Scott Hahn has just published a new book on Catholic apologetics entitled Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith (Doubleday 2007). Considering Hahn’s experience and prominence in contemporary Catholic apologetics, one is startled by the quality of the performance, which is thin in more ways than one.
But before we get to his arguments, such as they are, let’s consider a few of the plaudits on the dust jacket. It comes recommended by two members of the Catholic hierarchy, Archbishop Wuerl and Archbishop Chaput. The obvious question is why the bishops aren’t writing their own books in defense of the faith. There was a time in early church history when bishops took a lead in defending the faith.
Once again, why does a layman have to make the case for the papacy? If the papacy lacks the elementary competence to defend its own office, why should anyone take its teaching office seriously?
Then we have Fr. Groeschel’s statement that this is “a flagship volume for contemporary apologetics. This book should be required reading for every Catholic college student and especially for every priest, seminarian, and deacon.”
You know, whatever else you might say about Catholicism, there was a time, before Vatican II, when the Church of Rome knew how to give the priesthood a world-class education. It says something about the state of its seminaries that this bantamweight popularization should be “required reading for every priest and seminarian.” Can you imagine this fluffy little number being assigned to the core curriculum back in the days when Frederick Copleston, Joseph Fitzmyer, Stanley Jaki, Anthony Kenny, Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner, or Fulton Sheen—to name a few—were receiving their education? If this is what contemporary Catholic seminaries have come to, they might as well redirect their students to Rhema Bible College.
Is this a flagship or a rubber ducky?
Hahn himself says that:
Snappy answers are not what St. Peter wanted [1 Pet 3:15], and they’re not what God wants…As Catholics, we need to stretch ourselves (13).And this book is supposed to be a mind-stretching experience for Catholic readers? Is this what qualifies as intellectually challenging fare in Catholic circles?
In chapter 6, Hahn transitions from natural theology to his defense of Catholicism. If there’s one word to summarize his method, it’s “equivocation.” He often engages in prooftexting, but the actual meaning of the text always falls short of what he needs it to mean, which is why he then takes refuge in the church fathers—which is not to say that his use of the church fathers is necessarily any better. It reminds me of some Mormon flyers I’ve read, which have verses from both the Bible and the Mormon apocrypha to prove their point. Needless to say, it’s only the Mormon prooftexts which really assert Mormon dogma.
In reading these chapters we need to keep our eye on the constant gear-shifting, as he goes from what the Bible really says to his idiosyncratic interpretations and fallacious inferences.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and, as such, it is free from error (69).One of the problems with a statement like this is the hiatus between the pious claim and the contemporary state of Bible scholarship. Just thumb through The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, for starters.
Classic Protestantism asserts…that the individual believer is competent, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to interpret the meaning of the Bible (69).This is a caricature of the Protestant position. It might be true of the Plymouth Brethren, but little else. Many Protestant denominations demand an educated clergy. As a former PCA pastor and graduate of Gordon-Conwell, Hahn has no excuse to mislead the reader this way.
Back in his PCA days, he was sworn to uphold the Westminster Confession. This is what the WCF has to say on the subject:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.1Notice that this formulation is far more nuanced than Hahn’s simplistic misrepresentation.
Catholics freely acknowledge that they live within an interpretive community, and that they hold themselves accountable to that community. We measure our interpretations against those of saints and sages down through the millennia. We measure our interpretations against those of Christ’s magisterium (70).He uses the word “community,” but what he really means is “hierarchy.” For him, accountability is a one-way street. The laity is accountable to the hierarchy, but not vice versa. And that’s the problem.
Evangelicals also believe in the value of an interpretive community. But, for us, accountability is a two-way street. The pastor or Bible scholar or systematic theologian cannot invoke his own authority to validate his interpretation and impose that on the laity. Rather, he must reason with the reader. He must show, on the basis of argument and evidence that his interpretation is the best interpretation.
Most of what they’ll [Protestants] cite as the “plain sense” of a particular passage is actually dependent on a tradition of interpretation that they inherited within their denomination (70).This is sometimes true. However, it also overestimates the degree of sectarian allegiance. Many evangelicals move quite freely between one denomination and another. Sectarian allegiance is more common among immigrants, where ethnic, in-group solidarity is strong. But it weakens over time in the course of cultural assimilation. The various parachurch ministries illustrate the transdenominational mobility of many evangelicals. As a one-time evangelical himself, Hahn must know this, but he prefers to deceive the reader.
Within Protestant communities, too, traditions arise unnoticed and are taken for granted…but they are no less “extra-biblical” or “merely traditional” than Catholic customs (70).Once again, this is sometimes true, but misleading:
i) We’re not talking about “tradition” in the sense of extrabiblical “customs,” but extrabiblical dogma.
ii) Sola Scriptura isn’t automatically opposed to extrabiblical “customs.”
iii) While some Protestant denominations are guilty of elevating unscriptural customs to dogmatic status, the Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura) is in a position to challenge that aberration—unlike Catholicism.
The Bible is not self-interpreting or self-authenticating. It does not yield a single plain sense to every well-intentioned interpreter (71).Notice how he bundles several distinct ideas into one in order to discredit them all at one stroke:
i) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Bible is not self-interpreting. Does is follow from this that the Bible is not self-authenticating? How does the denial of the one implicate the denial of the other? Why would it not be possible for a document to be self-authenticating even if it were not self-interpreting? Hahn merely asserts a logical entailment without even beginning to explain or defend his assertion.
ii) Notice the all-or-nothing formulation? But if you ask whether the Bible is self-interpreting, is that really a yes-or-no question? Are we forced to choose between a Bible that is never self-interpreting and a Bible that is always self-interpreting? Or is that a false dichotomy?
Why should we accept the way in which Hahn has cast the question? Surely it’s possible for a document to be perspicuous in some respects, but more obscure in others.
As a matter of fact, a lot of the Bible is pretty easy to read at a certain level. For example, a lot of Biblical theology is locked up in narrative theology, and the average reader can get the basic gist of a Bible story without having to bring any special background to the story. You don’t need to understand everything to understand anything.
At the same time, even a story that’s fairly readable and comprehensible without any background information may also have a number of subtextual and intertextual nuances or cultural codes which only disclose their meaning if we bring more background information to bear.
iii) Notice how he conflates the objective question of whether this or that passage has a single sense with the subjective question of whether every reader would discern the original intent. But the fact that some readers misinterpret the Bible doesn’t imply that Scripture has no true meaning.
The question, then, is whether God wills a particular community, a particular tradition, and a particular liturgy (71).i) Why should an evangelical reader agree with Hahn that this is the question to answer? Why does he get to frame the issue?
ii) There are two ways to go wrong: (a) by giving the wrong answer to the right question, and (b) by asking the wrong question.
iii) Observe, once more, how he bundles several ideas into one, as if the reader must either affirm them all or deny them all. Suppose that God wills a particular community? Does it follow from this that he also wills a particular tradition and/or a particular liturgy?
iv) What does he mean by a particular community? How is that defined?
Evangelicals (especially the Reformed) believe in the covenant community. They believe in the divine institution of the church. So that’s not the issue. The real issue is who or what constitutes the church.
I would like to propose that we show respect for our Evangelical and classical Protestant friends by learning to “speak their language.” Whenever we can (which is just about always), we should give them the Bible verses that justify our Catholic doctrines and practices (72).This is a rather damning way of putting things, is it not? Prooftexting is a foreign language to Catholics. But as an apologetic concession, they should learn how to justify faith and practice from Scripture, as if they were picking up a second language, strictly for the sake of argument. If you want to witness to evangelicals and answer them back, then you have to beat them at their own game.
This tactic admission is that having to prove things from Scripture is not the mother tongue of Catholicism. Rather, it’s just a tactical adaptation, like learning how to quote the book of Mormon when dealing with a Mormon missionary. So Scripture is really expendable to Catholic theology, which has taken on a life of its own.
We should not, moreover, be afraid to affirm a high view of the historical value of the bible—both the New Testament and the Old Testament…Kenneth Kitchen’s book On the Reliability of the Old Testament should satisfy critics who are familiar with the state of academic research…N. T. Wright is a profound and prolific expositor of the historical content of the New Testament (74-75).Remember that Hahn began the Catholic section of his apologetic by referring to the allegedly high view of Scripture in Roman Catholicism (69). When, however, he feels the need to direct the reader to a defense of Biblical historicity, who does he turn to? Not to any of contemporary Catholic Bible scholar, but to a couple of Protestant scholars! In the endnotes he’ll also reference Walter Kaiser—the evangelical OT scholar.
Just consider for a moment the missing names in his book. All the Catholic Bible scholars who are passed over in silence, viz. Joseph Blenkinsopp, Raymond Brown, Adela Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson, John Meier, Roland Murphy, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Monsignor Quinn, Bruce Vawter, &c. There’s a single reference to a book by Joseph Fitzmyer.
For the Bible does not create the Church or justify the Church or serve as the Church’s constitution (76).Observe, once again, how he bundles several ideas into one. This seems to be a tactical device. He begins with the idea that the average reader is most likely to reject, then use that to grease the rejection of the other ideas.
At a trivial level, it’s true that the Bible doesn’t create the church, for the Bible is an inanimate object, not a personal agent. By the same token, we could also say that tradition doesn’t create the church. So if this objection undercuts the Protestant rule of faith, it equally undercuts the Catholic rule of faith.
And yet, at another level, there’s an important sense in which the Bible does have, or at least ought to have, a formative influence on the church. The Bible is not a creative agent, but it is, or ought to be, our source and standard of ecclesiology.
And what about his other denials? He says the Bible doesn’t “justify” the church or serve as the church’s “constitution.” Notice that he doesn’t offer any supporting arguments for these denials. Is the reader supposed to accept his denials on Hahn’s own authority?
Why doesn’t the Bible justify the church or serve as the church’s constitution? Where, if not in Scripture, do we find an inspired record of the church’s divine institution and mission? Absent that inspired record, where is the divine warrant for the church? Where is the mission of the church?
The Bible presupposes the Church and depends upon the Church for its own authentication. Once said, it seems self-evident, but it bears repeating: The Bible presupposes the Church. The New Testament is not a user’s manual for a Church still in shrinkwrap. The Church preceded the Scriptures (76).Several issues:
i) Observe the way he oscillates between the “Bible” and the “New Testament,” as if these were synonyms. This equivocation, which is really a bait-and-switch scam, enables him to make “self-evident” claims that are hardly self-evident if you substituted the “Old Testament” for the “New Testament.”
