Steve’s Writings

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 distinct desire to distance ourself from its heresy and man-made traditions. 

 I assumed that early on Catholics deviated from “biblical Christianity” so they simply invented a new word to describe their new society. Since we Evangelicals were supposedly the ones faithful to the Bible we had no interest in the word catholic since it was found nowhere between the covers of the Bible. It was a biased word loaded with negative baggage so we removed it from the Creed. 

 I should have asked myself “Where did the word catholic come from, and what does it mean?” Was I right to assume that Roman Catholics invented the word to set themselves apart from biblical Christianity? 

 A short and interesting investigation will turn up some valuable information. Let’s start with an understanding of doctrinal development and the definition of catholic, then  let’s “interview” the very first Christians to see what they thought of the Church and the word catholic and then we will study the Bible itself. 

 How Doctrines and Words Develop
The development of doctrine is not just a Catholic phenomenon. It is also a fact among Protestants and all religions or theological traditions. Over time, theological words develop to help explain the deeper understanding of the faith. As Christians ponder the revelation passed on by the apostles and deposited in his Church the Church mulls over God’s Word, thinking deeper and deeper. It is not unlike peeling the layers away from an onion as one goes deeper to the heart. 

 Development of doctrine defines, sharpens, and interprets the deposit of faith. The Bible is not a theological textbook or a detailed church manual, such as say a catechism or study guide. The Bible’s meaning is not always clear as St. Peter tells us (2 Pet 3:15?16). Thirty-three thousand competing Protestant denominations also make this fact apparent as they fail to agree on what the Bible says. It takes the authority of a universal Church and the successors of the apostles to formulate the doctrines of the faith. As an Evangelical, I was naïve enough to think I could recreate the “theological” wheel for myself.

  To illustrate doctrinal development, let’s look at the word trinity. The word trinity never appears in the Bible, nor does the Bible give explicit formulas for the nature of the Trinity as commonly used today, such as “one God is three persons,” or “three persons, one nature.”  Yet, the word Trinity, as developed within the Catholic Church, is an essential belief for nearly every Protestant denomination. The first recorded use of the word trinity (trias) was in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch around the year a.d. 180.  Although not found in the Bible, the early Church developed words such as Trinity, which are used to define and explain basic, essential Christian doctrines. 

Interestingly, while many Protestants object to the idea of development of doctrine within the Catholic Church, they seem to have no problem with developments in their own camp—even novelties and inventions. Take for example the Rapture, another word not found in the Bible and not used in any theological circles until the mid-19th century. After a prophetic utterance from two women at a Scottish revival meeting, the new doctrine of the Rapture spread like wildfire through England and America.

 It was the Catholic Church that defined the Blessed Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ—the hypostatic union of two natures in the one divine person of Jesus—, salvation, baptism, the Blessed Eucharist, and all the other doctrines that have been the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is also the Catholic Church that gave birth to the New Testament—collecting, canonizing, preserving, distributing, and interpreting them. 

As a Protestant I was quite willing to unknowingly accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the closed canon of the  New Testament, etc., but I willfully rejected the full teaching of the Catholic Church. I now realize that it is in the Catholic Church that we find the fulness of the faith and the visible, universal body of Christ.

 The Word “Catholic” Defined
However, we have yet to define the word catholic. It comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata- concerning, and holos- whole. Thus, concerning the whole. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the word catholic comes from a Greek word meaning “regarding the whole,” or more simply, “universal” or “general.” Universal comes from two Greek words: uni- one, and vertere- turning. In other words, a “one turning”, “revolving around one,” or “turned into one”. The word church comes from the Greek ecclesia which means “those called out,” as in those summoned out of the world at large to form a distinct society. So the Catholic Church is made up of those called out and gathered into the universal visible society founded by Christ.

In its early years, the Church was small, both in geographically and numerically. For roughly the first decade the Church was made up exclusively of Jews in the area of Jerusalem. The word catholic hardly seemed to apply. But as the Church grew and spread across the Roman Empire, it incorporated Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, Romans, freemen, and even slaves—men and women from every tribe and tongue. But by the third century, oneout of ten people in the Roman Empire was a Catholic. Just as the word Trinity was appropriated to describe the nature of God, so the term catholic was appropriated to describe the nature of Christ’s body, the Church. 

