SanityDance's Comments

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1) Hey there. I'm a former Catholic. Let me lay out some of the reasons I converted. I get asked this a lot, so apologies but some of this will be copypasta. I'll touch briefly on the Scriptures and then the early fathers in a reply message.

Supreme Pontiff


Matthew 23:4-12

4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

SanityDance: By citing this passage, I'm not making a pedantic argument about the use of the word "father." Instead I want to note the attitude that Jesus expects of His followers - not to seek nice greetings in the market place, not to be showy, not to do things to be seen or to be given high titles. It made me stop and think about addressing bishops and the like with "His Eminence/All-Holiness/Excellency," "supreme pontiff," etc. and the great reverence with which we viewed priests and men in authority in the church. This passage didn't play a key role in me leaving, but it's what started my whole journey. The second passage was much more instrumental:


Jesus' message in Matthew 23 is a continuation of the concept he outlined in Matthew 6. Don't act in order to earn praise, and don't preach and then not practice what you're preaching.

Paul notes in 1 Timothy 5:17 that elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor. Leaders deserve honor and respect - Jesus' message was against having a proud heart and grasping after marks of status and prestige.

There are bad popes who are prideful and good popes who are humble. It's not the office itself Jesus preached against to the Pharisees, but to the men who held those offices at that time.

Honoring Mary


Luke 11:27-28

27 While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” 28 But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

SanityDance: To me, Jesus is repudiating the idea that Mary is entitled to anything based on the fact that she is theotokos. Much of the high praise and honor given to Mary is based on a comparison with the queen mothers of the Old Testament, or as Christ's ark of the covenant, or by the simple nature of the mother/son relationship. The objection to using this passage to deny these associations is usually "But Mary did hear the word of God and observe it, so she is still blessed!" And this is quite correct. However, my assertion is that Christ is denying her any special rights based on her relationship with Him. It is not the womb that bore Him that is blessed, but rather those who hear the word of God and do it. He is classifying her with all of the saints, not in a special role by herself.


Quoted from here.

It simply means that Mary is blessed not only for bearing the flesh of Christ, but most of all because she heard the word of God and obeyed it.

"Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ, than in conceiving the flesh of Christ. ... For his brothers, his relatives according to the flesh who did not believe in him, of what advantage is that relationship? Even her maternal relationship would have done Mary no good unless she had borne Christ more happily in her heart than in her flesh." 
- Augustine, in his (Of Holy Virginity, Section 3).

In the preceding verse a women acclaims, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!". Jesus is correcting that women by saying that bearing Him and nursing Him is of no importance...

In His answer He did not disgrace His mother, but showed that His birth would have profited her nothing, had she not been really fruitful in works and faith. 
- Chrysostom, quoted by Aquinas in his Catena Aurea

...Rather the blessedness of Mary (Luke 1:48) is because of her Fiat...

She was the mother of God, and therefore indeed blessed, in that she was made the temporal minister of the Word becoming incarnate; yet therefore much more blessed that she remained the eternal keeper of the same ever to be beloved Word. 
- Bede, quoted by Aquinas in his Catena Aurea

Justification and Purgatory/Purification


1 Corinthians 15:51-53

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Colossians 2:13-14

13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

SanityDance: Now, these passages together made me question purgatory, whether as a place to pay for temporal punishment or a place to simply be "purified" so we might be completely holy. In 1 Corinthians 15, we are told that those who are still alive at the resurrection will be changed in the blink of an eye and made imperishable, incorruptible, inheriting immortality. Will they escape purification just because they got lucky by living at the right time in history? Or does God raise all His children incorruptible so easily? Jesus said to Dismas on the cross, "Today you will be with Me in paradise." Who needs purification more than a murderer receiving capital punishment? Or was he forgiven in a special way that we are not, and if so, why believe that?

