In this post (Part 1) we will be tackling a myriad of questions for Catholics from Reformed Protestant Apologist, Matt Slick. Slick, writing for CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) has created a list of "Questions for Roman Catholics". Apparently, Slick thinks himself to have hit a home run with his supposedly daunting questions for Catholics, so daunting, in fact, that, according to his own perception, Catholics are forced to resort to “ignoring them,” or just “hoping” that they “go away.” As Slick says in his opening paragraph: “The responses vary from defensive tradition to ignoring them and hoping to go away. Some of the questions are easier for Roman Catholics to respond to, and others are not. I hope that these might be helpful in your dialogs with the Roman Catholics as you try to present to them the true and saving gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Boy do we have a surprise for Slick. The surprise, of course, is that we will be answering every single one of his questions presented in his article, instead of ignoring them, or “hoping” that they’d just “go away.” With that in mind, let’s get to it. Today we will tackle the first 16 of his 24 questions, on the Eucharist, Scripture, Jesus and Mary. We will follow the topical presentation that Slick adopts in his article. MS is Matt Slick; WH is Unam Sanctam's Wesley Hunt.
MS: When Jesus instituted the supper, he had not yet been crucified. How then was the Eucharist his crucified body and blood?
WH: We find it odd how Mr. Slick can doubt the substantive presence of Christ in the Eucharist at the Last Supper, all on the basis of Christ having not been literally crucified yet, when, by the same token, he has no problem with men such as Abraham, David, Noah and a host of others, being justified by faith and having their sins forgiven through Christ's grace long before Christ would ever step foot on earth. Obviously, if God could apply forgiveness to individuals prior to His death on the cross, on the basis of, and in anticipation of, His atoning work, then why could He not consecrate the Eucharist on the same basis?
MS: If, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, that the Eucharist Wine is the literal blood of Christ, then how is that not violating the Old Testament law against drinking the blood of any flesh (Lev. 17:14)?
WH: Does Mr. Slick enjoy a little fat on his steak? One hopes not, because, as he should know, Lev 3:17 forbids both the eating of fat and the drinking of blood. It’s funny, does Mr. Slick really think he can just arbitrarily pick and choose between which Levitical Laws he wants to enforce on Catholics, and those he wants to abrogate in order to accommodate his diet? Nice try, Matt.
As for the specifics, however, it is true the Jews had been commanded from the beginning of their history not to eat or drink any blood (Lev 7:26-27; 1 Sam 14: 31-32). One of the many reasons for this is that blood contained life. As Lev 17:14 states, “because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, ‘You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood…’” The spiritual rationale behind this command was that the Jews were under the Old Covenant which, unlike the New Covenant under Christ, had no power to grant life. Blood was necessary for sacrifice, but that only accomplished a temporary appeasement of God. Such sacrifices still could not grant life (Rom 7:10). In fact, it is only under the New Covenant that we can drink the blood of the victim and receive life (Jn 6:53-58), as Jesus shed His blood for the very purpose of forgiving the sins of Israel, along with the whole world (Mt 26:28; 1 Tm 2:6). A similar case can be found when God, after the fall of Adam and Eve, forbade them from eating of the Tree of Life, but still permitted them to sacrifice animals to clothe their nakedness, which is representative of Christs shed blood for their sins (Gn 3:21). All in all, sacrifices of the Old Covenant were only copies, which could not bring life, and it is only those under the New Covenant, which brings life through Christs atoning work on the cross, who will once again eat of the Tree of Life (Ap 22:2). We also want to recommend the USC article "Is the Eucharist Cannibalism?" for an answer to this objection from a more Thomistic context.
MS: How is it possible for the Eucharist to be the actual body and blood of Christ if, by definition, a human body is only in one place at one time as Jesus' body was in the Incarnation, especially when you realize that Jesus is still a man (1 Tim. 2:5; Col. 2:9).
