Church History

Screen Shot 2020-11-24 at 8.05.29 AMI was thinking about Martin Luther and the great schism of the Western Church and thought I would share again our visit to the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany three years ago.

Janet and I took a group of hardy Catholic converts to Germany to follow the footprints of Martin Luther and the Protestant revolt called the Protestant Reformation. It was a blessed and educational journey. So I found the short two-minute video from Wittenberg Germany and share it again today.

Though initially, he did not intend a schism and his questions were partially justified, he carried his inquiry/rebellion too far and left a split Church and a scandalous wound that has never healed.

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.

We kept our promise today and delivered them to Martin Luther in person. I could not mail them to the door because the old wooden door has burned. The new doors are made of bronze and there’s a barrier to keep me from getting within 10 feet of the current doors.

The original doors were like the town bulletin board. Everyone posted things on that door. So in a way, it was nothing unusual. Here is a short two-minute video reacting to Luther’s schism which started right here.

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Dear Protestant: Where Did You Get Your Bible?

by Steve Ray on November 22, 2020

From Little Catholic Bubble website
Leila@LittleCatholicBubble

Dear Protestant: Where did you get your New Testament?

At least a couple of times every week, Protestants use New Testament verses to show me where the Catholic Church is wrong about something. I always make them take the necessary step back by asking the following:

“Where did you get your New Testament?”

When they answers that it came from God (as indeed it did), I say, “Yes, but what was the mechanism God used to bring it to you today? How did it come to you, historically and in real time, since it did not drop out of Heaven into your hands, leather-bound?”

Nine times out of ten, they have no answer because they have never considered the question.

The quick answer:

The Catholic Church officially determined and set the canon of of the New Testament approximately 400 years after Christianity began. The canon was declared by the body of Catholic bishops at the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) and confirmed by Pope Boniface (419 A.D.).  

Greek Manuscript Greek Manuscript

This is historical fact.

Let me flesh out a few more of the details, which very few Christians (Protestant or Catholic) know.

After Christ’s ascension into Heaven, and after the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, the Church thrived and grew exponentially for years before even one line of the New Testament was written. Let that sink in: Baptisms, catechesis, communal worship, conversions of thousands of sinners, Apostles and their companions traveling to other lands and risking imprisonment, torture, and death to evangelize the world with zeal — all went on for over a decade before the New Testament was even begun, much less completed.

Without having written a word, the Church was teaching, preaching, growing, and flourishing for many years.

Eventually, a very few Apostles and their disciples starting writing down some of the Church’s oral Tradition: The Gospels, which recorded the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and also the Epistles (letters) of St. Paul and others, which gave encouragement and instruction to local churches being established throughout the world. The young Church cherished those gospels and letters, and began to incorporate them into her liturgies and masses.

Greek-ManuscriptMore and more written accounts and testimonies materialized as the Church grew, but contrary to today’s popular belief, it was not obvious to the early Christians which of these writings were truly God-inspired.

As brutal persecution of the Church continued in those first centuries, clarity about Christian writings became important. After all, Christians were being martyred routinely, and it was necessary to know which books were worth dying for.

Three categories of writings existed at that time:

1. Those writings that were universally acknowledged/accepted
2. Those writings that were disputed or controverted
3. Those writings that were known to be spurious or false

The first group included divinely-inspired books that we have in our Bible today, such as the four Gospels, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the Acts of the Apostles.

The second group included books that were simultaneously accepted in some Christian regions, rejected in others, and disputed in others. Some of these were indeed divinely-inspired, such the Epistles of James and Jude, one of Peter’s, two of John’s, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation, even as many Christians did not believe they were. Some were books that never made it into the final canon of the New Testament, but which several Christian communities considered inspired (and even used for catechizing and in the liturgy), such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, Apostolic Constitutions, the Epistle of St. Clement, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans, etc.

The third group consisted of the fakes floating around, spurious works which were never acknowledged or claimed by the Church, such as about 50 false gospels including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of James, a couple dozen “Acts” (Acts of Pilate, Acts of Paul and Thecla, etc.), and some epistles and apocalypses.

