By Lorraine Boettner
- Chapter Six – The Papacy
- Chapter Seven - Mary
- Chapter Eight - The Mass
- Chapter Nine - The Confessional
- Chapter Ten - Purgatory
CHAPTER VI The Papacy
1. The Rise of the Papacy
2. The Claims of the Papacy
3. Worldly Character of the Papacy
1 The Rise of the Papacy
Much of what needs to be said in regard to the papacy has already been covered in the discussion dealing with the church, the priesthood, and Peter. But there remain some further points that should be clarified.
The word “pope,” by which the head of the Roman Church is known, and the word “papacy,” by which is meant the system of ecclesiastical government in which the pope is recognized as the supreme head, are not found in the Bible. The word “pope” comes from the Latin papa, meaning “father.” But Jesus forbade his followers to call any man “father” in a spiritual sense: “And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). For centuries this term was applied to all priests, and even to the present day it is so used in the Eastern Church.
In Italy the term “pope” came to be applied to all bishops as a title of honor, and then to the bishop of Rome exclusively as the universal bishop. It was first given to Gregory I by the wicked emperor Phocas, in the year 604. This he did to spite the bishop of Constantinople, who had justly excommunicated him for having caused the assassination of his (Phocas’) predecessor, emperor Mauritius. Gregory, however, refused the title, but his second successor, Boniface III (607) assumed the title, and it has been the designation of the bishops of Rome ever since.
Likewise, the title “pontiff” (as also the term “pontificate,” meaning to speak in a pompous manner), which literally means “bridge builder” (pons, bridge, and facio, make), comes not from the Bible but from pagan Rome, where the emperor, as the high priest of the heathen religion, and in that sense professing to be the bridge or connecting link between this life and the next, was called “Pontifex Maximus.” The title was therefore lifted from paganism and applied to the head of the Roman Catholic Church. As the high priest of the Old Testament was the mediator between God and men, so the pope also claims to be the mediator between God and men, with power over the souls in purgatory so that he can release them from further suffering and admit them to heaven, or prolong their suffering indefinitely.
But Christ alone is the mediator between God and men: “For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). And He alone is the true Head of the church. It was He who founded the church and redeemed it with His own blood. He promised to be with His church always, even unto the end of the world. He alone has the perfect attributes needed to fill that high office, for “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:22‑23). “And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). For the pope or any other man to claim to be the head of the church and the mediator between God and men is arrogant and sinful.
The papal system has been in process of development over a long period of time. Romanists claim an unbroken line of succession from the alleged first pope, Peter, to the present pope, who is said to be the 262nd member in that line. But the list is in many instances quite doubtful. The list has been revised several times, with a considerable number who formerly were listed as popes now listed as anti‑popes. It simply is not true that they can name with certainty all the bishops of Rome from Peter to the present one. A glance at the notices of each of the early popes in the Catholic Encyclopedia will show that they really know little or nothing about the first ten popes. And of the next ten only one is a clearly defined figure in history. The fact of the matter is that the historical record is so incomplete that the existence of an unbroken succession from the apostles to the present can neither be proved nor disproved.
For a period of six centuries after the time of Christ none of the regional churches attempted to exercise authority over any of the other regional churches. The early ecumenical councils were composed of delegates from the various churches who met as equals. There is not a scholar anywhere who pretends to show any decree, canon, or resolution by any of the ecumenical councils which attempts to give preeminence to any one church. The first six hundred years of the Christian era know nothing of any spiritual supremacy on the part of the bishops of Rome.The papacy really began in the year 590, with Gregory I, as Gregory the Great, who consolidated the power of the bishopric in Rome and started that church on a new course. We quote two contemporary church historians, one a Protestant and the other a Roman Catholic, concerning the place of Gregory in this development. Says Professor A. M. Renwick, of the Free Church College, Edinburgh, Scotland:
“His brilliant rule set a standard for those who came after him and he is really the first ‘pope’ who can, with perfect accuracy, be given the title. Along with Leo I (440‑461), GregoryVII (1073-1085), and Innocent III (1198-1216), he stands out as one of the chief architects of the papal system” (The Story of the Church, p. 64).
And the Roman Catholic, Philip Hughes, says that Gregory I…
“…is generally regarded as the greatest of all his line. … It was to him that Rome turned at every crisis where the Lombards [the invaders from the North] were concerned. He begged his people off and he bought them off. He ransomed the captives and organized the great relief services for widows and orphans. Finally, in 598, he secured a thirty years’ truce. It was St. Gregory who, in these years, was the real ruler of Rome and in a very real sense he is the founder of the papal monarchy” (A Popular History of the Catholic Church, p. 75, 1947. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company).
2 The Claims of the Papacy
When the triple crown is placed on the head of a new pope at his “coronation” ceremony, the ritual prescribes the following declaration by the officiating cardinal:
“Receive the tiara adorned with three crowns, and know that thou art the Father of Princes and Kings, Ruler of the World, the Vicar of our Saviour Jesus Christ….” (National Catholic Almanac).
The New York Catechism says:
“The pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth. … By divine right the pope has supreme and full power in faith and morals over each and “ pastor and his flock. He is the true Vicar of Christ, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils; the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by no one, God himself on earth.”
And Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical, The Reunion of Christendom (1855), declared that the pope holds “upon this earth the place of God Almighty.”
Thus the Roman Church holds that the pope, as the vicar of Christ on earth is the ruler of the world, supreme not only over the Roman Church itself but over all kings, presidents, and civil rulers, indeed over all peoples and nations. The fact is that on numerous occasions the popes have exercised that authority in countries where the Roman Church was strong. They have excommunicated and deposed kings and governors, and, as in the cases of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and Emperor Henry IV of Germany, they have attempted to arouse rebellions by releasing subjects from any allegiance to their rulers. They have been prevented from exercising such authority in the United States because they do not have control here and because our Constitution serves as a shield against such outside interference.
The pope thus demands a submission from his people, and indeed from all people insofar as he is able to make it effective, which is due only to God. Sometimes that submission takes a particularly servile form, with even the cardinals, the next highest ranking officials in the Roman Church, prostrating themselves before him and kissing his feet! The popes have gone so far in assuming the place of God that they even insist on being called by His names, e.g., “the Holy Father,” “His Holiness,” etc. Such titles applied to a mere man are, of course, blasphemous and unchristian. We cannot but wonder what goes through the mind of a pope when people thus reverence him, carrying him on their shoulders, kissing his hands and feet, hailing him as the “Holy Father,” and performing acts of worship before him. By such means this so‑called vicar of Christ” accepts the position of ruler of the world which the Devil offered to Christ, but which Christ spurned with the command, “Get thee hence, Satan!”
The triple crown the pope wears symbolizes his authority in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld—as king of heaven, king of earth, and king of hell—in that through his absolutions souls are admitted to heaven, on the earth he attempts to exercise political as well as spiritual power, and through his special jurisdiction over the souls in purgatory and his exercise of “the power of the keys” he can release whatever souls he pleases from further suffering and those whom he refuses to release are continued in their suffering, the decisions he makes on earth being ratified in heaven.
It is impossible to denounce strongly enough the folly and guilt of such glorification of man. The papacy, however, is the direct consequence and end result of the exaltation of the priests as necessary mediators between God and men.
But who can really believe that Christ has built His church upon a man? The Bible teaches clearly that Christ’s Vicar on earth is the Holy Spirit—“the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit, since He is the third person of the Trinity, has the attributes of wisdom and power which enable Him to perform effectively and perfectly the work of guiding and developing the church of Christ. Christ does not need such a deputy as Rome claims that she has in the pope, and history shows that all men who have attempted to function in that capacity have failed miserably. Over against the claims of Rome the Reformers set the Word of God. Against Rome’s “Thus saith the church,” they placed a “Thus with the Lord.” Luther and Calvin were willing to recognize only Christ as the Head of the Church and denounced the pope as the Antichrist. Indeed, the claims of the pope to universal and total authority over the souls of men and over the church and nations are such that either he is all that he claims to be—the vicar of Christ and the vice-regent of God—or he is the biggest imposter and fraud that the world has ever seen!
3 Worldly Character of the Papacy
The fallacy of the claim that the pope is the vice‑regent of Christ is apparent in the glaring contrast between him and Christ. The pope wears, as a fitting symbol of the authority claimed by him, a jewel-laden, extremely expensive crown, while Christ had no earthly crown at all—except a crown of thorns which He wore in our behalf. In solemn ceremonies the pope is carried in a portable chair on the shoulders of twelve men, while Christ walked wherever He needed to go. We cannot imagine Christ, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, being carried in luxury on the shoulders of men. The pope is adored with genuflections (a bowing of the knee in reverence), he is preceded by the papal cross and by two large fans of peacock feathers, and his garments are very elaborate and costly, all of which is out of harmony with the person and manner of Christ. The pope lives in luxury with many servants in a huge palace in Vatican City, while Christ when on earth “had not where to lay His head.” Many of the popes, particularly during the Middle Ages, were grossly immoral, while Christ was perfect In holiness. Christ said that His kingdom was not of this world, and He refused to exercise temporal authority. But the pope is a temporal ruler, just like a little king, with his own country, his own system of courts, vassals, coinage, postal service, and a Swiss military guard (100 men in 16th century uniforms) which serves as a papal bodyguard. The popes claim political power, and for many years ruled the Papal States, which stretched all the way across Italy and contained 16,000 square miles and a population of approximately 3,000,000. Those states were confiscated by Italy, under the leadership of the patriot Garibaldi, in 1870, and since that time the popes have been limited to Vatican City, located within the city of Rome, which has an area of about one sixth of a square mile and a permanent population of about 1,000, with some 2,000 more employed there. In maintaining his claim to political power the pope sends ambassadors and ministers to foreign governments, and in turn receives ambassadors and ministers from those governments. As of October 12, 1960, 31 nations maintained ambassadors at the Vatican and received ambassadors from the Vatican, and 11 nations maintained ministers there. In each country to which a papal ambassador is sent Rome seeks to have her ambassador designated as the dean of the diplomatic corps, thus giving him rank above the other ambassadors.
The affairs of the Roman Church are controlled by a bureaucracy that is tightly controlled, completely authoritarian, and self‑perpetuating, all of which is in striking contrast with the New Testament principles of church government in which the affairs of the church were in the hands of the people. The pope is elected by the cardinals, who then disband and have no further power to censure any of his actions. New cardinals are appointed by the pope, without necessary consultation with anyone; nor is there any limit on the number of new cardinals that he may appoint, the full number of the college of cardinals having remained at 70 for centuries until recently when pope John XXIII increased the number to 85.1 The bishops too are appointed by the pope, and may be promoted, moved, demoted, or dismissed as he pleases. The priests and nuns are chosen by the bishops, and are promoted, demoted, or transferred by them, without explanation if they so choose. And the people must be obedient to the priests, although in all of that elaborate system they have no official voice at all, nor is there any official channel through which they can express their ideas or preferences in church affairs. The papacy, therefore, is not a spiritual unity in Christ, but an external unity under the pope, a cloak which covers divisions and dissensions between the various church orders which on occasions have emerged with much rivalry and bitterness.
1 The number was increased to 134 by pope Paul VI, in 1969, ten of whom are Americans.
We close this discussion of the papacy with a quotation from Dr. Harris which we believe states correctly the New Testament teaching concerning church government and inter‑church affairs:
“The fact is that the early church had no head on earth. Christ was their head and they all were brothers. They did have an organization, however, and Presbyterians point to Acts 15 as a splendid example of how it operated. There was a doctrinal question at Antioch. What should the church of Antioch do to settle it? Should they write a letter to Peter asking his decision? This would be the Romanist position. But they did not. Should they write a letter to the ‘college of Apostles’? This is the episcopal position that the bishops by apostolic succession have the whole authority in the church. But Antioch did not do that. Should they call a congregational meeting of the church at Antioch and have the matter decided by the vote of the congregation? That would be the independent theory of church government. But they did not do this either. Rather they sent representatives to a synod meeting held at Jerusalem where the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter. They considered it carefully with prayer and Scripture study. Finally the apostles and elders decided on a policy and gave out decrees to which all the churches were expected to submit (Acts 16:4). There was no primacy of Peter or of anyone else. There was instead a democratic meeting of the ordained leaders of the churches judging matters according to God’s Word. This is the Scriptural answer to Roman Catholic pretentions on Peter” (The Bible Presbyterian Reporter, January, 1959).
CHAPTER VII Mary
1. Mary’s Place in Scripture
2. “Mother of God”
3. Historical Development
4. Contrast between Roman and Protestant Teaching
5. Mary as an Object of Worship
6. Mary Usurps the Place of Christ
7. Mary Represented as More Sympathetic than Jesus
8. One Mediator
9. Adoration or Idolatry?
10. Latria, Dulia, Hyperdulia
11. Jesus’ Attitude toward Mary
12. The Protestant Attitude toward Mary
13. Were There Other Children in the Family of Joseph and Mary?
14. The Immaculate Conception
15. The Assumption of Mary
16. Rome’s Real Purpose in the Exaltation of Mary
1 Mary’s Place in Scripture
The New Testament has surprisingly little to say about Mary. Her last recorded words were spoken at the marriage in Cana, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it”—then silence. But the Church of Rome breaks that silence, and from sources entirely outside of Scripture builds up a most elaborate system of Mary works and Mary devotions.
Following Mary’s appearance at the marriage in Cana, we meet her only once more during Jesus’ public ministry, when she and His brothers came where He was speaking to the multitudes, seeking Him, only to draw the rebuke: “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50). She was present at the cross, where she was committed to the care of the disciple John for the remainder of her natural life (John 19:25-27). Finally, in Acts 1:14, she is mentioned as having been with the disciples and the other women and the Lord’s brethren engaged steadfastly in prayer immediately after the ascension, but she has no prominent place.
