A Brief Evaluation of Roman Catholic Theology

Fred Moritz1

Bible believers should study Roman Catholic theology for several reasons. Numerically, Rome claims a significant Catholic population. The Pontifical Yearbook states that Catholicism claimed 1 billion, 214 million communicants around the world in 2013.2 In 2010 there were 63.4 million Catholics in the United States.3

Theologically, Rome claims to be the true church, deriving her authority in a direct line from Christ and the apostles. The Pope makes his pronouncements based on his apostolic authority. In the Apostolic Constitution of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II stated: “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”4

It stands to reason that we must be familiar with the teachings of the Catholic Church as we minister to people who have embraced that teaching to one degree or another. We willingly assume several responsi¬bilities as we undertake this evaluation.

We will study aspects of Catholic theology with which we strenuously disagree. We must be objective, biblical, com¬pas¬sionate, and non-pejorative as we seek to connect with Roman Catholics. Major differences exist between those who embrace the position of sola scriptura and those who do not. We must be objective and true to Scripture, and we must not approach our relationship with Roman Catholics with a bigoted attitude. It is incumbent upon us that we exhibit the spirit of Jude 22, 23. Because a person is Catholic does not mean he or she has accepted all Catholic teaching.

We must approach this study with some biblical and historical perspective. God communicated His Word to the world through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles (Heb 2:1-4). False prophets arose in the Old Testament era, and God gave Israel the means by which they could be identified and rejected (Dt 13:1-5; 18:15-23). False teachers arose in the New Testament, and God gave the early churches warning and means by which they were to be identified and rejected (e.g., 1 Tim 4; 2 Tim 3; 2 Pet 2; Jude). False teachings continued to arise after the age of the apostles and the close of the canon of Scripture. The false teaching of baptismal regeneration appeared in the first hundred years after the apostolic era. The practice of infant baptism was affirmed at the Council of Carthage in 252 AD. We contend that the Roman Church as it exists today is an amalgam of biblical doctrine and false teachings.

Agreement Between Roman Catholic Theology
and New Testament Faith

At the outset we must understand that certain major doctrines are common among Catholics and Bible-believing Christians. To be completely fair to Catholicism, much of the following will be taken from Catholic documents.

Historic Orthodox Christianity

“Part One—The Profession of Faith” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church develops Catholic doctrine in accordance with the statements of the Apostle’s Creed.5 One author states:

The Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed and defended great doctrines of Christian orthodoxy: biblical theism, the trinity, basic teaching about the person and work of Jesus Christ, his virgin conception, the union of his person of the divine and human nature, the objectively sacrificial character of his death, his bodily resurrection, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and his second coming into this world.6

The Persons of God and Christ

The Catholic Church teaches that there is but one God, who is infinite in knowledge, in power, in goodness, and in every other perfection; who created all things by His omnipotence, and governs them by His Providence.

In this one God there are three distinct Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who are perfectly equal to each other.

We believe that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is perfect God and perfect Man. He is God, for He “is over all things, God blessed forever.” “He is God of the substance of the Father, begotten before time; and He is Man of the substance of His Mother, born in time.”

Out of love for us, and in order to rescue us from the miseries entailed upon us by the disobedience of our first parents, the Divine Word descended from heaven, and became Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost. He was born on Christmas day, in a stable at Bethlehem.

After having led a life of obscurity for about thirty years, chiefly at Nazareth, He commenced His public career. He associated with Him a number of men who are named Apostles, whom He instructed in the doctrines of the religion which He established.

For three years He went about doing good, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healing all kinds of diseases, raising the dead to life, and preaching throughout Judea the new Gospel of peace.

On Good Friday He was crucified on Mount Calvary, and thus purchased for us redemption by His death. Hence Jesus exclusively bears the titles of Savior and Redeemer, because “there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.”7

The Resurrection of Christ

426 “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father . . . who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him.” Catechesis aims at putting “people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”

639 The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56 St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. . .” The Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus.

The Inspiration of Scripture

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.