NiceaUnder the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit and after a long series of historical events, a gathering of Catholic bishops went through the process of authoritatively and infallibly setting the books of the Christian canon, using the following criteria: a) The book in question must have been written in apostolic times by an Apostle or one close to an Apostle, and b) The book in question had to be doctrinally sound, completely conforming to Catholic Church teaching.

Several books met those criteria, and so it happened that some four centuries and 20 generations after Christ’s Resurrection, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church authoritatively set the canon of the New Testament, ending all confusion and doubt among the faithful.

Rome had spoken, and the canon was closed.

Which leaves us with some takeaways:

— If the Catholic Church (bishops and pope) had the authority from God to set the New Testament canon, then she cannot be the corrupt and un-Christian “Whore of Babylon” as is claimed by many Protestants.

— If one accepts the canon of the New Testament, one must also accept the authority of the entity who gave it to us, i.e., the Catholic Church.

— If one rejects the authority of the Catholic Church, one should and must also reject the canon of the New Testament that came to us through the authority of the Catholic Church. (It makes sense that Martin Luther, the rebel behind the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, wanted to throw out several of the New Testament books that he despised.)

— The New Testament cannot be “personally interpreted” by each individual Christian, because it was never meant to be taken outside of the Church from which it came.

— The New Testament cannot and does not contradict Catholic doctrine, as it was Catholic doctrine that was used as a criterion for its authenticity and authority.

— The New Testament was discerned and canonized by men who had divine authority to do so — men who believed explicitly in the Mass, the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood, Confession, Purgatory, veneration of Mary, infant baptism and infused grace, justification by faith and works, the Communion of Saints, etc., etc.

— The Bible came from the Church. In other words, the Bible is Church-based, not the other way around. If you get this paradigm wrong, you get some messed-up theology.

— If a Protestant uses Scripture to attack the Catholic Church, it’s like ripping off a man’s arm to beat him with it. Using a Catholic Book to beat up the Catholic Church makes no sense.

— If you believe that your eternal salvation is based entirely on a Book, isn’t it important to know where the Book came from and who was given authority to proclaim it? Who meticulously copied, preserved, protected, and guarded it with their lives, and who ultimately vouched for the fact that it is indeed the written Word of God?

There is so much more to discuss, and I would love to do so in the comments. Meanwhile, one of the best books on the subject, which I devoured when I came back to the Church, is Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, by Henry G. Graham.

**Note: I did not include the Old Testament canon in this post, because I wanted to work with something that both Protestants and Catholics agree on, namely, the 27 books of the New Testament.

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When I was last on Catholic Answers Live last week Constantine Regas called in to defend the Eastern Orthodox position against the Catholic Church’s teaching on Peter and the Primacy of Rome. Constantine’s words are in BLUE and my responses are in BLACK. I appreciated Constantine’s irenic tone and honest demeanor. 

CONSTANTINE REGAS (CR): I called the “Catholic Answers Live” show last Monday to clarify the Orthodox position on authority in the Church.

STEVE RAY (SR): I remember Constantine. And the studio cut us off before we got very far in our conversation.

CR: My exact question was that, if Christ gave St Peter the Keys to the Kingdom, why isn’t the current Bishop of Antioch the head of the universal Church since St Peter was the founding bishop of that city several years before he became the bishop of Rome? Part of your response was that he was also the first bishop of Jerusalem. The Apostle James was Jerusalem’s first bishop.

SR: Jesus promised him the keys to Peter in Matthew 16:19. The Royal Steward steps up to his position of authority when appointed, especially to fill in for the King in his absence. Once Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit fell Peter picked up those keys and exercised his authority on the day of Pentecost. From that point on we hear no words of the other Eleven. Except for Paul, none of the others have any recorded words in Acts. Peter is the Bishop, the Pope and the visible Head of the Church from that point.

In his massive history of the Church, Warren Carroll gives a very cogent outline of Peter’s movements. You can read this list here as I provided in my book Upon this Rock.