For example, is it “self-evident” that the church preceded the OT scriptures? Is it “self-evident” that the OT presupposes the church?
Notice that his argument is predicated on chronological priority. The Bible presupposes the church, or the church authenticates the Bible, because the church preceded the Bible.
But once you substitute the OT for the NT, the temporal argument either collapses or reverses itself.
ii) How does it follow that whatever is prior in time is prior in rank? By that argument, the OT outranks both the NT and the church. By that argument, Isaiah outranks St. Paul.
There’s a sense in which the Incarnation depends on Adam. Jesus became Incarnate by the Virgin Mary, which goes back to Adam. Does this mean that Adam authenticates Jesus?
Or take a military family. You can have a situation in which both a father and son serve in the army. And it’s also possible for the son to outrank his father. Maybe the son went to West Point and quickly moved up the ranks while his dad is still a drill sergeant.
iii) Our access to the Bible depends on the printing press. Does this mean a publisher authenticates the Bible?
Why does this very loose and palpably fallacious reasoning get repeated by one Catholic apologist after another?
iv) Even if the church preceded the NT, it doesn’t follow that the NT cannot be the church’s criterion. The NT church was overseen by the apostles and their deputies. But once they began to die, you would have a transitional phase from the spoken word to the written word. Even during the lifetime of the apostles, the spoken word and written word were concomitant.
v) Hahn also creates an illusion of temporal order by speaking of the “Church” in the singular. But what we actually have in NT times are a series of local churches. Some local churches precede some books of the NT, while some books of the NT precede other local churches—for the books of the NT were written at different times, and the NT churches were planted at different times. In addition, the OT preceded every one of the NT churches.
But when you’re a Catholic apologist, you get in the habit of operating with ersatz abstractions about the “Church.” You stop thinking about the “Church” in its particular, concrete manifestations.
vi) And he only succeeds in pushing the question back a step, for if the Bible must be authenticated by the church, then what authenticates the church? Put another way, if the church can be self-authenticating, then why can’t the Bible be self-authenticating?
Why is it that Hahn ignores so many obvious objections and counterexamples to his position?
Some authority had to determine which books would be included in the New Testament and which would not; for the book of the Scriptures came with no inspired table of contents (76).i) This isn’t really an argument, but if we try to spell it out, it takes the following form: absent some authority, a certain consequence would follow; ergo: there has to be such an authority.
But what kind of argument is that? If there was no authority to determine the NT canon, then certain consequence would ensure.
Okay, so what? How does that even begin to establish that there was such an authority? How can you automatically reason back from a hypothetical consequence to an actual state of affairs?
Suppose we were to apply this style of reasoning to any number of parallel arguments, such as:
If the Titanic never hit the iceberg, then all those passengers would still be alive; therefore, the Titanic never hit the iceberg.
ii) What’s the alternative? Does the Catholic church give us an inspired table of contents? To my knowledge, it was not until the Council of Trent that the Catholic church gave us (what it would regard as) an inspired table of contents—and that was only in reaction to the Reformation. Otherwise, there’s no reason to suppose that the Catholic church would ever have given us an inspired table of contents.
So, on Hahn’s very own grounds, Christians managed to get along for about 1500 years without an inspired table of contents.
iii) Once again, his objection only pushes the question back a step. If you need some authority to determine the books of the Bible, then what prior authority determines who gets to pick the books of the Bible? If the bishops do the picking, who picks the bishops? If the church authorizes the Bible, who or what authorizes the church?
I’m not claiming that every argument from authority implies an infinite regress. My point, rather, is that Hahn needs to explain and defend why he draws the line where he does. Why stop with the church rather than the Bible? Or, if you don’t stop with the Bible, why stop with the church? Why can’t a Protestant take Scott Hahn’s objection to sola Scriptura, and simply construct a parallel argument against ecclesiastical authority?
This is a fairly obvious countermove, is it not? Why doesn’t Hahn anticipate and address this countermove?
In addition, it’s more than just a tactical tu quoque, for there’s a genuine issue here. Why is his appeal to the church not, indeed, vulnerable to the very same objection?
iv) While the Bible is without an explicit table of contents, this doesn’t mean it has no implicit table of contents.
a) For one thing, while a few books of the Bible are anonymous, most of them are not. So we can begin with inspired self-ascriptions. Remember that Hahn doesn’t deny the inspiration of Scripture. So he doesn’t deny the inspiration of these authorial self-attributions.
b) In addition, we also have the pervasive phenomenon of intertextuality. And this can go both ways. On the one hand, Genesis can foreshadow developments in Exodus while Exodus can allude to Genesis. The Bible is a highly cross-referential work.
Now, we can still debate whether (a) and (b) will furnish a complete table of contents, but it drastically undercuts the all-or-nothing objection of Hahn, as if you need the church to determine the table of contents, without which you have no table of contents whatsoever.
I’ve discussed all this at greater length on other occasions, so I won’t repeat myself here. I’m merely drawing attention to Hahn’s simplistic objection, as well as the inadequacies of his ecclesiastical alternative.
There were, moreover, many contenders for sacred status—letters, “gospels,” and “revelations” attributed to various apostles—and some of these ere even considered “scriptural” in different congregations (76-77).i) This is the sort of argument you’d expect from Bart Ehrman. Why is Scot Hahn making common cause with an open apostate and enemy of the faith like Bart Ehrman?
ii) There is also a fatal equivocation in his comparison. Yes, there were many contenders. But were there many 1C contenders? Were there any 1C contenders— letters, “gospels,” and “revelations” attributed to various apostles? Or do all the rival letters, “gospels,” and “revelations” postdate the life and death of the apostles? If so, then the competition is, by definition, not what it claims to be. Rather, we’re dealing with blatant forgeries.
iii) And there’s another problem. For someone like Bart Ehrman isn’t going to begin and end with the canon of the church. Indeed, he would agree with Hahn that the church determined which books made the cut. And, for him, that’s the problem, not the solution. He will argue that “the Church” suppressed rival churches. So it’s not just a case of competing Scriptural contenders, but competing ecclesiastical contenders.
It was not until the fourth and fifth centuries that the institutional Church fixed the New Testament in the form we know it…The complete Christian “canon,” or list of New Testament Scriptures, was attested by St. Athanasius in 367 AD, but accepted universally only with the Synod of Rome in 380 and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (in 393, 397, and 417 AD) (77).This is quite deceptive, for none of these local councils or synods qualify as ecumenical councils. Another one of Hahn’s studied equivocations.
The Church that canonized the Scriptures was the very Church that had produced them, though in a generation long past (77).i) Which Scriptures did the Church produce, exactly? Did it produce the OT Scriptures? Did the Church produce Genesis, or Exodus, or Isaiah, or Daniel, or the Psalter?
If the implication of Hahn’s statement that the only institution which is qualified to canonize the Bible is the same institution that produced the Bible, then why was God’s administration of the old covenant community an inadequate model for the governance of the new covenant community? In other words, if there was no church to produce and thereby canonize the OT, why is such an institution necessary to produce and canonize the NT?
ii) Or is he limiting his claim to the NT scriptures? Even that wouldn’t salvage his argument, for the above-stated reasons. But beyond that, in what sense did the church produce the NT? The church is a corporate institution. But the NT writings were penned by individuals, not by committees or councils.
Who wrote the four gospels? The church? Or Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Who wrote Romans? The Church? Or St. Paul?
Why is it that Catholics feel that they can get away with such palpable falsehoods? Partly because they’re so conditioned to see everything through the lens of “the Church” that they can’t remove their tinted, ecclesiastical glasses for long enough to see what is staring them in the face.
It no longer occurs to Scott Hahn to ask himself who produced the Gospel of John. Or Galatians. Or Revelation. Because he’s in the habiting of defaulting all answers to “the Church,” he doesn’t stop to think if what he’s saying makes a lick of sense.
How can we recognize the true Church of Jesus Christ? In the fourth century, the Fathers’ of the Church looked at the biblical testimony and discerned four strong characteristics of the Church: it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic (78).Hahn is utterly obvious to the viciously circular character of this appeal. Remember, he’s supposed to be equipping his Catholic readers to engage in apologetic dialogue with Evangelicals. But why would evangelicals accept his patristic framework as the standard of comparison?
Appealing to the church fathers to define the church begs the question in favor of a church that determines who is or is not a church father. The fathers define the church while the church defines the fathers.
If “body” has any meaning whatsoever as a metaphor, it must indicate a visible unity (79).i) Notice that Hahn doesn’t bother to exegete his claim. It’s just an armchair assertion.
But the body is a very complex metaphor. Different writers use different aspects of the body to illustrate different things. It is quite inadequate for Hahn to say the body “must indicate a visible unity,” without bothering to establish the context in any particular case. Because the body is such a multifaceted metaphor, a writer will be selective in which aspect of the body he uses to illustrate his point.
ii) See how Hahn has bundled to ideas into one: “it must indicate visible unity.” But, of course, the body could be used to illustrate either, neither, or both. It would be used to illustrate unity rather than visibility, or visibility rather than unity, or some other property or relation. Does the body in Jn 2:21 indicate visible unity? Does the body in Jas 2:26 indicate visible unity?
iii) The risen Christ had a body. Yet Jesus was often invisible—except when he put in a special appearance.
Jesus Himself expressed a profound desire for Church unity. Evoking many Old Testament texts, He promised, “There shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16) (79).How does that express a profound desire for Church unity? And how does this relate to the demand for visible unity? Does a flock no longer have a shepherd if the shepherd is over the hill and out of view? Does the shepherd no longer have a flock if the sheep are in a barn or stable, out of sight?
Paul says, “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10) (79).Several issues:
i) This actually undercuts Hahn’s claim. What we have here is an imperative rather than indicative. It presupposes a state of disunity. Yet we’re talking about the apostolic church. Indeed, an apostolic see. And one could cite other examples of disunity in the apostolic church. Does this mean that the apostolic church was not the one true church?
ii) Suppose we apply this verse to Roman Catholicism. Are there no disagreements among Roman Catholics? Are they all of one mind? When was the last time that all Roman Catholics thought alike in faith and morals?
