and have a few follow-up questions on which I would deeply value your clarifications:

1) I am still unable to grasp why we need to believe that one authoritative church is needed when I read about the 7 churches in Revelation. It does not appear that they held to the teachings of one church providing all 'truth' based in Rome or else they could not have allowed for the 'practices of the nicolations' (unsure of what that is, though). Also, I have heard some Roman Catholic apologists argue that they were just 7 parishes. My difficulty with that argument is a) then the teachings and practices would have to be the same as their central authority since we know today, for instance, parishes can't hold on to the equivalent of 'nicolation practices' and b) Jesus specifically seemed to be dealing with them as individual churches since He warns then that he would remove their 'lampstands'. This doesn't seem to fit in with the concept that these could just be parishes since removing the lampstands would be a reflection on (and equally indicting of) the main ' central' church, from which the authority and doctrine were binding on the 'parish'. It would also lose it's validity in the eyes of God. Hence why should it be assumed that the church of Rome held superiority among all churches and cannot be treated like the 7 churches, if it lost doctrinal integrity along the way ?

RS: The NT tells us that Peter was in authority (Acts 15:1-12) and that the bishops under James sent out letter to each of the churches (Acts 15:22-29). So, a centralized authority was in place very early, which was then transferred to Rome when Peter went from Antioch to Rome. We also know that Paul was in authority over the churches that he planted, many of them in Asia minor which John is focusing on in Apoc. 1-3. Notice in Paul's dealing with these churches that the churches would be practicing various detrimental things long before Paul got wind of it (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:11; Galatians 1:6-10). So, we can understand how the church of Ephesus could have the Nicolaitans present without Peter's or Paul's knowledge. And we can also understand how the Nicolaitans were exposed since it is Jesus himself that is revealing the problem. In fact, this is the very purpose for Apoc 1-3. That is, the churches may think they are hiding their sins from Peter and Paul, but Jesus is watching everything that is going on and will judge the churches accordingly. Hence, it is logical that a local church would lose its "lampstand" without the whole Catholic Church losing its lampstand. In the United States alone, hundreds of local churches have been closed due to the pedophilia problem.

2) All the books and YouTube debates I have read/seen, have Catholic apologists state that since the church is the 'pillar and foundation of the truth', it must be one (in your case the church of Rome) since the truth has to be one and unchanging. However, what would be wrong/misguided in stating that as per my first point above, any of the 7 churches were equally 'pillars and foundations of the truth' even if they were not entirely true to God in their doctrine or practice ? This would mean that even today we all have an obligation to see who is 'rightly dividing the word of God' instead of submitting to an authority and accepting all it's claims without challenge. Also, what would then be wrong in the Protestant claim that there could not only be differences in doctrine or even some disputable teaching on which the truth would perhaps only be known when Christ comes again; but that, however, there does not need to be one church in which all truth resides and flows from ?

RS: Because that is not what the NT teaches. As noted, when major decisions about doctrine were being decided, it was the COUNCIL, headed by the leader of the Church (which at that time was Peter) that made the decision. Acts 15 is the paradigm the Church follows. The account reveals that there were elders, apostles, and other people arguing about whether the Gentiles should be circumcised. This is a major issue, since the OT demanded circumcision and there was no other authority to appeal to in order to decide the issue, save God himself. But Acts 15:1-12 tells us that Peter took sole authority and made the decision that circumcision would no longer be required, and he did so without any Scripture or Tradition giving him direction. This doctrine has held for the last 2000 years, and all the churches in Catholicism abide by it to this day. So, the Jerusalem Council was the first Council, and there have been 23 such Councils since that time, all presided by the pope, just as occurred in Acts 15. In this way, everyone believes one doctrine, and the devil's ability to cause confusion about what to believe is limited.

3) I have heard and read apologists like Dr. White argue that apostolic succession is a myth, in the light of times like the 'pornocracy' or Avignon conflict and that even the earliest evidence was that Rome was not in charge of a single Bishop. Also, that church fathers such as Jerome stated that the custom of a single Bishop was man made and not of divine order. Could you please comment on this?