107 The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.9

As Bible-believing Baptists, we hold that the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice. Richard V. Clearwaters used to say that there is more disagreement between Bible-believing Baptists and Roman Catholics over practice than there is over faith. We have some profound differences over faith, but we must acknowledge that there are areas of agreement.

Distinctive Tenets of
Roman Catholic Theology10

The Issue of Authority

Roman Catholic theology adds tradition and the authority of the church to the authority of Scripture. The Second Vatican Council stated this without equivocation. We must cite three lengthy passages, for we need to clearly see Rome’s teaching.

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.” This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2) [emphasis mine].11

The Vatican II statement makes clear this distinction between tradition and Scripture. It continues:

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end . . . Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.12

Vatican II leaves no question about the issue of her authority. Chapter II, “Handing On Divine Revelation,” concludes with this statement:

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.13

Rome’s position is that the Scriptures, tradition, and the teaching authority of the church combine to give God’s revelation to men and provide for man’s salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church further elaborates on these statements.

80 Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.”

81 Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.

82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.14

The Catechism also describes the “Magisterium” or the teaching authority of the church.

85 The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

88 The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.15

These three sources of authority comprise a “tripod” upon which Rome rests her authority. Note the quotation from Vatican II (n.12).

The Doctrine of the Church

Rome’s doctrine of the church is central to her claims. The church builds its doctrine of the church around the words “one,” “holy,” “catholic,” and “apostolic.” This arrangement of Catholic ecclesiology may be found in the Catechism, the promulgations of Pope Paul VI in Vatican II, and in many other Catholic documents. We will not take the time to examine each of these points.

Rome claims to be the true church by virtue of apostolic succession. The church claims to be the source of salvation.

Coming forth from the eternal Father’s love, founded in time by Christ the Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit, the Church has a saving and an eschatological purpose which can be fully attained only in the future world.16

771 The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.17

This is the foundation of Rome’s view of the sacraments and of the Virgin Mary.

773 In the Church this communion of men with God, in the “love [that] never ends” is the purpose which governs everything in her that is a sacramental means, tied to this passing world.
[The Church’s] structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. And holiness is measured according to the “great mystery” in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom. Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as “the bride without spot or wrinkle.” This is why the “Marian” dimension of the Church precedes the “Petrine.” 18

Rome claims to be the “sacrament” by which God’s saving work in Christ is mediated to the world.

774 The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mystenum and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation, which was indicated by the term mystenum. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: “For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ.” The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call “the holy mysteries”). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a “sacrament.”19

This view of the church and salvation rests on the Catholic claim that she is the one true church.

816 The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salva-tion, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.”20
845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.

Outside the Church there is no salvation.

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.21

A Roman Catholic theologian has added clarification to the statements from the Catechism. He observed that “the sacrament is a symbol that points to or makes present Jesus. The real presence of Christ is effected by the elements. The sacraments are to be viewed as the instruments, not the original source of that grace.”22

The Catechism outlines the claim of apostolic succession. The Catholic Church claims that the bishops and the Pope are the successors of Peter and the apostles.

857 The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways: ― she was and remains built on “the foundation of the Apostles, The witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself”; ― with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the “good deposit,” the salutary words she has heard from the apostles; ― she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor.”23

The Catechism offers only one biblical “proof” for the apostolic succession of the bishops. It is a reference to Acts 20:28 in n. 374. This is apparently because Paul uses the word “overseer” (episkopos) in this verse. The statement reads:

“The bishops ― successors of the apostles”
861 In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.24

The document goes on to affirm that the papacy is of divine origin.

862 Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. Hence the Church teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.25

This is foundational to receiving the forgiveness of sins in the Roman system.

