[Note: This post deals with the how and the why more so than the that. In the philosophical section, I sought to address the why and move into the how. With the beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, I intended to touch on how the Holy Spirit might have served in place of the male sperm as an “agent” that brought instructions and form to the genetic material already within the Blessed Mother’s body. I only sought to “prove” (or, rather, sketch out proofs) that this could have happened.]
With the Virgin Birth, you actually have more evidence that it is true rather than untrue.
We have great historical testimony to it, and there is no proof that it did not happen — obviously. But there is more.
How can it be proven by science? Well, I suppose this depends on your definition of “science”. If you refer to that of the exact (quantitative), of course, it could be difficult. But theology, “the highest form of philosophy”, does have an answer. And, just as you trust astronomers to tell you about many things beyond earth, you should trust the Church to tell you about God.
Before I can get into that, you must consider something: how did you come into being, and why do you exist? You cannot know much else aside from that you were ordained for some purpose. If you were not around, things would be different, the environment would be changed — perhaps, this would not just cause some sort of “gap”, but it would be destructive, even. You are necessary, to us and to the “Something” (God) from which you spring.
Let us say that the Virgin Birth, too, was necessary for things to properly function. It was ordained from the beginning, as God knew that He would come to reach out to the lost tribes of the house of Israel (Gentiles). The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection were necessary for God’s “re”-marriage, this time to the Church, His Bride. (This connects to the Church’s teachings on the indissolubility of marriage.) The destroyed Temple and Jewish sacrificial method had to be replaced with a new, universal and eternal system. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). If something is truly necessary to proper existence, it comes into being.
Why has this Birth not been replicated, though? It was only needed once, just like you are only needed once. Likewise, there has to be a mystery to it, as there is mystery to you. Uniqueness and mystery pervade.
But St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, also, “According to the Philosopher [Aristotle] (De Gener. Animal. i, ii, iv), in conception the seed of the male is not by way of matter, but by way of agent: and the female alone supplies the matter. Wherefore though the seed of the male was lacking in Christ’s conception, it does not follow that due matter was lacking.” (Summa Theologiae, TP, Q. 28, A. 1, R. to Ob. 5)
That point is key. Mitochondrial DNA, for example, come exclusively from the mother, and there is also talk of “female sperm“. “Female sperm” could, theoretically, develop within a woman, given the right impetus. (Of course, the impetus for normal procreation is male sperm.) The point is, the material necessary for life sufficiently exists within women — that is evidenced by the fact that the X-chromosome contains far more genetic material than the Y-chromosome. All the material needs is the masculine influence to trigger it, to give it form and shape. Even without the Y-chromosome from a man, one could still be a “XX male“, at least. And it is clear that the distinctions and origins of the Y-chromosome are a mystery, anyway [1, 2]. In Mary’s exceptional case, this trigger was the Holy Spirit, which poured out abundantly on her and directed her body on what to do (Luke 1:30-35). “…[T]he Divine power, which is infinite, can transmute all matter to any form whatsoever” (Aquinas). This mutation can be rationally explained — “random mutations” occur frequently.
Is it not ironic that we have confirmed this by reckless science, which has sought to artificially create “test-tube babies” [1, 2] and introduce “transgenderism”? God has drawn straight with our crooked lines, yet again.
Christ’s body was not tangled to any imperfect man. This connects to scientific proof of Mary’s perfection, too. It has been shown that groups of cells from infants transfer to mothers’ brains [1, 2], after traveling through the placenta. Because of this, the Blessed Mother must have been perfect, for she literally had, in purity, the mind of Christ.
Why else must the Theotokos be a virgin? St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “For it behooved that our Head, on account of a notable miracle, should be born after the flesh of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born after the Spirit, of the Church a virgin…” (Of Holy Virginity)
A summary of the history and effects of artificial contraception, with an emphasis on its importance in the American 1960s and the “Sexual Revolution”.