Look at the blinding effect that Roman Catholicism has had on Hahn’s reading of Scripture. He cites a verse against Protestantism that could be as easily laid at the door of Catholicism. So this very verse is going to falsify the claims of Rome to be the one true church.
iii) How is this verse a prooftext for visible unity? Agree! Be of one mind! How is belief a visible property?
The only candidate for such unity is the Catholic Church, which transcends all ethnic, national, and cultural boundaries. It is the only Christian body that professes one faith, undivided, unchanged, throughout the world and throughout the ages (79).Several issues:
i) Needless to say, his characterization of Roman Catholicism is utterly tendentious.
ii) But even if all this were true, there can be unity in falsehood as well as unity in truth. Unity, per se, doesn’t select for the one true church.
iii) How does any of this pertain to visible unity? Remember, he’s defined visible unity as a necessary mark of the true church.
But is Roman Catholicism a visible unity in the same way that a body is a visible unity? Obviously not. Visibility is an empirical quality, and at the empirical level, Catholicism is no more visibly unified or united than any other denomination. Rather, it’s a collection of discrete individuals and buildings—concrete particulars. What you see in Catholicism is discontinuous.
iv) Unity in the faith is hardly synonymous with visible unity. Even if all Catholics could lay claim to a common set of beliefs, that would amount to invisible unity rather than visible unity—just the opposite of Hahn’s stated criterion. When is the last time you saw a belief?
Hahn mouths a lot of formulaic phrases without given any thought to the nonsense he’s mouthing.
Denominations as large as the Lutherans and the Baptists disagree profoundly on the nature of the sacraments. Could such confusion be what Jesus and St. Paul meant by the Church’s unity (80)?i) Once again, how is doctrinal disunity synonymous with visible disunity? Do Lutheran churches look less united than Catholic churches? Is there something about the appearance of the Roman Catholic church that marks it out as the one true church? What does the Roman Catholic church look like, anyway? What can Scott Hahn point us to and exclaim: “There’s the one true church!”
ii) So he’s saying that Jn 10:16 doesn’t apply to Lutherans or Baptists. So he’s say that Lutherans and Baptists are goats rather than sheep. They don’t have the same shepherd. Jesus isn’t their shepherd. Is that what Hahn is claiming?
iii) Notice how Hahn begs the question by taking Catholicism as the frame of reference. It doesn’t even occur to him, given his hidebound outlook, that Christians could substitute the name of his own denomination and redirect the same question his way:
Denominations as large as the Catholics and the Baptists disagree profoundly on the nature of the sacraments. Could such confusion be what Jesus and St. Paul meant by the Church’s unity?
Outside the Catholic Church, there are many voices competing, all claiming the Bible as their basis (80).i) Not all Protestant denominations affirm sola Scriptura. There are liberal denominations which have left the Bible far behind. Then you have things like the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Finally, denominations often differ, not over what the Bible says, but over the silence of Scripture. Where Scripture is silent or unspecific, there is room for diversity.
ii) The comparison is meaningless since we would naturally expect to find more diversity between denominations than within a given denomination. The same holds true for Catholicism. So this doesn’t single out Catholicism as distinctive. And, indeed, there are a number of Protestant denominations with far more internal unity than Catholicism.
In the Catholic Church, however, we have one voice, the voice of Christ down through the ages (80).Notice, once again, that Hahn is preaching rather than doing apologetics. His stated aim in this book is to equip Catholics to defend their faith. But he doesn’t live up to his stated aims. Rather, he assumes what he needs to prove. He falls back on question-begging claims in lieu of reasoned argument and evidence.
The Church is unified through two millennia and throughout every inhabited continent (80).Well, that’s a nice, self-serving claim. So where’s the supporting argument?
i) Even if the Catholic Church has always taught the same thing, this doesn’t mean it has always taught the right thing. It could just as well mean that it has always taught the wrong thing. That’s the danger of tradition. A primitive error gets frozen into place, and a tremendous edifice is erected over that faulty foundation.
Suppose that Islam has always taught the same thing. Would that make Islam the true faith?
ii) In addition, it’s far from obvious that Catholicism has always spoken with one voice in faith and morals. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that this is not the case.
Just compare past and present positions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.2
Moreover, it’s not merely Protestant onlookers who have noticed the dramatic reversals in Catholic faith and morals, but traditional Catholics as well. For example:
The Death PenaltyIn the next section, Hahn equates holiness with celibacy:
Traditionally, the Catholic Church has taught that the death penalty is not only permissible but is the correct and appropriate punishment for certain crimes. As the Catechism of the Council of Trent states: "The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this [Fifth] Commandment which prohibits murder."
Prior to the publication of John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (EV), most conservative Catholics could be counted on to mirror this traditional view. But in EV, as well as in the most recent edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a significant restriction of the application of the death penalty was laid out. In EV the Holy Father states that societies "ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (#56).
Many faithful Catholics took this as a change of Church doctrine and overnight reversed their position on the death penalty. But a number of prominent and orthodox Catholic thinkers have noted publicly that the Holy Father's stance on the death penalty as laid out in EV represents a prudential judgment, not a Church doctrine, and that therefore this issue is not closed to continued discussion. For example, in surveying the issue of capital punishment from the Old Testament to current Church teaching, Fr. Avery Dulles (shortly before being given the red hat) said:The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases.... Like the pope [John Paul II], the [U.S.] bishops do not rule out capital punishment altogether, but they say that it is not justifiable as practiced in the United States today. In coming to this prudential conclusion, the magisterium is not changing the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine remains what it has been: that the State, in principle, has the right to impose the death penalty on persons convicted of very serious crimes.... Thus the principle still leaves open the question whether and when the death penalty ought to be applied. (Laurence J. McGinley Lecture, Fordham University, Oct. 17, 2000; emphasis mine).But the inclusion of this prudential judgment in the (revised) Catechism has generated a considerable amount of confusion. For example, in a recent address to the Institute on Religious Life, Archbishop Charles Chaput blurred the distinction between a prudential judgment and Church doctrine, and on this basis chided Justice Antonin Scalia for questioning the prudence of the Pope's stance:When Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly disputes church teaching on the death penalty, the message he sends is not all that different from Frances Kissling [President of Catholics for a Free Choice] disputing what the church teaches about abortion…the impulse to pick and choose what we're going to accept is exactly the same kind of 'cafeteria Catholicism' in both cases.Thankfully, His Excellency did acknowledge that abortion and the death penalty "don't have equivalent moral gravity." But it is simply incredible — and irresponsible — for a bishop to publicly rebuke a faithful Catholic for questioning a change in prudential judgment with respect to the death penalty, placing Scalia in the same league with brazen dissenter Frances Kissling as a "cafeteria Catholic."
Unfortunately, the confusion grows deeper. For the Holy Father has, in a public talk, asserted a view of the death penalty which extends even beyond Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism: "The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.... I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary" (Papal Mass at the Trans World Dome, St. Louis, Mo., Jan. 27, 1999; emphasis mine).
This text seems to represent an absolute and unconditional prohibition of the death penalty, in that it implies that the death penalty automatically takes away "the dignity of human life," and also that the death penalty is intrinsically cruel. Such a prohibition — if that is truly what this represents — extends well beyond what the Church has perennially taught concerning capital punishment. This cannot help but confuse the individual Catholic.
No Souls in Hell?
One of the most pernicious errors that plagues the Catholic Church today is creeping universalism. While few will come out and baldly state that no one is damned to Hell, the door is left open to that conclusion by writers such as Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"? We have seen this played out in the pages of the NEW OXFORD REVIEW (Jan. 2001, Jul.-Aug. 2001, Oct. 2001), as the universalist tendencies of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus have come under scrutiny. And I have encountered any number of relatively prominent Catholic apologists who argue vociferously (although privately) in favor of the view that we cannot know for certain, based on Scripture and Tradition, that there are any human souls in Hell.
One finds, unfortunately, that support for this new-fangled notion may be found at the very top of the Church's hierarchy. In a general audience of July 28, 1999, the Holy Father stunned many faithful Catholics when he stated that: "Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it" (emphasis mine). This appears in the official version of the Pope's talks, Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, but without the doctrinally difficult wording "whether" (se e in Italian). Presumably someone in the Vatican noticed that the words, as they were actually spoken, were problematic and intervened to make sure the official version conforms unambiguously to Church teaching. Still, it is the publicly spoken version that has received so much attention. Thus the Holy Father's spoken words appear to deny that the sources of public revelation (i.e., Scripture and Tradition) are sufficient to tell us whether any human souls at all are damned. And yet our Lord says quite plainly that many will fail to attain eternal salvation: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it" (Mt. 7:13-14; emphasis mine; also see: Mt. 13:24-30, 36-51; 22:1-14; 25:41; Lk. 10:13-15; 13:23-24; Jude 7). And the entire Catholic Tradition has affirmed that we can indeed be certain that there are human souls damned, although we cannot know specifically which individuals are so affected. Numerous magisterial texts leave no room for a Hell empty of human souls. I will quote but two: "And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write: 'We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect'" (Pope St. Pius X, Acerbo Nimis #3, citing Benedict XIV, Instit., 27:18). (What is being referred to here is vincible ignorance, not invincible ignorance.) Also, the current Catechism states regarding Christ's descent into Hell on Holy Saturday: "Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell' — Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek — because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into 'Abraham's bosom'.... Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him" (#633). This clearly indicates that there are human souls in Hell who will never escape.
Honoring Heretics, Praying With Pagans
This change in orientation with respect to non-Catholic Christians even by the Roman Pontiff comes to be expressed in any number of public actions that further confuse the faithful. For example, the Church has repeatedly taught that, apart from the Eastern Orthodox (and certain Old Catholics), the Sacrament of Holy Orders does not exist in Christian bodies separated from the Catholic Church; Pope Leo XIII declared in his 1896 encyclical Apostolicae Curae that Anglican "orders" to the priesthood and bishopric are "absolutely null and utterly void." In the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's commentary on John Paul II's apostolic letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, it was pointed out that what Leo XIII declared was taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (Origins, July 16, 1998). Of Lutheran "orders" there has never been any question as to their invalidity.
And yet Pope John Paul II regularly appears in public with Lutheran and Anglican "bishops" (including women), conducting joint liturgies with them and treating them as episcopal equals. Indeed, the Holy Father has presented the last two Anglican "Archbishops of Canterbury" with pectoral crosses, a symbol traditionally given by the Bishop of Rome only to Catholic bishops. And the Holy Father kissed the "episcopal" ring of Rowan Williams, the Anglican prelate most recently installed at Canterbury, despite the fact that Williams sees nothing wrong with sodomy, has knowingly ordained practicing homosexual men to the Anglican ministry, favors lowering Britain's legal age of consent for sodomy to 16 years, strongly favors priestesses and bishopettes (including lesbians), and considers the Virgin Birth an open question.