Regarding the temporal punishment model, we have Colossians 2:13-14. I noticed this passage because of its interesting wording. The certificate of debt has been canceled, with all its decrees against us, and we have been forgiven of all our transgressions. If that is the case, how can there be temporal punishments remaining that must be meted out to satisfy God's justice? I received no good answer to this.

And finally, I quoted 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 because it is often cited to defend purgatory. But there is an inconsistency with the purgatorial model here. Note that in verse 14, the man whose works are gold, silver, and precious stones receives a reward that the other man does not, but both are still saved. However, purgatory is not about receiving reward, it is about either becoming pure enough to enter God's presence or paying the temporal penalties for sins that have not been expiated. Paul also says that "the day will show it," implying we're talking about a specific day of judgment in the future and not a process that begins whenever a person dies.


A process (a change) can be instantaneous and still be a process. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, laid out an argument that Purgatory is instantaneous, a single fiery moment. Here's a brief thread on that topic with interactions from NT Wright.


So, those were some of the passages that made me question Roman Catholicism from Scripture. A proper understanding of sola scriptura and sola fide also helped me in my journey. Sola scripture does not mean "Every man and his Bible under a tree," it means, "Scripture alone is God-breathed and the only infallible rule of faith. Other rules of faith exist but they are fallible, subject to correction, and cannot be the basis of dogma." This follows from Jude 3, where he says that the faith was handed down once for all, and from 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is God-breathed and inerrant, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work. (Side note: Those who object saying that Paul could only have been referring to Old Testament texts here should look at 1 Timothy 5:18, where he quotes Luke as scripture.) The implication of the verse is that if Scripture does not equip you to teach a certain doctrine, it is not a good thing to teach that doctrine. I will explore this sentiment among the early fathers in my next message.

The other belief I mentioned is sola fide, faith alone. Justification by faith alone does not mean that one is saved because they confessed Jesus twenty years ago at a Billy Graham seminar but nothing changed. It is best summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

The basic idea is that we contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation - not merit, not holiness, not even attending the correct rituals and receiving the grace dispensed thusly. Instead, it is all a gift from God - and genuine salvation does not come alone, but after we are saved we walk in good works that were prepared for us, not to maintain our salvation or to earn it, but as a result of being changed and sanctified. Sola fide is not cheap grace or easy believism - it is complete and utter dependence on God in salvation. The Catholic view of justification involves "infused righteousness:"

CCC 2010

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

Basically, the initial forgiveness is free, but then we merit the rest of the process. The Protestant view of salvation is more focused and wide-reaching.

In my reply to this message I will go over one of the early fathers and why researching more carefully drew me away from Catholicism.

Now, I shall continue my previous message and talk a little bit about church history and what I found there that made me question being Catholic. As you probably know, miles of text could be written on the early fathers, but I will try to restrain myself.

Allow me to adapt a popular adage. The first gulp from the glass of church history may turn you into a Catholic, but at the bottom of the glass, Protestantism is waiting for you. What I mean by this is that, if you were to just skim over the early fathers and read selected quotes, you may find them remarkably Catholic. But, if you take the time to dive into them, read carefully, and allow them to define their own terms, you will find that they were not Catholics at all in any modern sense of the word. Most never get to this stage - they either buzz over the early fathers, cherry pick, and leave, or they import medieval definitions into what the early fathers are saying and read them through that lens forever.

As a case study, let us consider St. Irenaeus of Lyons' view of tradition.

Against Heresies 1.10.2: 

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same.
Against Heresies 3.3.1-2:

It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about.

But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles.

With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree—that is, all the faithful in the whole world—and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.

Well, that seems straightforward, doesn't it? Irenaeus appears to support the Catholic or Orthodox idea of tradition through succession, and a reader seeing only this quote might attribute whatever meaning he likes to "tradition," whether an extra source of doctrine (as in the partim/partim model), authority invested in the Roman church (note that Ireaneus does not say it is the bishop of Rome that needs allegience, but the church itself, and this only because it has maintained the faith), or something else. But, this is not all of what Irenaeus has to say on this topic.