976 The Apostle’s Creed associates faith in the forgiveness of sins not only with faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with faith in the Church and in the communion of saints. It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 26

Rome constitutes herself through the office of the supreme pontiff and the bishops of the church. The Code of Canon Law describes the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Can. 330 Just as by the Lord’s decision Saint Peter and the other Apostles constitute one college, so in a like manner the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, are united among themselves.27

The Holy See is a bureaucracy, but Canon Law delegates final, absolute power to the Supreme Pontiff, stating:

Can. 333 §1. By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only possesses power offer [sic] the universal Church but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power offer [sic] all particular churches and groups of them. Moreover, this primacy strengthens and protects the proper, ordinary, and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care. §2. In fulfilling the office of supreme pastor of the Church, the Roman Pontiff is always joined in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church. He nevertheless has the right, according to the needs of the Church, to determine the manner, whether personal or collegial, of exercising this office. §3. No appeal or recourse is permitted against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff.28

Catholic Teaching on the Sacraments

Rome declares that the church is the mediator of the sacraments and that the church is, in one sense, a sacrament through which the seven sacraments are mediated.29 The basic dictionary definition of “sacrament” is: “in Christianity, a rite that is considered to have been established by Jesus Christ to bring grace to those participating in or receiving it.”30 The Catholic Church defines “sacrament” in a specific way:

1076 The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the “dispensation of the mystery” the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, “until he comes.” In this age of the Church Christ now lives and acts in and with his Church, in a new way appropriate to this new age. He acts through the sacraments in what the common Tradition of the East and the West calls “the sacramental economy”; this is the communication (or “dispensation”) of the fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church’s “sacramental” liturgy.”31

The function of the sacraments in Rome’s system then is that the benefits of Christ’s suffering be communicated by the church through those sacraments. They are the means by which God’s grace is given to the Church members.

1084 Seated at the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Holy Spirit on his Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace. The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.32

The very next paragraph affirms that Christ is present in the liturgy and thus in the sacraments.

1085 In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present.

1113 The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.33

The Catechism is clear in stating that grace and salvation are communicated to those who participate in the sacraments, and that the sacraments are necessary for salvation:

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

1128 This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. “Sacramental grace” is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.34

Catholic theologians arrange the sacraments in an order, with the Eucharist at the very heart of the system. The arrangement is:

Three sacraments of Christian initiation
Sacraments of healing
Sacraments at the service of communion and the mission of the faithful

“In this organic whole, the Eucharist occupies a unique place as the ‘Sacrament of sacraments’: ‘all the other sacraments are ordered to it as to their end.’”35

We will give only a brief description of the Catholic Church’s teaching on each of the sacraments.

1212 The sacraments of Christian initiation ― Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist ― lay the foundations of every Christian life. “The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity.”36

The church affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation and that in the Eucharist the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood.37

The “sacraments of healing” are penance and the anointing of the sick.38 The Catechism speaks of an “interior” penance, and the description of it is akin to the biblical language concerning conversion.39 Penance can also take many other forms in the life of a Catholic.

1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity “which covers a multitude of sins.”

1435 Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.40

1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

What is an indulgence?

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.

An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.

Rome’s teaching on Purgatory is part of church teaching on Penance.

The punishments of sin

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.41

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains.42

Concerning the anointing of the sick, the Catechism teaches:

1499 By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them and indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ. 43

The sacrament of last rites falls under this heading.

1524 In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of “passing over” to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father.

1525 Thus, just as the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a unity called “the sacraments of Christian initiation,” so too it can be said that Penance, the Anointing of the Sick and the Eucharist as viaticum constitute at the end of Christian life “the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland” or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage.44

The Catechism ends its discussion of the sacraments with a discussion of holy orders and matrimony.

1533 Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist are sacraments of Christian initiation. They ground the common vocation of all Christ’s disciples, a vocation to holiness and to the mission of evangelizing the world. They confer the graces needed for the life according to the Spirit during this life as pilgrims on the march towards the homeland.

1534 Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.

1535 Through these sacraments those already consecrated by Baptism and Confirmation for the common priesthood of all the faithful can receive particular consecrations. Those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name “to feed the Church by the word and grace of God.” On their part, “Christian spouses are fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament.” 45

Catholic Teaching on Mary

The Catholic Church teaches the immaculate conception of Mary – the tenet that she was born without sin. “It is no wonder therefore that the usage prevailed among the Fathers whereby they called the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.”46 The Catechism teaches that Mary was redeemed at birth and free of sin throughout her life.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

492 The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.”

493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.” By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.

Rome also teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary. 47

499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin.”

500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary [emphasis mine]. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.