WH: Slick seems to be stumped on how it is possible for Christ to be in heaven on His throne while at the same time present in the Eucharist. Let’s see if we can help. First, it is completely possible simply on the basis that, “with God all things are possible” (Lk 1:37). Of course, naturally speaking, Christ is present in heaven with His glorified body, yet in the case of the Eucharist, Christ would be present sacramentally, that is, He would not be present in or with His accidental qualities of size, physicality, or visibility. Slick can mount no objection to this, as there isn’t any scripture passage which tells us that Christ cannot be present in very different or unique ways. In fact, scripture makes it clear that Christ dwells in the heart of every believer (Jn 14:23; Eph 3:17). So how can Christ, according to the confines Slick places upon Him, dwell both in heaven and in the hearts of believers at the same time? As said before, Christ has the capability to dwell anywhere He so chooses in very unique and different ways, simply because He is God. All in all, if Christ wishes to dwell, sacramentally, in the Eucharist, under the appearance of bread and wine, then He’s perfectly capable of doing so. This should go without saying, since apparently God didn’t have a problem being present in physical objects in the Old Testament (e.g., burning bush, pillar of fire, pillar of cloud, etc.), nor did it diminish the fact that He still dwelt in heaven (see also "Berengar and His Importance" for more on the various modes of Christ's presence).
MS: The Roman Catholic Church says that individuals are not allowed to interpret the Bible, but that they must submit to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. How then can you know if the Catholic Church is correct if you can't check it against Scripture? Remember, Paul praised the Bereans for checking even what he said against Scripture (Acts 17:11). Does the phrase "let each man be convinced his own mind" (Romans 14:5) mean that a person is able to look at the Scriptures and be fully convinced according to what he sees it says? If not, why not? If the phrase "let each man before he convinced his own mind" means that he is able to interpret Scripture on his own, what does he do if he believes what he sees in Scripture contradicts the Roman Catholic Church's teaching? If the phrase "let each man before he convinced his own mind" means that he is able to interpret Scripture on his own, then doesn't that contradict the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church which denies you the right to interpret God's word regarding faith, morals, and doctrine in a manner inconsistent with what it proclaims?
WH: No, the Church teach does not prohibit individuals from reading the Scriptures and coming to their own conclusions. It teaches that the faithful are prohibited from interpreting scripture “contrary to that sense which holy mother Church…hath held and doth hold” (Trent, Session 4, “Decree Concerning the Edition and the Use of the Sacred Books”). Obviously, the faithful can interpret scripture. If we couldn’t, there would be no Catholic apologists. We interpret scripture all the time, especially when refuting heretical ideas that some claim scripture supports.
As for whether the Church is correct, we invite Mr. Slick to use his common sense. If scripture teaches the Church has the charism of infallibility (cf. Mt 16:18; Ac 15; 1Tm 3:15), and if some part of scripture were to contradict the Church, then not only would the Church be in error, scripture would be as well, since scripture cannot contradict scripture. Regarding the Bereans, they were simply checking Paul’s new revelation that Jesus was the Messiah with the Old Testament teaching on the Messiah, not deriving the teaching that Jesus would be the Messiah from the Old Testament, since that would be impossible (the Old Testament never identifies the Messiah as “Jesus”). Moreover, scripture served as a common authoritative basis through which Paul could reason with those in the synagogue. Even though Paul had authority and spoke equally inspired oral tradition to that of scripture (2 Th 2:15), the Bereans would not have come to such conclusion until Paul made his case through arguing from scripture, the thing in which both camps believed to be inspired. In fact, the case of the Bereans is almost no different than a Catholic commending a Protestant for searching scripture to see if what we say about scripture is true. But of course, that doesn’t mean Catholics believe scripture is the sole or final authority.
One more point on Slick's exegesis here: Regarding Rm 14:5 ("...let each man be convinced in his own mind"), neither scripture, nor interpretation of scripture, are at the fore of discussion in Rm 14. The thrust of Rm 14 deals with how we are to live amongst our Christian brothers and sisters, and to be careful as to how we judge one another, especially when we believe something to be good, and which our conscience confirms, but which our weaker brethren object to; or if we should esteem one day over another, because of preference or habit; or if anyone should esteem all of them on a similar basis. In the end, Paul is simply telling them that they must be "convinced in their own mind," so that they will not violate their conscience (by eating certain foods which they think are wrong to eat-v.23), or that they will not judge themselves or each other on what day to esteem over another (v. 22).