RS: I've debated Dr. White many times. He has a idiosyncratic way of twisting the evidence to his side, some of which depends on taking various anomalies (pornocracy or Avignon) and making them the rule instead of the exception, or of ignoring all the evidence against his position. Below are some excerpts from my book Not By Scripture Alone. I suggest you get a copy of it at First, I will deal with the biblical passages that deal with succession. Second, I will give the patristic evidence.
Objection #60: “In summation, since to be an apostle one had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, and since these select individuals known as apostles were given certain unmistakable ‘signs of an apostle’ to establish their authority—which ceased during their lifetime—it follows that no one since the first century has possessed apostolic authority…What remains today is the teaching of the apostles (in the New Testament), not the office of an apostle or its authority. The authority of the living apostles has been replaced by the authority of the writings of the apostles.”[1]

Answer:  This is a roundabout way of promoting sola scriptura, but all the supposed facts are either wrong or unprovable from Scripture. First, although the apologist tires to make a case on the previous page (p. 210) that miracles ceased after the apostolic age, there is simply no direct statement in the New Testament that this is so. Just because God gave miracles to the apostles to confirm their office does not mean that miracles could not be given at that time or a later time for other reasons. Miracles recorded in the Bible were neither confined to apostles nor to the confirmation of apostles (cf. Mark 9:39; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Gal. 3:5). Jesus and the apostles performed many miracles just to help people in their desperate situations. Further, because Paul did not miraculously heal certain individuals in certain instances (e.g., Phil. 2:26; 2 Tim. 4:20) does not prove that miracles ceased. The apologist inadvertently admits this himself as he speaks of these events with the qualification that “Paul was apparently not able to heal them” and “apostle- confirming miracles apparently ceased even before some apostles had died”[2] (emphasis mine). Further, if miracles were only for the purpose of confirming the apostolic office, then it follows that a premature cessation of miracles in Paul’s lifetime could even question the continuity of his office at that time.
     Second, this apologist’s desire to eliminate any direct communication between God and his Church after the first century is not only an attempt to dismiss the authority of the Catholic Church which sanctions such divine intrusion, but he seems to be promoting a semi-Deistic understanding of the universe—a universe in which God is said to create the world, like a watchmaker makes watch, but then leaves it on its own to wind down. The only difference between seventeenth century Deism and this apologist’ view is that the latter claims God “works in his heart” to know the truth. But the proof of this is as subjective as the subjective nature of its manifestation, especially since his fellow Protestants also claim to be guided by the Spirit yet believe doctrines of major importance contrary to his.
     Third, Scripture does not teach that the “teaching” of the apostles remains in the Church but not he “office” or “authority.” Granted, statements from Scripture lead Catholics to agree that the apostles were numerically confined to twelve men, but Scripture also teaches that the authoritative “office” is transferred to the successive leaders of the Church. Among the many evidences, we will cite one. In Acts 1:20, Peter undertook the task of replacing Judas with another apostle. To validate his action, Peter quotes from Psalm 108 [109]:8 (“The office of him let another take”). Here we see that the precedent for succession of “office” was already established in the Old Testament since the directive for Peter to do so is contained in this specific Psalm. The Psalm says nothing about apostles, bishops, elders, or the like. The Psalmist is speaking about evil men in his day who were in “office” but were soon to be replaced by other more faithful. These, no doubt, were officials in David’s court. Yet, without any mention of apostleship in the Psalm, Peter extracts this obscure Old Testament passage as a precedent and directive for the preservation of the apostolic office. This shows that concept of “office” and its succession is larger than apostleship. These facts become all the more significant when we find that the word Peter uses for “office” in Acts 1:20 is the same word used only one other place in the New Testament regarding the office of bishop in 1Timothy 3:1 (lit. “…if man aspires to the office[3] he desires a good work”). We know that the office of bishop is in view since in the next verse Paul says, “It is necessary for a bishop[4] to be without reproach…” Hence is obvious that the “office” in 1 Tim. 3:1 is intimately and directly connected to the office in Acts 1:20, and to the succession of that office mandated in Psalm 108 [109]:8. The mandate of Psalm 108 [109]:8 is that the “office” – a word by which the New Testament refers not only to an apostle but also to a “bishop” – is to be succeeded. It is a mandate because Peter interprets it to be such for us. His interpretation shows that the Psalm, and of course the whole Old Testament behind the Psalm, is a clear and biblically interpreted precedent for succession of office, which, according to the New Testament’s use of the term, includes the elected bishops of the Church. Thus, Scripture does show that the authority of the office and its succession continue as long as bishops exist in the Church.