But let’s get back to the history of the word catholic. The first recorded use of the word is found very early in Christian literature. We find the first instance the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was a young man during the time of the apostles and the second bishop of Antioch following Peter. Ignatius was immersed in the living tradition of the local church in Antioch where the believers in Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). He was alive early enough to know the apostles and was taught and ordained directly by the apostles. 

From the apostles St. Ignatius learned what the church was from the apostles themselves. From them he learned how it was to function, grow, and be governed. History informs us that St. Peter was the Bishop of Antioch at the time; in fact, Church Fathers claim that St. Ignatiuis was ordained by St. Peter himself.Ignatius must have worshiped with Peter and Paul and John. He lived with or near them, and was an understudy of these special apostles. St. Ignatius of Antioch is known and revered as an authentic witness to the tradition and practice of the apostles. 

 In the existing  documents that have come down to us, St. Ignatius is the first to use the word catholic in reference to the Church. On his way to Rome, under military escort to the Coliseum where he would be devoured by lions for his faith, he wrote, “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8).  

 Another early instance of the word catholic is associated with St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who used the word many times. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John just as St. John was a disciple of Jesus. Like Ignatius, Polycarp also suffered the martyr’s death in a coliseum in a.d. 155. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written at the time of Polycarp’s death, we read, “The Church of God which sojourns in Smyrna, to the Church of God which sojourns in Philomelium, and to all the dioceses of the holy and Catholic Church in every place” (Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnam, Preface)  

 Later in the same book it says, “When Polycarp had finished his prayer, in which he remembered everyone with whom he had ever been acquainted . . . and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” They then gave him up to wild beasts, fire and finally, the sword. The epistle then concludes, “Now with the Apostles and all the just [Polycarp] is glorifying God and the Father Almighty, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world” (8).

 So we clearly see that early in the second century Christians regularly use the word catholic as an established description of the Church.  From the second century on we see the term catholic being used consistently by the theologians and writers. One can easily conclude that catholic was a very early description of the Church, probably used by the apostles themselves

 St. Augustine in the  fourth century, relaying the tradition of the early Church, minces no words asserting the importance and wide-spread use of the term catholic. He writes, “We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church which is Catholic, and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies” (The True Religion, 7, 12). And again, “[T]he very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called Catholic, when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani called “The Foundation”, 4, 5).

 The early usage and importance of the word can also be seen by its use in both the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds. If you were a Christian in the first mellenia you were a Catholic, and if you were a Catholic you recited the Creeds affirming the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Unhappily, some people today try to make a distinction between Catholic with a capital “C” and catholic with a small “c”, but such a distinction is a recent development and unheard of in the early Church.

 Biblical Understanding of the word “Catholic”
Jesus commissioned his apostles with the words “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19, 20). As Frank Sheed reminds us, “Notice first the threefold ‘all’—all nations, all things, all days. Catholic, we say, means ‘universal.’ Examining the word ‘universal,’ we see that it contains two ideas, the idea of all, the idea of one. But all what? All nations, all teachings, all times. So our Lord says. It is not an exaggerated description of the Catholic Church. Not by the wildest exaggeration could it be advanced as a description of any other” (Theology and Sanity [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993], 284).

 Jesus used the word church twice in the gospels, both in Matthew. He said, “I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). He didn’t say churches as though he were building a subdivision; nor did he imply it would be an invisible church made up of competing groups. He was going to build a visible, recognizable church. And in Matthew 18:17 Jesus said that if one brother offends another they were to take it to “the Church”. Notice the article “the” referring to a specific entity. Not “churches” but one visible, recognizable church that can be expected to have a recognizable leadership with universal authority. 

 One can see the sad state of “Christendom” today by comparing Jesus’ words about “the Church” with the current situation. If a Methodist offends a Baptist, or a Presbyterian offends a Pentecostal, which “church” do they take it to for adjudication? This alone demonstrates the problem when 33,000 plus denominations exist outside the physical bounds of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Jesus expected there to be one universal, authoritative, visible and Catholic Church to represent him on earth until his return.

 Just before he was crucified, Jesus prayed not only for the universality and catholicity of the Church, but for her visible unity:

 “[T]hat they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that  You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me” Jn 17:21?23 NASB).