501 Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother’s love.” 48

Rome teaches the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” – that Mary was taken up to heaven without seeing death. She participated, in a subordinate way, in our salvation.

966 Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death” . . . she is our Mother in the order of grace.49

The term “Coredemptrix” has been used in describing Mary’s role. Apparently this is not an officially sanctioned term in Catholic theology, but it does represent the concept. Catholic theologians further explain what they mean by Mary’s role in salvation.

That is all that statement about Mary is saying. Mary had a role, a contribution in filling what was lacking in us, the Church. It’s a very biblical statement.

Jesus Christ as true God and true man redeems the human family, while Mary as Coredemptrix participates with the Redeemer in his one perfect Sacrifice in a completely subordinate and dependent way. The key word here is “participation” in that which is exclusively true of Jesus Christ. The title “Coredemptrix” never puts Mary on a level of equality with our Lord; rather, it refers to Mary’s unique and intimate participation with her divine Son in the work of redemption. “Coredemptrix” is a Latin word; the prefix “co” in the title, “Coredemptrix,” derives from the Latin word “cum,” which means “with,” not “equal to.” Mary’s sufferings are efficacious towards the redemption of man because they are wholly rooted in the redemptive graces of Christ and are perfectly united to His redeeming will. Similarly, as Mediatrix, the Mother of Jesus does not “rival” Christ’s mediation but rather participates in the one mediation of Jesus Christ. Imagine water from a reservoir reaching the people through a system of aqueducts or channels. By analogy, Jesus is the infinite “reservoir” of all grace, which is distributed to us through Mary . . . as she gave birth to Jesus. Jesus, the one mediator, does not exclude secondary, subordinate mediators.50

It is easy to see how the term “Coredemptrix” comes into usage in Catholic theology. The Catechism further states:

968 Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. “In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace”

969 This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. 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. 51

Mary is worthy of special devotion from the faithful.

971 “All generations will call me blessed”: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church rightly honors “the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of “Mother of God,” to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.52

Prayer to the Saints

Rome also teaches that Catholics should pray to the saints.

2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.53

Veneration of Images

Rome also teaches the veneration of images. The church strives to distinguish between worship that is due God alone and a secondary adoration of the images. The Catechism states:

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.54

The Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes the church’s teaching on this subject:

As an example of contemporary Catholic teaching on this subject one could hardly quote anything better expressed than the “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” used in England by command of the Catholic bishops. In four points, this book sums up the whole Catholic position exactly:

It is forbidden to give divine honor or worship to the angels and saints for this belongs to God alone.

We should pay to the angels and saints an inferior honor or worship, for this is due to them as the servants and special friends of God.

We should give to relics, crucifixes and holy pictures a relative honor, as they relate to Christ and his saints and are memorials of them.

We do not pray to relics or images, for they can neither see nor hear nor help us.55

Justification and Merit

It is important to understand the Catholic teaching on Justification. We have seen that the Catholic Church claims to be the mediator of salvation to mankind. We have also seen the church teaching that the sacraments convey salvation. These concepts combine in the Catholic statements on Justification. People are justified by faith in Christ and baptism.

1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism.56

1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.57

2020 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy.58

This teaching on Justification is a long-standing position of the church. “Perhaps the clearest and most systematic exposition of the Catholic theology of justification is that provided by the council of Trent in its sixth session and approved on January 13, 1547.”59

The idea of merit figures into Catholic reasoning at this point.

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.60

Conclusion

We must remember that there are areas of agreement between Catholic doctrine and orthodox, traditional Christianity. It is also clear that Rome has added much to those biblical teachings.

We view those additions as errors when they are judged by the standard of revealed Scripture. We evaluate Catholic doctrine by the same standard as we would evaluate any other group’s doctrine – the standard of the authoritative Word of God.

It seems to this writer that Roman Catholic theology is built on two fundamental errors. The first error is adding the authorities of tradition and the teaching authority of the church to the authority of Scripture. The second error is the building of the church’s authority on the biblically unsustainable foundation of apostolic succession. Our fundamental disagreement with Rome is over the issue of authority. Is the Word of God alone the authority, or is Scripture, tradition, and the magisterium the standard?