[1] Ibid., p. 211.
[2] Ibid., p. 210.
[3] The word “office” is from the Greek ἐπισκοπή, appearing only four places in the New Testament. Twice the semantic range allows it to be used of “visitation” (Luke 19:44; 1 Pet. 2:12), but the other two references are confined to “office” (Acts 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:1).
[4] The word “bishop” is from the Greek ἐπίσκοπος, appearing five times in reference to the leading office of the Church (cf., Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:25).

Patristic evidence:

Magisterial Authority and Apostolic Succession

     The Fathers anticipated that the Church’s Tradition as well as her Scriptures would be misunderstood and misinterpreted. According to the Fathers, the Church, through her authentic succession from the apostles alone possesses, the teaching authority to interpret and hand-on the deposit of faith in fullness and without error. Athanasius confirms the apostolic authority of the bishopric in a letter urging a friend not to refuse the episcopal office.

And before you had received the grace of the episcopate, no one know you; but after you became one, the laity expected you to bring them food, namely instruction from the Scriptures… For if all were of the same mind as your present advisers, how would you have become a Christian, since there would be no bishops? Or if our successors are to inherit the state of mind, how will the Churches be able to hold together?201

     Augustine, in a letter to Fortunatus, contrasts the Donatist ecclesiology with Apostolic succession.

For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!’ The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: Clement, Anacletus…Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist Bishop is found.202

     Basil comments on Athanasius’ insistence of adhering to the faith passed on by the bishops at Nicea: “[A]nyone…accepting the Nicene Creed, is to be received without hesitation and difficulty, citing in support of his opinion the unanimous assent of the bishops of Macedonia and Asia…”203

     Jerome describes the august responsibility and authority of the ministerial priesthood.

Far be it from me to censure the successors of the apostles, who with holy words consecrate the body of Christ, and who make us Christians. Having the keys of the kingdom of heaven, they judge men to some extent before the day of judgment, and guard the chastity of the bride of Christ.204

     Gregory of Nazianzus, during his discourse on St. Athanasius, comments on apostolic succession.

Thus, and for these reasons, by the vote of the whole people, not in evil fashion which has since prevailed, nor by means of bloodshed and oppression, but in an apostolic and spiritual manner, he is led up to the throne of St. Mark, to succeed him in piety, no less than in office; in the latter indeed at a great distance from him, in the former, which is the genuine right of succession, following him closely. For the unity in doctrine deserves unity in office; and a rival teacher sets up a rival throne; the one is a successor in reality, the other but in name. For it is not the intruder, but he whose rights are intruded upon, who is the successor, not the lawbreaker, but the lawfully appointed, not the man of contrary opinions, but the man of the same faith; if this not what we mean by successor, he succeeds in the same sense as disease to health, darkness to light, storm to calm, and frenzy to sound sense.205

Magisterial Authority and the Councils

          During this period, the magisterium as expressed through ecumenical council, was considered an infallible and authoritative instrument of the Church whose decisions on matters of the faith were binding on the consciences of all Christians. The Council did not consider itself as transmitting new or innovative truths but as transmitting, without error, the Apostolic faith once delivered to the Saints, under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Athanasius expresses the unimpeachable authority of the ecumenical council at Nicea throughout his writings.