 The early Church understood Jesus’ words. What good was an invisible, theoretical, impractical unity? For the world to see a catholic unity, the oneness of the Church must be a visible, real, physical, and visible reality. All of this the Catholic Church is. Since the earliest centuries Christians have confessed that the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” One because there is only one, visible, organic, and unified Church; holy because she is called out of the world to be the Bride of Christ, righteous and sanctified; catholic because she is universal, unified, and covers the whole world; apostolic because Christ founded her (Mt. 16:18) through his apostles, and the apostles’ authority are carried on through the bishops. Through the centuries, this creed has been the statement of the Church. 

 In these last days, Christians need to stand confident and obedient in heart of the Catholic Church. She has been our faithful Mother, steadfastly carrying out the mandate of Jesus Christ for 2,000 years. As an Evangelical Protestant I thought I could ignore the creeds and councils of our Mother, the Church. I was sadly mistaken. I now understand that Jesus requires us to listen to His Church, the Church to which he gave the authority to bind and to loose (Mt 16:19; 18:17)—the Catholic Church, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

 Steve Ray is the author of Crossing the Tiber, Upon this Rock, and St. John’s Gospel. You can contact him at his website at www.CatholicConvert.com

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Is Faith Alone the Basis for the Final Judgment?

by Steve Ray on October 17, 2018

Is Faith Alone the Basis for the Final Judgment?  By Steve Ray

Dear Jerry:

I had no intention of writing you again this soon but after having dinner with your brother the other day and picking up a copy of a booklet you gave him entitled Studies In Contrasts: The Doctrine of Salvation (by Herb Vander Lugt and published by the Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, MI.), I thought I’d drop you a short note.

I was not surprised, but I was again disappointed in the obvious dishonesty (or ignorance) and the unfounded assumptions of the booklet. I decided to write a short note to ask you a few questions to see if you agree with me.

First, I will be honest, I did not read the entire booklet. I first flipped to page 18. The title was Everyone / Not Everyone Will Be Judged. The first passage of Scripture quoted was John 5:28, 29, which was prominently placed in a text box at the top of the page.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 5.48.54 PMBut first, before we look at John 5:28, 29, let’s take a look at the contrast that Herb Vander Lugt sets up. He says under the heading Explanation: “. . . we are told that all people, believers, and unbelievers [here is his contrast] will be resurrected and appear before Christ for final judgment.” He makes the opposing categories believers and unbelievers, but this is not what the Bible says.

What contrast does the Bible set up? This booklet is written by those who are supposed to be the “Bible-people” who do not interpret the Bible on the basis of “tradition” but objectively, based on the supposed perspicuousness of the Scriptures. Let’s see how honest they are, or how blinded by their tradition they are . . .

If the reader goes to the text box to read the passage of Scripture referred to, they will find this: “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth . . . to the resurrection of life, and . . . to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5:28, 29. Now, what do the three periods ellipses ( . . . ) delete from the text? An ellipsis is defined as by the American Heritage Dictionary as “The omission of a word not necessary for the comprehension of a sentence.” The unwary reader might expect believers and unbelievers to be the words cut out. Am I correct? This is of course what the author expects you to read and understand. He deceives his readers.

Yet, get your Bible out and read for yourself the words of our Lord that the author “cut out” or deleted.

 “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28, 29).

My question to you is this: why did he remove words to hide the meaning of what our Lord Jesus was saying? And why do you condone such actions by believing and perpetrating the material?

Why do you think Vander Lugt cut these essential words out? Was he trying to put words into our Lord Jesus’ mouth? Why did he want the readers to misunderstand what Jesus was actually saying? The author could not come up with a verse in the Bible that describes the final judgment in terms of faith vs. no faith, or belief vs. disbelief could he?

There are no verses in the Bible that discuss the Judgement in these terms. In fact, isn’t it true that every time the judgement is discussed, the basis for judgement is deeds or actions or works? One must be careful of playing with our Lord’s words and especially careful of misrepresenting His intent. He condemns the Pharisees in no uncertain terms for doing exactly that.

For the whole article, click here.

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An Interview with Catholic Evangelist Steve Ray

“My family and I have discovered that the Catholic Church is the best-kept secret in all of human history.”

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Catholic evangelist Steve Ray. Since I am a high school theology teacher, I have long been impressed with what Steve has done for the Church; for instance, I have shown some of his “Footprints of God” videos to my students, who are justifiably spellbound by the remarkable imagery of the Holy Land. Steve, a reliably entertaining and informative Catholic media personality also has a website, “Defenders of the Catholic Faith,” and he is active on Twitter. If you would like to learn more about why Steve Ray embraces the Catholic faith as a proud and fearless disciple of Jesus Christ, you can find his books on Amazon or at Ignatius Press. May you be inspired by Steve’s testimony here.

