Church History

We must admit that the Catholic Church today is the same organization with unbroken continuity with that organization (Church) started in the 1st century. A reading of the Apostolic Fathers, the hinge figures between the Apostles and the later 1st and  2nd century, makes that clear.

The question is whether at some point the one visible, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church lost its legitimacy, thereby releasing the faithful to leave and start rival churches and communities.

Of course, if Jesus started the Catholic Church, we (and He) would expect it to continue until His 2nd Coming at the end of time. If it fails to the point of illegitimacy then His promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against it was a lie or He was not competent enough to keep His promise.

I think the conclusion should be obvious. Protests against Jesus’ Church are not legitimate, nor are churches set up to rival it.

Is the Church perfect? No, because I joined it and I am a member. I know my own sins.  Even if the Church was perfect before 1994 when we joined, it certainly wasn’t afterwards. There was never a Golden Age (just read St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians). The Church is always reforming and always in need of reform because it is full of people like me. It is not only a haven for saints but also a hospital for sinners

Jesus said He would build His Church — not “churches.” Jesus prayed that His followers would be perfected in [visible] unity which is now quite visibly gone (except in the still unified universal Catholic Church). The Catholic Church has never lost its legitimacy and the faithful are not released to start rival communities or to join them. This was Luther’s great sin of schism.

“Throughout history, many splinter groups claimed the name “Church”, but as Cyril of Jerusalem said in 350, ‘And if ever you are visiting in cities, do not inquire simply where the House of the Lord is,—for the others, the sects of the impious, attempt to call their dens the Houses of the Lord,—nor ask merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the name peculiar to this holy Church, the Mother of us all, which is the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God’.(Catechetical Lectures 18, 26, in Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:359).” (Crossing the Tiber, pg. 70).

Bottom line: it is NEVER OK to break with the Catholic Church that Jesus founded 2000 years ago.


Does God Pick the Pope? by Jimmy Akin

DoesGodPickthePope-e1520967085851“When Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, I was overjoyed.As much as I loved John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke to me in a special way, and I was thrilled when he became pope.

I was puzzled, though, by the way people began announcing him as “God’s choice” and speaking as if—in every conclave—the Holy Spirit himself selects the pope.

It’s customary for people to speak that way in the jubilation that occurs whenever a new people is elected.

I knew that, but this was the first conclave I witnessed as an adult, and as a Catholic, and I hadn’t experienced it first hand.

That kind of language is understandable as a way of building confidence for the new pontificate, but is it literally true?

Does the Holy Spirit really select the best possible man for the job, or is it a form of pious hyperbole?

130227151945-01-pope-0227-horizontal-large-galleryCommon Sense

Common sense would suggest the latter. The cardinals in a conclave certainly invoke the Holy Spirit and seek his guidance, but he does not override their free will.

We’ve had some really bad popes in the history of the Church, and not just ones like Peter who made mistakes and then repented.

We’ve had some genuinely bad actors in the papacy (for example, Benedict IX, who reigned three different times between 1032 and 1048).

So in what sense can the election of a pope be said to be God’s will?

Divine Providence

Everything that happens in history takes place under God’s providential care.

By his omnipotence, God could stop any event from occurring, and so if something happens, it’s because God allows it.

The election of a pope thus can be said to be God’s will in the sense that any historical event can.

In this broad sense, however, the fact that something is God’s will does not guarantee that he approves of it.

It may be God’s will to allow a man to commit adultery, but that doesn’t mean he approves of the adultery.

Is the election of a pope in accord with God’s will only in this minimal sense or does it involve something greater?

Divine Guidance

While God does not override human free will, he does offer guidance. Jesus gave the Church certain promises in this regard, stating:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13).


Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matt. 28:20).

God has thus promised to give the Church his guidance. He has also promised it to individuals:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

If an individual man seeks God’s guidance, he can count on it being given. This does not mean it will be easy to hear or understand, or that the man will act on it, but it does mean that God will offer his assistance in some way.

Similarly, when the college of cardinals seeks God’s guidance in a conclave, they can be confident he will give it. Indeed, given the weightiness of the decision facing the cardinals and the implications it will have for the entire Church, they can expect he will provide even greater guidance.

This does not guarantee that the guidance will be easy to hear or understand, or that the cardinals will act on it, but it does mean that God’s assistance will be provided.

By presuming the discernment and good will of the cardinals, we may presume the man they elect was chosen in accord with God’s guidance and thus that his election was God’s will in a greater way than if God merely allowed it.

merlin_131618630_0d1d7ad7-0fa1-4021-bd20-1221f21ad866-master768A Marriage Analogy

We should be careful about assuming that there is only one correct choice for pope, for the process of selecting a pope is similar to the process of selecting a spouse.

Pop culture sometimes promotes the idea that everyone has a soul mate—a single, best individual that they should marry—but the reality is more complex.

Each marriage prospect has different strengths and weaknesses, and depending on who you choose, your marriage will unfold in different ways. But that doesn’t mean there is a single, best candidate you must find.

Even if there is, identifying that person with confidence cannot be humanly accomplished, given the number of factors and the number of unknowns in play.