According to perennial Catholic teaching, these men (and now women), no matter how sincere they might be, are nevertheless false shepherds, pretenders to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and teachers of innumerable false doctrines and gross immoralities that threaten the eternal souls of those who look to them as leaders. And yet the Vicar of Christ, in the name of a new "ecumenical orientation," publicly extends to them the honors due to legitimate Catholic clergy. One could conceivably consider them mere acts of courtesy, but they are acts that cause confusion among faithful Catholics.
We hear incessantly today about the need for dialogue. And yet one is hard pressed to understand how the Catholic Church can maintain meaningful "dialogue" — let alone religious collaboration — with those who are so obtuse as to deny that a pre-born baby is a human being or that sodomy is evil. Surely the Holy Father believes what he and the Church teach about Catholic morality, but when he consorts with and honors pro-abortion and pro-sodomy leaders of all religious stripes, faithful Catholics are left wondering how firmly he stands for Catholic morality.
Recently I called the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., to ask why a pro-abortion Jewish rabbi had been invited to the cathedral to participate with Bishop George Lucas in an "Interfaith Worship Service" entitled "Neighbors Mirroring the Image of God." When I asked how the diocese could, at a gathering so-titled, honor someone who doesn't even believe that pre-born babies bear the image of God in sufficient measure to protect them from arbitrary execution, I was read a statement by Bishop Lucas stating that he is following the example of the Holy Father by maintaining lines of dialogue even with people with whom he has disagreements.
Indeed, the principle of dialogue is invoked to explain and excuse all sorts of public behavior on the part of high-ranking Church officials that would have been grounds for deposition in any century before Vatican II. In the name of inter-religious dialogue Cardinal Law enters an Islamic mosque and prays to Allah (Boston Globe, Nov. 25, 2002), Cardinal George participates in a pagan "cleansing ritual" (The Wanderer, Aug. 8, 2002), and the Holy Father kisses the Koran (Catholic World News, June 3, 1999) and invites pagans of all stripes to Assisi to pray to their false gods for world peace.
The Assisi prayer gatherings of 1986 and 2002 are particularly disturbing. Nowhere in the history of the Catholic Church, nor even in the documents of Vatican II, has it ever been considered permissible — let alone salutary — to pray with non-Christians, much less to invite them to pray to their false gods for worldly favors. Fr. Brian Harrison notes the grave seriousness of such a situation:What other impression than a verdict of "more-or-less-good-and-praiseworthy" is left when the Roman pontiff invites Jewish, Islamic, pantheistic and polytheistic religious leaders to come and practice their respective forms of worship inside Catholic churches and religious houses, offering to each group space and facilities for that purpose? How does such an invitation escape the charge of formal cooperation in the objectively sinful practice of pagan worship? How will it in any way help to persuade those invited non-Christians, and their millions of followers, that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour? (letter to Inside the Vatican, April 2002)Surely we cannot emulate this example, even though it was enacted by our current Pope.3
While Paul affirms the good of marriage, he returns repeatedly to the superiority of celibacy ([1 Cor 7:]1,7-8,27-35,38,40), citing his own personal experience (83).i) This oversimplifies Paul’s stated position. His advice is conditioned in some measure by socioeconomic circumstances. For the reference in 7:26 is probably an allusion to social unrest resulting from famine.
The benchmark for confirming whether a famine had threatened an area in the Greco-Roman world was the appointment of a curator to cope with the actual or potential threat to the populace. The office of "curator of the grain supply" (curator annonae) was crucial in the ancient world during severe shortages.49 "In Corinth, as elsewhere, curatores annonae were probably not annually elected officers. Instead they seem to have been appointed in times of threatened or actual famine, and often, . . . the office fell upon men of wealth who used their private resources for the relief of the city.”50ii) Paul doesn’t say that celibacy is holier than matrimony. He comments on the practical, spiritual advantages of celibacy, but he never says that this is a more sanctified option.
This phenomenon of appointing a wealthy patron in time of crisis was not rare. As S. C. Humphreys has recently observed: "In many cities the concepts of political office and of liturgy…had completely merged."51
The epigraphic evidence from Corinth indicates that on numerous occasions it was necessary to appoint men to the office of curator annonae in order to alleviate the tension precipitated by a potential or actual shortage and, thereby, dispel potential unrest. In the 1st century A.D. a wealthy benefactor by the name Tiberius Claudius Dinippus held the office of curator annonae no fewer than three times at Corinth.52 In addition to the many other offices he held at Corinth, he was also agonothete Neroneon. What is most striking for our study is the dating of the inscriptions.
A B. West has suggested that Dinippus' presidency of Neronea Caesarea should be assigned to the early part of Nero's reign, most likely the celebration of A.D. 55. Furthermore, he places the quinquennalic duovirate (the highest magistracy of the colony) in the year A.D. 52/53.53 Most importantly, it is probable that Dinippus was curator annonae at the time of the severe famine during the reign of Claudius which, most probably, can be dated in the year A.D. 51.54 "That Dinippus' service was rendered during this time is not at all improbable, and for the next few years Corinth would have good reasons for honoring him. Thus it is not strange to find him presiding over the next Isthmian celebration, the first of Nero's reign."55 J. Wiseman also dates Dinippus' curatorship to the severe famine during the year in which Gallio was governor of Achaea (A.D. 51-52).56 If this dating is accurate, then it would have occurred shortly after Paul's departure in A.D. 51.
We find corroborating evidence for a famine in Paul's response to the Corinthians' queries in 1 Corinthians. The issues addressed in1 Corinthians 7 (i.e., matrimonial status and procreation) are certainly symptomatic of eschatological events57 and, without question, the trauma surrounding a (potential) famine would have precipitated such anxiety.58 Given all these indicators, it is most likely that the issues which Paul addresses in view of the present distress (v 26) have arisen on account of the recent famine.4
iii) It is quite unlikely that Paul, himself, was celibate all his life—far more likely that Paul was a divorcé, having been disowned by his family and religious community when he converted to the Christian faith.
The Book of Revelation presents virgins and celibates as those who are already living as if they are in heaven, unencumbered as they follow Christ: “for they are chaste; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits of god and the Lamb” (Rev 14:4) (83).But there are several problems with this interpretation.
i) Hahn misquotes the passage. What the passage actually talks about is those who have never been “defiled by women.”
So if you take this literally, as Hahn does, then this would not mean that matrimony is less holy than celibacy, but rather, that matrimony is positively unholy. Marriage “defiles” you.
ii) And if we take the 144,000 as a hendiadys for the church, then only monks and nuns are heavenbound, while 99.9% of the Catholic laity is hellbound—including Scott Hahn.
iii) Actually, the noun (parthenoi=“virgin”) is in the masculine, so that would debar the nuns from heaven as well.
iv) The obvious interpretation of Rev 14:4, is that celibacy is a figure of spiritual purity and fidelity, as over against the whore of Babylon.5
This is one of the many problems with Catholicism: they begin with their dogmatic conclusions and then cast about for a prooftext (or, should I say, pretext?) to supply the premise. Otherwise, Hahn would never come up with such an absurdly acontextual and self-defeating interpretation. But how many of his devoted, Catholic readers will pause for a moment to ask themselves whether this makes any sense?
And it was customary, too, for Israel’s priests to refrain from having normal marital relations during their service in the sanctuary (84).i) What does Hahn possibly think he can accomplish by such an appeal? For this temporary abstinence stands in contrast to the fact that the Levitical priesthood was ordinarily married (overwhelmingly so), and did not abstain from sex once their rotation was over. So, if he’s seeking OT precedent, this would set the precedent for married clergymen. Indeed, for married clergymen as the norm.
ii) Moreover, eunuchs were debarred from the priesthood (Lev 21:20f.), as well as participation in the religious life of Israel generally (Deut 23:1). So how is the OT model a precedent for clerical celibacy in the church age? Doesn’t this clearly tug in the opposing direction? (Not to mention the fact that you have no priesthood in the NT church.)
iii) Let’s also not forget that temporary abstinence was also a requirement for active duty soldiers in the OT. So is Hahn going to say that we should have a celibate military to parallel a celibate clergy?
Once again, this is the problem with a Catholic who begins with dogma and then attempts to validate his dogma from Scripture after the fact.
But Christians—and even the pre-Christian prophets and priests—were willing to give up something good for the sake of Someone better (84).i) Observe the deceptive way in which he turns the exception into the rule. There was no celibate priestly or prophetic caste in the OT.
ii) Hahn is setting up a false dichotomy, as if a married Christian suffers from divided loyalties and has to choose between God and a spouse or kids.
But marriage is a divine institution. It is not in competition with pious devotion. And God is not a substitute for friends and family.
Today, I can think of only one Christian Church where this sign of holiness is so prominent, and that is the Roman Catholic Church (84).And today, I can only think of one denomination where clerical pederasty is so prominent, and that is the Roman Catholic church. Is that a sign of holiness or unholiness? If the latter, does it cancel out his alleged sign of holiness?
The ancient Fathers commonly applied the Old Testament prophecy of Malachi to Moses [Mal 1:11] (86).Once more, how is this an argument for that application? Where is the exegesis? How is a Protestant supposed to be impressed by that appeal?
And, when he [Peter] died, the Church fulfilled the mandate of Acts 1:20: ”’or it is written…’His office let another take.’” Peter was succeeded in his primacy by others, one of them a man named Clement (86).A string of fallacious inferences:
i) There’s nothing in Acts 1:20 to indicate that this is a standing mandate. To the contrary, (a) the qualifications are unrepeatable (12-22), and (b) the purpose is to maintain the symbolic numerology of the Twelve apostles (25-26).
So it is not an office which is held by a diachronic succession of incumbents or officers. The qualifications are chronologically limited to the terms of (21-22). Moreover, Hahn doesn’t believe in the apostolic succession of the apostolate as whole, but only in Petrine succession.
ii) In context, Matthias takes the place of Judas, not Peter.
iii) Matthias is not a successor to Judas, but rather, a replacement—like a substitute teacher or alternate juror or theatrical understudy.
iv) There is nothing in this passage about successive Petrine primacy.