The apostles never prayed to Mary, nor, so far as the record goes, did they show her any special honor. Peter, Paul, John, and James do not mention her name even once in the epistles which they wrote to the churches. John took care of her until she died, but he does not mention her in any of his three epistles or in the book of Revelation. We recall that Prime Minister Churchill used to make it a special point of honor to mention the Queen in his eloquent public addresses. Imagine the prime Minister of England never mentioning the Queen in any of his addresses to Parliament or in any of his state papers!
When the church was instituted at Pentecost there was only one name given among men whereby we must be saved, that of Jesus (Acts 4:12). Wherever the eyes of the church are directed to the abundance of grace, there is no mention of Mary. Surely this silence is a rebuke to those who would build a system of salvation around her. God has given us all the record we need concerning Mary, and that record does not indicate that worship or veneration in any form is to be given to her. How complete, then, is the falsehood of Romanism that gives primary worship and devotion to her!
2 “Mother of God”
The doctrine of “Mary, the Mother of God,” as we know it today is the result of centuries of growth, often stimulated by pronouncements of church prelates. And yet the full‑fledged system of Mariolatry is a comparatively recent development in Roman Catholic dogma. In fact the last one hundred years have quite appropriately been called the “Century of Mariolatry.”
As late as the fourth century there are no indications of any special veneration of Mary. Such veneration at that time could begin only if one were recognized as a saint, and only the martyrs were counted as saints. But since there was no evidence that Mary had suffered a martyr’s death, she was excluded from sainthood. Later the ascetics came to be acknowledged as among the saints. That proved to be the opening age for the sainthood of Mary, for surely she of all people, it was alleged, must have lived an ascetic life! The church acknowledged that Christ was born of the virgin Mary. Apocryphal tradition built on those possibilities, and slowly the system emerged.
The phrase “Mother of God” originated in the Council of Ephesus, in the year 431. It occurs in the Creed of Chalcedon, which was adopted by the council which met in that city in 451, and in regard to the person of Christ it declared that He was “born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to the manhood”—which latter term means: according to the flesh of human nature. The purpose of the expression as used by the Council of Ephesus was not to glorify Mary, but to emphasize the deity of Christ over against those who denied His equality with the Father and the Holy Spirit. A heretical sect, the Nestorians, separated the two natures in Christ to such an extent that they held Him to be two persons, or rather a dual person formed by the union between the divine Logos and the human person Jesus of Nazareth. They were accused of teaching that the Logos only inhabited the man Jesus, from which it was inferred that they held that the person born of Mary was only a man. It was therefore only to emphasize the fact that the “person” born to Mary was truly divine that she was called “the Mother of God.”
Hence the term today has come to have a far different meaning from that intended by the early church. It no longer has reference to the orthodox doctrine concerning the person of Christ, but instead is used to exalt Mary to a supernatural status as Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Angels, etc., so that, because of her assumed position of prominence in heaven, she is able to approach her Son effectively and to secure for her followers whatever favors they ask through her. When we say that a woman is the mother of a person we mean that she gave birth to that person. But Mary certainly did not give birth to God, nor to Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God. She was not the mother of our Lord’s divinity, but only of His humanity. Instead, Christ, the second person of the Trinity, has existed from all eternity, and was Mary’s Creator. Hence the term as used in the present day Roman Church must be rejected.
In the life and worship of the Roman Church there has been a long course of development, setting forth Mary’s perpetual virginity, her exemption from original sin and from any sin of commission, and now her bodily assumption to heaven. In the Roman Church Mary is to her worshippers what Christ is to us. She is the object of all religious affections, and the source whence all the blessings of salvation are sought and expected.
The Bible calls Mary the “Mother of Jesus,” but gives her no other title. All that the Roman Church has to substantiate her worship of Mary is a sheaf of traditions entirely outside the Bible telling of her appearances to certain monks, nuns, and others venerated as saints. At first glance the term “Mother of God” may seem comparatively harmless. But the actual consequence is that through its use Roman Catholics come to look upon Mary as stronger, more mature, and more powerful than Christ. To them she becomes the source of His being and overshadows Him. So they go to her, not to Him. “He came to us through Mary,” says Rome, “and we must go to Him through her.” Who would go to “the Child,” even to “the holy Child,” for salvation when His mother seems easier of access and more responsive? Romanism magnifies the person that the Holy Spirit wants minimized, and minimizes the person that the Holy Spirit wants magnified.
Says S. E. Anderson:
“Roman priests call Mary the ‘mother of God,’ a name impossible, illogical, and unscriptural. It is impossible, for God can have no mother; He is eternal and without beginning while Mary was born and died within a few short years. It is illogical, for God does not require a mother for His existence. Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8:58). It isunscriptural, for the Bible gives Mary no such contradictory name. Mary was the honored mother of the human body of Jesus—no more—as every Catholic must admit if he wishes to be reasonable and Scriptural. The divine nature of Christ existed from eternity past, long before Mary was born. Jesus never called her ‘mother’; He called her ‘woman’” (Booklet, Is Rome the True Church? p. 20).
And Marcus Meyer says:
“God has no mother. God has always existed. God Himself is the Creator of all things. Since a mother must exist before her child, if you speak of a ‘mother of God’ you are thereby putting someone before God. And you are therefore making that person God. … Mary would weep to hear anyone so pervert the truth as to call her the mother of her Creator. True, Jesus was God; but He was also man. And it was only as man that He could have a mother. Can you imagine Mary introducing Jesus to others with the words: ‘This is God, my Son?’” (Pamphlet, No Mother).
Furthermore, if the Roman terminology is correct and Mary is to be Called God’s mother, then Joseph was God’s stepfather; James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas were God’s brothers; Elizabeth was God’s aunt; John the Baptist was God’s cousin; Heli was God’s grandfather, and Adam was God’s 59th great grandfather. Such references to God’s relatives sound more like a page out of Mormonism than Christianity.
The correct statement of the person of Christ in this regard is: As His human nature had no father, so His divine nature had no mother.
3 Historical Development
It is not difficult to trace the origin of the worship of the Virgin Mary. The early church knew nothing about the cult of Mary as it is practiced today—and we here use the word “cult” in the dictionary sense of “the veneration or worship of a person or thing; extravagant homage.”
The first mention of the legend about Mary is found in the so‑called Proto-Evangelism of James, near the end of the second century, and presents a fantastic story about her birth. It also states that she remained a virgin throughout her entire life. Justin Martyr, who died in 165 compares Mary and Eve, the two prominent women in the Bible. Irenaeus, who died in 202, says that the disobedience of the “virgin Eve” was atoned for by the obedience of the “virgin Mary.” Tertullian, who was one of the greatest authorities in the ancient church, and who died in 222, raised his voice against the legend concerning Mary’s birth. He also held that after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in a normal marriage relationship. The first known picture of Mary is found in the Priscilla catacomb in Rome and dates from the second century.
Thus the Christian church functioned for at least 150 years without idolizing the name of Mary. The legends about her begin to appear after that, although for several centuries the church was far from making a cult of it. But after Constantine’s decree making Christianity the preferred religion, the Greek-Roman pagan religions with their male gods and female goddesses exerted an increasingly stronger influence upon the church. Thousands of the people who then entered the church brought with them the superstitions and devotions which they had long given to Isis, Ishtar, Diana, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, and other goddesses, which were then conveniently transferred to Mary. Statues were dedicated to her, as there had been statues dedicated to Isis, Diana, and others, and before them the people kneeled and prayed as they had been accustomed to do before the statues of the heathen goddesses.
Many of the people who came into the church had no clear distinction in their minds between the Christian practices and those that had been practiced in their heathen religions. Statues of pagan gods and heroes found a place in the church, and were gradually replaced by statues of saints. The people were allowed to bring into the church those things from their old religions that could be reconciled with the type of Christianity then developing, hence many who bowed down before the images of Mary were in reality worshipping their old gods under a new name. History shows that in several countries Roman Catholicism has absorbed local deities as saints, and has absorbed local goddesses into the image of the Madonna. One of the more recent examples is that of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a goddess worshipped by the Indians in Mexico, which resulted in a curious mixture of Romanism and paganism, with sometimes one, sometimes the other predominating—some pictures of the Virgin Mary now appearing show her without the Child in her arms.
As we have seen, the expression “Mother of God,” as set forth in the decree of the Council of Ephesus gave an impetus to Mary worship, although the practice did not become general until two or three centuries later. From the fifth century on, the Mary cult becomes more common. Mary appears more frequently in paintings, churches were named after her, and prayers were offered to her as an intercessor. The famous preacher Chrysostom, who died in 407, resisted the movement wholeheartedly, but his opposition had little effect in stemming the movement. The Roman Catholics took as their text the words of the angel to Mary, found in Luke 1:28: “And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee.” It is to be noted, however, that shortly after the angel spoke to Mary, Elizabeth, speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did not say, “Blessed art thou above women,” but, “Blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:42). Starting with the false premise that Mary was above all other women, there developed the practice of worshipping her.
Invocation of the saints had a similar origin. In the year 610 Pope Boniface IV first suggested the celebration of an All Saints festival and ordered that the Pantheon, a pagan temple in Rome that had been dedicated to all the gods, should be converted into a Christian church and the relics of the saints placed therein. He then dedicated the church to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. Thus the worship of Mary and the saints replaced that of the heathen gods and goddesses, and it was merely a case of one error being substituted for another.
The spiritual climate of the Middle Ages was favorable to the development of Mary worship. Numerous superstitions crept into the church and centered themselves in the worship of the Virgin and the saints. The purely pagan character of these practices, with dates and manner of observance, can be traced by any competent historian.
The art of the Middle Ages represented Mary with the child Jesus, Mary as “mater dolorosa” at the cross, etc. The rosary became popular; poems and hymns were written in honor of the “god-mother.” Stories of miracles performed by her started in response to prayers addressed to her.
Also during that period arose the custom of looking to “patron saints,” who in fact were merely Christianized forms of old pagan gods. In polytheism everything had its own god—the sea, war, hunting, merchants, agriculture, etc. After the same fashion there developed the Roman Catholic gallery of “patron saints” for seamen, soldiers, travelers, hunters, and in modern times, for fliers, divers, cyclists, artillerymen, etc. This kinship with the pagan cults explains why Mary worship developed so rapidly after Constantine made Christianity the official religion.
4 Contrast Between Roman and Protestant Teaching
We are indebted to Dr. Joseph Zacchello, editor of The Convert, Clairton, Pennsylvania for the following statement concerning Mary’s place in the Christian church, followed by extracts in one column from Liguori’s book, The Glories of Mary, and in a parallel column extracts setting forth what the Bible teaches:
“The most beautiful story ever told is the story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And a part of that beautiful story is the account of Mary, the mother of our Lord.
“Mary was a pure virtuous woman. Nothing is clearer in all the Word of God than this truth. Read the accounts of Matthew and Luke and you see her as she is—pure in mind, humble, under the hand of God, thankful for the blessing of God, having faith to believe the message of God, being wise to understand the purpose of God in her life.
“Mary was highly favored beyond all other women. It was her unique honor that she should be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed was Mary among women. Through her, God gave His most priceless gift to man.
“But, though Mary be worthy of all honor as a woman favored of God beyond all others, and though she be indeed a splendid, beautiful, godly character, and though she be the mother of our Lord, Mary can neither intercede for us with God, nor can she save us, and certainly we must not worship her. There is nothing clearer in the Word of God than this truth.
Let us notice this truth as it is diligently compared with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the Word of God. The following quotations are taken from the book, The Glories of Mary, which was written by Bishop Alphonse de Liguori, one of the greatest devotional writers of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Word of God taken from the Douay Version which is approved by James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore. The Editor’s notice says, ‘Everything that our saint has written is, as it were, a summary of Catholic tradition on the subject that it treats; it is not an individual author; it is, so to speak, the church herself that speaks to us by the voice of her prophets, her apostles, her pontiffs, her saints, her fathers, her doctors of all nations and ages. No other book appears to be more worthy of recommendation in this respect than The Glories of Mary.’” (1931 edition; Redemptorist Fathers, Brooklyn). Note the following deadly parallel:
Mary Is Given the Place Belonging to Christ
Roman Catholic Church:
“And she is truly a mediatress of peace between sinners and God. Sinners receive pardon by… Mary alone” (pp. 82-83). “Mary is our life. … Mary in obtaining this grace for sinners by her intercession, thus restores them to life” (p. 80). “He fails and is lost who has not recourse to Mary” (p. 94).
The Word of God:
For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “Christ… is our life” (Col. 3:4).
Mary Is Glorified More than Christ
Roman Catholic Church:
“The Holy Church commands a worship peculiar to Mary” (p. 130). “Many things… are asked from God, and are not granted; they are asked from Mary, and are obtained,” for “She… is even Queen of Hell, and Sovereign Mistress of the Devils” (pp. 127, 141, 143).
The Word of God:
“In the Name of Jesus Christ… For there is no other name under Heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 3:6, 4:12). His Name is “above every name… not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).
Mary Is the Gate to Heaven Instead of Christ
Roman Catholic Church:
“Mary is called… the gate of heaven because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her” (p. 160).
“The Way of Salvation is open to none otherwise than through Mary,” and since “Our salvation is in the hands of Mary… He who is protected by Mary will be saved, he who is not will be lost” (pp. 169-170).
The Word of God:
“I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved,” says Christ (John 10:1,7,9).
“Jesus saith to him, I am the way… no man cometh to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). “Neither is there Salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12).
Mary Is Given the Power of Christ
Roman Catholic Church:
“All power is given to thee in Heaven and on earth,” so that “at the command of Mary all obey—even God… and thus… God has placed the whole Church… under the domination ofMary” (pp. 180-181). Mary “is also the Advocate of the whole human race… for she can do what she wills with God” (p. 193).
The Word of God:
“All power is given to me in Heaven and in earth,” so that “in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow,” “that in all things He may hold the primacy” (Matt. 28:18, Phil. 2:9‑11, Col. 1:18).
“But if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Just: and he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2).
Mary Is the Peace-Maker Instead of Jesus Christ Our Peace
Roman Catholic Church:
Mary is the Peace‑maker between sinners and God” (p. 197).