Similarly, candidates for the papacy have different strengths and weaknesses. Depending on who the cardinals choose, the next papacy will unfold in different ways. But there may not be a single, best choice—or one that is humanly knowable.

463416006_wide-76d348e063e8cf373b6b6c1ffc284c7d62581e32-s900-c85After the Choice is Made

Once a selection has been made, however, a new mode of divine will comes into play.

In the case of a marriage, once you exchange vows, it is God’s will that you treat that person as your spouse.

The realm of possibilities that existed before has now reduced to a single person, and that person is your divinely ordained spouse. He ordained that you be spouses in the moment the vows were exchanged, and “what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt. 19:6).

It’s now your job to make the marriage work, not to worry about what-ifs and might-have-beens.

Similarly, when a man accepts his election as pope, he becomes the divinely ordained pope, and it’s now everyone’s job in the Church to support him in the various ways that are appropriate to their station and to make the papacy work.

Spouses are not perfect, and neither are popes. Just as every marriage has challenges and requires work, so does every papacy.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Views

When he was still a cardinal, Benedict XVI acknowledged the fact that cardinals can elect sub-optimal popes in an interview with German television back in 1997.

When asked whether the Holy Spirit is responsible for the election of a pope, he said:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. . . . I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined (John Allen, The Rise of Benedict XVI, 6).

He continued:

There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!

Similarly, in his final address to the college of cardinals, Pope Benedict stated:

Before I say goodbye to each one of you personally, I would like to tell you that I shall continue to be close to you with my prayers, especially in these coming days, that you may be completely docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope. May the Lord show you the one whom he wants.

Benedict’s prayer that they will be docile to the Holy Spirit indicates the possibility that they will not be docile

GroupthinkImplications for the Future

Nobody knows when the next conclave will be, but we can draw several implications from all this.

First, we can be confident from the fact that the cardinals seek God’s guidance that he will give it to them, as he has promised.

Second, even if they make a sub-optimal choice, we can be confident that God will ultimately bring good out of it, for “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom. 8:28; cf. CCC 311).

Third, we need to pray. We need to pray now that good cardinals will be chosen, and when they meet in conclave, we need to pray that they will earnestly seek and heed God’s guidance.”

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What to Think About Bad Popes

by Steve Ray on February 16, 2018

Written by Dave Armstrong and used with permission:

BAD POPES: REPLIES TO A SINCERE INQUIRER, February 15, 2018, by Dave Armstrong

God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer.

Dave writes: “As this was originally private correspondence, my correspondent’s exact words will be paraphrased, not cited. Her “words” will be in blue.”

* * * * *

How can you believe in a succession of popes since so many have been terrible sinners?

It’s not based on sinlessness (that’s called impeccability) but on office. We believe that God protects the Church from teaching error, by His power (not the power of sinful men). How is this possible? It’s entirely possible because God is God and can accomplish whatever He wants. Secondly, it has already happened in greater measure in the inspired Scripture, which was written by sinful men like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter (murderers, adulterers, and people who would deny knowing Jesus). Yet it is inspired and infallible. Likewise, God uses sinful men as bishops and popes and protects the faithful from receiving false teaching.

Titus 1:7-9  “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”

If the pope is the head of all the bishops, wouldn’t he also have to (above all) be of this high level of character?

Most of them have been, especially in the last 150-200 years. This is the ideal, but you and I know full well that people don’t always live up to biblical standards (we need only look at ourselves, for starters). We see the tension between the ideal and the real, in, for example, 1 John 1:6-10:

1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

All have sin, that needs to be confessed and cleansed; to deny one’s sin is to be a liar.

Thus, there have been some bad popes. This is not unexpected, based on Scripture. See my papers:

– Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church
– Are Sinful Church Leaders a Disproof of Catholicism?
– The ‘Bad Popes’: How Many Of ‘Em Were There? How ‘Bad’ Were They?

Of what purpose is a bad pope who is still a true pope? You simply accept that and say that God has His reasons?

Yes, because He used King David and made an everlasting covenant with Him and made Jesus His descendant, even though David was an adulterer and murderer. Jesus called Judas to be His disciple, and Judas was called both a disciple and “elect.” The Bible shows how a successor was chosen when Judas killed himself. Jesus made Peter the leader of the Church, knowing that he would deny him three times.

I’m not trying to be contentious; I really want to understand these things. I feel somewhat led to the Catholic Church. I have heard that I must accept all Catholic teachings to do so.

That’s right, because it is a teaching passed down from the apostles. One doesn’t pick and choose and decide what they will accept, but rather, decide in faith that God has one true Church that He has protected all these centuries. God can do it. He has enough power to do that!

I have hope that I can better understand these things if they are explained to me. I don’t feel like I am a Protestant any longer. I think they have many of their own problems and have not figured everything out themselves.

I hope my answers have been helpful to you. God bless you as you consider where God might be leading you. Pray, pray, pray! The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, as the Bible says.