30 AD Death and Resurrection of Jesus
30-37 Peter head of the Church in Jerusalem
38-39 Peter’s Missionary journeys along Mediterranean Coast and Samaria
40-41 Peter in Antioch
42 Imprisonment in Jerusalem and departure to “another place.’
42-49 First sojourn to Rome
49 Expulsion from Rome by edict of Claudius
49-50 In Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (Acts 15)
50–54 In Antioch, Bithynia, Pontus, Asia, and Cappadocia (or some of them)
54–57 Second sojourn in Rome; Gospel of Mark written under Peter’s direction
57–62 In Bithynia, Pontus, and Cappadocia (or some of them); Mark in Alexandria, Egypt
62–67 Third sojourn in Rome; canonical Epistles of Peter; Mark with Peter in Rome
67 Martyrdom in Rome and burial near the Necropolis at the Vatican

You say that the Apostle James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. If you referring to James the son of Zebedee, you are incorrect because he was killed by the sword about 42 AD as recorded in Acts 12:2. The James that became bishop of Jerusalem was James “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19). He was referred to as James the Righteous. He became bishop of Jerusalem after Peter’s departure for Antioch around 40-41.

Doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom (an Eastern bishop) says, “‘And having spoken thus,’ the Evangelist declared, ‘he said, “Follow me.” ’ In these words He was once again referring indirectly to His solicitude for Peter and to the fact that He was on terms of intimate friendship with him. And, if someone should say: ‘How is it, then, that it was James who received the bishop’s chair in Jerusalem?’ I would make this reply: that Christ appointed this man [Peter], not merely to a chair, but as teacher of the world.” (John Chrysostom, Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Homilies 48–88, trans. Thomas Aquinas Goggin, vol. 41, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1959), 473.)

Peter was the leader of Jerusalem for 10 years before going to Antioch for 2 years then ending up as the leader of the Church in Rome about 42 AD.

CR: The point I was making is that primacy of honor (not authority which rests with Christ alone) was given to the bishop of Rome because it was capital of the empire.

SR: Unfortunately, you are incorrect again. Never was the phrase “primacy of honor” used until after the Eastern churches broke away from Rome, took a new name (Orthodox) and used this phrase as a justification for rejecting the honorary and jurisdictional authority of Rome. One only needs to read history to find the Eastern churches in heresy for much of their existence and always depending on Rome to establish the truth of the faith and to appoint orthodox bishops in Eastern churches.

Rome was established as the See of Peter because Peter chose it to be. Jerusalem had become a backwater city after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and the 10th Legion. Yes, Rome was the capital of the Empire and the hub of the wheel (“all roads lead to Rome”). Peter and Paul established the Church of Rome by their blood and it was by their appointment, the See of Peter and the Head of the Church.

Of course, Jesus is the head of the Church. But he left his royal steward with the keys of the kingdom as a visible head of the Church and a source of unity. There is no contradiction here.

CR: The second canon of the Second Ecumenical Council A.D. 381 explains this clearly. After the capital was moved to Constantinople, primacy of honor became shared. Feel free to investigate.

SR: I see you do not provide the quote from the source you cite. It is easy to say a council said this or that, but proving it is quite another thing. And claiming the primacy was “shared” is an eastern idea and refuted by the facts of the first 1000 years of the Church. This I have made abundantly clear in my book Upon this Rock.

Yet in that very Council, in the beginning of the very next Cano  it contradicts tour claim. Here is the except from that Canon of that Council:

Canon III
The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.
Ancient Epitome of Canon III: The bishop of Constantinople is to be honoured next after the bishop of Rome.

CR: I also noticed that the above comment (among others) was edited out of yesterday’s rebroadcast.

SR: I am not aware of that, nor is that under my care. The sound techs at Catholic Answers Live handle what is posted in the podcast.

CR: One last point if I may: All the Eastern bishops can trace their authority back to one of the Apostles. The Vatican recognizes this and therefore acknowledges the validity of the Orthodox priesthood and sacraments.

SR: We have no argument here. That is why we consider the eastern churches to be legitimate churches. We don’t consider Protestants to be churches since they have lost the apostolic succession, which the Eastern Orthodox churches have maintained. However, that has nothing to do with the fact that Rome has the primacy both in honor and in jurisdiction. The Eastern churches are in schism and we all hope that one day there will again be unity.