Shepherds & Kings: A Look at the Papacy
There is to be one Shepherd here. It was first King David (Ezekiel 34:23), then Jesus (John 10:11), and now is the Pope (John 21:17). This role is tied to the role of King. As David was King (2 Samuel 5:12) and Christ is King (Matthew 27:11), so the Pope is (as the Vicar of Christ) “father of princes and kings”.
Historically, the Pope has been the unifier of everyone: emperors, artists, the religious, and so on. Whenever emperors would abandon the Faith, they would be publicly corrected. Whenever artists sought to honor Christ, they would be promoted. And whenever Christians in the East would fall into heresy, the Pope would be the one to bring them in line, as Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Solovyov noted.
The Pope has a temporal role. Only the Pope can thoroughly ensure the recognization of Christ as King in society.
Pope Gelasius I wrote to Emperor Anastasius, “There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.”
On the correction of earthly monarchs, I often think of the Walk to Canossa, the journey of penance taken by Henry IV, of the Holy Roman Empire, in reparation for his grave sins against the Pope. This was done only out of selfishness on Henry’s part, of course, but still, under the right societal conditions, people can be motivated to repent. I also think of Emperor Theodosius, who only repented after forceful rebukes by St. Ambrose. Should we not incentivize such righteous actions in our own societies? Of course, we should!
Much temporal good has come from our Holy Mother Church, the Mater et Magistra (“mother and teacher”). In the Middle Ages, for example, during which the power of the Church was at its highest, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people. This was all due to popes leading as shepherds and flocks following like sheep. The laypeople of the period, I think, had a greater appreciation for hierarchy and understood that, if left to its own devices, society would collapse. Remember that God had to come down to His people; His people did not go up to Him. Society, today, unfortunately, detests anything other than near-absolute egalitarianism.
Now, imagine for a moment, a Papacy unhindered by societal pressures, free to guide its flock to the fullest, and empowered to pave a beautiful kingdom for Christ’s return! Shepherds like Pope Alexander VI understood and promoted this possibility. Unfortunately, because of the rise of democracy and secularism, the temporal honors historically afforded to popes have dwindled. Now, an Alexander would be almost universally despised, and for no reason!
The Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the Visible Shepherd, the Father of princes and kings, the pinnacle of civilization — he needs us. Pray for him and forever support him in every way possible. And pray that the Church may be empowered to pave the way for Her King.
“[W]hat is certain is that the ruins and traces of the Holy Empire are all about us. An understanding of its history and continuing influence is key to understanding the practical implications of the Social Kingship of Christ — which idea, in so many ways, is the ideal successive Emperors and their loyal subjects sought to follow on Earth, and without which, as Pius XI teach[es] in Quas primas, real peace is impossible.” – Charles A. Coulombe
“[The Church] does not, in the conventional phrase, believe what the Bible says, for the simple reason that the Bible does not say anything. You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means.” – G. K. Chesterton
Sola Scriptura is the Protestant doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Under it, only doctrines that are found directly within the Bible or are drawn indirectly from it by simple reasoning are allowed. (See material vs. formal sufficiency & perspicuity.)
2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the primary passage used to defend this view, which always boggles my mind. Perhaps I need spectacles, but I do not see an “Only” at the beginning of this verse. The Church teaches (as Scripture teaches) that all Scripture is valuable. She does not, however, turn it into an idol.
Some Protestants also claim to honor other authorities, like the Church – but do they really? In a short written debate with a Protestant professor, he said, “Sola Scriptura does not even claim that there is no other authority besides the Bible; it maintains that the Bible is alone (sola) as the only infallible authority.” Some apologists concede this position, but I see no reason to, and so I responded, “The practical effect [of Sola Scriptura] is that it denies the authoritativeness of any other authority – making that authority not an authority at all.” The professor quickly changed the topic.
Sacred Tradition (capital ‘T’) is, obviously, a stumbling block for many, but it is perfectly reasonable. Not everything of relevance could fit within the Bible (John 20:30-31, John 21:25). This is evidenced by the elaborations of the Church Fathers, as well as the decrees of the Councils. And much of this has been written and can therefore even qualify as (extra canon) Scripture! Anyway, all Scripture must be interpreted “according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church” (Origen).
