A Note of Introduction: In its first part, this article employs the use of some fundamental concepts of logic, the art and science of correct reasoning. As an aid to the reader, there is a miniscule glossary of philosophical terms at the end of this article entitled: “A Little Logic.” The words which appear in bold print can be found explained in that glossary.
All Christian denominations seem to contradict Scripture in one or more of their foundational beliefs and/or practices. Lutheranism denies that meritorious good works are necessary (or even possible!), whereas Jesus taught that they are required for salvation (Mt. 25). Calvinism denies free will, while the basic Biblical precepts of avoiding evil and doing good assume that we have freedom to do so. All Protestants reject the Mass, making the “Lord’s Supper” a mere commemoration. This they justify with Our Lord’s words: “Do this in memory of me”; yet they ignore that when Jesus said do this, He was referring to His own changing of bread into His Body (Luke 22:19).
Of course, when it comes to accusing others of contradicting Holy Scripture, it is generally the Protestants who point their fingers at the Catholics. Using their principle of Sola Scriptura (the “Bible only” as a valid source for inspired truth), they generally accuse us of contradicting the Bible with our “traditions of men.” Are we among those who seem to contradict the Scriptures? The answer is Yes; some of our beliefs do seem to contradict certain passages in Holy Scripture. The operative word is “seem.” There is an appearance of contradiction, but an appearance only. Sometimes appearances can be deceptive. (Jesus appeared to be a mere man, especially in His Passion, yet He was — and is — God. Scripture says, “Judge not according to the appearance: but judge just judgment” [John 7:24].)
While we respect the literal sense of Holy Scripture, Catholics 1 do not give a Fundamentalist, knee-jerk reaction to the proposition that Holy Scripture often employs figures of speech in order to convey the truth. In the matter of religious truth, what concerns a Catholic is what the Church of Jesus Christ teaches. She and She alone is the “pillar and ground of the truth” spoken of by St. Paul the Apostle (1 Tim. 3:15). She alone has the mandate from the Son of God to teach all nations. Hence it follows that She has the unique authority to teach the proper interpretation of the truths contained in the Bible. The Fathers of the Church, the very ones who passed down a great love and reverence for Holy Scripture, teach us this. (See the side bar, Church Fathers and the Rule of Faith .)
One claim often made by “conservative” Protestants 2 is that the Immaculate Conception is contradicted by Scripture: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 23:3). Citing “call no man your Father” (Mt. 23:9), they also claim that the Catholic custom of calling priests “Father” is condemned in the Bible. We address these two objections in one article, not because they are doctrinally related, but because they are logically related, both appearing to be, “universal propositions .”
As we address these claims, one principle should become obvious: If Sacred Scripture really teaches us truth from God, then, for those pas sa ges where it either apparently contradicts itself, or merely employs figures of speech, there must be some objective rule against which it is to be measured. The necessity of such a rule will do two things: (1) prove the Catholic concepts of Apostolic Tradition and an infallible teaching Church and, consequently, (2) refute Protestant Sola Scriptura.
The first passage we will address is what is alleged against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. This is “the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” (Ineffabilis Deus , the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854). In short, Mary was, with Her Son, the exception to an otherwise general rule that all Adam’s children inherit original sin. Positive proofs for this dogma are found in Holy Scripture (notably, in Genesis 3:15, Luke 1:28; Apocalypse 12:16), Apostolic Tradition, and right reason. Here, we are simply refuting an objection, not stopping to develop positive proofs.
St. Paul wrote, in Romans 3:23, “For all [humans] have sinned and do need the glory of God” (Douay Rheims Version — DRV. The King James Version [KJV] is the same until ” . . . and come short of the glory of God.”) This statement appears to be a universal affirmative . It affirms that every human has sinned. (In context, it divides humanity into two categories: Jews and Gentiles. All these — Jews and Gentiles — have sinned.) If we were to exercise formal logic, the Protestant position would be spelled out in the following syllogism :
All humans have sinned.
Mary is a human.
Therefore, Mary has sinned. 3
This would be a valid syllogism , according to the rules of formal logic, if the terms used were completely unambiguous. However, if the first sentence ( the major premise ) admits of some kind of exception, then the syllogism is no help in establishing truth. In other words, if “all” is not really “all,” then the syllogism is useless since, for validity, at least one proposition of a syllogism has to be universal.
It is certain that that same chapter of Romans (Chapter three) contains another apparently universal proposition that is contradictory of Biblical truth, if understood as having no exceptions: “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). St. Paul is quoting King David’s Psalm 13 (14, in KJV). If the passage is literally true, then no men seek God. However, elsewhere St. Paul says that we were made to seek God (Acts 17:27). And David himself says, “In the days of my trouble I sought God” (Ps. 76: 3). [The KJV has: “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord ” (Ps. 76: 2).] So, here, King David is an exception to his own rule. And this Psalm-with-exceptions is found in the very same chapter of Romans cited as an objection to Our Lady’s sinlessness.