As to the Nicene Council, it was not a common meeting, but convened upon a pressing necessity, and for a reasonable object… ‘Thus believes the Catholic Church;’ and thereupon they confessed how they believed, in order to shew that their own sentiments were not novel, but Apostolical; and what they wrote down was no discovery of theirs, but is the same as was taught by the Apostles.206

     In another place, Athanasius emphasizes the divine influence and authority of the Council of Nicea: “But the word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicea, abides forever.207“Are they not then committing a crime in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council?”208

     Ambrose [c.A.D. 339-397] repeats the same sentiment: “I follow the teaching of the Council of Nicaea, from which neither death nor sword will ever separate me.”209

     In his letter to Januarius, Augustine affirms the authority of Tradition, as expressed by an ecumenical council on matters of faith not explicit in Scripture:

As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful…210

     In this pastoral letter to the bishop of Antioch, Pope Leo the Great affirms the inviolate nature of the Nicaean Council.

[M]y respect for the Nicene canons is such that I never have allowed nor ever will the institutions of the holy Fathers to be violated by any innovation. For different sometimes as are the deserts of individual prelates, yet the rights of their Sees are permanent: and although rivalry may perchance cause some disturbance about them, yet it cannot impair their dignity…But at the present time let it be enough to make a general proclamation on all points, that if in any synod any one makes any attempt upon or seems to take occasion of wresting an advantage against the provisions of the Nicene canons, he can inflict no discredit upon their inviolable decrees: and it will be easier for the compacts of any conspiracy to be broken through than for the regulations of the aforesaid canons to be in any particular invalidated.211

     The force behind the creeds and canons of the ecumenical councils is traditional apostolic truth and the Church’s divine authority. The Fathers in Council considered themselves the official custodians of the Church and expositors of Scripture and Tradition. According to the Fathers the Church is a visible, authoritative and hierarchical body, whose decisions on matters of faith are binding on the consciences of the faithful. The Church is the ‘ark of Noah,’ outside of which there is no salvation. Various statements from the councils confirm this belief:

    Council of Nicea I [A.D. 325] “[T]hese the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.”212   

    Council of Constantinople I [A.D. 381] “We believe… in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.”213

     Council of Ephesus [A.D. 431] “When these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the Holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea.”214

     Council of Chalcedon [A.D. 451] “These things, therefore, having been expressed by us with the greatest accuracy and attention, the holy Ecumenical Synod defines that no one shall be suffered to bring forward a different faith, nor to write, nor to put together nor to excogitate, nor to teach it to others, But such as dare either to put together another faith or to bring forward or to teach or to deliver a different Creed to such as wish to be converted to the knowledge of the truth from the Gentiles, or Jews or any heresy whatever, if they be Bishops or clerics let them be deposed, the Bishops from the Episcopate, and the clerics from the clergy; but if they be monks or laics: let them be anathematized… this is the faith of the Apostles: by this we all stand: thus we all believe.”215

Magisterial Authority and the See of Rome216

     During the post-Nicene period, there was a growing recognition of authority of the See of Rome. Rome viewed herself, as did other Sees, as the mouthpiece and primary expositor of the faith for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. For example, Athanasius preserves Pope Julius’ [reigned A.D. 337-352] letter (to the Eusebian faction) which contained the orthodoxy of the Nicene faith and Rome’s vindication of Athanasius, as the most important document of defense against the Arians (chapters 20-35 in Defence Against the Arians).