Against Heresies 3.4.2:

To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom.

Irenaeus defines what the "ancient tradition" is for us - it is the faith of the Apostles' Creed, nothing more. The Messiah incarnated, the hypostatic union, the resurrection, and the judge. Permitted to define his own term, we see that he was not in support of some extrabiblical source of authority. In fact, quite the opposite:

Against Heresies 3.1.1:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
Against Heresies 3.4.1:

For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

In the first quote, Irenaeus states that we learn from no other source the plan of salvation than the Gospel, which was preached orally first and then handed down in the Scriptures. In the second quote, he states that if it were the case that the apostles had not handed down writings, then it would be necessary to have recourse to the tradition handed down through the church. But they did leave us writings. So it is from them we learn the plan of salvation. He believed that all of the teachings of the apostles were written down, and praised the Roman church for maintaining that ancient tradition (the faith of the Apostles' Creed) at that time.

By citing the above passages in an argument against Sola Scriptura, the Catholic reveals a critical misunderstanding. The fact that the gospel was taught orally does not contradict sola scriptura. Remember, the doctrine is that the Scriptures are the sole infallible deposit of truth, not that they are the only mode of transmission of the gospel. Of course it would need to be preached orally to a culture that has no written language or translation of the Bible. That doesn't make the oral preaching superior to the information contained in the Scriptures; its authority is derivative and its content coincides with what is found in the Scriptures.

Another important fact to consider when thinking about Irenaeus' relationship with the Roman church is the Quartodecimen Controversy, in which Victor, then-bishop of Rome, excommunicated the Asiatic churches for celebrating Easter on a different day from the Western churches. Eusebius of Cesarea had this to say on the subject:

Church History 5.24:

Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord's day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom.

Instead of submitting to the Pope's authority to excommunicate, Irenaeus opposed Victor and sharply rebuked him. If the Roman Catholic interpretation of Irenaeus is correct, then this behavior is inconsistent with his writings.

I have now demonstrated why we must exercise extreme care when interpreting the early fathers. There are many other examples like this, such as Tertullian's defense of ecclesiastical customs and Cyprian's interpretation of Matthew 16:18, which are often cited without context. In my third and final message, I will send you some quotes and resources showing major differences in the theology and doctrine of the early fathers and establishing their view of the Scriptures.

My goal with this comment is not to show that the early fathers were Protestants. We Protestants can allow the early fathers to be themselves, because our faith does not rest on all things being believed universally from the apostolic age 'til now. But the Roman church has made this claim, like in the mouth of Vincent of Lerins:

Hold fast that faith which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.
Dogmatic constitution of Vatican I:

And since the gates of Hell, with greater hatred each day, are rising up on every side, to overthrow, if it were possible, the Church and Her divinely-established foundation, We, for the preservation, safe-keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the Sacred Council, judge it to be necessary to propose, for the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine of the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, by which the strength and solidity of the entire Church is established, and at the same time to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, which are so harmful to the flock of Christ.

Etcetera. I invite you to read this dogmatic constitution here before considering the references I am going to provide on the early church's view of Matthew 16:18.

Now, on to some quotes.

Letter to the Corinthians from Clement (or, from the elders of the church at Rome in general) 3:

All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

On the Scriptures:

Gregory of Nyssa, Letter to Eustathius on the Trinity:

What then is our reply? We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.
Hippolytus, in his Against Heresies 9:

There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things then the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach these let us learn.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4.17ff:

We ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures…Let us then speak nothing concerning the Holy Ghost but what is written; and if anything be not written, let us not busy ourselves about it. The Holy Ghost Himself spoke the Scriptures; He has also spoken concerning Himself as much as He pleased, or as much as we could receive. Be those things therefore spoken, which He has said; for whatsoever He has not said, we dare not say.
Augustine, Letters 148.15:

For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be [true Christians], and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine.