“We often more quickly obtain what we ask by calling on the name of Mary, than by invoking that of Jesus.” “She… is our Salvation, our Life, our Hope, our Counsel, our Refuge, our Help” (pp. 254, 257).
The Word of God:
But now in Christ Jesus, you, who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace” (Eph. 2:13-14).
“Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name. Ask, and you shall receive,” for “Whatsoever we shall ask according to His will, He heareth us” (John 16:23-24).
Mary Is Given the Glory that Belongs to Christ Alone
Roman Catholic Church:
“The whole Trinity, O Mary, gave thee a name… above every other name, that at Thy name, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (p. 260).
The Word of God:
God also hath highly exalted Him, and hath given Him a Name which is above all names, that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:9-10).
Liguori, more than any other one person, has been responsible for promoting Mariolatry in the Roman Church, dethroning Christ and enthroning Mary in the hearts of the people. Yet instead of excommunicating him for his heresies, the Roman Church has canonized him as a saint and has published his book in many editions, more recently under the imprimatur of Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hays, of New York.
In a widely used prayer book, the Raccolta, which has been especially indulgenced by several popes and which therefore is accepted by Romanists as authoritative, we read such as the following:
“Hail, Queen, Mother of Mercy, our Life. Sweetness, and Hope, all Hail! To thee we cry, banished sons of Eve; to thee we sigh, groaning and weeping in this vale of tears.”
“We fly beneath thy shelter, O holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessity, and deliver us always from all perils, O glorious and Blessed Virgin.”
“Heart of Mary, Mother of God… Worthy of all the veneration of angels and men. … In thee let the Holy Church find safe shelter; protect it, and be its asylum, its tower, its strength.”
“Sweet heart of Mary, be my salvation.”
“Leave me not, My Mother, in my own hands, or I am lost; let me but cling to thee. Save me, my Hope; save me from hell.”
Also in the Raccolta prayers are addressed to Joseph:
“Benign Joseph, our guide, protect us and the Holy Church.”
“Guardian of Virgins, and Holy Father Joseph, to whose faithful keeping Christ Jesus, innocence itself, and Mary, Virgin of Virgins, were committed, I pray and beseech thee by those two dear pledges, Jesus and Mary, that being preserved from all uncleanness, I may with spotless mind, pure heart, and chaste body, ever most chastely serve Jesus and Mary. Amen.”
The rosary, which is by far the most popular Roman Catholic ritual prayer, contains fifty “Hail Mary’s.” The Hail Mary (or Ave Maria) is follows:
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
5 Mary as an Object of Worship
The devotions to Mary are undoubtedly the most spontaneous of any in the Roman Catholic worship. Attendance at Sunday mass is obligatory, under penalty of mortal sin if one is absent without a good reason, and much of the regular service is formalistic and routine. But the people by the thousands voluntarily attend novenas for the “Sorrowful Mother.” Almost every religious order dedicates itself to the Virgin Mary. National shrines, such as those at Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, are dedicated to her and attract millions. The shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, in Quebec, the most popular shrine in Canada, is dedicated to Saint Anne, who according to apocryphal literature was the mother of Mary. Thousands of churches, schools, hospitals, convents, and shrines are dedicated to her glory.
It is difficult for Protestants to realize the deep love and reverence that devout Roman Catholics have for the Virgin Mary. One must be immersed in and saturated with the Roman Catholic mind in order to feel its heartbeat. Says Margaret Shepherd, an ex nun:
“No words can define to my readers the feeling of reverential love I had for the Virgin Mary. As the humble suppliant kneels before her statue he thinks of her as the tender, compassionate mother of Jesus, the friend and mediatrix of sinners. The thought of praying to Christ for any special grace without seeking the intercession of Mary never occurred to me”(My Life in the Convent, p. 31).
The titles given Mary are in themselves a revelation of Roman Catholic sentiment toward her. She is called: Mother of God, Queen of the Apostles, Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Angels, the Door of Paradise, the Gate of Heaven, Our Life, Mother of Grace, Mother of Mercy, and many others which ascribe to her supernatural powers.
All of those titles are false. Let us consider just two of them. When she is called “Queen of the Apostles,” is that an apostolic doctrine? Where is it found? Certainly it is not in Scripture. When did the apostles elect Mary their queen? Or when was she appointed by God to be their queen? And the title “Queen of Heaven” is equally false, or even worse. Heaven has no “queen.” The only references in Scripture to prayers to the “queen of heaven” are found in Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17‑19,25, where it is severely condemned as a heathen custom practiced by some apostate Jews. This so‑called “queen of heaven” was a Canaanitish goddess of fertility, Astarte (plural, Ashtaroth) (Judges 2:13). How shameful to impose a heathen title on Mary, and then to venerate her as another deity!
How can anyone of the perhaps one hundred million practicing Roman Catholics throughout the world who desire Mary’s attention imagine that she can give him that attention during his prayers to her, his wearing her scapulars for special protection, his marching in parades in her honor, etc., while at the same time she is giving attention to all others who are praying to her, attending to her duties in heaven, conducting souls to heaven, rescuing souls from purgatory, etc.? The average Roman Catholic acts on the assumption that Mary has the powers of deity. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that any departed human being, however good, has any further contact with affairs on this earth, or that he can hear so much as one prayer from earth. How, then, can a human being such as Mary hear the prayers of millions of Roman Catholics, in many different countries, praying in many different languages, all at the same time? Let any priest or layman try to converse with only three people at the same time and see how impossible that is for a human being. They impose on Mary works which no human being can do. How impossible, how absurd, to impose on her the works which only God can do! Since Mary is not omnipresent nor omniscient, such prayers and worship are nothing less than idolatry—that is, the giving of divine honors to a creature. Nowhere in the Bible is there the slightest suggestion that prayer should be offered to Mary. If God had intended that we should pray to her, surely He would have said so. Worship is accorded to the infant Jesus, but never to His mother. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the East, and when they came into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother. What did they do? Did they fall down and worship Mary? Or Joseph? No! We read: “They fell down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11). And to whom did they give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? To Mary? Or to Joseph? No! They presented their gifts to Jesus. They recognized Him, not Mary or Joseph, as worthy of adoration.
Furthermore, in Old Testament times the Jews prayed to God, but never to Abraham, or Jacob, or David, or to any of the prophets. There is never the slightest suggestion that prayers should be offered to anyone other than God. Nor did the apostles ever ask the early Christians to worship, or venerate, or pray to Mary or to any other human being.
The objections against prayers to Mary apply equally against prayers to the saints. For they too are only creatures, infinitely less than God, able to be at only one place at a time and to do only one thing at a time. How, then, can they listen to and answer the thousands upon thousands of petitions made simultaneously in many different lands and in many different languages? Many such petitions are expressed, not orally, but only mentally, silently. How can Mary and the saints, without being like God, be present everywhere and know the secrets of all hearts?
That living saints should pray to departed saints seems on the face of it to be the very height of the ridiculous. But the fact is that most Roman Catholics pray to Mary and the saints more than they pray to God. Yet they cannot explain how departed saints can hear and answer prayers. The endless prayers to the Virgin and to the countless saints cannot bring one closer to God. And particularly when we see all the gaudy trappings that are resorted to in Rome’s distorted version of a glamour queen the whole procedure becomes, to Protestants, truly abhorrent.
The Roman Church commits grievous sin in promoting the worship of Mary. It dishonors God, first, by its use of images, and secondly, by giving to a creature the worship that belongs only to the Creator. We have here merely another example of Rome’s persistent tendency to add to the divinely prescribed way of salvation. Romanism sets forth faith and works, Scripture andtradition, Christ and Mary, as the means of salvation.
Charles Chiniquy, a former priest from Montreal, Canada, who became a Presbyterian minister, tells of the following conversation between himself and his bishop when doubts began to assail him regarding the place given to Mary:
“My lord, who has saved you and me upon the cross?”
He answered, “Jesus Christ.”
“Who paid your debt and mine by shedding His blood; was it Mary or Jesus?”
He said, “Jesus Christ.”
“Now, my lord, when Jesus and Mary were on earth, who loved the sinner more; was it Mary or Jesus?”
Again he answered that it was Jesus.
“Did any sinner come to Mary on earth to be saved?”
“Do you remember that any sinner has gone to Jesus to be saved?”
“Have they been rebuked?”
Do you remember that Jesus ever said to sinners, “Come to Mary and she will save you?”
“No,” he said.
“Do you remember that Jesus has said to poor sinners, “Come to me?”
“Yes, He has said it.”
“Has He ever retracted those words?”
“And who was, then, the more powerful to save sinners?” I asked.
“O, it was Jesus!”
“Now, my lord, since Jesus and Mary are in heaven, can you show me in the Scriptures that Jesus has lost anything of His desire and power to save sinners, or that He has delegated this power to Mary?”
And the bishop answered, “No.”
“Then, my lord,” I asked, “why do we not go to Him, and to Him alone? Why do we invite poor sinners to come to Mary, when, by your own confession she is nothing compared with Jesus, in power, in mercy, in love, and in compassion for the sinner?”
To that the bishop could give no answer (Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, p. 262).
Even to this day the province of Quebec is almost solidly Roman Catholic. Throughout the province one can scarcely hear the Gospel in any church, or on any local radio broadcast, or obtain anything but Roman Catholic literature. Quebec is full of idols. The late pope Pius XII declared that the province of Quebec was the world’s most Catholic country. But everywhere Mary, and not Christ, is represented as the only hope of the four million French-Canadians. And, let it be noticed further, the province of Quebec has the most illiteracy, the poorest schools, and the lowest standard of living of any province in Canada.
It is very difficult to convince Roman Catholic people that Christ has won for them the right to go directly to God in prayer. They read the Bible but very little. Instead they fall back on what their priests have taught them, that to obtain mercy and forgiveness they must cajole some saint, some close and favored friend of God, to intercede for them. And the most powerful intercessor of all, of course, is Mary, since she is the mother of Christ. But the absurd thing about saint worship is that neither Mary nor any of the others ever promised, when they were living, that they would pray for their devotees after reaching heaven.
According to New Testament usage, all true Christians are saints. Paul’s letters to the Ephesians was addressed, “to the saints that are at Ephesus” (1:1); his letter to the Philippians, “to all the saints that are at Philippi” (1:1). See also Romans 1:7, 16:15; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1. It has well been said, If you want a “saint” to pray for you, find a true Christian and make the request of him. His prayer will be more effective than any request that can be made through departed saints. We have no need for the intercession of Mary, or departed saints, or angels, for we ourselves have direct access to God through Christ. Furthermore, not only do we have no single instance in the Bible of a living saint worshipping a departed saint, but all attempts on the part of the living to make any kind of contact with the dead are severely condemned (Deuteronomy 18:9‑12, Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:6, Isaiah 8:19-20).
The Scriptures directly repudiate all saint worship. We have specific examples of Peter, and Paul, and even of an angel rejecting such worship. When Peter went to the house of Cornelius in response to the vision that he had while at prayer on the housetop, we read that “Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:25-26). Although Peter was one of the twelve, and had been personally associated with Jesus, he knew that he had no right to such worship for he was only a man. At Lystra, after Paul had healed a lame man, the multitude attempted to worship him and Barnabas. We read: “But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they rent their garments, and sprang forth among the multitude, crying out and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you and bring you good tidings, that ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is” (Acts 14:14-15). And the apostle John writes concerning his experience on the island of Patmos: “And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel that showed me these things. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book: worship God” (Revelation 22:8-9). But how different is the attitude of popes, bishops, and priests who expect people to kneel before them and to kiss their hands or rings! The pope allows or expects that under some conditions they shall even kiss his feet! But what nonsense that is, both on the part of the pope and on the part of those who submit themselves to such a servile practice!
6 In Romanism Mary Usurps the Place of Christ
A striking phenomenon in Roman Catholicism is the effective way in which they have caused Mary to usurp the place of Christ as the primary mediator between God and men. Christ is usually represented as a helpless babe in a manger or in His mother’s arms, or as a dead Christ upon a cross. The babe in a manger or in His mother’s arms gives little promise of being able to help anyone. And the dead Christ upon a cross, with a horribly ugly and tortured face, is the very incarnation of misery and helplessness, wholly irrelevant to the needs and problems of the people. Such a Christ might inspire feelings of pity and compassion but not of confidence and hope. He is a defeated, not a victorious, Christ. The Roman Church cannot get its people to love a dead Christ, no matter how many masses are said before Him or how many images are dedicated to Him. There can be no real love for Christ unless the worshipper sees Him as his living Savior, who died for him, but who arose, and who now lives gloriously and triumphantly—as indeed He is presented in Protestantism. In the Roman Church the people prefer a living Mary to a dead Christ. And the result is that the center of worship has shifted from Christ to Mary.
Despite all protestations to the contrary, the fact is that the worship, intercessions, and devotions that are given to Mary obscure the glory of Christ and cause the church to set forth a system of salvation in which human merit plays a decisive part. While asserting the deity of Christ, Rome nevertheless makes Him subservient to the Virgin, and dispenses salvation at a price through the agency of the priest. This most blessed of women, the mother of Jesus, is thus made His chief rival and competitor for the loyalty and devotion of the human heart. In Romanism Mary becomes the executive director of deity, the one through whom the prayers of the people are made effective.
Mary has nothing whatever to do with our salvation. All who think she does are simply deceived. And yet in Romanism probably ten times as much prayer is directed to her as to Christ. The most popular prayer ritual of Roman Catholics, the rosary, has ten prayers to Mary for each one directed to God. The prayer book contains more prayers which are to be offered to Mary and the saints than to Christ. Mary is unquestionably the chief object of prayer.
7 Mary Represented as More Sympathetic than Jesus
The spiritual climate of the Middle Ages was favorable for the development of the Mary‑cult. Particularly in that age Christ was represented as a Man of stern wrath, a strict judge, avenging evil with an inexorable justice, while Mary was clothed with the virtues of lovingkindness and mercy. Where Christ would demand justice, Mary would extend mercy. The simple believer, who had been told that God was an angry judge always ready to send the sinner to hell, wanted to flee to the protection of the tender‑hearted and loving Mary. Even monks who lived ascetic lives and shunned or even hated women as instruments of their temptation and downfall sought the protection of Mary.