So the Church of Rome, and specifically one man named Clement, spoke on earth with the authority of the Holy Spirit, and that authority extended to Christians the world over (87).Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Clement believed in papal primacy, how does his self-serving claim supply probative evidence for you and me to believe in papal primacy? So we have a bishop of Rome making claims for the bishop of Rome. Isn’t that a rather circular proof? We’d expect an officeholder to tout his official prerogatives. But saying so doesn’t make it so, any more than a military dictator who awards himself the medal of valor. The Mormon hierarchy makes equally grandiose claims about its own prerogatives. Pinning four stars on your shirt doesn’t make you a four-star general.
This unity is personified in the person of the pope, the successor of St. Peter (88).Where does Scripture say that?
The creeds that preserve the four marks are the Church’s crystallized and crystal-clear reflections on the Bible (88).Look at the direction in which the argument is headed:
Question: How do we identify the true church?
Answer: By the marks of the true church.
Question: How do we identify the marks of the true church?
Answer: By how the true church identifies the marks of the true church.
Am I the only one who sees a wee bit of a problem in where this argument is coming and going?
Thus, Christians who reject what the Fathers say are not arguing about philosophy or politics, but about biblical interpretation. They are taking issue with the interpretation of men who were much closer in time and culture to Jesus’ own time and culture than we are today (88).Several more problems:
i) This is a sloppy generalization. The church fathers vary considerably in time and place. Likewise, some are better connected than others. You can’t equate Isidore of Seville or John of Damascus with the subapostolic fathers.
ii) You also cannot equate the culture of a Greek or Latin father with the culture of 1C Palestinian Judaism or even Diaspora Judaism.
iii) Thanks to Biblical archeology, we’re in a position to know things about 1C Palestine or Jerusalem before the fall of which the church fathers were ignorant.
iv) In addition, understanding the NT also demands an understanding of the OT. A church father knows a good deal less about various parts of the OT than an Egyptologist or Assyriologist, &c.
v) Finally, the church fathers don’t speak with one voice on all issues. So you couldn’t agree with the church fathers when they disagree with one another even if you wanted to.
They are rejecting biblical interpretations that have been confirmed by many generations and hallowed by time (88).What, exactly, is this supposed to mean? How is a biblical interpretation “confirmed” over time?
An old interpretation can receive confirmation in light of new, evidence. A new discovery may corroborate an old interpretation. But that’s not what Hahn has in mind.
The mere fact that a traditional interpretation hardens into dogma, from whence it is handed down, by rote reverence, from one generation to the next, does nothing to confirm the validity of the interpretation.
In fact, it’s only when you have a weak argument that you feel the need to shore it up by resorting to these shortcuts.
It [the church] has received the entire patrimony of the Apostles, through legitimate succession (89).This is yet another orphaned assertion bereft of a supporting argument. Is that how Hahn does apologetics? Is this his idea of apologetics? His claims constantly take for granted the very thing he needs to establish in the first place.
Consider how many unsupported assertions are bundled into that one sentence:
i) The Apostles have a patrimony
ii) Their patrimony is transferable
iii) Their entire patrimony is transferable
iv) The Church has inherited their patrimony
v) Their patrimony is transmitted by succession
vi) Their patrimony is transmitted by legitimate succession
Each link in the chain calls for a separate supporting argument. But we don’t get a single supporting argument.
Now, anyone who contends that pedigrees are alien to biblical faith has apparently never read the Bible (89).Can’t you just hear the counterexamples screaming to be heard?
i) What about the reversal of primogeniture, when a younger son (e.g. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David) comes to outrank the firstborn?
ii) What about the fact that Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchidezek rather than Aaron and the Levitical clan—which was dynastic in nature?
iii) What about the fact that Jesus is the legal rather than biological son of Joseph?
Peter’s quotation of Psalm 108:8, “His office let another take,” is illuminating. The word “office” here is a translation of the Greek word episkopen (literally, “overseer”), from which we derive the English word “bishop.”…Luke is discussing here the “office” of Apostle, which the Church even then understood under the title “bishop.”Is there some overriding reason why a Catholic seminary professor needs to be this incompetent? What we have here is a textbook semantic anachronism. He makes the elementary mistake of confusing words with concepts, and confounds that error with the further mistake of confusing Biblical usage with dogmatic usage. As F. F. Bruce explains:
?p?s??p??] Lit. “overseership,” not in a technical sense. The meaning here (“responsibility”) is much the same as that of diakonia in vv17 and 25, and of apostole in v25.6
And so the succession has continued, unbroken (90).For which he offers no evidence. How does he know that? How about the Great Schism? How about rigged papal elections? How about electors who may never have been validly ordained to cast their vote?
We, too, can trace it down to ours. For the Church still today passes on its apostolic authority as the First Apostles show in the pages of the Bible: by the laying on of hands (see 1 Tim 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6) (90).i) But neither of these verses says the imposition of hands transmits apostolic authority. Did Timothy have the same authority as St. Paul?
ii) And what about Acts 13:1-3? Wasn’t Paul already an apostle (cf. Acts 9; Gal 1-2), as well as a rabbi, when prophets and teachers in the church of Antioch laid hands on him?
There’s a pattern to Hahn’s apologetic: begin with Catholic dogma, fish around for a prooftext that, in reality, doesn’t come close, and ignore any counterexamples.
It is a matter of “the gift”—the charisms, the grace—conferred through the imposition of divinely qualified hands (1 Tim 4:14) (90).There are several problems with this analysis:
i) As I already noted, Paul, for one, was already “gifted” at the time of Acts 13:1-3. So the imposition of hands doesn’t automatically “confer” the gift.
ii) We’re talking about a symbolic gesture, like the Yom Kippur, when the priest laid his hands on the scapegoat (Lev 16:21-22). Although this ceremonial action signified the transference of sin from the sinner to the scapegoat, it didn’t make the scapegoat a sinner. The scapegoat wasn’t sinful or guilty as a result of this action. Rather, the ritual merely symbolizes the transference of sin, rather than actually inculpating the scapegoat.
iii) Finally, the imposition of hands in 1 Tim 4:14 was performed by the elders of the church, not by a monarchal bishop.
Ian sought advice in his Baptist church’s regional offices. But his colleagues there informed him that there was really no court of appeal beyond the congregation. Ian pointed out how that ran contrary to the New Testament example. The Apostles were not disciplined by their congregations, nor did they take orders from their congregations. Rather, it was they who presided in love over the Christian assemblies.Is Hahn suggesting that a priest is entitled to the same deference as an Apostle?
“Well, that’s true, Ian,” one colleague said. “But that’s not the way we do things today.”
“Well, is anyone following the New Testament on this?” Ian asked. “Who is doing things the New Testament way” (91).
What does it mean, practically speaking? It means just what Jesus told the First Apostles it would mean. “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:20) (91).Does Hahn think that Catholic priests are divinely inspired? Does that include dissidents like Hans Küng and Charles Curran? What about Archbishop Lefebvre, Charles Chiniquy, Ignaz von Döllinger, Martin Luther, and Peter Vermingli?
Once, when a non-Catholic friend challenged me on my devotion to the Church, I replied, “If Catholics are wrong about the Church’s oneness, sacraments, and saints, then it’s because we give the Holy Spirit too much credit! But I don’t think we can or do” (92).Is that supposed to be an argument? Is such a question-begging answer the best he can do? Why couldn’t a Lutheran or Baptist or Presbyterian say the same thing about his doctrinal distinctives?
He [God] allowed the course of redemption to turn on her consent (101).i) Is that what it says in Luke 2? Did God dispatch the angel Gabriel to receive a permission slip from Mary? Or was it a formal announcement of God’s plan? A fait accompli?
ii) How, exactly, would a virginal conception turn on Mary’s consent? This is not procreation between consenting adults. What control would Mary have over a virginal conception? What could she do to either cause it or prevent it? Tell God she had a headache?
“The rarity of the word [kechariomene] itself bespeaks the singularity of Mary’s condition” (102).How does that follow? Does every hapaxlegomenon in Scripture bespeak the singularity of the individual or event for which it’s used?
The Greek grammatical form indicates that her “grace” or “favor” is a present and permanent condition resulting from a past action by God (102).That’s not the issue. The issue is whether Mary is the object of divine favor or the source of divine grace. Both the word and context imply the former.
And Mary’s blessedness—her beatitude—is not merely a peculiarity of St. Luke’s Gospel. It is in the Book of Revelation as well…The child is clearly Jesus; so the radiant woman is His mother (103).Other issues aside, the Marian interpretation of Rev 12:1-2 would disprove the perpetual virginity, since the text goes on to say that she had other children (v17).
And if Hahn interprets v17 figuratively, then he can’t very well interpret vv1-2 as literal references to the Madonna and child.
St. John’s Gospel even seems to emphasize her role as an intercessor. There we see that it was Mary who triggered Jesus’ public ministry (103).Other issues aside, Hahn is equivocating. For even if we construe Jn 2 in terms of “intercession,” it is clearly not intercessory in the dogmatic sense:
Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation...Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.7He also disregards the way in which Jesus reproved his earthly mother for her presumption.
At the cross, John stood as a representative figure, because we are all Jesus’ “beloved disciples.” (104).But the Fourth Gospel never says that. To the contrary, it singles out the “beloved disciple” in contradistinction to the other disciples.
So when John received Mary as his mother, he was receiving her as our mother, too…And so all of us, all His “beloved disciples,” can share His mother, too (104-105).Then why did Jesus entrust her to the care of John rather than all of the disciples?
I’d recommend that Christians read the following work, which covers this passage as well as all the other Mary prooftexts:
Eric Svendsen, Who Is My Mother? The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism (Calvary Press 2001).
Nevertheless, some people will quote two Scripture verses where Jesus Himself seems to deprecate His own mother…Used in this way, these passages are simply red herrings. In the first case [Lk 8:19-21], Jesus said nothing disrespectful. He simply pointed out that His spiritual family shares His life and follows his ways”(105).i) The way he frames the issue is a straw man argument. No one is claiming that Jesus was “deprecating” or “disrespecting” his earthly mother.
ii) There is clearly more to Lk 8:19-21 than Hahn’s minimalistic gloss. Jesus is distancing himself from his biological family. When push comes to shove, one’s spiritual allegiance takes precedence over one’s family or clan. Mary has no special claim on Jesus. Mary is put on the very same footing as everyone else. She must approach him the same way. That’s quite striking in a tribal society like ancient Israel.