MS: How many verses has the Roman Catholic Church officially, infallibly interpreted? It is extremely low. How then do you know what is actually correct
WH: The Church hasn’t deemed it necessary to infallibly interpret every verse, nor does it need to. The Church simply tells us what we can, or cannot, say about a given topic, and hence, we therefor are not to interpret scripture contrary to what the Church has already taught us.
MS: Can you, as a Catholic, pray directly to Jesus, not going through Mary, and ask Jesus to forgive you of all of your sins? John 14:14, "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it."If you did, would you be forgiven of all your sins?
WH: In short, what Matt is getting at is whether or not confessing to Jesus is sufficient to forgive us of our sins, apart from confession to a Priest. He cites John 14:14, as if that suffices to corroborate the Protestant position that such is not necessary. Unfortunately for Slick, Jesus does not intend to mean that He will do whatever we ask of Him, without qualification. Suppose we were to ask Jesus for a Mercedes? Is He obligated to follow through with that request? Clearly not. Rather, we understand Jesus’ words to mean that He will do whatever we ask as long as it aligns with, or is permitted by, His will. But that just begs the question: is it God’s will that Jesus forgive us of our mortal sins without regard to the sacrament of confession? Obviously not, based on Jesus’ words to the apostles in John 20: 21-23: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. ‘If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’” It would be rather superfluous for Jesus to give His apostles the authority to forgive sins if He desired a “me and Jesus alone” approach to having ones mortal sins forgiven. With that, it should be said that, prior to confession, a perfect act of contrition (as opposed to an imperfect act of contrition) is sufficient to have ones mortal sins forgiven, but this is only a tentative forgiveness until one confesses to a Priest. All in all, perhaps Matt should do his homework on Catholicism before asking questions like these.
MS: If you were forgiven by Jesus, then do you need all the rituals and sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be forgiven?
WH: Jesus forgives as our mediator (1 Tm 2:5), but He is free to choose how His mediation will be applied to individuals.
MS: If you’re not forgiven by Jesus when you pray to Him and ask Him to forgiven you, then why is Jesus not enough to save you?
WH: Jesus is enough to save us, that’s why we confess our sins and have them forgiven the way He proscribes, not the way Matt Slick thinks it should be done.
MS: Do you really believe that Mary is able to hear and understand the prayers of millions of people all over the world, simultaneously, in different languages, spoken, and thought?
WH: Sure, Matt.
MS: If you do believe has all of those abilities, how are you not attributing godlike abilities to her?
WH: It’s interesting how Matt seems to think he knows what language will be spoken in heaven. Of course, the reality is, he hasn’t a clue. As for the “god like qualities,” Mary wouldn’t need any, since there are plenty of angels, or even the Holy Spirit Himself, who would have no problem accurately relaying the prayers to Mary. Matt can’t mount any objection to this, unless, of course, He desires to strip God Himself of His “godlike qualities.” Matt also falls into seeing only two realms of possibility here: omniscience, or our current state of limited human knowledge, as if there is no place between our current level of knowledge and omniscience. To be godlike is to be omniscient, to know "all" things; Mary could know a great many things, even many millions times more things than we ever could, but as long as she did not know "all" things she would not be omniscient and hence not "godlike" in that respect.
MS: Why pray to Mary when Jesus said to come to Him (Matt. 11:28), ask Him anything (John 14:14), and He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18)? Isn't Jesus capable enough without Mary?
WH: Gee, I don’t know, Matt, maybe because when we ask others to pray for us, we don’t go to our unholy friends--- we go to our holy ones. Has Matt ever asked anyone to pray for him? If he has, why? I mean, couldn’t he just go to Jesus? C’mon, Matt. Think these through.If we can't ask Mary to pray for us on that criteria, we can't ask anyone to pray for is.
MS: Is Mary better than Jesus?
WH: Absolutely not. Mary is a creature; Christ is the Creator.
MS: "After speaking of the Church, her origin, mission, and destiny, we can find no better way to conclude than by looking to Mary," (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 972).
WH: Matt needs to read on: “In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own 'pilgrimage of faith…'” In other words, we can “look to Mary” as an icon for our own “pilgrimage of faith,” since she, who once lived out her faith on earth like us, is now in heaven with God. She is the ideal believer. Her relationship to Christ is the model for our own relationship to Christ.
More to come in Part II!