There are sections of Holy Scripture in which, literally to understand “all” as “all” would lead one to an absurdity. Take, for instance, this passage from First Corinthians (9:22): “I became all things to all men, that I might save all.” (The KJV has: am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”) Were we to put this passage through the same logical rigors, we would come up with a virtual infinity of absurdities. Witness:
St. Paul became all things to all men.
A sword is a thing.
St. Paul became a sword to all men.
St. Paul became a sword to all men.
Eroll Flynn was a man.
St. Paul became a sword to Eroll Flynn.
The above is known in logic as a polysyllogism (two or more syllogisms stuck together). This is a valid polysyllogism if the term “all” really means “all” in the literal, universal sense, each time it appears in the initial major premise. However, as the final conclusion is an absurdity, the word “all” cannot have that universal meaning.
There are other passages in Holy Scripture, in which this same “all” problem occurs. Here are some of them:
1 Cor. 6:12: All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (DRV)
KJV: All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
St. Paul repeats the same thing in Chapter 10:22-23, of the same Epistle. If all things were lawful for St. Paul, then adultery would be lawful for him. This, naturally, contradicts the words of St. John the Baptist to Herod: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18)
It also contradicts St. Paul’s own injunction that adulterers do not inherit the kingdom of Heaven (1 Cor. 6:9).
1 Cor. 13:7: [Charity] believeth all things. (exactly the same in DRV and KJV)
If those with the virtue of charity literally “believe all things,” that would lead to the absurdity that a good Christian would have to believe Unitarianism (a thing) and Catholicism (another thing). This would involve a contradiction and, more seriously, a blasphemy against the Spirit of Charity, Who is also the Spirit of Truth, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Col. 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (KJV).
If children were to obey sinful commandments of their parents, such would not be well pleasing to the Lord. Jesus Himself said “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37).
Acts 1:1: The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach. (DRV)
KJV: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.
St. Luke is referring to his Gospel, the “former treatise,” which he wrote prior to Acts. But the “most dear physician” (Col. 4:14) clearly did not literally treat of “all things” Jesus said and did. The other evangelists supply words and deeds of Our Lord that were left out by St. Luke’s Gospel. And St. John said, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written” (Jn. 21:25).
Problem / Solution
The point has been made. Endlessly multiplying examples would be useless. If “all” does not exclude exceptions in every instance, then how do we know when it does? Who has the authority to say when it is universal and when it is not? If every believer has the authority of private interpretation over the Scriptures, then chaos results (witness the doctrinal disunity in Protestantism: every man his own pope). Further, if those who claim to have the authority to interpret are not infallible, then their teachings are uncertain and can be replaced when the next generation comes in (Protestantism again, with its constant evolution).
There is only one hierarchy to which these words truly apply:
He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me. (Luke 10:16)
Only God’s infallible Church, the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) has the authority to teach man the truths of Divine Revelation without error. Since there is no other Church but the Catholic Church which even claims to exercise this kind of inerrant dogmatic authority, then none other is even a valid candidate for the office. The Church of Rome wins by default.
We still have to consider the passage often quoted against the Catholic practice of calling priests “Father.”
And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ. (Mt. 23:9-10)
There are various ways we can prove that Catholics do not disobey these words when we call priests “Father.” Since we have committed ourselves to studying this question from the logical framework explained above, we begin by considering whether the statement is a “universal negative .”
The same reasoning applies here as did with “all have sinned”: Does “no man” really mean “not any man at all” in a universal sense? If so, then the Catholic practice is evil, and the Protestants are right. If not, then the Protestant objection is silly.
Sometimes “no man” is clearly universal, as in the case of the woman taken in adultery whom “no man” condemned (John 8:10-11). Otherwise, she would have been stoned. But is it always universal? In St. Matthew’s Gospel (22:46), after Jesus confounds both Sadducees and Pharisees, the evangelist tells us: “And no man was able to answer him a word; neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” We took the trouble to look up the same passage in several Protestant Bibles, to see what they have in that passage:
KJV: And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
NIV: No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
NASB: No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.
RSV: And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions.
All the translations convey the same exact meaning; the passage certainly appears to have two universal negatives:
- No man could answer Him, and
- No man asked Him any more questions.