STEVE RAY HERE: I would like to add three quotes to correct people’s idea that it is wrong or incorrect to criticize a priest, bishop or Pope. Any criticism must be done with great respect, integrity and deference. I think the case of Saint Paul confronting Saint Peter in the book of Galatians shows that no Pope is above criticism (Gal 2:11-14).

Remember also the strong rebuke St  Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory IX  and she was made a Doctor of the Church.

Consider these three quotes (which can be multiplied):

St. Thomas Aquinas: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

“Now it can be said briefly that those who defend blindly and indiscriminately any judgment whatsoever of the Supreme Pontiff concerning every matter weaken the authority of the Apostolic See; they do not support it; they subvert it; they do not fortify it… . Peter has no need of our lies; he has no need of our adulation.” – Melchior Cano, Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent

Code of Canon Law #212 §3. “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they [the Christian faithful] possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”


Did the Church Ever Support Slavery?

January 25, 2018

By Steve Weidenkopf   September 18, 2017 Many years ago I attended a conference organized by a national Catholic organization on the topics of marriage and human sexuality. One of the speakers was a professor from Creighton University who, in the middle of his talk on contraception, launched into a long tangent about how the Church had […]

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Alexa: Who founded the Baptist Church? the Lutheran Church? … the Catholic Church!

December 28, 2017

This is delightful. Had to share…

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Baptists at the Council of Nicea?

December 28, 2017

Nicea, August 24, A.D. 325, 7:41 p.m.    “That was powerful preaching, Brother Athanasius. Powerful! Amen! I want to invite any of you folks in the back to approach the altar here and receive the Lord into your hearts. Just come on up. We’ve got brothers and sisters up here who can lead you through […]

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The Dark Side of Luther – by Steve Wood

November 22, 2017

The Dark Side of Luther  (View online version at Steve Woods site here)     This is the last of my newsletters responding to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I’m sending you some of the overlooked statements of Luther revealing his thoughts on Catholics, his claim to infallibility, and his hatred of the […]

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Visit St. John Lateran with me today for the Feast of Its Dedication

November 9, 2017

I am in Rome and decided to run to St. John Lateran this morning a make a video — so all of you could enjoy the Feast Day of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Church on November 9, 313. Yup, that’s right! It was the first Christian church ever built and it was the […]

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What Does the Word Catholic Mean? A History of the Word “Catholic”

October 28, 2017

As a Protestant, I went to an Evangelical church that changed an important and historical word in the  Apostles Creed. Instead of the “holy, catholic Church,” we were the “holy, Christian church.” At the time, I thought nothing of it. There was certainly no evil intent, just a loathing of the Catholic Church and a […]

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Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev has a warning for the West

October 26, 2017

By Elizabeth Scalia | Sep 25, 2017 “Before 1917 nobody ever proposed that the collapse of a centuries-old Christian empire would happen…” Participating in a London conference on the topic of “The Christian Future of Europe,” Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the External Relations Departments of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, spoke on September […]

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In 1521 “Reformers” Disagreed among themselves – was it really THAT bad?

September 24, 2017

A friend named Philip wrote and asked me this question: Christ is Risen. And we with him. I was talking to Evangelical friends who directed me to some historical websites about the Marburg meeting of the Protestant Reformers. You have just finished your Dr. Luther tour of Germany. It seems that the Protestants did agree […]

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Questions I Answered on Catholic Answers Live: Martin Luther & the “Reformation”

September 20, 2017

Martin Luther and the Protestant “Reformation” – or rather, “the Deformation”  Just back from a trip to Martin Luther sites in Germany, Steve Ray discusses the man, his ideas, and his effect on the Church. (PICTURE: Steve posting “500 Reasons to Be Catholic” on the Wittenberg Door in Wittenberg Germany. To watch the 2-minute video […]

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Germany Trip Summary, Comments, Farewells and Departure

September 15, 2017

After eight days of intense touring of Germany and following all the sites of Martin Luther and the “Protestant Devolution” we finally said our goodbyes, shared our comments about the trip and headed home. But the trip was not only about Martin Luther and the Protestant rebellion. We also explored and toured the life of […]

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Luther’s Young Years, Monastery and Birth & Death

September 11, 2017

Eisleben: birth and baptism of Luther. Also where he preach his last sermons and died. This was also the town of St. Gertrude the Great. We has Mass at St. Gertrude’s with another fantastic homily. Mansfeld: Luther’s childhood home and church where he sang in the choir and served as an altar boy. He was […]

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Delivered “500 Reasons to Be Catholic” to Luther at Wittenburg Door

September 9, 2017

Today we went to Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. I had promised people I would deliver their “95 Reasons for being Catholic.” We ended up with many hundreds of reasons that were sent to me. I kept my promise today and delivered them to Martin Luther in person. I could not mail them to the […]

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Steve’s Interview of Luther & the Reformation with Al Kresta

May 12, 2017

This was a fun and informative interview as an introduction to this 500th Anniversary of the Luther’s actions which started the Protestant Reformation (or Deformation, depending on how you look at it). Click this LINK, then click on the + sign for Hour One and move the slider to 8:20 where the interview begins. It […]

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