Julius to the beloved brethren… I must inform you that although I alone wrote, yet the view I expressed is not only mine… Supposing, as you assert, that there was some charge against them [Athanasius & Marcellus], the case ought not to have been conducted thus, but according to ecclesiastical canon. You should have written to us all, so that justice might be determined by all. For the sufferers were bishops, and prominent churches, which the apostles themselves had governed. And why were we [Church of Rome] no written to especially about the church of the Alexandrians? Are you ignorant that the custom was first to write to us, and then for justice to be determined from here? …I beseech you, readily bear with me: what I write is for the common good. For what we have received from the blessed apostle Peter, that I point out to you…217

     In addition, Athanasius attended and sanctioned the deliberations of the Council of Sardica that confirmed various aspects of the primacy of the Roman See. Athanasius, throughout his writings, refers to the meeting at Sardica as “the great Council” (Defense Against the Arians 1) or “the Holy Synod” (Letter to the People of Antioch 5) assembled at Sardica.

     Council of Sardica [A.D. 343/343] “Bishop Hosius said: This also it is necessary to add—that no bishop pass from this own province to another province in which there are bishops, unless indeed he be called by his brethren, that we seem not to close the gates of charity. And this case likewise is to be provided for, that if in any province a bishop has some matter against his brother and fellow-bishop, neither of the two should call in as arbiters bishops from another province. But if perchance sentence be given against a bishop in any matter and he supposes his case to be not unsound but good, in order that the question may be reopened, let us, if it seem good to your charity, honour the memory of Peter the Apostle, and let those who gave judgment write to Julius, the bishop of Rome, so that, if necessary, the case may be retried by the bishops of the neighbouring provinces and let him appoint arbiters; but if it cannot be shown that his case is of such a sort as to need a new trial, let the judgment once given not be annulled, but stand good as before.”218
    “Bishop Gaudentius said: If it seems good to you, it is necessary to add to this decision full of sincere charity which thou hast pronounced, that if any bishop be deposed by the sentence of these neighbouring bishops, and assert that he has fresh matter in defense, a new bishop be not settled in his see, unless the bishop of Rome judge and render a decision as to this.”219
     “Bishop Hosius said: Decreed, that if any bishop is accused, and the bishops of the same region assemble and depose him from his office, and he appealing, so to speak, takes refuge with the most blessed bishop of the Roman church, and he be willing to give him a hearing, and think it right to renew the examination of his case, let him be pleased to write those fellow-bishops who are nearest the province that they may examine the particulars with care and accuracy and give their votes on the matter in accordance with the word of truth. And if any one require that his case be heard yet again, and at his request it seem good to move the bishop of Rome to send presbyters a latere, let it be in the power of that bishop, according as he judges it to be good an decides it to be right—that some be sent to be judges with the bishops and invested with this authority by whom they were sent. And be this also ordained. But if he think that the bishops are sufficient for the examination and decision of the matter let him do what shall seem good in his most prudent judgment. The bishops answered: What has been said is approved.”220
     The orthodox bishops in communion with Athanasius at Sardica, presided by Hosius with the papal legates, wrote the following letter to Pope Julius:

What we have always believed, that we now know, for experience is proving and confirming for each of us what he has heard with his ears. It is true what the Apostle Paul, the most blessed teacher of the Gentiles, said of himself: ‘Do ye seek a proof of him who speaks in me?’ For, since the Lord Christ dwelt in him, there can be no doubt that the Spirit spoke by through his soul and animated the instrument of his body. And thus you, dearly beloved brother, though distant in body, have been with us in unison of mind and will. The reason for your absence was both honorable and imperative, that the schismatic wolves might not rob and plunder by stealth nor the heretical dogs bark madly in rapid fury nor the very serpent, the devil, discharge his blasphemous venom. So it seems to us right and altogether fitting that priests of the Lord from each and every province should report to their head, that is, to the See of Peter, the Apostle.221

     In short, there was no question in the minds of the orthodox bishops that the Bishop of Rome could summon a bishop to Rome (even the great Patriarch of Alexandria); could order a Council to be held; could restore a bishop to his See; and could nullify the acts an canons of a Council, however large, if the Pope had sufficient justification.

     Ambrose in a synodal letter to Pope Siricius [reigned A.D. 384-399) testifies to the immaculate faith and authority of the Roman Church.