John Chrysostom said so much on this topic it's crazy. I'll be briefer in my citations of him. Check my work:

...but it is necessary to establish [all reasons] from the Scriptures, and to show with exactness that all that has been said on this subject is not an invention of human reasoning, but the very sentence of the Scriptures. (Homilies Concerning the Statues 1.14)
But this comes to pass, [that is, showing outward devotion when one is actually sinning] when any hold fast their own prejudices contrary to what is approved by the Scriptures. (Homilies on Matthew 86.4)
Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money we do not trust to others, ... but in calculating upon facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rule for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things; which may we all obtain, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, and honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen. (Homilies on 2 Corinthians, Homily 13)
Jerome, Apology against the Books of Rufinus, I.16:

What is the function of commentators? They expound the statements of someone else; ... they quote the opinions of many individuals and say: "Some interpret this passage in this sense, others, in another sense': they attempt to support their own understanding and interpretation with these testimonies in this fashion, so that the prudent reader, after reading the different interpretations and studying... will judge for himself which is the more correct; and, like the expert banker, will reject the falsely minted coin."

And so much more. In the above quotes, three of them (from Cyril, Augustine, and Jerome) encourage the listener to test their teachers, and Cyril and Augustine directly tell the reader not to believe them simply on their authority, but to test all things they say against Scripture. But my point in showing you these was to show a widespread acceptance of Scripture as the ultimate authority, and Scripture alone with no other words or doctrines beside it. If you are not persuaded, ask me for more and I will show you. But now, I want to address the patristic interpretation of Matthew 16:18.

Remember how I pointed you to Vatican I? Well, let us see what the early fathers have to say on the rock in Matthew 16:18:

Chyrosostom, Homilies on John XXI.1:

Now what is the question arising from this passage? It is this. Peter, when after so many miracles and such high doctrine he confessed that, "You are the Son of God" Matthew 16:16, is called "blessed," as having received the revelation from the Father; ...

And what I say is clear, not from this only, but also from what follows. For Christ added nothing more to Peter, but as though his faith were perfect, said, that upon this confession of his He would build the Church; but in the other case He did nothing like this, but the contrary. For as though some large, and that the better, part were wanting to his confession He added what follows.
Bede, Homily 23:

You are Peter and on this rock from which you have taken your name, that is, on Myself, I will build My church, upon that perfection of faith which you confessed I will build my Church...Metaphorically it is said to him on this rock, that is, the Savior which you confessed, the Church is to be built..."
Basil the Great, Commentary on Isaiah Cap. 2.66

And the house of God, located on the peaks of mountains, is the Church... Now the foundations of this Church are on the holy mountains... One of these mountains was indeed Peter, upon which rock the Lord promised to build his Church.
Basil of Seleucia, Oratio 25.4

In obedience the tongue of Peter sought employment and though ignorant of doctrine, supplied a response... now Christ called this confession a rock, and He named the one who confessed it 'Peter'...

More citations if you want them:

Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, Page 23:173,176

Gregory of Nyssa, Panegyric on St. Stephen, page 46:733

Athanasius, Four Letters to Serapion of Thmuis 1.28 (The rock is Jesus Himself here)

Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church 3-4 (Cyprian applies the rock to Peter's person, but says that all bishops inherit his seat, not just one)

In summary, the early fathers did not view Matthew 16:18 the way that Vatican I said was the "constant faith of the church." This realization, along with studying the other passages I quoted, led me away from the Roman church. Thanks for bearing with me. For resources, I strongly recommend James White's debates with Mitch Pacwa (just search "white pacwa debate" on Youtube) and "Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith," a three volume work that examines Scripture and tradition in the first 500 years of the church. It's chock full of context and analysis of what the early fathers had to say.

Sola scriptura and early church father comments in separate post

2) What is the strongest evidence that the Church Fathers held views similar to Sola Scriptura or Sola Fide?