In The Glories of Mary, Liguori pictures Christ as a stern, cruel Judge, while Mary is pictured as a kind and lovable intercessor. Among other things Liguori says: “If God is angry with a sinner, and Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the avenging arm of her Son, and saves him” (p. 124); “O Immaculate Virgin, prevent thy beloved Son, who is irritated by our sins, from abandoning us to the power of the devil” (p. 248); and again: “We often obtain more promptly what we ask by calling on the name of Mary, than by invoking that of Jesus” (p. 248).
In another instance Liguori teaches that Mary is the Savior of sinners, and that outside her there is no salvation. He describes an imaginary scene in which a man burdened with sin sees two ladders hanging from heaven, with Christ at the head of one and Mary at the other. He attempts to climb the ladder at which Christ is the head, but when he sees the angry face he falls back defeated. As he turns away despondent, a voice says to him, “Try the other ladder.” He does so, and to his amazement he ascends easily and is met at the top by the blessed virgin Mary, who then brings him into heaven and presents him to Christ! The teaching is, “What son would refuse the request of his mother?”
The same reasoning is found among Roman Catholics today. Christ still is looked upon as a stern judge. But Mary, being a mother, is looked upon as having a mother’s heart and therefore as more capable of understanding the problems of her children. She can go to her Son with her requests and petitions, and He can never refuse to grant any favor that she asks. She is represented as everywhere present. Romanists are taught to appeal to her with confidence to allay the fierce judgment of Christ, and to turn His serious frown into a friendly smile—all of this in spite of the fact that no prayer by Mary for a sinner can be found anywhere in the New Testament.
But what a travesty it is on Scripture truth to teach that Christ demands justice, but that Mary will extend mercy! How dishonoring it is to Christ to teach that He is lacking in pity and compassion for His people, that He must be persuaded to that end by His mother! When He was on earth it was never necessary for anyone to persuade Him to be compassionate. Rather, when He saw the blind and the lame, the afflicted and hungry, He was “moved with compassion” for them and lifted them out of their distress. He had immediate mercy on the wicked but penitent thief on the cross, and there was no need for intercession by Mary although she was there present. His love for us is as great as when He was on earth; His heart is as tender; and we need no other intermediary, neither His mother after the flesh, nor any saint or angel, to entreat Him on our behalf.
8 One Mediator
The Bible teaches that there is but one mediator between God and men. It says: “For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). When this verse is understood the whole system of the Roman Church falls to the ground, for it invalidates the papacy, the priesthood, and all Mary worship. Other verses which teach the same truth are:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
“And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“He is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
“Christ Jesus… who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Christ, not Mary, the Scripture says, is at the right hand of God making intercession for us (Romans 8:34).
“Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Thus Christ, because He is both God and man, is the only Saviour, the only Mediator, the only way to God. Not one word is said about Mary, or a pope, or the priests, or the saints, as mediators. Yet Romanism teaches that there are many mediators, and the great majority of Roman Catholics, if asked, would say that our primary approach to God is through the Virgin Mary, and that only as she begs for us can we enter the presence of God.
The priests detract from the glory of Christ when they teach that Mary is a mediator. Humanly speaking, that must grieve her who would want all honor to go to Christ. The priests have no right to place her in such an unscriptural position. Mary is presented in Scripture as a handmaiden of the Lord who fulfilled her office in the church according to promise, just as did John the Baptist and others, but whose work has long since ceased. The great antithesis is not between Eve and Mary, as Rome sets it forth, but between Adam and Christ (Romans 5:12‑21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22,45,47). Roman tradition has so altered the picture of Mary that the Mary found in the New Testament and the Mary found in the Roman Catholic Church are two different and conflicting persons. Any fair-minded Roman Catholic knows that his church gives first place to Mary and that Christ is kept in the background.
The reason that Mary, the saints, or angels cannot act as our priest or mediator is because they have no sacrifice, nothing to offer in behalf of our sins. Only a priest with a true sacrifice can serve as mediator between God and men. Christ alone has a true sacrifice, and He alone can act as our priest. In this connection Calvin says:
“I deem it indisputable that the papal priesthood is spurious; for it has been formed in the workshop of men. God nowhere commands a sacrifice to be offered now to Him for the expiation of sins; nowhere does He command that priests be appointed for such a purpose. While then the pope ordains his priests for the purpose of sacrificing, the Apostle [Paul] denies that they are to be accounted lawful priests.”
9 Adoration or Idolatry?
The Roman Church officially denies worshipping Mary. Officially she says that Mary is only a creature, highly exalted, but still a creature, in no way equal to God. Yet she tells us that Mary hears the prayers of millions and that she constantly gives attention to her followers throughout the world. It may well be that, as Rome says, she does not intend idolatry. But the intention and the practical working out of the system are two different things. We must insist that it is worship, and that therefore it is idolatry as practiced by millions of people who kneel before Mary’s statues and pray and sing to her. Most of these people know nothing at all of the technical distinctions made by their theologians between adoration and worship. It certainly is idolatrous to give her the attributes of omnipresence and omniscience and to give her titles and which belong to God, as when, by the late pope Pius XII, she was officially designated the “Queen of Heaven,” and “Queen of the World,” and when prayers are made to her for salvation.
That the prayers addressed to Mary and the saints are idolatrous is clear from the fact that (1) they are precisely the same kind, and are expressed in the same terms, as those addressed to God; (2) they are presented in the ordinary course of worshipping God; (3) they are offered kneeling; and (4) they form the bulk of the prayers offered. We have mentioned the most famous prayer addressed to Mary, the Ave Maria, or Hail Mary. As commonly used, this prayer follows the Lord’s prayer, and is offered in precisely the same way. Assuming that there are one hundred million “practicing” Roman Catholics throughout the world, and that half of them say the rosary at least once each day—the rosary contains 50 “Hail Mary’s” and takes quite some time to repeat—Mary would have to have the attributes of deity to hear and answer such a mass of prayer. Surely Roman Catholics themselves can see the impossibility of all those prayers being heard and answered by one who by the admission of their own church is not God, but only human. The whole thing is a deceit and an illusion. Even if it were true that the spirits of the departed have access to this world, that could not be known except by divine revelation. And no such revelation exists. The growth of Mariolatry is indeed a sad chapter in the history of the church. Like the brazen serpent of Moses, which at the time of Hezekiah had become an object of idolatrous worship and had to be destroyed, so in the Roman Church Mary has come to be looked upon as the instrumental cause of salvation, and as such is given divine honors. The Roman Church ascribes to her large numbers of miracles, fully supernatural and similar in all respects to those performed by Christ. Numerous appearances are claimed for her. On some occasions statues of Mary are said to have blinked or wept. Relics in abundance have been exhibited in European cathedrals. Samples of her clothing, hair, teeth, and milk have been exhibited in numerous places.
The worship of Mary is, of course, a great injustice to Mary herself, for it makes her the occasion for breaking the commandments of God. Nothing is more clearly revealed in Scripture than that divine worship is to be paid to God alone: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10). Nothing is more severely rebuked than idolatry of every kind and form. If Mary could see all the Roman Catholics bowing down before her images in the thousands of churches and millions of homes, how great would be her grief! To pray to Mary is at the least a waste of time. And worse than that, it is idolatry, a direct product of the use of unscriptural doctrines and practices.
10 Latria, Dulia, Hyperdulia
The Church of Rome, without any warrant whatever from Scripture, technically divides worship into three kinds: (1) Latria, the supreme worship, given to God alone; (2) Dulia, a secondary kind of veneration given to saints and angels; and (3) Hyperdulia, a higher kind of veneration given to the Virgin Mary.
The theory, however, is useless in practice, for the average worshipper is not able to make the distinctions, nor does he even know that such distinctions exist. The subtleties of definition only confuse the issue, for who can balance his feelings so nicely as to give God, the Virgin, and the saints their due proportion? This is particularly true in Roman Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, and Latin America where so many of the people are illiterate and given to all kinds of superstitions. We must insist that any religious worship, whether inward or outward, consisting of prayer, or praise, and expressed by outward homage such as bowing, kneeling, or prostration, is properly termed worship and belongs to God alone.
The slogan, “Through Mary to Christ,” does not change the fact that for many worshippers the devotion naturally stops with Mary. They pray to Mary, not to Christ. Their prayers are directed to her personally. Roman Catholics are taught that all grace necessarily flows through Mary. She is regarded as a kind of fourth person of the Blessed Trinity. To speak of Mary as “holy,” as “the Mother of God,” and as “co‑redeemer with Christ,” cannot but give the impression that she is more than human. Pope Benedict XV (1914‑1922) gave expression to the thought that Mary suffered with her suffering and dying Son, and that with Him she has redeemed the human race. This pronouncement was also sanctioned by Pope Pius XI in 1923.
The distinction that Rome makes between latria, dulia, and hyperdulia does enable her to maintain officially that she does not teach the “worship” of Mary. However, the lengths to which her apologists have gone in trying to distinguish between such devotions and actual worship is evidence that she feels uncomfortable about the lofty names given to Mary and about the actual results, and that she does not dare take responsibility for what goes on in her churches. And, subtleties aside, some Roman theologians acknowledge that they do worship Mary.
11 Jesus’ Attitude toward Mary
It is particularly instructive to notice the attitude that the Lord Jesus Himself took toward Mary. The first recorded instance occurred when, at the age of 12, the boy Jesus, after attending the Passover in Jerusalem with His parents, remained in the temple. We read, in the Confraternity Version, that when His parents found Him, “His mother said to him, ‘Son, what thou done so to us? Behold, in sorrow thy father and I have been seeking thee.’ And he said to them, ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ And they did not understand the word that he spake to them” (Luke 2:48-49).
Says The New Bible Commentary (Protestant) in explanation of this event: “The answer of Jesus is an expression of surprise. There was something about Him which He was surprised His parents did not know. … He had always been occupied with His Father’s affairs and had no interests of His own to engage Him. This was what His parents might have known” (p. 844).
On two later occasions, after Jesus had reached His maturity, Mary attempted to show her parental authority, but each time was held in check. The first occurred at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, when the wine ran out. We read, again in the Confraternity Version:
“And on the third day a marriage took place at Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there [Notice, it does not say, “Mother of God”]. Now Jesus too was invited to the marriage, and also his disciples. And the wine having run short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine: And Jesus said to her, What wouldst thou have me do, woman? Myhour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the attendants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (John 2:1-5).
In this instance, the first of its kind after the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus gave Mary to understand that no one, not even His mother, must dictate to Him concerning the time and manner of opening His public ministry, that thenceforth she was not to exercise any authority over Him, and that His working of miracles and the redemption of souls was, strictly speaking, none of her business. He was pointing out to His mother that from then on He had no dependence on her, but that she must depend upon Him. Mary’s words to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” indicate that she understood and accepted this new role. In any event, Mary is not to be worshipped, nor does she have authority with her Son in behalf of others. Had Jesus submitted to His mother’s suggestion and leading, there might have been some grounds for “Mary worship,” and for the claim of the Roman Church that “Mary is the hope of all.” But here at the very beginning of His public ministry the ground is cut from under any such claim.
On another occasion, apparently after weeks of absence, Mary came seeking Jesus at the place where He was preaching to the multitude, but could not get to Him because of the crowd. Apparently she sent word to Him by messenger, making known her desire that He would come to her, or perhaps making the direct request that He come to her without regard to how that might interrupt His work. But He ignored or refused her request. We read (Confraternity Version):
“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brethren were standing outside, seeking to speak to him. And someone said to him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren are standing outside, seeking thee.’ But he answered and said to him that told him, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brethren?’ And stretching forth his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).
Instead of granting Mary’s request, He replied in such a way that it was in effect a public rebuke. Undoubtedly she felt it keenly. Perhaps Mary was even ashamed of the fact that her Son was attracting so much attention and wanted to withdraw Him from the crowd, for in Mark’s account of this event we read, “And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself” (3:20-21). As we read the New Testament we get the impression that neither Mary nor the brothers of Jesus understood His activities while He was on earth (“For even his brethren did not believe on him,” John 7:5), and that while Mary believed on Him earlier, His brothers may not have joined the company of believers until after His resurrection, perhaps not until after His ascension.
As a boy growing up in the home of Joseph and Mary, Jesus was obedient to them. But after His public ministry began, after He had presented Himself as the Son of God and as the Savior of the world, Mary had to sink into the background. It is to Jesus alone that the world must turn for salvation. Undoubtedly He gave this rebuke purposely, that the world might know that Mary was His mother as man, but not as God.
If Mary had had the influence and authority over Him that is claimed the Church of Rome, He would not have answered her as He did, but would have honored her request promptly. Here again we have Scriptural evidence that Mary has nothing to do with the ministry of the Son of God as regards the matter of salvation. By this statement He respectfully classes her and His brethren along with other converts. To Him they were all the same—“Who is my mother and who are my brethren? … Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother!” As the Son of God and the Redeemer of men, His relation to Mary was identically the same as with any others who would hear His Word, and do it.
And on still another occasion a woman in the crowd raised her voice in praise of Mary (Confraternity Version): “Now it came to pass as he was saying these things, that a certain woman from the crowd lifted up her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the breasts that nursed thee.’ But he said, ‘Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:27-28).
This was the most subtle attack of all, appealing as it does to the sentiments and the emotions. It is a device that even today traps unstable souls into worshipping a woman, that is, Mariolatry. But here again Jesus gave a plain and decisive answer which should settle forever the question regarding the superiority of Mary or the promotion of any Mary cult. He utterly rejected the idea that Mary occupies a position of holiness above that of other women, or that she was to be crowned the “Queen of Heaven” and become the object of worship. After the ascension of Christ she is seen with the apostles and several other women in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14), but no special honor or position is recorded as having been given to her. She was not, in herself, more than any other virtuous woman, except that she was especially chosen to be the mother of Jesus, and to be the kind and loving parent which she was to the most wonderful Child that ever grew up in a home.