But if they will not believe the doctrines of the priests, let them believe Christ’s oracles, let them believe the admonitions of angels who say, “For with God nothing is impossible.” Let them believe the apostles’ creed which the Roman church has always kept undefiled…And so you are to know that Jovinian, Auxentius [etc.], whom your holiness has condemned, have also been condemned by us, according to your judgement.222

     Augustine also affirms the primacy of the Roman See. “[T]o the Roman Church, in which the supremacy of an apostolic chair has always flourished…”223

     In his famous sermon against Pelagianism, Augustine affirms the right of the Roman See to judge doctrinal matters conclusively.

My brethren, have compassion with me. When you find such men, do not hide them; have no misdirected mercy. Refute those who contradict, and those who resist bring to us. For already two councils on this question have been sent to the apostolic see [i.e. Rome]; and replies have also come from there. The cause is finished; would that error might sometime be finished also!224

     John Chrysostom, in his homily on the Epistle to the Romans, praises the authority of the Roman Church on the basis of two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul.

I love Rome even for this, although indeed one has other grounds for praising it, both for its greatness, and its antiquity, and its beauty, and its populousness, and for its power, and its wealth, and for its successes in war. But I let all this pass, and esteem it blessed on this account, that both in his lifetime he wrote to them, and loved them so, land talked with them whiles he was with us, and brought his life to a close there. Wherefore the city is more notable upon this ground, than upon all others together. And as a body great and strong, it hath as two glistening eyes the bodies of these Saints. Not so bright is the heaven, when the sun sends forth his rays, as is the city of Rome, sending out these two lights into all parts of the world. From thence will Paul be caught up, from thence Peter. Just bethink you, and shudder at the thought of what a sight Rome will see, when Paul ariseth suddenly from that deposit, together with Peter, and is lifted up to meet the Lord. (1 Thess. iv.17.) What a rose will Rome send up to Christ! (Is. xxxv.1) what two crowns will the city have about it! what golden chains will she be girded with! what fountains possess! Therefore I admire the city, not for the much gold, not for the columns, not for the other display there, but for these pillars of the Church.225

     Council of Ephesus [A.D. 431] “And all the most reverend bishops at the same time cried out. This is a just judgment. To Coelestine [Pope, reign A.D. 422-432], a new Paul! To Cyril a new Paul! To Coelestine the guardian of the faith! To Coelestine of one mind with the synod! To Coelestine the whole Synod offers its thanks! One Coelestine! One Cyril! One faith of the Synod! One faith of the world! …Arcadius … said: …Wherefore we desire to ask your blessedness, that you command that we taught what has been already decreed by your holiness… Theodotus … said: The God of the whole world has made manifest the justice of judgment pronounced by the holy Synod by the writings of the most religious bishop Coelestine, and by the coming of your holiness. For ye have made manifest the zeal of the most holy and reverend bishop Coelestine, and his care for the pious faith. And since very reasonably your reverence is desirous of learning what has been done from the minutes of the acts concerning the deposition of Nestorius your reverence will be fully convinced of the justice of the sentence, and of the zeal of the holy Synod, and the symphony of the faith which the most pious and holy bishop Coelestine has proclaimed with a great voice, of course after your full conviction, the rest shall be added to the present action.226

     Council of Chalcedon [A.D. 451] “After the reading of the foregoing epistle [i.e. the Tome of Pope Leo], the most reverend bishops cried out: This is the Faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo [reigned A.D. 440-461]. So taught the Apostles.  Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught Cyril. Everlasting be the memory of Cyril. Leo and Cyril taught the same thing, anathema to him who does not so believe. This is the true faith. Those of us who are orthodox thus believe. This is the faith of the fathers. Why were not these things read at Ephesus [i.e. at the heretical synod held there]? These are the tings Dioscorus hid away.”228
     “Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through his present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, hath stripped him of the episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus to the canonical penalties.”229
     “The Great and holy and universal Synod…in the metropolis of Chalcedon…to the most holy and blessed archbishop of Rome, Leo.. being set as the mouthpiece unto all of the blessed Peter, and imparting the blessedness of his Faith unto all… and besides all this he [Dioscorus] stretched forth his fury even against him who had been charged with the custody of the vine by the Savior, we mean of course your holiness..”230

     Optatus of Milevis [A.D. 320-c.A.D. 385], in his treatise against the Donatist Churches, affirms the primacy of Peter the Apostle and the Sea of Rome.