Pope Francis noted, “Sacred Scripture is the written testimony of the divine Word, the canonical memory that attests to the event of Revelation. However, the Word of God precedes the Bible and surpasses it. That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a salvation history and above all a person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (cf. CCC #108). All teaching is valuable – God is not limited to a book compiled by His Bride. On this point, the Bible is like a wedding album shared by two spouses: the husband, typically, arranges and provides for everything, while his wife fills in the details – but still, at the end of the day, it does not sum up their whole marriage.
Another great blow to Sola Scriptura is that the Bible did not put itself together, and it does not list the books that belong within it. It took the Jews thousands of years to decide on the Tanakh (their canon) and, even then, “Hellenistic” Jews preferred the Septuagint! The only reason that we know which books comprise the Testaments is that the Church has informed us. If the Church, as Her own entity, is not infallible on such doctrine, then the Bible cannot be trusted.
Many Protestants also allude that absolute truth can only be found within the Bible. If I throw an apple up into the air, it will fall. Where is that in the Bible? Of course, one could quickly retort with the idea that the Bible only necessarily contains the absolute moral truth necessary for salvation. But many Protestants do not actually believe that – just look at the large crowds of literal creationists! To be clear, the Bible is not guaranteed to be totally historically or scientifically inerrant in a literal sense. “Inerrancy extends to what the biblical writers intend to teach, not necessarily to what they assume or presuppose or what isn’t integral to what they assert.” [Catholic Answers] And if a Protestant would like to say otherwise, he must prove his position from the Bible – which he cannot do, at least not to any definite degree. Even natural law, which exists outside of the Bible, does not encompass such. Leaders like Ken Ham could be defeated with these points.
I just cannot help but despise this great heresy of Sola Scriptura, the implication of which is that the Bride of Christ does not know Her Husband.
I love the Second Vatican Council’s statement on all of this: “[T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” (Dei Verbum)
Let us put it this way: only trusting the Bible without the Church would be like loving “Romeo and Juliet” and hating Shakespeare’s explanation of it.
The Church is my greatest weight. Of course, the weight of over a billion souls would likely be rather large, especially post-McDonald’s, so I suppose that nothing else is really comparable.
What does this mean? In an age of moral relativism, instability, and self-gratification, much like the age of the Roman Empire prior to its Christian conversion, I found myself alone and empty after a scarring experience. So, I sought the counsel of philosophy and history – surely, men had answered my questions before! – and I was, after seemingly endless struggles with myself and others, eventually comforted. The Church became vindicated in my heart.
The more I study, the more I am forced to accept Catholicism as the true Faith. The depth and size of it, as well as its impacts on culture, force any serious student to step back and pay at least a bit of attention. It took me a while to overcome my initial ambivalence toward any religion in particular – though I was always appreciative of God and enamored with the subject in general – but once I had crossed the proverbial Tiber, there was no going back.
I was baptized Catholic, and I vaguely recall some crossing with holy water and lighting prayer candles, but I was hardly raised to practice the Faith. In high school, I dug into a box of things from my infancy. I spotted a rosary within it, along with a note saying that it belonged to my great-grandmother. I mentioned it to a Catholic friend, and he gave me some information about it. That set of events started the arduous process of reconciliation.
Later, at the urging of the aforementioned friend, I casually flipped through the writings of the Church Fathers (prominent ancient Christian leaders). I quickly became impressed. I only did this, originally, to assuage my ego. I had made a theological speculation, and he answered me with, “Well, did the early Christians believe that?” I did not know. Anyway, he was right, and I was wrong.
My advice for anyone that wishes to be a Protestant is to avoid the Church Fathers like one would avoid a plague. I once remarked to a professor that introducing the former to the latter is like shaking a baby: it might teach them a lesson, but it also might kill them.
In my search for the Truth (capital ‘T’ intended), I asked a long series of questions.