We notice further that throughout our Lord’s public life He was ever careful to call Mary “woman,” never “mother.” Even when He was dying on the cross He addressed her thus. The Greek, Hebrew, and Latin each had a word for “mother,” as well as for “woman.” But the Scripture says “woman,” not “mother.” And of course He never used the term “Lady,” which is so much used in the Roman Catholic Church. Let us follow the Scripture.
While Jesus always spoke respectfully to His mother, He nevertheless made it clear that neither she nor anyone else had any part in the work of salvation. No mere human could assist in that work, and the Scriptures are careful to point out that no assistance or dictation in any form was permitted. When Jesus stepped out of His home life at Nazareth and began His public ministry, a new relationship was established. From that time on, His supernatural parentage was emphasized. For He was the only begotten Son of the Father in heaven. He rebuked the mistaken tendency which seeks to exalt the human relationship at the expense of the divine, the physical at the expense of the spiritual.
12 The Protestant Attitude toward Mary
As evangelical Protestants we honor Mary, the mother of our Lord, with the honor the Scriptures give her as “blessed among women.” No other member of the human race has received such high honor as was conferred upon Mary in that she was chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. She was truly a woman of virtue, and of extraordinary faith. She fulfilled admirably the office assigned to her. She was the chosen vessel to bring the Bread of Life to a sin‑cursed world. But she was only the vessel, not the Bread of Life. We cannot eat the vessel; rather it is the Bread of Life that we need. It is not Mary the Jewish maiden, but Jesus the Son of God whom we need as Savior.
We honor Mary, and all generations shall call her “blessed,” because she believed the word of God and accepted the message of the angel Gabriel. But we do not deify her, nor worship her, nor pray to her, and we are bound to protest strongly when Christ is dethroned and Mary is elevated to that place which belongs to Him alone. We worship with her the Son of God, but we do not worship her, nor worship through her, as if she were a mediator. It is important that all understand the difference between the matter of honoring Mary, and the grossly unscriptural practice of worshipping her. We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus: “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50).
Roman priests say that they honor Mary and accuse Protestants of failing to do so. There is the danger, of course, that in revolting against the recognized evil of Mariolatry, we may neglect to give Mary the distinguished and honored place which the Scripture itself accords her. And we should be on guard against that. But the priests do her a grave injustice in that they impose too much responsibility upon her. Peter, the alleged first pope, did not do that. He did not even mention her in any of his sermons or in his two letters. As is characteristic of Protestants, he said much about Christ as the only Savior from sin, but he did not present Mary as a mediator. To present her in that capacity is to rob God of part of His glory and to palm off a counterfeit salvation upon the people. There is no record in Scripture of anyone ever believing on Mary for salvation.
The false estimate of Mary’s position on the part of the Roman Church is based in large measure on a mistaken interpretation of the words of Jesus spoken on the cross, when He said to John, “Behold, thy mother.” Romanists say that these words were addressed to all men, present and future, and that He was committing all men to Mary as her sons. The truth, however, is that the New Testament is unmistakably clear on this point, and that the Lord committed His mother to John’s care for the remainder of her natural life, and that He laid upon John as an individual the responsibility to serve as a son to her. It reads:
“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he saith to his mother, Woman, behold, thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold, thy mother! and from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:26-27).
The natural meaning of those words is that they were addressed to Mary and to John as individuals, that from that time forward Mary should look upon John, the beloved disciple, as her son, as the one who in her life would take the place of Jesus, and that John should assume the duties of a son and care for Mary with filial affection, that he should comfort her in her loneliness, as a true son would. And that Mary and John so understood those words is clear from the immediately following verse, which reads: “And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home” (v. 27).
This, then is the Mary we honor—not a weeping statue of stone, not a half‑goddess, nor a “Queen of Heaven,” but the humble servant of God, who found favor with Him and became the mother of Jesus.
13 Were There Other Children in the Family of Joseph and Mary?
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was virgin born. But what of the family of Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus? Did Joseph and Mary have other children? Or was Jesus the only Child? The answers to these questions pointedly divide Roman Catholics and Protestants.
In Matthew 13:54-56 we read:
“And coming into his own country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, “Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?”
Mark also names the brothers of Jesus and mentions his sisters (6:3). The natural meaning of these verses is that there were other children in the family of Joseph and Mary. There were four sons; and there were at least two daughters, for the term is in the plural. Presumably there were three or more daughters, for the term used is “all.” When there are only two we say “both,” not “all.” And the reference in John 1:5, “For even his brethren did not believe on him,” also finds its most natural meaning in other sons of Joseph and Mary. It was self‑evident that the people at large did not believe on Him, but here John says that even His own brothers, the members of His own family, did not believe on Him.
A prophecy about Christ in Psalm 69, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, And an alien unto my mother’s children” (vs. 8), also finds its natural fulfillment in the attitude of Christ’s brothers toward Him. That this is a Messianic psalm, prophetic of the coming and work of Christ, is clear from a number of New Testament references in which it is applied to Him. Compare verses 4, 8, 21, and 25 with John 15:25, 2:17; Romans 15:3; Matthew 27:34; and Acts 1:20, in which other elements of the Psalm are fulfilled. Luke’s statement concerning Mary, “And she brought forth her firstborn son” (2:7), implies that there were other sons born after Jesus. Acts 1:14 refers to “Mary the mother of Jesus,” and “his brethren,” who are mentioned in addition to the disciples.
These would in fact have been half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus since they were sons and daughters of Joseph and Mary, while He was the Son of Mary only. James, the half-brother of the Lord, became the head of the church in Jerusalem and presided at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13,19). And two of the books of the New Testament, James and Jude, were written by the sons of Joseph and Mary.
The Roman Catholic Church attempts to explain these away as cousins, and therefore not children of Joseph and Mary at all. But the Greek has another word which means cousin, anepsios, as in Colossians 4:10: “Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.”
Another reference indicating the same is Matthew 1:24,25: “And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she brought forth a son: and he called his name Jesus.” All that the Scripture says is that Joseph knew her not until after the birth of Jesus. The inference is that after the birth of Jesus Mary became wholly and completely the wife of Joseph, that they then lived as normal husband and wife, and, taken in connection with the other references that we have, that other children were then born into their family.
The Scriptures affirm that Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born. Nothing beyond that is needed to safeguard the Deity of Christ and Virginity of Mary. What more is needed to prove that Jesus was virgin-born? What more do we need to prove that Joseph was not the father of Jesus? In going beyond that and teaching the “perpetual virginity” of Mary, the Roman Catholics go beyond Scripture and set up manmade doctrine which has no authority.
The priests make repeated references to “the Virgin Mary.” They acknowledge that Joseph and Mary were husband and wife and attempt to portray them as the ideal human family, but deny that they lived in a normal marriage relationship. But such an unnatural relationship absurd on the face of it, and nowhere in Scripture is approval ever given for such an abnormal relationship. Such an arrangement would have been contrary to nature and simply a frustration for both parties. The priests must either give up the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity, or give up the idea that Joseph and Mary represent the ideal human family.
Back of Rome’s insistence on the perpetual virginity of Mary, of course, is the desire to justify the celibate state of the priests and nuns. Rome teaches that the single state is holier than the married state, that there is something inherently unclean and defiling about marriage. Says one Roman Catholic writer concerning the Virgin Mary: “It cannot with decency be imagined that the most holy vessel which was once consecrated to be a receptacle of the Deity should be afterwards desecrated and profaned by human usage.” According to this teaching a woman’s body is “desecrated and profaned” when she becomes a mother in the normal course of family life! A nun is holier than the mother of lovely children! And since Rome thinks of marriage as unholy and unclean, and since she has set herself to maintain the holiness, even the sinless perfection, of Mary, she finds herself obliged to teach that Mary always remained a virgin.
14 The Immaculate Conception
The doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” teaches that Mary herself was born without sin, that from the very first moment of her existence she was free from the taint of original sin. It holds that while all the rest of mankind are born into an inheritance of original sin, Mary alone, by a special miracle of God, was excepted. The original decree setting forth this doctrine was issued by Pope Pius IX, on December 8, 1854, and reads as follows:
“We declare, pronounce and define that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first instant of her conception was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, by the singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, and that this doctrine was revealed by God, and therefore must be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (from the papal bull Ineffabilus Deus, quoted in The Tablet, December 12, 1953).
Many Protestants misunderstand this doctrine and assume that it relates to the virgin birth of Christ. It relates, however, to Mary’s own birth, and has nothing to do with the virgin birth of Christ.
Side by side with the doctrine that Mary was born without sin, there developed the doctrine that she did not commit sin at any time during her life. Then, as one link reached out for another, they gave her the attribute of impeccability, which means that she could not sin, that her nature was such that it was impossible for her to sin! All of this was a natural outgrowth of their worship of Mary, a further step in her deification. Their Mariolatry demanded it! They sensed that if they were to give her the worship that is due our Lord, she must be sinless.
But this doctrine, like the other distinctive doctrines of the Roman system, completely lacks any Scriptural support, and in fact is directly opposed to the Scripture doctrine of original sin. The Bible teaches that all men, with the single exception of Christ, who was deity incarnate and pre‑existent, are sinners. Mary herself acknowledged her need of a Savior, for she said:
“My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47).
Note particularly Mary’s words, “my Savior.” No one other than a sinner needs a Savior, for no punishment or evil in any form can be inflicted upon a sinless person. Roman Catholics will have to take Mary’s word or accuse “Our Lady” of lying. For in those words she confessed that she was a sinner in need of a Savior. That should settle once and for all whether or not a Christian should pray to her. Mary was an admirable character, to be sure. But she was not sinless, and she was only human. It was, therefore, necessary for her to be born again of the Spirit and to participate in the redemption provided by her Son.
The Scriptures say clearly: “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (that includes Mary—Romans 3:23); “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (Romans 5:12); “For as in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22); “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10); “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
Scripture tells us that after the birth of Jesus, Mary brought the two offerings as prescribed in the law—one, a burnt‑offering (symbolizing complete surrender of the will to God), and the other a sin‑offering (a sacrifice acknowledging sin) (Luke 2:22‑24, Leviticus 12:6‑8). The last time Mary is mentioned in the New Testament she is praying on the same plane as other needy Christians, not being prayed to by them (Acts 1:13-14).
The doctrine of the immaculate conception has had a long and varied history. It was unknown to the apostolic church, and it was not even a matter of discussion until several centuries after the death of Mary. It did not become an official doctrine until the year 1854, more than 18 centuries after Christ was born of the virgin Mary, and so is one of the later doctrines of the Roman Church. The Council of Ephesus, 431, used the expression, “Mother of God,” but its purpose was to emphasize the deity of Christ, not to set forth a doctrine concerning Mary. But popular opinion reasoned that since the birth of Christ occurred without any taint of sin, Mary herself must have been without sin, even without original sin, which is the lot of all other human beings.
Augustine, who died in a.d. 430, and who was admittedly the greatest theologian of the ancient church, contradicts the idea of immaculate conception, for he expressly declares that Mary’s flesh was “flesh of sin” (De Peccatorum Meritis, II, c. 24); and again that “Mary, springing from Adam, died because of sin; and the flesh of our Lord, derived from Mary, died to take away sin.” He expressly attributed original sin to Mary in his Sermon on Psalm 2. The doctrine was opposed by Chrysostom, Eusebius, Ambrose, Anselm, most of the great medieval schoolmen, including Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Cardinal Cajetan (Luther’s opponent at Augsburg), and also by two of the greatest of the popes, Gregory the Great and Innocent III.
Thomas Aquinas says that while Christ did not contract original sin in any way whatsoever, nevertheless “the blessed Virgin did contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth” (Summa Theol. III, ad 2; Quest. 27, Art. 1‑5); and again that, “It is to be held, therefore, that she was conceived in original sin, but was cleansed from it in a special manner”(Compendium Theol., p. 224). Geddes MacGregor, in his book, The Vatican Revolution, says:
“So strong was St. Thomas’ [Aquinas] opposition to the doctrine that it became almost a point of honor throughout the Dominican order to oppose the notion as theologically untenable. The Franciscans, however, following Duns Scotus, were more inclined to foster the notion, and the Jesuits, later on, made it one of their special concerns to do so. If Pope Pius IX was right, let alone infallible, it seems regrettable that the learned theologians of Christendom should have been left for eighteen hundred years with such a marked lack of guidance on the subject that they not only erred on it but erred almost in proportion to their stature as the leaders of the Church’s intellectual life, the luminaries in the firmament of her mind” (p. 9; Beacon Press, Boston; Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London and Toronto).
The dispute between the Dominicans and the Franciscans became so bitter that Pope Sixtus IV eventually took a hand and prohibited further discussion, without deciding the question in favor of either side. The Council of Trent, though called primarily to deal with the problems arising because of the Protestant Reformation, was asked by Pope Pius IV to make a pronouncement, but left the matter untouched.
Nevertheless, the idea that Mary was sinless continued to gain ground. Members of the Jesuit order soon began to propagate the doctrine anew, and it was largely through their work that it was decreed by pope Pius IX, “the infallible successor of Peter,” in 1854, and was officially ratified by the docile Vatican Council of 1870 (which council also ratified the decree concerning the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals).
Most of the theologians of the Middle Ages opposed the doctrine because they were unable to harmonize it with the universality of original sin. Most of them held that if Mary were not a partaker of the sin and apostasy of the race, she could not be the point of contact between Deity and humanity as was required for the human nature of Christ. Hence in this case, even tradition, the usual refuge of the Roman Church in matters of doctrine, contradicts this papal dogma.