1) What initially drew you to the Catholic faith, and how has Catholicism enriched you and your family’s life since converting

That’s a big question. I was born and raised an Evangelical Protestant. My parents were inspired by Billy Graham, and I grew up in that warm environment. I considered myself a Bible teacher. I became Catholic not necessarily because I saw anything beautiful in the Catholic Church at first, but when I was 39, I began to see three problems with Protestantism: 1) What was worship? 2) What is the authority that binds Christians? (We thought this was the Bible alone, but that would never work.) 3) How many Churches did Jesus start? (There was only one, per Matthew 16:18 and John 17.) We spent a lot of time contemplating these questions. Then, a good friend of mine, Al Kresta, converted to Catholicism in 1993. Al and I have been best friends since 1983. We home-schooled our kids and studied the Bible together. My wife and I told him that was the stupidest thing we ever heard — why would someone become Catholic? We started studying the Church Fathers to prove Al wrong, but instead, the Church Fathers kept proving the Catholic Church right! A year later, we became Catholic.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 6.24.49 PM2) As a high school theology teacher, I have enjoyed showing some of your “Footprints of God” DVDs to my students over the years. What is your favorite site to visit in the Holy Land, and why?

(Picture: Our film crew with Iraqi soldiers)

Oh, my goodness. Well, we’ve been to so many different places. The favorite place that I have visited is Iraq. That is where it all began, with Abraham, who had even worshiped pagan idols (see Joshua 24:2). It was exotic there, but even dangerous; when we were there, ISIS was beginning to come in. It’s hard to get there, and hard to get out, and very difficult to be there, but it was still my favorite.

3) You have written various books – which was your favorite to write, and why?

That’s like asking which of your four kids you like the best. I like each book, but for different reasons. The one that has had the greatest impact is our conversion story, Crossing the Tiber. That was my first, and probably most impactful, of the books. Twenty years later, I am still getting emails from people telling me that that book made them Catholic, and I get a sense of humble joy from that. It’s actually selling more now than when it was written!

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 6.41.50 PM4) Ignatius Press is in the midst of celebrating its 40th anniversary. What have been some of the joys that you have experienced working with Ignatius Press as your publisher over the decades?

(Picture: With many Ignatius staff at 25th Anniversary)

They have been around for 40 years, and I have worked with them for 24 of those years. I would say their loyalty and top quality; everything is so thorough and meticulous, whether grammatically or theologically. They are a marvelous organization. They have really taken care of me and other authors, not only with books, but with DVDs and other media. They have given me free rein to make those movies, and God has a great sense of humor, in letting a former janitor do this, instead of somebody with a Ph.D.

5) If you were to meet someone who had never heard of Jesus, what would you say, in a paragraph or so, to convince him or her that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. John 14:6)?

I would start probably one step before that by telling the person that life demands an explanation: where did this come from? It wasn’t by chance; there had to be a designer. What kind of designer would this be? He would have to be perfect and loving. This God is so amazing that he came down and become one of us. He literally condescended; it’s the scandal of the Incarnation! The angels must have thought: what in the world is he doing? One should look at the big picture about why we are here, and it all points to Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of our redeeming God.

6) I always ask this of my interviewees: what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?

One stands out, and it may be trivialized by sporting events and so forth, but it is John 3:16. That verse is a summary of the whole Scriptures, and of the heart and mind of God. That verse, in a few words, tells everything in a simple sentence. Everything is wrapped up in that one verse. I am proud to say that my mom gave me $0.50 for every verse that I memorized, and they are all in my mind today.

7) Any parting wisdom for our readers?

My family and I have discovered that the Catholic Church is the best-kept secret in all of human history. We see the humanity of the Church, but it is also, of course, a divine institution. There is no better place to be than in the heart of the Catholic Church, even with everything going on and some people making a lot of mistakes. It is the place where I will live for the rest of my life. I also want to thank Ignatius Press for all they have done, especially through their orthodoxy. Ignatius Press tries new things, such as the use of technology with making my movies. I wish them a good 40th anniversary, and I am glad to have been a small part of it.