On the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, I asked: Does God still reveal things to us, or does His message end with the Bible? What would He reveal things through?
The idea that God arbitrarily ended His message with the Bible and deliberately chose to allow confusion over doctrine became untenable to me, especially in light of verses like Deuteronomy 31:6 (He will never leave us) and John 17:11 (He requests Christian unity). The Protestant position on this (Sola Scriptura) then made little sense. How could that idea, unprecedented before the Renaissance and ungrounded in Tradition or common sense, be true? I have found no sensible argument in favor of it.
What would His mouthpiece be, though? His Bride (Mark 2:18-20), the Church, of course! As a wife understands the workings of her husband, so does the Church understand Christ. From there, how is She structured? This is where apostolic succession (the lineage of bishops from the time of the Apostles to the present) comes in. Bishops are given special power (Luke 21:15) – which even Simon Magus knew was handed down (Acts 8:18-19) – after the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) in their consecration ceremonies. They can trace themselves back to the very beginning of Christianity. All of this “clicked” in my head when I first read these words from St. Ignatius of Antioch: “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.”
Now, who leads it? This is answered by Matthew 16:18, the famous verse, which helped me grasp that Christ built His Church on Peter (aka Cephas), the faithful “rock” (Greek, Aramaic). It’s a parallel to the story of Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20-22), who represented his king. St. Peter, called by Christ to “feed [His] sheep” (John 21:17), likewise represented his King. Some in the historical-critical movement have, naturally, raised objections to St. Peter’s primacy. But even agnostic Protestant historian John Julius Norwich wrote of the pope, “It seems more likely than not that St. Peter did in fact come to Rome and was martyred there, probably somewhere on the Vatican Hill…[and] there can be little doubt that he was the generally acknowledged leader of Christ’s disciples.” Whenever I doubt, I latch on to this information: the historical basis for the Papacy is rock-solid.
My goal is to increase the powers and jurisdiction of this great entity to the fullest capacity, because I recognize the impact that She has had and can have on the world. Documents like Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae urge respect for the sanctity of life, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno offer economic principles rooted in good morals, and so on. If only humanity would follow the path that the Church has set forth! This temporal aspect, even by itself, is enough to drive me, despite how burdensome this desire can be.
In conclusion, I will leave the reader with a quote from G. K. Chesterton. “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
For Protestantism to make much sense, the Church must have, at some point, abandoned the truth and become apostate. Otherwise, Protestantism has no license to exist. But when was this “Great Apostasy”? Protestants offer varying opinions, but none of them hold up to scrutiny.
Was it right after the deaths of the Apostles?
A view most supported by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is that, after the Apostles, the Church quickly fell into apostasy. This would be a massive blow at both God’s promise to guard His Church (Joshua 1:5; Matthew 16:18) and all of the doctrine mentioned hereafter. But if this were true, would not one of the disciples of the Apostles have spoken out? We have writings from many of them, including Pope St. Clement I, St. Barnabas, St. Polycarp, and St. Ignatius of Antioch. None of them mention a “Great Apostasy”. But even if we indulge the other side and admit the possibility that even these men fell away, we still have early documents and creeds (like the Didache) that were probably formulated under the authority of the Apostles. Because Christians continued to be in accord with these extra-Biblical teachings, we know that they must have been in accord with the true Church.
Was it at the time of Constantine?
A semi-popular view is that Constantine corrupted Christianity by encouraging “pagan” elements and demanding a decision from the First Council of Nicaea. This is the view that I come into contact with most often, but it is also the most problematic. If the Church became apostate by 337 (the year of Constantine’s death), then the Biblical canon – which only really started to be compiled by St. Athanasius in 367 – may be wrong: we would have no assurance of its infallibility. Also, on top of that, all later theology would be necessarily nulled.
Was it during the Middle Ages?