So, Mary is now placed on a plane of absolute equality with her adorable Son, Jesus Christ, so far as sinlessness is concerned. Like the other doctrines of Romanism, this one is said to be based on “the unanimous consent of the fathers.” Though the dispute in reality continued for centuries and was at times bitter, it is accepted by all Roman Catholics today, for the official pronouncement by the pope leaves them no other choice. For along with the decree there was issued this condemnation of any who dare to disbelieve it:
“Therefore, if some shall presume to think in their hearts otherwise than we have defined (which God forbid), they shall know and thoroughly understand that they are by their own judgment condemned, have made shipwreck concerning the faith, and fallen away from the unity of the Church; and, moreover, that they, by this very act, subject themselves to the penalties ordained by law, if, by word, or writing, or by other external means, they dare to signify what they think in their heart.”
What a flagrant example of false doctrine and ecclesiastical tyranny! It is the very thing that Peter condemned when he forbade “lording it over your charges” (Confraternity Version, 1 Peter 5:3). The Council of Trent pronounced its anathemas primarily against Protestants who dared to differ with its decrees. But the anathemas pronounced by the later councils have been directed primarily against their own people, in order to force them into line.
But why should any Roman Catholic embrace that doctrine when the greatest teachers in his own church rejected it? Indeed, why should anyone believe it if the Bible does not teach it?
15 The Assumption of Mary
The latest addition to the long list of Roman Catholic beliefs (“inventions” might be a more accurate term) came on November 1, 1950, with the ex cathedra pronouncement by Pope Pius XII from St. Peter’s chair that Mary’s body was raised from the grave shortly after she died, that her body and soul were reunited, and that she was taken up and enthroned as Queen of Heaven. And to this pronouncement there was added the usual warning that “anyone who may henceforth doubt or deny this doctrine is utterly fallen away from the divine and Catholic faith.” That means that it is a mortal sin for any Roman Catholic to refuse to believe this doctrine.
According to tradition, Mary’s assumption was on this wise:
“On the third day after Mary’s death, when the apostles gathered around her tomb, they found it empty. The sacred body had been carried up to the celestial paradise. Jesus Himself came to conduct her hither; the whole court of heaven came to welcome with songs of triumph the Mother of the divine Lord. What a chorus of exultation! Hark how they cry, ‘Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the Queen of Glory shall enter in.’”
This is the type of account that might be expected from a medieval monk who was not satisfied with the information given in the Bible concerning Mary, and who undertook to describe the events as he imagined they might have happened. Here we are told that Mary was not only received into heaven, but that she was raised to a preeminence far above that which it is possible for any of the saints to attain. Because of her alleged cooperation in the passion of her Son, she is assigned a dignity beyond even the highest of the archangels. She was crowned Queen of Heaven by the eternal Father, and received a throne at her Son’s right hand.
Thus Mary’s body was miraculously preserved from corruption, and her resurrection and ascension are made to parallel Christ’s resurrection and ascension. And she, like Him, is said to be enthroned in heaven where she makes intercession for the millions of people throughout the world who seek her assistance. This was a natural consequence of the 1854 pronouncement of the immaculate conception of Mary—a supernatural entrance into life calls for a supernatural exit from life. A mysterious halo of holiness falls over her entire being. Whereas the glorification of the saints will take place at the end of the world, her glorification has already taken place.
The late pope Pius XII was called the “Marian pope” for his work in promulgating this doctrine of the assumption of Mary and in declaring her Queen of Heaven. By his decree a twelve-month period was set aside for this purpose, involving Marian congresses, special services, and pilgrimages to Rome (which, of course, brought huge revenues to the Vatican, primarily from American pilgrims or tourists), with the avowed purpose of turning the eyes of the world more intensively toward Mary—which inevitably meant a proportionate turning away from Christ.
To a Protestant the most amazing thing about the doctrine of the assumption of Mary is that it has no Scripture proof whatever. Not one shred of evidence can Roman Catholics find in the Bible about Mary’s death, burial, location of her grave, or when or how she ascended to liven. And yet this troubles the Roman Church not in the least. Pope Pius XII made the pronouncement with the utmost confidence, relying on an alleged original “deposit of faith” given to the apostles by Jesus Christ—but which, we note, did not come clearly to light until some nineteen centuries later. The early church fathers, who were closest to those events, knew nothing at all about such an ascension. One marvels that such unscriptural, unhistorical, and senseless teachings could be embraced by any people and treated as if they were unchallengeable Scripture truth.
All that the Roman Church pretends to have from an early date supporting this doctrine is an apocalyptic legend, contained in a book, In Gloriam Martyrum, written by Gregory of Tours, southern France, in the sixth century. On the face of it, it is a mere fairy tale. This book narrates how as Mary lay dying with the apostles gathered around her bed, Jesus appeared with His angels, committed her soul to the care of Gabriel, and her body was taken away in a cloud. As Edward J. Tanis appropriately remarks, “There is no more evidence for the truth of this than for the ghost stories told by our grandfathers” (What Rome Teaches, p. 26). But this curious medieval folklore has now been made an official doctrine of the Roman Church, and any member who refuses to accept it is declared by papal decree to be “utterly fallen away from the divine and Catholic faith.”
Here we have a typical example of how Roman Catholic doctrines develop. Millions of people are required to believe in the bodily assumption of Mary without the church furnishing any Scriptural or historical proof, and they do so even without a protest. Not even in the schools of learning is there any voice raised to demand proof for such a doctrine. Whether Scriptural or unscriptural, historical or unhistorical, scientific or unscientific, reasonable or unreasonable, every member of the church is under obligation to accept it and believe it. This shows the baneful effect of the kindred doctrines that the pope is infallible in his ex cathedra statements, and that the average church member is not to try to reason out his faith but to accept implicitly whatever the church teaches.
The doctrine of the assumption of Mary is merely one of the so‑called “logical conclusions” that the Roman theologians have drawn to support their system. Since Mary was sinless it is illogical, we are told, to assume that her body remained in the grave. But the answer is: If Mary was sinless, why did she have to die at all? Death is the penalty for sin. And where there is no sin there can be no penalty. God would be unjust if He punished the innocent. Either Mary was sinless and did not die, or she did have sin, she died, and her body remains in the grave.
Rome has so built up the Mary role that it has become an indispensable part of the present day church, so much so that if Mary were placed back in the position given her in Scripture, it would change the whole character of that church. Some have even suggested that the Roman Catholic Church should be called the “Marian Church,” because in its life and practice it gives first place to her.
Following the ex cathedra pronouncements concerning the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of Mary, there remains one major link to complete the process to which the Roman Church is committed in regard to Mary—that of her co‑redeemership with Christ. This doctrine has been under discussion for several years. Some prominent churchmen have indicated that the next official pronouncement will declare that Mary, though technically not divine, is nevertheless associated with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in matters of salvation, and that she is the “Mediatrix of all Graces,” or “Co‑redemptrix with Christ.” At the present rate we eventually shall have in heaven no longer a Trinity but a Quartet! Thus in every age Rome moves forward deliberately in the formulation of her doctrines.
16 Rome’s Purpose in Exalting Mary
In the development of this section extensive use has been made of an article, The Secret Purpose of Mariolatry, by Dee Smith, published in Christian Heritage, December, 1958.
In the Roman Church so much of myth and legend has been added to Mary’s person that the real Mary has been largely forgotten. Although there are but few references to her in the Bible, she is there presented as a sublimely courageous character. In no other event is her true character brought out so clearly as in her vigil at Calvary. When most mothers would have been in a state of collapse, Mary persisted through a long and agonizing ordeal which only the most valiant spirit could have endured.
What a contrast there is between this noble, heroic woman and the gaudily dressed doll that we see in the Roman Catholic Church! Instead of the candid and forthright gaze of one conscious of the dignity and self-respect of her womanhood, the “Blessed Virgin” shrinks in servility with lowered head and lowered eyes, as if ashamed of it. One searches the empty face for a single trace of such character as must have graced the one chosen to nurture the Christ. The astute observer soon realizes that this insipid caricature decked out in superfluous finery has no relationship at all to the Mary of Scripture, and is nothing more than a sheer fabrication, a fiction promoted with ulterior purposes.
What, then, is the purpose of the hierarchy in promoting this particular type of mannequin? In what way does she serve their interests?
It is obvious that the Blessed Virgin represents a model for Roman Catholic women, or to put it more accurately, a strait jacket in which the clergy would like to fasten them. She represents the type of woman most conducive to sustained clerical control over the minds of the Roman masses. Her outstanding qualities are humility, obedience, pliability—abject submission to authority. It is this ideal that the Roman Church wishes to instill—indeed must instill—in Roman Catholic womanhood if it is to retain its hold on the people and maintain the services rendered in its many institutional enterprises such as schools and hospitals, which for the most part are run with unpaid labor.
The most important service rendered by this caricature of the Blessed Mary is that of maintaining the control of the Roman clergy over Roman Catholic women. For the promotion of the church program it is absolutely essential that they remain spineless, mindless, “meek and mild,” as Mary is pictured, willing to accept dumbly a half‑life in which their role is merely to bear and to drudge. In Roman Catholic countries this control remains as complete today as ever it was at any age in the past, and in countries such as our own any deviation from this norm is due to the good fortune of those women in being born in a Protestant country in which truly Christian influences make for the general uplift of womankind. The hierarchy exacts a service from the women of the church that it cannot obtain from the men, yet ironically its contempt for womankind is coupled with a full awareness that its whole power system rests upon the Catholic woman, and that if she ever raises her bowed head, the worldwide political machine will lose its efficiency and collapse irreparably.
In Roman Catholic countries, where women can be kept in total ignorance, the priests, who are educated and intelligent men, have never hesitated to play upon their emotions, to instill fear into their souls, and to encourage superstition as that suited their purpose. In enlightened countries common knowledge prevents much of that deception, and Roman Catholic women to a large extent share with their Protestant sisters the blessings of a common culture.
It is well known that the Roman Catholic clergy in all countries urge their people to produce large families. This serves a double purpose. First, it keeps both mothers and fathers so fully occupied, the women in caring for the children, and the fathers in making a living, that they have little chance to look around and make undesirable comparisons between the ethics of their creed and that of the Protestant countries. And, secondly, this large family program serves to plug the hole in the dyke left by the defection of a large number who leave their church.
As an alternative to her child‑bearing services for the glory of Rome, the Catholic woman is offered the privilege of becoming a holy drudge within the church, namely, a nun in a convent. Here again the Blessed Virgin plays a key role, that of recruiting officer. Add to this the masterly publicity job that has been done on the Roman Catholic girl from infancy to make the nun an object of holy glamour, almost a replica of the Blessed Virgin, and it is somewhat surprising to learn that in recent years the Roman Church is finding it increasingly difficult to persuade American girls to enter convents. It has become so difficult in fact that the Roman Church has been obliged to import sisters from Europe to meet the need for teachers and nurses.
In concluding the article previously mentioned, Dee Smith says:
“Presiding over the two functions of Roman Catholic womanhood, the child‑bearing program and the unpaid labor pool, stands the puppet figure of the Blessed Virgin, at once the instigator and the patroness.
“Compared with her services in insuring the cushioned privilege and power of the hierarchy by subjugating the Roman Catholic women, the enormous wealth brought to Rome’s exchequer by the financial exploitations of Mariolatry is merely incidental. Yet it is worth a glance.
“From the sale of ‘holy’ pictures, leaflets, scapulars, candles burned before her altars, fees for masses, and so on, the staggering intake at commercialized shrines such as St. Anne de Beaupre, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and others, a steady stream of gold flows into hierarchical coffers. One might almost paraphrase the Roman title, ‘Mother of God,’ to ‘Minter of Gold.’
“But all this is as nothing beside the Blessed Virgin’s vital and indispensable function in maintaining the status quo. Without the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin the Roman Catholic woman could not be kept at her business of child‑bearing and drudging. Without the subjection of the Catholic woman, without her submissive acceptance of the yoke of Mary caricatured by the Roman Church, the all‑powerful, self‑indulgent ambitious men who constitute the Roman hierarchy would not be able to use their power as a weapon against human liberties and human rights.
“Without doubt, the devotion to the Blessed Virgin constantly impressed upon the Roman population by its clergy is inspired not by piety, but by expediency. For the clergy, devotion to Mary is not merely a matter of dollars and cents, but of survival. Their sinecure depends on it. That is the secret purpose of Mariolatry.”
What, then, is the remedy for this situation, this entire problem of Mariology and Mariolatry? It is, indeed, very simple. Let the Roman Catholic people read the Bible, particularly the New Testament. There they will find the living, compassionate, redeeming Christ, with very little said about Mary. It is not without reason that the Roman priesthood has striven so hard to keep the Bible from the people, and that even now the people are strictly forbidden to read any Bible except one that contains the approved set of explanatory notes.
CHAPTER VIII The Mass
2. The Nature of the Mass
3. The Mass the Same Sacrifice as on Calvary?
5. The Cup Withheld from the Laity
6. The Finality of Christ’s Sacrifice
7. The Mass and Money
8. Historical Development
9. Seven Sacraments
“The Holy Eucharist: And while they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed and brake, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ And taking a cup, he gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, ‘All of you drink this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins’” (Confraternity Version, Matthew 26:26-28).
“Institution of the Eucharist: For I myself have received from the Lord (what I also delivered to you), that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke, and said, ‘This is my body which shall be given up for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In like manner also the cup, after he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood: do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes’” (Confraternity Version, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
In the New York Catechism we read: “Jesus Christ gave us the sacrifice of the Mass to leave to His Church a visible sacrifice which continues His sacrifice on the cross until the end of time.The Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross [italics ours]. Holy Communion is the receiving of the body and blood of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.”
The Creed of Pope Pius IV, which is one of the official creeds of the Roman Church, says: “I profess that in the Mass is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice [that is, a sacrifice which satisfies the justice of God and so offsets the penalty for sin] for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood, which the Catholic Church calls Transubstantiation.”
The Council of Trent declared: “The sacrifice [in the Mass] is identical with the sacrifice of the Cross, inasmuch as Jesus Christ is a priest and victim both. The only difference lies in the manner of offering, which is bloody upon the cross and bloodless on our altars.”
A Roman Catholic, John A. O’Brien, whose books are widely read, says: “The Mass with its colorful vestments and vivid ceremonies is a dramatic re‑enactment in an unbloody manner of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary” (The Faith of Millions, p. 382).