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What Do We Mean by “Unanimous Consent of the Fathers”

April 19, 2018

Unanimous Consent of the Fathers By Steve Ray The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers (unanimem consensum Patrum) refers to the morally unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers on certain doctrines as revealed by God and interpretations of Scripture as received by the universal Church. The individual Fathers are not personally infallible, and a discrepancy by […]

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Steve’s Short Story “The Last Nightmare” Might Scare the Hell Out of You!

April 13, 2018

The Last Nightmare A Short and Terrifying Story by Steve Ray Everything went blank for a moment, but that moment seemed like eternity. He felt a motion, not with wind and breeze, but a motion none the less. He was traveling, moving, floating, transcending-he wasn’t really sure. The sudden blackness gave him time to regain […]

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How Big Was Jesus in Mary’s Womb at the Visitation – and what could he do?

April 8, 2018

“How big was baby Jesus in Mary’s womb when Mary visited Elizabeth?” That is the question I asked myself while visiting the Church of the Visitation in Israel. What I learned was quite revolutionary and amazing. This is one of the best pro-life arguments from Scripture and one I’ve not heard discussed before. It also […]

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Final Judgment based on “Faith Alone’?

January 26, 2018

Is “Faith Alone” the Basis for the Final Judgment? Dear Baptist Friend Jerry : I had no intention of writing you again this soon but after having dinner with your brother — and seeing a copy of the silly Protestant booklet you gave him entitled Studies In Contrasts: The Doctrine of Salvation (by Herb Vander […]

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Mary and the Other Body of Christ; How Many People were in the Upper Room and Why?

January 5, 2018

Since we are IN this room today, I thought I would share this again… The room was pretty full. It was warm but a gentle breeze was blowing—that would change. There was fear in the room. The Roman army was a thing to be feared, they had just crucified Jesus and it was a dangerous […]

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My Open Letter to Filipinos

October 13, 2017

[If you know someone from the Philippines ?? please share this letter with them.] We stepped into the church and it was old and a bit dark. Mass had just begun and we sat toward the front. We didn’t know what to expect here in Istanbul Turkey. I guess we expected it to be a […]

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Jesus Was A Jew and Why You Can’t Understand the Bible without Knowing That

September 27, 2017

Jesus was a Jew. This fact may escape the casual reader of the New Testament, but it is crucial to understanding Jesus and the book written about him—the Bible. Unhappily, in 21st century America we are far removed from the land of Israel and the ancient culture of Jesus and his Jewish ancestors. Let me […]

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My Response: Defending the Assumption & Queenship of Mary

August 15, 2017

Reposting a blog on Assumption I wrote ten years ago. Link to my long defense is here. The Assumption of Mary always ruffles the feathers of anti-Catholics. I understand why. I used to be in their camp — I joined them in lockstep chanting the same slogans and mantras against “Catholic Tradition” and “man-made dogmas.” But […]

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Meet St. Paul as he Writes to the Romans; A Brief Study to Make it Easy

June 23, 2017

I love St. Paul and love to write about him and his epistles. I also enjoyed traveling through six countries filming his life story and theology. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is often seen as impossible to understand except by theologians — and most skip right over this masterpiece. With hopes that you will […]

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Do Catholics Worship Mary?

June 20, 2017

In response to the show I did with Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio: I thought it would be a good time to respond to an e-mail I received a while ago. It was a questions from a friend wrote to ask me for my take on Mary. He was corresponding with someone that said Catholics […]

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Purgatory? Doesn’t that Deny the Work of Christ?

May 21, 2017

What’s the Deal with Purgatory? by Steve Ray Isn’t the finished work of Christ sufficient? Didn’t he pay for all my sins? Why the heck do Catholics teach that we have to suffer in Purgatory for our sins? Plus, the Bible never mentions purgatory so it must be an unbiblical doctrine, right. Wow! Sounds like […]

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Salvation by Faith Alone?

February 15, 2017

Since the days of Martin Luther it has been popular to reduce salvation to a sound bite. Salvation is not by works but by “faith alone.” However, the Bible seems to have another idea. In my book CROSSING THE TIBER I mention a few passages from Scripture to give a more biblical perspective. Here is […]

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Catholic Church: “Don’t Read the Bible!”

September 9, 2016

We often hear that the Catholic Church has forbidden the reading of the Bible! Have you heard this? Yeah, me too! But, this is another one of those big myths which has worked its way into the popular dialog but one that has not been proved from Church teaching and documents. There are two good […]

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