St. Pope John Paul II said it best when he stated his desire that the Western and Eastern lungs be breathing together again in one united Body of Christ.

If you are interested in my thorough study on all of these matters, in which I interact a great deal with Orthodox theologians, I suggest you get my book referenced below.

I appreciate your irenic tone and honest discussion. God bless you my brother in Christ!

(Stephen K. Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, Modern Apologetics Library (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 67.)

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The Catholic Church and Her 23 Liturgical Rites

August 24, 2020

I was recently asked if there was a difference between the “Catholic Church” and the “Roman Catholic Church”. Are they the same thing? What is the correct name of our Church? So I provided this simple answer (PDF version here). The official name of our church is “Catholic Church”. But the Church has 23 different […]

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The Catholic Church: the First Abolitionist, Church Never Endorsed Slavery

July 28, 2020

Crisis Magazine has come out with a good and insightful article debunking the idea that the Catholic Church endorsed and promoted slavery. The modern anti-Christian, anti-history narrative takes it for granted that the Church was either a promoter of slavery, or at best complicit or it turned a blind eye. This article by Paul Kengor […]

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Peter and the Primacy in Scripture and the Early Church Discussion

July 16, 2020

Had another great evening with William Albrecht and Michael Lofton on their popular and wide-ranging Reason & Theology show. It was a great time of discussion, challenge and digging deep into the issue of the primage of Peter and Rome in Scripture and the Church Fathers – East and West. Enjoy the lively discussion…. Throughout […]

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Baptists at the Council of Nicea?

May 19, 2020

Written by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O.Praem. 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 […]

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The Dark Side of Luther – by Steve Wood

March 25, 2020

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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Catherine of Siena and Leaving the Church

February 5, 2020

What this 14th-century mystic can teach us about fidelity to Christ and to a Church in crisis Thomas McDermott, OP In the wake of so many clerical sex abuse scandals, too many people the Catholic Church appears hypocritical and bankrupt morally and spiritually. In the midst of such trying times, how can Catholics justify remaining […]

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Imagine the Music in Hagia Sophia, Largest Church for 1,000 Years

January 21, 2020

For 1,000 years the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) was the largest church in the world. What would it have sounded like to attend the Easter Vigil with all those newly baptized Christians singing in their native language of Greek with Doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom presiding. Coming in from the farms […]

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Did St. Ignatius of Antioch REALLY Believe in Transubstantiation in the 1st Century?

January 6, 2020

A friend and fellow pilgrim got in a row with a friend on Facebook and asked for my help. You might enjoy the question and the answer. My friend wrote: “I have a quick apologetic question.  A Protestant Facebook page was denying the Eucharist and I pasted St Ignatius’ quote about the Eucharist, “Let us […]

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Aztecs, Human Sacrifice, Abortion and Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12, 2019

Today we visited the Aztec Temple in Mexico City. The cathedral of Mexico City was built right next to the 500-year temple. I did a lot of study on the Aztecs and their massive human sacrifices and cannibalism. I realized there was a great tie-in with the Catholic faith, the sacrifice of Christ and abortion […]

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Did the Church Ever Support Slavery?

October 20, 2019

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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My EWTN Live Show on the Papacy now on YouTube

August 16, 2019

On August 14, I was in Birmingham Alabama to do the EWTN Live show with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. He’s a classy guy, by the way, and I really enjoyed my time with him again. He’s a hunter and outdoorsman and a pleasure to be with — lots of great stories. (Courtesy of EWTN Global Catholic […]

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

August 8, 2019

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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Steve “Appearance” on Catholic Answers Live – Martyrs!

July 25, 2019

Steve Ray discusses the Catholic Church’s history of martyrs who refused to deny Christ. Questions Covered: 18:20 – How can you historically prove that the writings of the martyrs are theirs? Do most Protestants believe that these writings existed and were true?  21:55 – How can we defend the bad practices of popes in the early Church?      […]

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