So we have proved that the Catholic Church is the Church which is diffused throughout the world. We must now mention its ornaments… For one who knows, to err is sin; those who do not know may sometimes be pardoned. You cannot deny that you know that upon Peter in the city of Rome was conferred the episcopal chair, on which sat Peter, the head of all the apostles, whence he was called Cephas, that in this one chair unity should be preserved by all, lest the other apostles might uphold each for himself separate chairs, so that he who should set up a second chair, against the unique chair, would already be a schismatic and a sinner. Well, then on the one chair, which is the first of the endowments, Peter sat first, to whom succeeded Linus; to Linus succeeded Clement… Damasus; to Damasus Siricius, who to-day is our colleague, and he, with the whole world, agrees with us in one bond of communion through intercourse of letter of peace.231

     In this famous letter to Pope Damasus [reigned A.D. 366-384], Jerome begs the Pope for a decision to determine the proper claimant of the Eastern Patriarchal See of Antioch:

Yet, thought your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord. Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors who share you faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.232

     Jerome, in a letter to a woman in Rome, contrasts private understanding of the faith with the inerrant faith of the Roman See.

I have all but passed over the most important point of all. While you were still quite small, bishop Anastasius [reigned A.D. 399-401] of holy and blessed memory ruled the Roman church. In his days a terrible storm of heresy came from the East and strove first to corrupt and then to undermine that simple faith which an apostle has praised. However the bishops, rich in poverty and as careful of his flock as an apostle, at once smote the noxious thing on the head, and stayed the hydra’s hissing. Now I have reason to fear—in fact a report has reached me to this effect that the poisonous germs of this heresy still live and sprout in the minds of some to this day. I think, therefore, that I ought to warn you, in all kindness and affection, to hold fast the faith of the saintly Innocent [reigned A.D. 401-417], the spiritual son of Anastasius and his successor in the apostolic see; and not to receive any foreign doctrine, however wise an discerning you may take yourself to be.233

     Representing Gaul, Prosper of Aquitaine [d. A.D. 455] affirms the primacy of the Roman See: “First to hew down the oncoming scourge was Rome, the see of Peter, which, having been made capital of the world’s pastoral office, holds by religion whatever it does not hold by arms.”234

And since these heretics were trying to bring the apostolic see round to their view, African councils of holy bishops also did their best to persuade the holy Pope of the city (first the venerable Innocent, and afterwards his successor Zosimus) that this heresy was to be abhorred and condemned by the catholic faith. And these bishops of so great a see successively branded them, and cut them off from the members of the Church, giving letters to the African Churches in the West, and to the Churches of the East, and declared that they were to be anathematized and avoided by all catholics. The judgment, pronounced upon them by the Catholic Church of God was heard and followed also by the most pious Emperor Honorius…235

     This concludes the testimony from this golden period. Next, the classic expression for the Church’s rule of faith is expressed by Vincent of Lerins. Vincent of Lerins’ Commonitories is considered a pinnacle in the development of the Church’s rule of faith during this period.