Other errors grow out of these two. Among them are the Roman Catholic views of the church as a sacrament, sacraments as means of grace, baptismal regeneration, infused justification rather than forensic justification, and merit as affecting salvation.

By your life and testimony, earn the right to witness to Catholic friends. Ask about the Catholic’s assurance of salvation. A question to ask many unsaved friends of different faiths is: “Do you know for sure you would go to Heaven?” As in all witnessing, depend on the Holy Spirit to do His work of conviction (Jn 16:7-11).


[1] Dr. Fred Moritz is Professor of Systematic Theology at Maranatha Baptist Seminary.

[2] http://visnews-en.blogspot.com/2013/05/presentation-of-pontifical-yearbook-2013.html. Accessed 21 June, 2013.

[3] http://www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/u-s-catholics -key-data-from-pew-research/. Accessed 21 June, 2013.

[4] http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/aposcons.htm.

[5] http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/apostles_creed.html.

[6] Robin Keeley, ed., Eerdman’s Handbook to Christian Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 433.

[7] James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1980 reprint of 1876 publication), 1, 2. Gibbons was Archbishop of Baltimore. The book went through eighty-three editions through 1917. Note that Gibbons says nothing of the resurrection of Christ in this statement. The next citation from the Catechism explains the Catholic position on Christ’s resurrection.

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, accessed at http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p122a5p2.htm. Paragraph num-bers are part of the official text and give uniform access to the statements. The Catechism is also available at www.vatican.va.

[9] Ibid. The very next paragraph is a radical departure from orthodox faith, and we will discuss that issue shortly. Paragraph 120 also affirms 46 books in the Old Testament, thus embracing the Apocrypha as Scripture.

[10] Much of this discussion may be found in a simple, readable form in Joe Poweziak, Teachings of the Catholic Church – Questions & Biblical Answers, (Self-published, 2007). Available from Regular Baptist Press. Poweziak is a former Catholic, and this book is a good tool to use in presenting the gospel to Catholics.

[11] “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation DEI VERBUM Solemnly Promulgated By His Holiness Pope Paul VI November 18, 1965” (Rome: Vatican Web Site, http://www.vatican.va.), Chapter II, 7.

[12] Ibid., Chapter II, 9. Emphasis mine.

[13] Ibid., Chapter II, 10.

[14] Catechism.

[15] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[16] “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World GAUDIUM ET SPES, Promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965,” http://www.vatican.va, IV. 40.

[17] Catechism.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Personal interview with Michael Tkacik, July 30, 2014. Dr. Tkacik serves as Secretary for Pastoral Ministries for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida. He holds a Ph.D. from Duquesne University and has taught Catholic theology for twenty years.

[23] Catechism.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Code of Canon Law, Part II. Section I. Chapter I. Article 1. THE ROMAN PONTIFF AND THE COLLEGE OF BISHOPS,” http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P15.HTM.

[28] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[29] See paragraph 774 of the Catechism, noted above.

[30] Encarta Dictionary.

[31] Catechism. Emphasis mine.

[32] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[35] Ibid., 1211.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., 1257, 1333.

[38] Ibid., 1421.

[39] Ibid., 1431.

[40] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[41] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church LUMEN GENTIUM Solemnly Promulgated By His Holiness Pope Paul VI November 21, 1964,” (Rome: Vatican Web Site, http://www.vatican.va.), VIII. 56.

[47] Catechism.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Catechism,” http://www.vatican.va/archive/eng0015/__ p2c.htm. Emphasis mine.

[50] http://www.catholicsource.net/articles/coredemptrix.html Newsweek ran an article in the August 25, 1997, issue about a new movement within the Catholic Church. Millions of Catholics signed and submitted a petition to Pope John Paul II in an effort to name Mary, the Mother of our Lord, as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate for all Christians.

[51] Catechism.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] The Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/ cathen/07664a.htm.

[56] Catechism.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Gerald O’Collins, S.J., and Oliver P. Rafferty, S.J. “Roman Catholic View” in James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, eds., Justification, Five Views (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 265.

[60] Ibid. Emphasis mine.