2 The Nature of the Mass
The words of Matthew 26:26‑28 and 1 Corinthians 11:23‑26, particularly the words, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” may seem to be quite simple and easy to understand. But the fact is that they probably are the most controverted words in the history of theological doctrine, and probably have caused more division within the church than any others.
It is surprising how many Protestants do not understand the significance of the Roman Catholic mass. Some think of it as merely a church ritual and dismiss it as just another form of the Lord’s Supper or holy communion. But that is far from being the case. For Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, the Lord’s Supper or holy communion is a sacrament. For Protestants it is a means of spiritual blessing and a memorial service, recalling to mind the glorious person of Christ and the great service that He rendered for us on Calvary. But for Roman Catholics it is something quite different. For them it is also a sacrifice, performed by a priest. And its sacrificial element is by far the most important. In fact the sacrifice of the mass is the central point in their worship, while even the preaching of the Gospel is assigned a subordinate role and is not even held to be an essential of the priestly office.
In the Roman Church this further distinction should be noted between the two parts of the mass—the mass proper, and holy communion. In the mass the so‑called sacrifice is offered only by the priest and only he partakes of both the bread and the wine. In holy communion the people partake of the bread but not of the wine and have no other active part in the service.
According to Roman teaching, in the sacrifice of the mass the bread and wine are changed by the power of the priest at the time of consecration into the actual body and blood of Christ. The bread, in the form of thin, round wafers, hundreds of which may be consecrated simultaneously, is contained in a golden dish. The wine is in a golden cup. The supposed body and blood of Christ are then raised before the altar by the hands of the priest and offered up to God for the sins both of the living and the dead. During this part of the ceremony the people are little more than spectators to a religious drama. Practically everything is done by the priest, or by the priest and his helpers. The audience does not sing, nor are there any spontaneous prayers either on the part of the priest or the people. The liturgy is so rigid that it can be carried out mechanically, almost without thought.
In the observance of holy communion the priest partakes of a large wafer, then he drinks the wine in behalf of the congregation. The lay members go to the front of the church and kneel before a railing, with closed eyes, and open mouths into which the priest places a small wafer. Roman Catholic theology holds that the complete body and blood of Christ are in both the bread and the wine. At this point one is tempted to ask, If the priest can partake of the wine for the congregation, why may he not also partake of the bread for the congregation?
Formerly it was required that anyone partaking of the mass must have abstained from any form of food or drink, even water, since midnight—hence the need for early mass. That, however, caused many to become indifferent. Now one has to abstain from solid food for only one hour before receiving communion, and he does not have to abstain from water at all. Yet the New Testament tells us that Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper immediately after He and the disciples had eaten the Passover feast. If Christ had no objection to the bread being mixed with other food, why should the Roman Church object?
The elaborate ritual of the mass is really an extended pageant, designed to re-enact the experiences of Christ from the supper in the upper room, through the agony in the garden, the betrayal, trial, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. It is a drama crowding the detailed events of many days into the space of one hour or less. For its proper performance the priest in seminary goes through long periods of training and needs a marvelous memory. Witness the following: he makes the sign of the cross sixteen times, turns toward the congregation six times, lifts his eyes to heaven eleven times, kisses the altar eight times, folds his hands four times, strikes his breast ten times, bows his head twenty-one times, genuflects eight times, bows his shoulders seven times, blesses the altar with the sign of the cross thirty times, lays his hands flat on the altar twenty-nine times, prays secretly eleven times, prays aloud thirteen times, takes the bread and wine and turns it into the body and blood of Christ, covers and uncovers the chalice ten times, goes to and fro twenty times, and in addition performs numerous other acts.1 His bowings and genuflections are imitations of Christ in His agony and suffering. The various articles of clothing worn by the priest at different stages of the drama represent those worn by Christ—the seamless robe, the purple coat, the veil with which His face was covered in the house of Caiaphas, a girdle representing the cords with which He was bound in the garden, the cords which bound Him to the cross, etc. If the priest forgets even one element of the drama he commits a great sin and technically may invalidate the mass. Add to the above the highly colored robes of the clergy, the candles, bells, incense, music, special church architecture of the chancel often in gleaming white, and the fact that the mass is said or sung in an unknown tongue, Latin, which is not understood by the people, and you see something of the complexity of the program. Surely there was much truth in Voltaire’s remark concerning the mass as practiced in the cathedrals of France in his day, that it was “the grand opera of the poor.”
But what a miserable form of play‑acting is all of that! What a poor substitute for the Gospel do the people depend on for eternal life! In contrast how simple was the scene in the upper room as Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper! In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, in just four verses, Paul outlines the whole simple service: The Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; He gave thanks; He broke the bread; and He gave it to them as a memorial of His body which was to be broken for them. Just four simple actions concerning the bread. Then two actions are recorded concerning the wine: He took the cup, and He gave it to them as symbolical of His blood which was to be shed for them. All that we are asked to remember is that He died to save sinners and that we are so to commemorate His death until He returns. But this simple event the Church of Rome has magnified into the glaring, elaborate, showy pageantry and drama of the mass!
1 The liturgy of the mass was considerably simplified in 1965, and can now be said in the colloquial language.
The celebration of the mass is the chief duty of the Roman priesthood. Yet the New Testament gives no instruction as to how to offer mass, and in fact there is not so much as one line on the subject in Scripture. Christ sent the apostles to teach and to baptize, not to say mass. His final instructions to the church were: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them… teaching them…” (Matthew 28:19). Search the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles, and you find many admonitions to prayer, praise, preaching the Gospel, but not one word about the mass. Paul gave many instructions and exhortations concerning the government and duties of the churches, but he says nothing about the sacrifice of the mass. For centuries the sacrificing priesthood of the Old Testament era had been typical of the one true Priest who was to come. But after He had come and had accomplished His work there was no further need to continue the empty forms. So the priesthood, having served its purpose, was abolished, and Christ made no provision for His apostles and ministers to continue any kind of sacrifice. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has much to say about the endless repetition and futility of the ancient sacrifices. He shows that their only value was to symbolize and point forward to the one true sacrifice that was to be made by Christ. “We have been sanctified,” he said, “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifice which can never take away sins; but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sin for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (10:10‑14). The New Testament, therefore, announces the termination of all sacrifices, declaring that Christ alone is our true sacrifice, and that He offered Himself “once for all,” thus forever ending all other sacrifices.
It staggers the imagination to realize that a merely human pantomime so absurd and so contradictory to Holy Scripture could be accepted and slavishly attended day after day and week after week by thinking men and women. Since the New Testament gives no instructions at all about the continuation of the Old Testament sacrifices, it was necessary for the Roman priesthood to invent a new kind of sacrifice. This they did by making a frivolous distinction between the “bloody” sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the “unbloody” sacrifice which they pretend to offer in the mass. A priest, of course, must have a sacrifice, for that is the distinguishing mark of his profession. A priest without a sacrifice is simply no priest at all.
In the true observance of the Lord’s Supper the symbolism is found in the bread and wine. But in the Roman ceremony no place is left for that symbolism, for the bread and wine become the actual flesh and blood of Christ so that He is literally present. The newly developed symbolism in the Roman ceremony centers in the priest at the altar—his consecration of the host, his vestments, and his various movements which constitute “the drama of the mass.” Rome destroys the symbolism of the elements, which recalls the sacrifice on Calvary, and substitutes the symbolism of the one who administers the sacrament.
Concerning the altar at which the priest ministers, Dr. Harris says:
“It was probably the invention of the priesthood which brought in the altar. The early churches had no altar. The Jewish altar, done away in Christ, was a massive structure of brass on which a constantly burning fire consumed the Jewish offerings. It was a type, of course, of the cross on which Christ ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 9:26) offered Himself. An altar without fire is a contradiction in terms, just as an ‘unbloody sacrifice of the mass’ is a contradiction of the clear teaching of Scripture that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22), and, ‘we are justified by his blood’ (Romans 5:9, Confraternity ed.). The altar, as now used, is a Roman Catholic invention” (Fundamental Protestant Doctrines, II, p. 5).
The Protestant views concerning the elements in the Lord’s Supper can be stated very simply. They differ somewhat in regard to the symbolic significance of the bread and wine, but in regard to the event memorialized they agree that in the one sacrifice on Calvary Christ offered Himself once for all for the sins of His people. The following summary of Protestant views is given in the Christian Heritage Series, Book No. 1, pages 52 and 53:
“The Lutheran Church rejects the doctrine of transubstantiation and teaches that the elements are figurative. They insist, however, upon the real presence of Christ at the Supper; that is, He is present as the soul is in the body or magnetism is in the magnet. Theologians call this consubstantiation.” [Luther expressed this by saying that Christ is “in, with, and under” the elements.]
“Reformed [and Presbyterian] congregations understand the words of Christ metaphorically. ‘This is (that is, signifies) my body.’ Along with this metaphorical understanding of the elements, however, is the idea that Christ is present virtually, or as Dr. Hodge puts it: ‘the virtues and effects of the sacrifice of the body of the Redeemer on the cross are made present and are actually conveyed in the sacrament to the worthy receiver by the power of the Holy Ghost, who uses the sacrament as His instrument according to His sovereign will.’
“All other Protestant churches hold that the bread and wine are mere symbols of the body and blood of Christ, nothing more. The observance is a memorial only of His death for our sins, to be commemorated until He comes again.”
3 The Mass the Same Sacrifice as on Calvary?
In a Roman Catholic Catechism of Christian Doctrine the question is asked: “Is the Holy Mass one and the same sacrifice with that of the Cross?” (Question 278). And the answer is given:
“The Holy Mass is one and the same sacrifice with that of the Cross, inasmuch as Christ, who offered Himself, a bleeding victim, on the Cross to His Heavenly Father, continues to offer Himself in an unbloody manner on the altar, through the ministry of His priests.”
The Church of Rome holds that the mass is a continuation of the sacrifice that Christ made on Calvary, that it is in reality a re‑crucifixion of our Lord over and over again, in an unbloody manner. It also holds that this sacrifice is just as efficacious to take away sin as was the sacrifice on Calvary. Christ supposedly is offered in sacrifice every time the mass is celebrated, that is, daily, in thousands of Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. The mass, therefore, is not a memorial, but a ritual in which the bread and wine are transformed into the literal flesh and blood of Christ, which is then offered as a true sacrifice. The only difference is the manner in which the two are made. Rome thus claims to continue an act which the Scriptures say was completed nearly two thousand years ago.
In the sacrifice of the mass the Roman priest becomes an “Alter Christus,” that is, “Another Christ,” in that he sacrifices the real Christ upon the altar and presents Him for the salvation of the faithful and for the deliverance of souls in purgatory. The Roman Church teaches that Christ, in the form of the “host” (the consecrated wafer), is in reality upon the altar, and that the priests have Him in their power, that they hold Him in their hands, and carry Him from place to place.
We must, of course, take strong exception to such pretended sacrifice. We cannot regard it as anything other than a deception, a mockery, and an abomination before God. The so‑called sacrifice in the mass certainly is not identical with that on Calvary, regardless of what the priests may say. There is in the mass no real Christ, no suffering, and no bleeding. And a bloodless sacrifice is ineffectual. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that “apart from shedding of blood there is no remission” of sin (9:22); and John says, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Since admittedly there is no blood in the mass, it simply cannot be a sacrifice for sin.
In the New Testament the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is always presented as a sacrament, never as a sacrifice. Furthermore according to the Levitical law a sin offering was never to be eaten and all eating of blood, even animal blood, and much more the eating of human blood, was strictly forbidden. The fact that in the Lord’s Supper the elements are eaten is proof in itself that it was never intended to be a sacrifice.
The word “transubstantiation” means a change of substance. The Church of Rome teaches that the whole substance of the bread and wine is changed into the literal physical body and blood of Christ. A Catechism of Christian Doctrine asks the question: “What is the Holy Mass?” and the answer is given:
“The Holy Mass is the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, really present on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, and offered to God for the living and the dead.”
The doctrine of transubstantiation and the power of the priests is clearly stated by Liguori in the following words:
“With regard to the power of the priests over the real body of Christ, it is of faith that when they pronounce the words of consecration, the incarnate God has obliged Himself to obey and come into their hands under the sacramental appearance of bread and wine. We are struck with wonder when we find that in obedience to the words of His priests—Hoc est corpus meum (This is my body)—God Himself descends on the altar, that He comes whenever they call Him, and as often as they call Him, and places Himself in their hands, even though they should be His enemies. And after having come He remains, entirely at their disposal and they move Him as they please from one place to another. They may, if they wish, shut Him up in the tabernacle, or expose Him on the altar, or carry Him outside the church; they may, if they choose, eat his flesh, and give Him for the food of others. Besides, the power of the priest surpasses that of the Blessed Virgin because she cannot absolve a Catholic from even the smallest sin” (The Dignity and Duties of the Priest).
The priest supposedly is endowed with power by the bishop at the time of his ordination to change the bread and wine into the literal living body and blood of Christ, which is then known as the “host,” and to bring Him down upon the altar. And that body is said to be complete in all its parts, down to the last eyelash and toenail! How it can exist in thousands of places and in its full proportions, even in a small piece of bread, is not explained, but is taken on faith as a miracle.
It must not be supposed for a minute that modern Roman Catholics do not literally believe this jumble of medieval superstition. They have been taught it from infancy, and they do believe it. It is the very finest doctrine of their church. It is one of the chief doctrines, if indeed it is not the chief doctrine, upon which their church rests. The priests preach it literally and emphatically several times a year, and Roman Catholic laymen do not dare express any doubt about it.
After the adoration of the consecrated “host,” the uplifted hands of he priest pretend to offer to God the very body and blood of Christ as a sacrifice for the living and the dead. Then, in the observance of the eucharist he pretends to eat Him alive, in the presence of the people, also to give Him to the people under the appearance of bread, to be eaten by them.