201 Athanasius, To Dracontius, Epistle 49:2,4 (c.A.D. 355) NPNF 2, IV:558.
202 Augustine, To Fortunatus, Epistle 53:2 (A.D. 400) NPNF I, I:298.
203 Basil, To Neocaesareans, Epistle 204:6 (A.D. 375) NPNF 2, VIII:245.
204 Jerome, To Heliodorus, Epistle 14:8 (c.A.D. 374) NPNF 2, VI:16.
205 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 21 (c.A.D. 379) NPNF 2, VII:271.
206 Athanasius, Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, 5 (A.D. 361/362) NPNF 2, IV:452-453.
207 Athanasius, To the Bishops of Africa, 2 (inter A.D. 368-372) NPNF 2, IV:489.
208 Athanasius, Defence of the Nicene Definition, 4 (A.D. 350/351) NPNF 2, IV:152.
209 Ambrose, To Emperor Valentinian, Epistle 21:14 (A.D. 386) JUR II:147.
210 Augustine, To Januarius, Epistle 54:1 (A.D. 400) NPNF I:I:300.
211 Leo the Great, Pope, To Maximus: Bishop of Antioch (A.D. 453) Epistle 119:3-4, NPNF 2, XII:86.
212 Creed of Nicaea [A.D. 325] ECC 216.
213 Creed of Constantinople (A.D. 381) ECC 298.
214 Council of Ephesus, Canon VII (A.D. 431) NPNF 2, XIV:231.
215 Council of Chalcedon, Session V (A.D. 431) NPNF 2 XIV:265.
216 For a more thorough discussion on the primacy of the See of Peter in Patristic thought see Abbot John Chapman, O. S. B., Studies on the Early Papacy (New York: Benzinger, 1928) and Bishop Gore and Catholic Claims (New York: Longmans, 1905); James T. Shotwell and L.R. Loomis The See of Peter (New York: Columbia, 1927); E. Giles Documents Illustrating Papal Authority A.D. 96-454 (London: SPCK, 1952); and S. Butler, N. Dahlgren, and D. Hess, Jesus, Peter & the Keys (Santa Barbara; Queenship, 1996).
217 Julius, Pope, To the Eusebians (A.D. 340) in Athanasius’ Defence Against the Arians, 20, 26, 35 (A.D. 347) GILES, 96-98.
218 Council of Sardica, Canon III (A.D. 343/344) NPNF 2, XIV:416-417.
219 Council of Sardica, Canon IV, NPNF 2, XIV:418.
220 Council of Sardica, Canon V, NPNF 2, XIV:419.
221 Council of Sardica, To Pope Julius (A.D. 342) as cited by James T. Shotwell and Louise Ropes Loomis The See of Peter (New York: Columbia, 1927) pp. 527-528.
222 Ambrose, To Sircius, Epistle 42:5 (A.D. 391) GILES, p. 174.
223 Augustine, To Glorius,, Epistle 43 (A.D. 397) NPNF I, I:278.
224 Augustine, Sermons, 131:10 (A.D. 417) GILES, 204. The paradigm “Rome has spoken, case is closed” is derived from this sermon.
225 Chrysostom, John On Romans, Homily 32 (A.D. 391) NPNF I, XI:561-562.
226 Council of Ephesus, Session II (A.D. 431) NPNF 2, XIV:222-223.
228 Council of Chalcedon, Session II (A.D. 451) NPNF 2, XIV:259.
229 Ibid., NPNF 2, XVI:259-260.
230 Leo the Great, Pope, Chalcedon to Pope Leo, Epistle 98:1-2 (A.D. 451) NPNF 2, XII:72.
231 Optatus of Mileve, The Schism of Donatists, 2:2-3 (c. A.D. 367) GILES p. 118.
232 Jerome, To Pope Damasus, Epistle 15:2 (c. A.D. 376) NPNF 2, VI:18-19.
233 Jerome, To Demetrius, Epistle 130:16 (A.D. 414) NPNF 2, VI:269.
234 Prosper of Aquitaine, Poem on the Ungrateful, I:39 (A.D. 429) GILES p. 261.
235 Possidius, Life of Augustine, 18 (A.D. 437) GILES p. 265-266.

These are, hopefully, the final but most crucial questions I have left before making my decision on the claims of the Roman Catholic church and the need to expect one church alone to be our source of all truth. Your clarifications would be most important to me on this journey.

Thanks and regards,
Ritesh Roy Zacharias

Questions on Catholicism 1

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.