Now, if the passage is true in its literal sense, then absolutely nobody asked Our Lord any more questions from that day onward. However, there is a problem with this, as several questions were asked of Our Lord after that incident. The following passages, all taken from the same Gospel, clearly took place after the instance related in Matthew 22:
And when he was sitting on mount Olivet, the disciples came to him privately, saying: Tell us when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the consummation of the world? (24:3)
And on the first day of the Azymes, the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch? (26:17)
And they being very much troubled began every one to say: Is it I, Lord? (26:22)
And Judas that betrayed him answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? (26:25)
And the high priest rising up, said to him: Answerest thou nothing to the things which these witness against thee? (26:62)
Prophesy unto us, O Christ. Who is he that struck thee? (26:68)
And Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, saying: Art thou the king of the Jews? (27:11)
Then Pilate saith to him: Dost not thou hear how great testimonies they allege against thee? (27:13)
So, it appears that some men did ask Jesus questions after “that day.” Unless we are to believe that St. Matthew was inaccurate, then the expression, “neither durst any man…” must have been used figuratively, or in a sense limited to a set period of time. Certainly, the expression was not intended to be universal. And neither was “call no man your father” intended to be universal.
We can also note that the passage in question not only prohibits the calling of a man father, but goes on to say, in the next verse (10):
Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ. (DRV. KJV is exactly the same until ‘ . . . even Christ.’)
Now, if this is a universal prohibition, St. Paul was guilty of a transgression when he said:
Masters, do to your servants that which is just and equal: knowing that you also have a master in heaven. (Col. 4:1 DRV. KJV: ‘Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.’)
Our Lord would have also been guilty for calling Nicodemus a “master in Israel” (Jn. 3:10).
Our modern word “mister” is actually an alteration of the word “master.” ( Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary attests to this fact.) To be consistent, the non-Catholic would have to forbid calling any man “mister” as well.
The same can be said of the word “Rabbi” in the preceding verse of the same passage:
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. (Mt. 23:8)
St. John tells us that “Rabbi” means “teacher,” or “master” (Jn. 1:38. Old translations have “master”; new ones have “teacher”). Matthew 22:8 would, therefore, forbid anyone to be called teacher, yet St. Paul calls himself a teacher (1 Tim. 2:7) and says that Christ appointed some to be teachers (or “doctors”) in the Church (Eph. 4:11). “Doctor” literally means “teacher.”
Common sense tells us that if one reads the passage in the most literal way, it forbids the calling of any man at all by the title “father.” Thus, a strictly literal reading would absolutely forbid calling one’s male parent “father.” In arguments about this, I have asked Fundamentalists, “What do you call your male parent?” Most will admit that this is an exception. In this case, they have interpreted the passage to mean something other than what it literally says. Therefore, they lose the argument. But one man claimed that even his male parent was no exception. For this reason, he only called him “Dad.” I asked the fellow if he ever had to fill out a form for a bank or state agency. When he said he had, I queried him on whether he filled out the blank marked, “Father’s name.” He somewhat angrily admitted that he did, showing by his reaction that he knew very well his argument was fraudulent.
Lesser Spiritual Fatherhood
Another argument to defend the Catholic practice is that Holy Scripture shows Jesus and His early followers engaged in it, indicating a spiritual fatherhood of certain men.
Our Lord referred to Abraham as “our father” (Jn. 8:56), and so did St. Paul (Rom. 4:12). That same Apostle also called Isaac “our father” (Rom. 9:10).
St. Stephen, in his martyrdom-meriting sermon before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), begins thus: “Ye men, brethren, and fathers, hear.” In the course of the sermon, he applies the word “fathers” to the faithful of the Old Dispensation eleven times. He also refers to Abraham as “our Father Abraham.”
St. Paul refers to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:18) and Titus (Titus 1:4), respectively, as his “son” and “child.”
St. Peter called St. Mark his “son” (1 Pet. 5:13).
To the Corinthians, St. Paul explicitly affirms that he is their father:
I write not these things to confound you: but I admonish you as my dearest children. For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you. (1 Cor. 4:15)
In this passage, the Catholic concept of “spiritual fatherhood” is clearly contained. As their Apostle, St. Paul had fed the Corinthians with the Sacraments of life. They were, therefore, his children and he their father.
To these arguments, some have responded that there was a question of biological parentage. This is true in some cases but misses the point. If the objection is that “no man” can be called father, then there is an exception, and the “no exceptions” rule is broken. More to the point, however, is this: St. Peter was not St. Mark’s biological father; neither were Sts. Titus and Timothy fleshly offspring of St. Paul; and St. Stephen was most definitely not the natural son of the entire Sanhedrin!
In his epistle to the Galatians (3:28-29), St. Paul writes that those who are Christ’s — both Jews and Gentiles — are the “seed of Abraham.” This gives Abraham a spiritual fatherhood over even those who are not his descendants by blood. Conversely, Our Lord denied that Abraham was the father of the unbelieving Jews of His day. He said that their father was the devil (see Jn. 8:38-44). It is, then, a Biblical concept, that there is a spiritual fatherhood of lesser dignity than the Fatherhood of God.