It is likely, too, that John was portraying the Cana episode as a reversal of the fall of Adam and Even in Genesis. Thus, as Christ is the new Adam, so Mary is placed in the role of the new Eve. As Adam called Eve “woman” (Gen 2:23), so Christ addresses Mary with the same title. Moreover, in Genesis, God speaks of a future woman whose son would trample the devil underfoot (Gen 3:15), and that son could only be Jesus (106).Several problems:
i) John doesn’t employ Adamic typology. Paul does. So he is viewing John through a Pauline lens.
ii) Since Jesus uses the same form of address with Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:13) and the woman at the well (4:21), then the Mother of Jesus has some competition for the title of the new Eve.
iii) Even if we take Gen 3:15 to cast Mary in the role of the new Eve, this doesn’t mean that Jn 2 is alluding to Gen 3. For if Mary is, indeed, the new Eve, then she would enjoy that status in every NT appearance.
So this argument either proves too much or too little. In any event, Hahn has done nothing to establish an Eve-motif, either in John generally, or Jn 2 in particular.
Mary was to be filled with Christ and only with Christ (107).Really? Mary had no internal organs or stomach contents. If you x-rayed Mary, all you’d see inside was Christ and only Christ?
Notice how Mariolatry reduces otherwise intelligent men to blubbering imbeciles. They’ll mouth any bit of pious nonsense, however palpably absurd.
This is another way of calling her “full of grace,” as the angel addressed her in Luke’s Gospel. She is so brimming with grace—with God’s life—that there is no room for anything else (107).i) Ah, yes, no room for anything else. She never ate or drank. Had no blood flowing through her veins. Or brain or skeleton. Just a hollow container, crammed full of Jesus from head to toe.
ii) Notice the bait-in-switch tactic. Gabriel does not say that Mary is “full of grace.” That phrase comes, not from Lk 2, but the Ave Maria.
iii) In context, Mary is the object of grace, not the source of grace. She is favored by God to be the mother of the Messiah.
So, like the Temple vessels, she could not be returned to ordinary earthly use”(107).I see. So she didn’t suckle Jesus or bake bread or fetch water. I guess she had a nanny, wet-nurse, and maid to take over all of the domestic duties while she assumed a lotus position twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
She remained a “perpetual virgin.” She had no sexual relations with her husband, Joseph. She had no children after Jesus. This has been the constant faith of Christians. It was held firmly by the classic Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Wesley (107-108).Yes, well, with all due respect to the classic Reformers, did Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or Wesley have some inside knowledge about what Mary and Joseph did behind closed doors? Did they have a hidden camera in their bedroom?
Some modern Christians object (as did one ancient) that the Gospels refer to the “brothers of the Lord” (108).Yes, and that would include Monsignor Meier, whose arguments Scott Hahn conveniently ignores.8
Finally, if the “brothers of the Lord” were indeed Mary’s children, it is highly unlikely that Jesus would have entrusted her care to the apostle John, as He did on the cross (Jn 19:26-27) (108).Why is that highly unlikely?
i) Under the circumstances, the obvious reason he entrusted her to John is that John was there while her other sons were elsewhere. And there’s a reason for that.
He was the faithful follower who stayed at Jesus’ side to the bitter end. That’s what it came down to: Mary and John. They were at Calvary. His half-brothers were not since they were not his followers at this time. These two, and only these two, stood by him in his final hour.
And you’d expect that much from a devoted mother. But now she’s alone, and away from home. Her family doesn’t live in Jerusalem.
ii) It’s likely that John was her nephew.9 And it’s likely that he had a house in Jerusalem.10
So both socially and logistically, it’s quite natural that Jesus would entrust the care of his mother to his cousin. This was a tribal society in which extended family members counted as next-of-kin (cf. Lk 2:44).
iii) And if, for the sake of argument, we accept the Catholic claim that Jesus’ “brothers” were in fact his cousins, and John was also his cousin, then that undercuts the Catholic appeal to Jn 19:26-27 as anything out of the ordinary.
That is why John’s Gospel presents her as a “new Eve”—because Eve was the only other women who had been created free from humankind’s heritage of sin. To be “full of grace” is to be without sin (108).Hahn is increasingly sloppy:
i) As we’ve just seen, John does not present her as the new Eve.
ii) But even if he did, why assume that he does so because Mary and Eve were both created free from sin? Notice that Hahn makes no attempt to actually exegete this imputed rationale from the text of John.
iii) Then he implicitly slides over to the Annunciation, as if you could use Luke to prove that John is working with an Eve-motif.
iv) And, finally, as I’ve already noted, Luke doesn’t say that Mary was “full of grace.” That comes from the Ave Maria (“gratia plena”), via the Vulgate—and not from the Annunciation, in the Greek text of Luke.
He’s using a Catholic prayer as a gloss on a Lucan account, then using the Lucan account as a gloss on a Johannine account.
It’s a series of cumulative errors, stacking one falsehood atop another to erect an impressive edifice of fraudulent dogma.
Make no mistake about it: the Mass is the Church’s fulfillment of an explicit command of Jesus Christ [1 Cor 11:23-25]…A command cannot get much simpler or more direct than that: just to it (116).His final sentence is true. But his first sentence is equivocal, for while the command is simple and direct, the theology of the Mass is scarcely reducible to 1 Cor 11:23-25).11
We have already seen that the Church Fathers saw the universality of the Mass as a fulfillment of Malachi’s “pure offering,” from east to west (Mal 1:11). The Fathers also cherished the Mass as the fulfillment of a “wisdom’s banquet” of bread and wine (Prov 9:1-6), and as the true wayfarer’s bread signified by the angel’s feeding of the prophet Elijah (1 Kgs 19:5-7) (116).This is a tacit admission that he can’t derive the Mass from the original intent of Scripture, but must take refuge in the allegorical fancies of the church fathers.
As the Israelites revered the bread of the presence (Ex 25:29) and drew holiness from it (Lev 24:9), so the Church worshiped the Real presence in the Eucharist and experienced it as a source of grace (116-17).This comparison undercuts sacramental realism, for the OT “parallels” exemplify the principle of cultic holiness and ritual purity or ceremonial defilement. In other words, it’s moving in the real of pure symbolism. Holiness or impurity is a literal property of agents, and a figurative property of artifacts.
If, then, we are to apply the categories of the ceremonial law to the Eucharist, that would support the Zwinglian theory of communion.
Jesus taught that the Eucharist was foreshadowed in the manna (Jn 6:49-51) (117).No, Jesus taught that he was foreshadowed in the manna. The manna is not a type of communion, but a type of Christ.
Indeed, long before the Last Supper, Jesus Himself foreshadowed the Eucharist by multiplying bread to feed His congregations, by repeatedly evoking banquet scenes in His preaching, and by choosing to be born in a town named Bethlehem (Hebrew for “House of Bread”).Now we’re being treated to rampant allegory. Every feast is not the agape feast. And Jesus did not foreshadow the Eucharist. Rather, the Eucharist signifies the sacrifice of Christ.
His flesh is bread; his blood is drink. This corresponds directly to his pronouncements over the bread and wine at the Last Supper: “this is My Body…this is the cup of My Blood” (117).No, if you were going to set up a correspondence between the respective analogues, it would need to take the form of:
[A-1] “Bread”where the pairing of bread and wine stands for the pairing of body and blood. We do not find that matching scheme in Jn 6.
You have the communion elements, on the one hand, and what they stand for, on the other hand. Sign>significate.
It is a curious fact that those who ordinarily insist on a strictly literal reading of the Bible will, with equal insistence, interpret these passages exclusively in metaphor (117).The strictly literal reading of Scripture is not my hermeneutical principle. Rather, I favor the grammatico-historical method. This may or may not yield a literal reading, depending on the context.
Yet Jesus did not treat “bread” and “blood” and “flesh” as metaphors (117).So Hahn takes this literally, does he? Let’s ask him a few questions implications of a literal body:
i) Can we clone Jesus from a wafer? After all, it’s his body. So it should contain enough genetic material to clone Jesus.
ii) What is the blood type of the (consecrated) communion wine? After all, it’s his blood. Jesus had a blood type.
iii) Does the (consecrated) wafer have blue eyes or brown eyes? Blond hair or brown hair?
If it’s not consumed within a day or so, how often does the wafer need to be fed, lest it starve to death?
If the wafer isn’t consumed for a few weeks, is it necessary to clip its fingernails and toenails? Does it grow a beard? Have a pulse? Breathe?
Remember, this is the literal body of Christ, right? No fudging allowed!
The verbs are more graphic in the Greek; He’s telling the assembly that they must “chew” or “gnaw” his flesh (117).And what’s the point? That figurative language can’t be graphic? The Psalms are full of graphic figures of speech. So is the Apocalypse. Indeed, figurative language is frequently more graphic than a pedestrian, matter-of-fact description.
We hear those “words of life”—and we see them embodied as the Bread of Life—in every Mass we attend (118).But, of course, Jesus wasn’t addressing Roman Catholics. He was addressing Jews who never attended the Mass. Indeed, he was addressing Jews who had never attended the Lord’s Supper, since his speech was made prior to the Last Supper.
So he “sees” the Mass in Jn 6 because he superimposes the Mass onto Jn 6. Classic mirror-reading.
The Book of Revelation further describes this assembly as the “Marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). This supper takes place at heaven’s altar (Rev 8:3), where chalices are poured out (Rev 14:10) (118).Scott Hahn is a Catholic version of Tim LaHaye. I look forward to Hahn’s next book on pretribulational transubstantiation.
“The Catholic Church teaches that Holy Communion removes all venial sins” (119).
Something you’ll never find in Scripture.