The possibility of an apostasy in Medieval times seems far-fetched, too. This theory revolves, primarily, around hatred for some “bad” popes. Rather than focusing on doctrinal issues, proponents of this theory typically resort to character defamation. Many attack the Crusades, which tamed a fanatic Islam, and such. But in this period, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people [1, 2]. The only seemingly objectionable doctrinal development was Pope Boniface VIII’s declaration, “Outside of the Church, there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins”, but even this originates with St. Cyprian! The teaching relates to: 1) the fact that baptism (whether by water, blood, or desire) brings one into the Church (even if done within a Protestant community), because the sacrament was entrusted to Her and She allows anyone with the right intent to perform it, and 2) the importance of conscience and the dangers of apostasy. Nothing worthy of damnation here!
Was it just before the “Reformation”?
The idea of a “restoration” being needed just before the “Reformation” also seems improbable. This common idea is based on the “selling” of indulgences [1, 2, 3] (Martin Luther attacks the practice multiple times in his Ninety-Five Theses), but is mostly due to a misunderstanding. Again, the Protestant understanding usually relies on the assault of characters: people like Johann Tetzel are demonized — perhaps rightfully — for abusing the system. But this abuse was not a doctrinal problem of the Church; rather, it was a disciplinary problem of men. Indulgences simply remove the temporal punishment due for past sin — they are not a “Get out of Hell free” card — and even when they were “sold,” they required some sort of penance. Indulgences only have a salvatory effectiveness (remittance of time in Purgatory) if the recipient is already destined for Heaven. So, it would seem that the fuss is all about nothing.
In conclusion, I see none of these options as likely.
The Church strongly opposes contraception, in keeping with the historical position of Christianity. Openness to procreating life is one of the defining characteristics of marriage, which is primarily what makes homosexual “marriage” impossible. The Church also upholds the life-long commitment that is marriage. Contrast the Church’s beautiful teachings on all of this against the positions of Protestantism — those of Anglicanism, in particular.
Anglicans once agreed with the Church on these subjects, up until the 1930 Lambeth Conference that approved contraception in some cases (which, of course, had a snowball effect). Here’s the 15th resolution from the Conference:
“Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
There were still some restrictions, obviously, but since then, all practical barriers to contraception have fallen. That decision of that Conference is interesting, especially considering that it stated that “the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children” in its 13th resolution and that “the duty of parenthood [is] the glory of married life” in its 14th resolution.
The Episcopal “Church” of the USA (the official American branch of Anglicanism) also now blesses homosexual relationships. (See their liturgy for it here.) The “Church” of England recently announced that it will follow the same route.
But what must be kept in mind is that, in 1991, the ECUSA officially barred homosexual couples from having sexual relations:
“..the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirms that the teaching of the Episcopal Church is that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous ‘union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind’ ‘intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord’ as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer” [link]
And the 1930 Lambeth Conference addressed the subject, as well:
“[The Conference] reaffirms ‘as our Lord’s principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard.'” [from Resolution 11]
So, if openness to life is not required in marriage (which the acceptance of contraception would seem to indicate), then why are same-sex couples in the ECUSA mandated to practice sexual abstinence? And if it is required, then why are contraception and homosexual relationships now endorsed?
And I must say that I find it laughable (but not at all surprising) that Anglicanism, which was founded by a king that just wanted a few divorces, is so inconsistent on the subject of divorce, too. Its leaders have taught that marriage is to be a “life-long union” (Resolution 114 of the 1958 LC) and “no husband or wife has the right to contemplate even legal separation until every opportunity of reconciliation and forgiveness has been exhausted” (Resolution 116 of the 1958 LC), yet divorce and “remarriage” are now totally accepted.
The Anglican positions on marriage and sexuality are nonsensical. Would not God’s true Church be more consistent? If Anglicans really want to “secure a better education for the clergy in moral theology” (Resolution 12 of the 1930 LC), then they should tell them to become Catholic.
“For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.” – St. Theophilus of Antioch, to Autolycus (Book 2, Chapter 27) [link]
Are we still under a Law? Yes. However, we are not under the Mosaic one.