What Does it Mean?
A fair and honest question of a non-Catholic would be this: “Well, what does Our Lord mean when He says to call no man father?” The answer in the footnotes of the Douay-Rheims Bible is a good one:
Call none your father — Neither be ye called masters, etc . The meaning is that our Father in heaven is incomparably more to be regarded, than any father upon earth: and no master to be followed, who would lead us away from Christ. But this does not hinder but that we are by the law of God to have a due respect both for our parents and spiritual fathers, (1 Cor. 4: 15) and for our masters and teachers.
By a sublime spiritual adoption in Christ, the First Person of the Trinity is the Father of the faithful. This points to an infinitely greater reality: that in eternally begetting His Son, He is, by excellence, The Father . All created fatherhood is a pale reflection of the incomprehensible generation of Eternal Wisdom from the Father’s Bosom. St. Paul said, “For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15). Christ Our Lord forbade us to call any man “father” in any sense that would derogate from the supreme paternity of the Eternal Father.
But, as we have seen, St. Paul himself, who “bowed his knees” to the Father, assumed a spiritual paternity of his own.
May the ever-sinless Mary, the Immaculately Conceived Daughter of God the Father, make intercession for all who read these words!
Some fairly painless definitions and explanations which will help in reading this article.
Polysyllogism: An argumentation consisting of two or more syllogisms [see below], logically connected together in such a way that the conclusion of the preceding syllogism becomes the [major] premise of the one following. (Radical Academy) 4
Proposition: A judgment expressed in a sentence.
Reason: Considered as a power, as the mode of intellectualization in this mortal life; it is the mental process of equating two or more judgments in order to form a conclusion. It is a deliberate power that is engaged whenever we formulate a conclusion or opinion by moving from particular judgments to general ones (induction) or from general judgments to particular ones (deduction).
Syllogism: A structured form of argument wherein a conclusion is drawn from the relation established between two premises. This is done by joining or separating in the conclusion the subject and predicate unequated in the premises.
Another definition: An argumentation in which, from two judgments that contain a common idea and one at least of which is universal, a third judgment, distinct from either of the former, follows with necessity. (Radical Academy)
Note: A syllogism is a process of deductive reasoning (see reason, above). Without getting into the various different kinds of syllogisms, let us say that a syllogism looks like this:
No women are priests. (Major Premise )
Ann is a woman. (Minor Premise )
Ann is not a priest. (Conclusion )
Universal Propositions: Propositions [see above] in which the subject is a universal term used distributively to each and all of the class. (Radical Academy)
Note: These propositions can be in the form of a universal affirmative (e.g., “All farmers are strong”) or a universal negative (“No priests are female”).
The Fathers of the Church, who loved Holy Scripture and were the very ones who passed it down to us, give testimony to the fact that the Christian rule of Faith is comprised of Scripture and Tradition, as authentically transmitted to us by the authority of the Catholic Church. Here are some of their testimonies:
[T]hey who are placed without the Church, cannot attain to any understanding of the divine word. For the ship exhibits a type of Church, the word of life placed and preached within which, they who are without, and lie near like barren and useless sands, cannot understand. St. Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew , Homily 13:1 (A.D. 355)
But beyond these [Scriptural] sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. St. Athanasius, Four Letters to Serapion of Thmuis , 1:28 (A.D. 360)
But it will be said, If the words, the sentiments, the promises of Scripture, are appealed to by the Devil and his disciples, of whom some are false apostles, some false prophets and false teachers, and all without exception heretics, what are Catholics and the sons of Mother Church to do? How are they to distinguish truth from falsehood in the sacred Scriptures? They must be very careful to pursue that course which, in the beginning of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitories , 70 (A.D. 434)
See the Cor Unum Apologetic Web Site for more such passages.
1 Real ones, that is. This statement cannot be applied to “Liberal Catholics” who are not Catholics, but belong to another religion.
2 Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and the handful of members of the larger denominations who still cling to some of the foundational tenets of Luther’s Revolt. They “conserve” a larger part of the original heresy.
3 Even to type that conclusion sickened me, since it is so offensive to God. It is prudent and charitable to say that anyone who dies believing it will be damned.
4 Definitions with “Radical Academy” at the end are from: “Glossary of Philosophical Terms ,” Center for Applied Philosophy: The Radical Academy. All others are from the glossary in Brother Francis’ book, Philosophia Perennis, Vol. 1: An Introduction to Philosophy as Wisdom . Sections set off by “Note:” at the end of definitions are additions of Brother André Marie.