Paul commonly uses the language of sacrificial worship—words such as leitourgia (liturgy; e.g. Phil 2:17), eucharistia (thanksgiving, eucharist; e.g., 2 Cor 9:11), thusia (sacrifice; e.g. Phil 4:18), hierourgein (priestly service; e.g., Rom 15:16), and prosphoron (offering; e.g., Rom 15:16) (120).i) In context, the usage is clearly figurative, so what is he trying to prove?
ii) Notice the backwards etymologizing, where he retranslates a Greek word by reading the meaning of the English derivative back into the original (leitourgia=liturgy; eucharistia=eucharist).
iii) As one commentator points out, in the standard Catholic commentary on Romans,
One cannot deduce from this Pauline view of his role as a preacher of the gospel that he was aware of himself as a Christian “priest”…The name of the Christian “priest,” however, develops in some modern languages from Greek presbyteros, “elder,” a title that Paul never uses of himself. The name of the cultic “priest” of the Old Law, hiereus, is used in the NT only of Christ (Heb 5:6; 7:1-23, etc.) and never of any of his apostles or disciples. The frame of reference for Paul’s designation of himself in this passage [Rom 15:16] as leitourgos or hierougon is tht of the Jewish priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, or, as Cranfield has shown, that of the Levites.12
Peter speaks of the entire Church as a priesthood called to “offer sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:5). (120).And does he take this literally or figuratively?
i) If the former, it would undercut the existence of a special priestly caste.
ii) If the latter, it would afford no evidence for a special priestly caste.
Ignatius recognizes the priesthood of all believes, as does St. Peter; but he also recognizes, as did St. Paul, that certain men were set apart to preside over the rites of the Church (121-22).Where do we find that stated in St. Paul? Does Scott Hahn regard Phil 2:17 or 4:18 as a bloody libation or burnt offering? Did Paul commit self-immolation? Slit his own throat? Lie down on a funeral pyre and strike a match?
The Church Fathers like to quote the Prophet Isaiah when they spoke about the Eucharistic sacrifice [Isa 6:6-7] (122).What is Hahn trying to accomplish? How does this fanciful gloss equip a Catholic to do apologetics or defend his faith?
The first question is whether anything we do—any work of ours—can actually be redemptive for another person. According to St. Paul, the answer is yes. “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9). God willed that we should cooperate in His work of redemption (122).Of course, this is another one of Hahn’s equivocations. Paul is talking about the work of evangelism. We proclaim the gospel. We preach the message of what our Redeemer has done for the redeemed.
That’s totally different than synergism, in which saving grace is resistible, and we partly merit our own salvation.
Predictably, Hahn then quotes Col 1:24—a popular prooftext for Catholicism. But as one scholar explains:
But what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings? The word “lack” (hysterema) appears nine times in the New Testament and is used to refer to…”Making up for a group’s absence by representing them” (cf. 1 Cor 16:17; Phil 2:30). The latter usage fits our passage because the same root verb “fill up” (anapleroo) appears with the noun “lack.”13
What is lacking is Christ’s bodily presence…[Paul] suffers as the representative of Christ, who is absent in body but presence in spirit (see 2:5). “What is lacking” has nothing to do with some measure that must be filled but is an idiom for representing Christ bodily (se Phil 1:20).14
Some might mistakenly infer that Paul suggests that Christ’s redeeming work has insufficient and needed supplementing. Nothing could be further from Paul’s mind. (1) Such a view would lend credence to the arguments of the opposing “philosophy” that cast aspersions on the Christian hope and would undermine his whole argument in chapter 2. (2) Paul is not referring to Christ’s redeeming work in this passage. When he does refer to it elsewhere he points to his “blood,” “cross,” or “death,” not to his afflictions. (3) Paul has just concluded praising Christ for reconciling all things to himself on the cross (1:20,22). He understands this redemptive work to be finished, competed, perfected. Nothing remains to be done, and the suffering of Christ’s followers does not put the finishing touches on the triumph of Calvary. (4) Paul does not believe that suffering has any atoning benefit for himself or for others. It does, however, “serve to increase Paul’s living knowledge of Christ.”15
We can and should intercede for one another, for the remission of one another’s sins. “If anyone sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal” (1 Jn 5:16). (123).Another one of Hahn’s equivocations. A “mortal sin” is a technical term in Catholic theology.16 Hahn is reading that specialized meaning back into 1 John. It’s a semantic anachronism to confound dogmatic usage with biblical usage. Is Hahn so linguistically naïve that he doesn’t know that?
A further question is whether we can do anything for a person already dead. The traditional Christian view is indeed binary. At death, our souls are bound heavenward or bound for hell. But, since “nothing unclean shall enter” heaven (Rev 21:27), we need first to be purified (123).i) But Rev 21 refers to the final state, not the intermediate state. It refers to heaven on earth. So it doesn’t speak to the question of whether a Christian goes directly to heaven when he dies. By contrast, Rev 20, which refers to the intermediate state, does speak to that question. The martyrs immediately reign with Christ (20:4).
ii) In addition, 21:27 doesn’t refer to sinners in general, but idolaters in particular.17
iii) Hahn is assuming, without benefit of argument, that Christians can’t be purified at the moment of death.
iv) According to Catholic theology, a plenary indulgence can bypass purgatory. So purgatory is not a necessary stage on the way to heaven—even on Hahn’s own grounds.
Jesus assumes the doctrine [of purgatory] when He says: “whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12:32). There must be a state, then, in which people are forgiven “in the age to come (123).But that’s a fallacious inference. Mt 12:32 is simply an emphatic way of expressing the fact that the sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.
Imagine what an antinomian would make of Hahn’s interpretation. “Oh, good, this means that as long as I avoid the sin against the Holy Spirit, it’s safe for me to commit any other sin and die in sin since I can still be forgiven in the afterlife as long as I prearrange for enough requiem masses to be said on my behalf. I better set up a postmortem endowment with my investment banker to hire a full-time priest.”
Indeed, Hahn’s interpretation reminds me of a short story (“Special Duties”) by Graham Greene, which was adapted for television:
Mr. Ferraro (John Gielgud) is a very wealthy man who is growing old. And this is worrying him. He is a Catholic, but he is aware that his life is full of bad deeds, which will possibly pull him down to Hell when he meets his God. He consults with some Catholic scholar, and discovers a possible loophole. As in the days before 1517 and Martin Luther, where the Church sold indulgences for sins of the flesh and spirit, used to swell Church coffers, Ferraro discovers that if you find a young person, preferably a young woman, of blameless character and true piety, she can pray for your soul and the number of special prayers she gives can slowly reduce the sins you have created, slowly lifting you out of hell and through purgatory into Heaven. Ferraro checks several applicants, and settles on one woman who appears to fit the bill. Paying her a large sum of money each week, the woman goes to church and prays strenuously for his soul.
The humor of this situation is increased as Ferraro treats this situation as another corporation he runs. He has charts and diagrams following the woman's weekly reports of prayers. The charts show the reduction in sins, and corresponding increase in the height of his soul. Somehow the young scholar he hired is not really impressed in this worldly handling of a spiritual matter. Besides, the young scholar asks, how do you know she even is praying so hard. This puts a bee in Ferraro's bonnet, and he goes to the church to check up on her. He finds she is not there (although she is supposed to be there). He finds her in her apartment, sleeping with her boyfriend.
Immediately a tiny figure of Gielgud is shown descending slowly downward, the backdrop being "Hell" from the Hieronymus Bosch triptych, THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS. Gielgud/Ferraro has a heart attack shortly after from the shock, but when the young scholar visits him again, he is told that the next time Gielgud would have a supervisor watching the young woman to make sure she does what's she is paid for.18
In another place, Jesus is speaking of God’s judgment. “…I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny” (Mt 5:25-26). Again, this implies a state in the afterlife in which people “pay” their penitential debt to God—that is, they are purified (123-24).A couple of basic problems:
i) It’s debatable whether this passage has reference to the final judgment. As a Catholic commentator explains in reference to the synoptic parallel in Luke,
This question has to be asked because of the tendency of modern commentators who allegorize the would-be parable…as a prophetic threat of judgment…It is a piece of prudential advice.19ii) Even assuming that it’s applicable to the final judgment, Hahn is getting carried away with the picturesque imagery of debtor’s prison. But the parabolic details about “paying every last penny” are simply window dressing to illustrate the point that the “debtor” will be held fully accountable for his misdeeds.
What’s the exchange rate in purgatory? Can I expedite my stay by hiring a good arbitrager?
Hahn also cites the fiery metaphors in Mal 3:2-3 (124). But this passage has no reference to purgatory. Rather, it’s a prophecy about the ministry of John the Baptist which, in turn, paves the way for the ministry of Christ and his atonement.
He also cites 1 Cor 3:13-15. But this has reference to the final judgment, and not to purgatory, which, if it existed, would pertain to the intermediate state.
The Book of Revelation makes a distinction between the martyrs who are resurrected immediately and “rest of the dead” who “did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (rev 20:5). We see that some were judged worthy of heaven, but others weren’t ready yet for their inevitable resurrection to glory. Their state of purification is purgatory (124).Several issues:
i) It is precarious, to say the least, to put a lot of weight on the chronology of Revelation, since the sequencing is often symbolic.
ii) He’s ignoring the implicit comparison and contrast between the first/second resurrection and the first/second death.20
iii) Apropos (ii), he’s assuming that “the rest of the dead” has reference to departed Christians (in purgatory). But there’s no textual or contextual reason to limit the reference to believers. It could either denote the general resurrection, inclusive of believers and unbelievers alike,21 or single out unbelievers (cf. 20:12-13).22
He then quotes the classic Catholic prooftext (2 Mac 12:39-45). But this has its own problems:
i) He would need to defend the Catholic canon before invoking this verse.
ii) Even on its own terms, the casualties were guilty of idolatry, which would be a mortal sin, not a venial sin. If, according to Catholic theology, you die in a state of mortal sin, you are damned. You don’t go to purgatory. You go to hell. Requiem masses cannot atone for mortal sin.
This is the “prison” of spirits where, according to St. Peter, Jesus first went to preach the Good News (1 Pet 3:19-20)…Catholics call it purgatory (126).As usual, he substitutes a Scriptural citation for Scriptural exegesis. Hahn is apparently equating 1 Peter 3:19-20 with the harrowing of hell, according to which Jesus descended to the limbus patrum on Holy Saturday.23 But you can’t find that in 1 Pet 3:19-20:
i) The timing is off. The passage has reference to a post-Resurrection appearance.
ii) Jesus did not preach the gospel. Rather, this is in the Biblical tradition of a taunt-song.
iii) The “spirits” were fallen angels or demons rather than the souls of the departed.24
On a general level, Hahn makes no effort to interact with contemporary Catholic Bible scholarship. Take the NJBC.25
His interpretation of Gen 3:15 is contradicted by Clifford and Murphy (12). His interpretation of Mal 1:11 is contradicted by Cody (360). His interpretation of Lk 24:13-35 is contradicted by Karris (720). His interpretation of 1 Cor 3:13-15 is contradicted by O’Connor (802). His interpretation of Col 1:24 is contradicted by Horgan (880). His interpretation of 1 Pet 3:19-20 is contradicted by Neygrey (907). And his interpretation of Rev 12:1-2 is contradicted by Collins (1008).