The Mosaic Law worked for a while, but ceased to be the best option after the “time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10). At this time, Christ came to redeem humanity (Hebrews 9:15) and to universalize the Law and open it up to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28, Romans 11:11), which He could have done within Judaism if the Jewish leaders had not rejected Him (He is “the stone which the builders rejected” – Mark 12:10). Due to His work, we are now under “a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6).
None of this means that we are now apart from a Law.
Christ commanded us to “treat people the same way [we] want them to treat [us], for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). He said to do something, and then gave as His reason that it is the intent of the Law. He also positively referenced the Law in Luke 10:25-28. A lawyer asked what is required to “inherit eternal life,” and Christ asked the man to look to the Law. The lawyer said that the Law commands us to “love [Him] with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] strength, and with all [our] mind; and [our] neighbor as [ourself].” Christ replied, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
In Mark 10, a wealthy man asks Christ what is required to reach Heaven, and Christ cites the Ten Commandments (v. 17-19). The man says that he already observes them, but Christ corrects him and cleverly makes the point that the man must practice charity, which the man, unfortunately, refuses (v. 20-22). Christ was not adding anything new to the Law, but was getting at the intent of it — charity was already commanded in the Old Testament (Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 21:13, Sirach 29:8-13)!
Paul realized that, because a man “hung on a tree” (here, “tree” would equal a wooden cross) is cursed according to the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) and Christ most certainly did not deserve to be cursed, at least some parts of it are no longer binding. Christ both took upon Himself the penalties for sins committed under the Mosaic Law and opened “the blessing of Abraham” and “the promise of the Spirit” up to the Gentiles (Galatians 3:13-14).
Paul did not, however, reject the necessity of good works. When Paul denounces “works of the Law,” he is referring to things such as ritual circumcision. Passages like Romans 3:27-30 and Galatians 3:27-29, which are surrounded by statements that seem to advocate “faith alone,” are key to understanding Paul’s thoughts. Paul placed emphasis on the facts that Jews and Gentiles 1) serve the same God, 2) share a common heritage, and 3) are judged by the same general standards — we are all “one in Christ Jesus”. That is partially why he so strongly insisted on the universality of Christ, the importance of faith, and the worthlessness of divisive cultural practices (e.g. circumcision).
Does the existence of a Law always “nullify the grace of God” or mean that “Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21)? Absolutely not. First, it makes His grace remarkably plain. If He did not provide us with a path to redemption and salvation, then His justice would demand our damnation. To provide us with a Law is merciful of Him. Second, it is still only through Christ that anyone can attain salvation. “[N]o one comes to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6).
Truly, “what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19) and “unless [our] righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
This all undermines the idea that we are not bound by a Law. The Law will not fail (Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17). We are still under a Law, minus Mosaic cultural practices. “[H]e who does the will of [God]” will reach Heaven (Matthew 7:21), and God will say, “Depart from me,” to those who “practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” – Romans 3:31
(All verses are from the NASB translation, except for the passage from Sirach, which is from the RSV translation.)
The Lutheran Small Catechism with Explanation (ESV) provides a classic Protestant look at ecclesiology (how one views the Church), but I find it very unconvincing and full of problems. My conclusion is that the Lutheran alternative does not seem plausible, and it most certainly can not disprove the claims of the Church.
1. Under the question, “What is the holy Christian church?”, it answers:
“The holy Christian church is the communion of saints, the total number of those who believe in Christ. All believers in Christ, but only believers, are members of the church (invisible church).”
This is sort of true, but what if someone has faith and still intentionally separates themself from the Church by heresy? For example, are Arians members of the Church? They believe in Christ. Are Mormons also members of the Church? What about Jehovah’s Witnesses? This kind of vague, “invisible” membership leads to all sorts of problems, and it leads to the loss of absolute truth. (See the very varied views of Protestants.)
A single institutional Church is necessary, because some doctrines are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16) and they need to be consistently preserved and articulated.
2. Under the question, “Why do you say ‘I believe’ in the church?”, it answers:
“A. Because faith, which makes people members of the church, is invisible, the church is invisible to human eyes.
B. The Scriptures assure us that the Holy Spirit continues to gather and preserve the church.”
On the second part of this answer, I have no complaints. The Holy Spirit certainly does guide the Church. However, on the first point, it cites Luke 17:20-21 and 2 Timothy 2:19 for support, taking both passages out of context. The first passage actually refers to the “end times” and people wondering about when they will be and what they will entail, and this is made clear by the rest of the chapter. The second passage simply points out that, despite heresy being almost everywhere, “the firm foundation of God stands” and “the Lord knows those who are His”.
The Church is not invisible.
3. This Lutheran Catechism also makes the points that the Church’s “one and only head is Christ” and the Church “belongs to Christ and is built on Him alone”, but this is misleading and an intentional jab at the Church.
Christ is the now-invisible head of the Church, in that He fills Her with grace and protects Her from grave error, but the Church must have a visible head to represent Him: the Vicar (representative) of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter — the Pope.
It is true that only Christ could lay the foundation for His Church (1 Corinthians 3:11) and that He is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), and the Church absolutely recognizes this. He laid the foundation when He appointed Peter as the visible head of the Church (Matthew 16:18-19) and He is still the cornerstone — without Christ, the Church would crumble.
Because only Christ can lay the foundation of a Church, Martin Luther had no authority to start his own sect — unless, of course, there is some sort of evidence that definitively shows that Christ transferred His authority to him. Naturally, this evidence does not exist.
Also, remember that not everyone is “called” to Church leadership (Hebrews 5:1-4).
4. Additionally, this Catechism teaches that “the holy Christian church is to be found where ‘the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered’ (Augsburg Confession VII 1)”.
I absolutely agree with this point, because only an organization that distributes the sacraments is a “Church” in the proper sense, though it may not be in communion with the Church. “Christ’s Spirit uses [them] as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #819)
However, even after taking this into account, I also realize that the Lutheran understanding of both the Gospel and the sacraments is distorted.
Lutherans typically believe that there are only two sacraments (Baptism and Communion). Catholics, meanwhile, recognize a total of seven: Baptism, Communion (the Eucharist), Confession (Penance), Confirmation (or Chrismation), Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. Lutherans usually think of these other five as rites that do not necessarily contain God’s grace, but are still historically practiced.
Just one example of the Lutheran sacramental problem is that they hold to sacramental union (Christ is “in, with, and under” the bread and wine), while the Church holds to transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the literal Body and Blood of Christ), which is the traditional view. The Lutheran departure from the historical view seems to reveal “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words” (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Is their emphasis here more important than unity?
Meanwhile, Lutherans also debate over whether or not Confession is a sacrament. Martin Luther said one thing, but the official Defense of the Augsburg Confession says another.
“Nevertheless, it has seemed best to restrict the name of sacrament to such promises as have signs attached to them. The remainder, not being bound to signs, are bare promises. Hence there are, strictly speaking, but two sacraments in the Church of God – baptism and bread; for only in these two do we find both the divinely instituted sign and the promise of forgiveness of sins.” – Martin Luther [link]
“If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God’s command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament.” – Article XIII of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession [link]
With disagreements over the fundamental natures of the sacraments and their generally invalid claims to apostolic succession (which is necessary for the validity of the sacraments), Lutherans do not have a “Church” in the proper sense.
5. Protestant ecclesiology has wrecked the doctrinal and visible unity that God demands.
In Galatians 5:16-21, St. Paul condemns “dissensions” and “factions” as “deeds of the flesh” that will result in the causers “not inherit[ing] the kingdom of God,” and in Romans 16:17, he teaches that Christians should “turn away from” them. Protestants have, unfortunately, disobeyed this command.
Unity is Christ’s prayer for us (John 17:11), so let us become unified again, visibly and invisibly.
“Since Christ suffered for the Church and since the Church is the body of Christ, without doubt the person who divides the Church is convicted of lacerating the body of Christ.” – Council of Florence, Session 9 (23 March 1440) [link]
(All verses are from the NASB translation.)