The problems with this are manifold:
i) A reader who relied on Hahn for his knowledge of Catholicism would have no idea what a skewed picture he’s getting. Hahn poses as a representative of Catholic dogma, but his exegetical argumentation is hardly representative of mainstream Catholicism.
ii) Hahn has cast the issues as if this is a debate between Catholic exegesis and Evangelical exegesis—whereas it would more often be an internal debate between a retrograde convert and soapbox polemicist like Hahn over against mainstream Catholic scholarship.
iii) Although Hahn is under no obligation to accept these interpretations, he does need to address the counterarguments to his own interpretations instead of acting as if his prooftexts are self-evidently correct.
iv) And the larger problem is that his interpretive approach is pre-critical. It fails to take into account the 20C developments in Catholic hermeneutics, beginning with Divino afflante Spiritu, Sancta Mater Ecclesia/De historica evangeliorum veritate, Dei Verbum, and The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.
Instead, Hahn is caught in some Victorian time-warp. Mind you, I myself am no proponent of the historical-critical method. But that is the method sanctioned by the modern Magisterium.
Commenting on Mt 16:18, Hahn says,
So we see that God Himself gave a guarantee to preserve Peter’s authority (131).This would be an impressive argument except for the fact that we don’t find that in the text. It says that God will preserve the “church,” not “Peter’s authority.”
So many Roman Catholics simply give up doing exegesis. There’s no attempt to establish the actual meaning of the text. They default every interpretation to Catholic dogma regardless of what the text actually says.
Was Jesus giving Peter a unique role in the Church? The answer seems obvious from the remaining pages of the New Testament. As I mentioned in chapter 6, Peter is everywhere shown to be the chief spokesman, preacher, teacher, healer, judge, and administrator in the newborn Church (132).But this is demonstrably false. He assumes the lead early in the book of Acts, but he is overtaken by Paul. Among the NT writers, Paul, not Peter, is the chief spokesman and teacher—along with the four gospels, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
It’s possible that Mark is, in some sense, Peter’s amanuensis, but that’s only one gospel among four.
Peter was a natural leader and a fine preacher, but he lacked the intellectual attainments of Paul. So, over the long haul, Paul has been far more influential in historical theology that Peter. There’s no comparison.
At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), it was Peter who put an end to the debate (Acts 15:7-12). He defined the doctrine, which James confirmed and further enacted (Acts 15:14-18) (134).That’s very slanted presentation of the proceedings. Moreover, it’s quite anachronistic, as well as inaccurate, to say that Peter “defined” the doctrine, since that’s a technical term in Catholic theology for dogmatic statements. The “council” of Jerusalem was about a point of discipline, not dogma.
If we do not accept the papal implications of the New Testament texts, we create many other problems (134).I’m all for accepting the papal implications of the NT texts—if only there were any papal implications to accept.
Why, we may ask, would Jesus have named Peter as chief among His apostles if He had not intended the office to be, somehow, continued within the church (134).Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did promote Peter to be the chief apostle, how does Hahn extract the notion of an office from that promotion? He constantly smuggles key concepts into a text where the concept is missing, then proceeds to build on his own interpolations.
Why, too, would Jesus have named Simon “rock” if He didn’t intend a unique and authoritative role for him (134).There’s a basic difference between a role and an office. A role may be personal and unrepeatable in a way that an office is not. Indeed, a “unique office” is a contradiction in terms. The very point of an office is that it’s repeatable rather than unique since you have one office with many officials. So if Peter really did have a unique role, then he is not an office-holder.
But Jesus called Peter the rock on which He would build his church (134).i) Actually, as commentators like Morris and Gundry point out, it’s not clear that Peter is the rock on which Jesus will build his church. The rock on which the church is founded may well be an allusion to Mt 7:24-25.
ii) And even if Peter is the referent, this is a statement about Peter, not the pope.
It is clear, in all events, that the early Christians accepted the pope’s authority as Peter’s and so as Christ’s (135).Other issues aside, Hahn acts as if this is a merely a Catholic/Protestant debate. But, of course, this is also a Catholic/Orthodox debate. The Orthodox read the church fathers, too. The Orthodox honor the church fathers, too. And the Orthodox don’t find what the Catholics find in the church fathers vis-à-vis papal primacy. To be convincing, Hahn would need to interact with Eastern Orthodox theologians on papal primacy.
On pp158-59 and 170-71, Hahn tries to set up a threefold typology involving the Queen Mother, prime minister, and thank offering. But this breaks down at several levels:
i) How much clout a queen mother enjoyed was entirely dependent on whether she in favor with her son. A queen mother might have no authority if she was out of favor with her son. Queen Motherhood is not an official status with official prerogatives.
ii) In any case, this is based on merely human relationships. To extrapolate from Bathsheba’s relationship with Solomon to Mary’s relationship with God Incarnate is radically equivocal and anthropomorphic.
iii) Hahn says,
Isaiah prophesied a transition in the royal government in which one prime minister would be replaced by another (Is 22:15-25) (159).But as one scholar points out, “this office is not made hereditary. God promises the key to Eliakim, but not to his descendants...It was Eliakim the son of Hilkiah who was exalted, and not the office in itself.26
iv) Notice that Vatican I never uses Isa 22:15-25 as a prooftext for the papacy.
v) But assuming, for the sake of argument, that we take this to be prophetic for the papacy, it prophesies the downfall of the papacy, rather than perpetuity of the papacy, since Eliakim will be deposed on charges of nepotism (22:25).
vi) The power of the keys isn’t limited to Peter, but is shared in common with his fellow apostles (cf. Mt 18:18; Jn 20:23), so this isn’t a uniquely Petrine prerogative, but less a papal prerogative—of which the text says nothing.
vii) He treats the thank-offering as a type of the eucharist. Two problems:
a) Does transubstantiation apply to the OT thank-offering?
b) The OT parallel to the eucharist is not the thank-offering, but the Passover.
viii) According to Hahn,
Mary appears as Queen Mother when she advises her royal son (Jn 2:3), when she pleads the cause of His disciples, when she receives foreign dignitaries with Him (Mt 2:11), and when she stands with his court of twelve royal ministers, the Apostles (Jn 19:25; Acts 2:14) (170).Several more problems:
a) In Jn 2, she isn’t “advising” so much as twisting his arm, and she’s reproved for her impertinence.
b)”When she pleads the cause of His disciples.” What is Hahn alluding to?
c) Is the upper room a “royal court”? Are the twelve apostles his “royal ministers”? Needless to say, the symbolism of the twelve evokes the twelve tribes of Israel rather than royalty.
d) Does she appear as Queen Mother when she “receives” the Magi? Is this a formal audience with the king? Is a dungy stable his throne room? Did the Magi curtsey in her presence and address this peasant girl as “Her Highness” or “Her Majesty”?
Hahn gushes like one of those “royal watchers” who go gaga over the pomp and circumstance, as well as the tawdry affairs, of the royal family.
Catholicism is appealing to some Americans who hanker after the mink and ermine, powdered wigs and silk stockings, diamonds and rubies, as well as marbled halls and gilded palaces of royalty, complete with costume balls, painted cherubs, and formal dinners—with five forks and ten spoons per plate—of European royalty.
If only he could be reincarnated as Shirley Temple in The Little Princess, Scott Hahn would feel spiritually fulfilled. At least Catholicism affords him some vicarious satisfaction to compensate for his lowborn pedigree.
Some people say that Jesus was using the bread and wine as metaphors to explain His upcoming sacrifice. But, if that were the case, they would be useless. They fail as metaphors, because it is the bread and win and not His death that require explanation!”(176).This is rather silly:
i) To begin with, he wasn’t using metaphors to explain his impending sacrifice, but to illustrate his impending sacrifice. A metaphor has explanatory value, but a metaphor is not, of itself, an explanation.
Put another way, a metaphor is an analogy. To say that Jesus is a door, or lamb, or vine, or light, or manna, is to say that Jesus is, in some way, analogous to those objects. But the comparison does not, of itself, explain the point of correspondence.
ii) As such, it is often necessary to explicate a metaphor. For every analogy also involves an element of disanalogy.
And what is implicit at the Last Supper becomes explicit in the Emmaus story, where the visible presence of the Lord vanishes during the distribution of the pieces (24:31). Why did this happen? Because, in light of Luke 22:19, His presence was now identified with the bread (176).Two problems:
i) Hahn is asserting what he needs to prove. What we actually have here is a scene which is deliberately evocative of OT theophanies, in which God appears to people incognito (e.g. Gen 18; Judg 13). He appears and disappears out of nowhere.
ii) You don’t have to be Catholic to believe in the real presence. Many theological traditions believe in the real presence. So even if that were the right understanding of the communion, this in no way selects for Roman Catholicism.
5 For more on this passage, cf. Smalley, S. The Revelation of John (IVP 2005), 357-58.
6 The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text With Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans 1990), 111.
8 Cf. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, (Doubleday, 1991), 1:316-332; “The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus in Ecumenical Perspective,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54 (1992), 1-28.
9 Cf. J. Robinson, The Priority of John (Meyer-Stone Books 1987), 120-22.
10 Cf. Robinson, ibid. 64,288.
11 Cf. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10006a.htm
12 J. Fitzmyer, Romans (Doubleday 1993), 712.
13 Garland, D. Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan 1998), 122.
14 Ibid. 122.
15 Ibid. 127.
17 Cf. G. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans 1999), 1101.
19 J. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (Doubleday 1985), 2:1002.
20 For details, read Beale’s analysis, ibid. 972-1021. For an overview, read V. Poythress, The Returning King (P&R 2000), 177-82.
21 Cf. R. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans 1998), 370.
22 Cf. D. Aune, Revelation 17-22 (Nelson (1998), 1090.
24 For more on the correct interpretation of this passage, cf. K. Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker 2005), 235-60; T. Schreiner, 1,2 Peter, Jude (Broadman 2003), 179-98.
25 R. Brown et al. eds. The New Jerome Bible Commentary (Prentiss Hall 1990).
26 E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Eerdmans 1982), 2:116.