This doctrine of the mass, of course, is based on the assumption that the words of Christ, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood” (Matthew 6:26‑28), must be taken literally. The accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, both in the Gospels and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, make it perfectly clear that He spoke in figurative terms. Jesus aid, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). And Paul quotes Jesus as saying: “This is the new covenant in my blood. … or as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:25‑26). In these words He used a double figure of speech. The cup is put for the wine, and the wine is called the new covenant. The cup was not literally the new covenant, although it is declared to be so as definitely as the bread is declared to be His body. They did not literally drink the cup, nor did they literally drink the new covenant. How ridiculous to say that they did! Nor was the bread literally His body, or the wine His blood. After giving the wine to the disciples Jesus said, “I shall not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke 22:18). So the wine, even as He gave it to them, and after He had given it to hem, remained “the fruit of the vine”! Paul too says that the bread remains bread: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the pup of the Lord in an unworthy manner. … But let each man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 1:27‑28). No change had taken place in the elements. This was after the prayer of consecration, when the Church of Rome supposes the change took place, and Jesus and Paul both declare that the elements still are bread and wine.
Another and more important proof that the bread and wine are not changed into the literal and actual flesh and blood of Christ is this: the literal interpretation makes the sacrament a form of cannibalism. For that is precisely what cannibalism is—the eating of human flesh. Rome attempts to deny this, but not with much logic. Clearly there is a contradiction in the Romanist explanation somewhere.
Indeed, how can Christ’s words, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood,” be taken in a literal sense? At the time those words were spoken, the bread and wine were on the table before Him, and in His body He was sitting at the table a living man. The crucifixion had not taken place. They ate the Lord’s Supper before the crucifixion took place. Furthermore, we do not, and cannot memorialize someone who is present, as the Romanists say Christ is present in the mass. But in the future, in His absence, these things would symbolize His broken body and shed blood. They would then call to mind His sacrifice, and would then be taken in remembrance” of Him (1 Corinthians 11:25).
Jesus’ words, “This do in remembrance of me,” show that the Lord’s Supper was not some kind of magical operation, but primarily a memorial, instituted to call Christians throughout the ages to remember the wondrous cross of the crucified Lord and all its marvelous benefits and lessons for us. A memorial does not present the reality, in this case His true body and blood, but something quite different, which serves only as a reminder of the real thing.
We often show a friend a photograph and say, “This is my wife”; “This is my son”; “This is my daughter.” Such language is readily understood in ordinary conversation. Nobody takes such words literally. The Bible is written in the language of the common people. Hence it is perfectly obvious to any observant reader that the Lord’s Supper was intended primarily as a simple memorial feast, in no sense a literal reincarnation of Christ.
We believe that the real meaning of Christ’s words can be seen when they are compared with similar figurative language which He used in John 4:13-14. There, speaking to the woman at Jacob’s well, He said: “Every one that drinketh this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.”
On other occasions He used similar language. He said, “I am the door” (John 10:7), but of course He did not mean that He was a literal wooden door with lock and hinges. He said, “I am the vine” (John 15:5), but no one understood Him to mean that He was a grapevine. When He said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14), He did not mean that He was actually a shepherd. When He said, “Ye must be born again,” (John 3:7), He referred not to a physical birth but to a spiritual birth. When He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), he meant His body, not the structure of wood and stone. When He said, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life” (John 6:54), He was speaking of a spiritual relationship between Himself and His people in terms of the Old Testament type, that is, eating the Passover lamb and drinking the Passover wine; but His Jewish hearers, being literalists, as are the Roman Catholics, misunderstood His words. He said, “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), and “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). He spoke of “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). James said, “The tongue is a fire” (3:6); and again, “Ye are a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (4:14). Moses spoke of “the bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3), and Isaiah spoke of “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (30:20). None of these statements is true if taken literally. The disciples had no trouble understanding Jesus’ figures of speech. Similarly, the expressions, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” are clear enough for all except those who will not see, or those who merely follow medieval theologians. It is unreasonable in the extreme to take these two expressions literally while taking the others figuratively.
The actual eating of human flesh and blood is repulsive, abhorrent to all right minded people, and it was especially so to the Jews. Such practice is contrary to Scripture and to common sense. “And whatsoever man there be… that eateth any manner of blood, I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people,” was the word of God through Moses (Leviticus 17:10); “Ye shall not eat the blood” (Deuteronomy 12:16); etc. In Jewish law a stern penalty was enacted against eating blood. In Peter’s vision (Acts 10) when he was told to arise, kill and eat, he promptly protested that he had never eaten anything unclean. A little later the Jerusalem Council, legislating for the Christian dispensation, ratified a provision against the eating of blood: “…that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood” (Acts 15:29). It is impossible to believe that when the apostles thus set forth the law of God they were themselves partakers, not merely of animal blood, but of human blood—as they would have been if in the Lord’s Supper they regularly ate the literal flesh and blood of Christ.
The Roman Church acknowledges that in the mass there is no visible change in the bread and wine, that they continue to have the same properties: the same taste, color, smell, weight, and dimensions. It should be sufficient to refute this doctrine to point out that it involves an impossibility. It is impossible that the attributes or sensible properties of bread and wine should remain if the substance has been changed. It is self‑evident that if the attributes of flesh and blood are not there, the actual flesh and blood are not there. When Jesus changed the water into wine at Cana of Galilee, there was no question but that it was wine. It had the properties of wine. But since the bread and wine in the eucharist do not have the attributes of flesh and blood, it is absurd to say that any such change has taken place. That which contradicts our reason must be pronounced irrational. Yet the adherents of Rome, under threat of eternal condemnation, are forced to believe what their church tells them, even though it contradicts their senses. The effect cannot be other than detrimental when men are forced to accept as true that which they know to be false. Says Henry M. Woods:
“If men think at all, they know that what the papal church requires them to believe in the eucharist, under penalty of an eternal curse, is a monstrous untruth. They know they are eating bread, not human flesh: and they know that no human priest can offer a real atoning sacrifice for sin” (Our Priceless Heritage, p. 107).
When the Roman priest consecrates the wafer it is then called the “host,” and they worship it as God. But if the doctrine of transubstantiation is false, then the “host” is no more the body of Christ than is any other piece of bread. And if the soul and divinity of Christ are not present, then the worship of it is sheer idolatry, of the same kind as that of pagan tribes who worship fetishes.
A curious and interesting item in connection with the doctrine of the Church of Rome is that the efficiency of a priest’s action in performing any sacrament depends upon his “intention,” and that if he does not have the right intention in doing what he professes to do the sacrament is invalid. The Council of Trent declared: “If anyone shall say that intention, at least of doing what the church does, is not required in ministers while performing and administering the sacraments, let him be anathema” (Sess. VII, Can. 11). The Creed of Pope Pius IV says:
“If there is a defect in any of these: namely, the due matter, the form with intention, or the sacerdotal order of the celibrant, it nullifies the sacrament.”
And cardinal Bellarmine, who is considered one of the foremost authorities, says:
“No one can be certain, with the certainty of faith, that he has received a true sacrament, since no sacrament is performed without the intention of the ministers, and no one can see the intention of another” (Works, Vol. I, p. 488).
Hence in the administration of the mass, baptism, or any of the other sacraments, if the right intention is lacking on the part of the priest, either through lack of attention to what he is doing, ill feeling toward the person before him, spite at his superiors, physical or mental distresses which distract him, etc., the sacrament is null and void. If at the time the priest is administering the mass, the bread and wine undergo no change, then when he elevates the “host” and the people bow down and worship it they are worshipping a mere creature, acknowledged by the Church of Rome to be such. And that, of course, is sheer idolatry. How often that occurs we have no way of knowing. If one cannot be certain that he is partaking of a true sacrament, he cannot be sure that he is not worshipping mere bread and wine. In view of the fact that so many priests eventually leave the priesthood—some say as many as one fourth or one third—it surely is reasonable to assume that many of those, for considerable periods of time before they leave and while they are in a state of doubt and uncertainty, are often lacking in sincere intention in performing the sacraments. It would indeed be interesting to know what proportion of the members of the Roman Church, according to Rome’s own doctrine, have received invalid baptisms, ordinations, marriages, absolutions, etc. Undoubtedly it is considerable. It would also be interesting, if it were possible, to know who those individuals are. No doubt there would be many surprises as some of her most distinguished and ardent supporters were revealed as not legitimately ordained priests, nor even members of the Roman Church.
Dr. Joseph Zacchello, a former priest and editor of The Convert, points out that this doctrine of the intention of the priest undermines the doctrinal basis of the Roman Church. He says:
“This teaching implies that no Roman Catholic, be he priest or laymen, can ever be sure that he has been properly baptized, confirmed, absolved in confession, married, received holy communion or extreme unction. … Suppose a child is baptized by a priest who lacks the proper intention. The baptism is then of no avail, and the child grows up a pagan. If he should enter a seminary and be ordained a priest, his ordination will be invalid. All the thousands of masses he says, all the sacraments he performs, will likewise be invalid. If he becomes a bishop, the priests he ordains and the other bishops he consecrates will have no such power. If by chance he should become pope, the Roman Catholic Church would then have as ‘Vicar of Christ’ and ‘infallible’ head a man who was not even a Christian to start with!” (Secrets of Romanism, p. 110).
5 The Cup Withheld from the Laity
Another serious error of the Church of Rome is that in the eucharist, or holy communion, she withholds the wine from the laity. She thus deprives believers of half of the benefits of the sacrament. That decision was made without any command from the New Testament, there being no suggestion of any such distinction between clergy and laity.
Even in the Confraternity Version Christ’s command that all believers partake of the cup is clear and unequivocal: “All of you drink this” (Matthew 26:27). And Mark says: “And they all drank of it” (14:23). Christ said, “This is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Since all believers are in that covenant, and since all Christians should remember Christ’s atoning death which was made for them, all should partake of the cup which is one of the seals of that covenant and one of the reminders of that death.
In Paul’s directions for the observance of the Lord’s Supper it is clear that the laity partook of both the bread and the wine. Writing to the church at Corinth he even found it necessary to admonish the people against gluttony and drunkenness. We read: “When ye come together in the church. … When therefore ye assemble yourselves together. …”; then follows the admonition: “…one is hungry, and another is drunken. What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?… Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:18-27). How could anyone be guilty of drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner if the cup were not given to him? This is clearly one more instance in which the Church of Rome has taken it upon herself to alter the commands of the Gospel.
In the early church the people partook of both the bread and the wine, and that practice was continued through the first eleven centuries. Then the practice of permitting the priest to drink the wine for both himself and the congregation bean to creep in. In 1415 the Council of Constance officially denied the cup to the people. That decision was confirmed by the Council of Trent (1545‑1563), and that practice has been continued to the present day.
The reasons given by the priests for withholding the cup from the laity are: (1) that someone might spill a drop (since the wine allegedly has been transformed into the literal blood of Christ, that indeed would be a great tragedy)—the disciples too might have spilled some, but Jesus did not withhold it from them for any such flimsy reason; and (2) that the body of Christ, the flesh and the blood, is contained complete in either the bread or the wine—but there is no suggestion of that in Scripture.
O’Brien acknowledges that “It was the common custom for the first twelve centuries to give communion under both kinds,” and that “The Present law of giving communion to the laity only under the form of bread dates from the Council of Constance in 1415” (The Faith of Millions, p. 223).
6 The Finality of Christ’s Sacrifice
That Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary was complete in that one offering, and that it was never to be repeated, is set forth in Hebrews, chapters 7, 9, and 10. There we read:
“Who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself’ (7:27).
“…through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12).
“Apart from shedding of blood there is no remission. … Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place year by year with blood not his own; else must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. … Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him unto salvation” (9:22-29).
“By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins: but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (10:10-14).
Notice that throughout these verses occurs the statement “once for all,” which has in it the idea of completeness, or finality, and which precludes repetition. Christ’s work on the cross was perfect and decisive. It constituted one historic event which need never be repeated and which in fact cannot be repeated. The language is perfectly clear: “He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever” (10:12). Paul says that “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more” (Romans 6:9); and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (10:14).
Christ’s priesthood is contrasted with that of the Old Testament priests, and we are told that the ancient priesthood has ceased and that the priesthood of Christ has taken its place. We are told that Christ has sat down as token that His work is finished. Depend upon it, He never descends from that exalted place to be a further sacrifice upon Rome’s altars or on any other; for of such sacrifice there is no need. The verses just quoted completely contradict all that Rome has to say about the mass. Thank God that we can look back to what our Lord did on Calvary and know that He completed the sacrifice for sins once for all, and that our salvation is not dependent on the whim or arbitrary decree of any priest or church. Any pretense at a continuous offering for sin is worse than vain, for it is a denial of the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
Where there is a continual offering for sin, as when the sacrament of the mass is offered daily, it means that sins are really never taken away, and that those who are called priests pretend to continue the unfinished work of Christ. When on Memorial Day we lay a wreath on the tomb of a soldier we may speak of the sacrifice that he made to save his country. But his sacrifice cannot be renewed. He died once and his sacrifice was complete. So it is with the sacrifice of Christ. He died once, as the Scriptures so emphatically and repeatedly state; and since He was deity incarnate, He was a person of infinite value and dignity and His work therefore was fully efficacious and complete for the accomplishing of what He intended, namely, the redemption of those for whom He died. When Paul said, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26), he did not say that we repeat the Lord’s death, or supplement it, or make it finally effective, but that we proclaim it, that is, memorialize it.
Roman Catholics who take their church membership seriously and who in most cases have had it drilled into them from infancy that in the mass a daily sacrifice is offered for them, find it hard to leave the Roman Church precisely because in the Protestant church they find no mass, and they fear that without the mass they will lose their salvation. A devout Roman Catholic regards this matter of salvation through the mass far more seriously than most Protestants realize. And the hierarchy has been quick to realize that its main hold on the minds and hearts of the people through the centuries has been the mass, which is a visible re‑enactment, by the use of symbols, of the suffering and death of Christ. Only when one begins to read the Bible thoughtfully and prayerfully does he discover that the only sacrifice necessary for his salvation was made for him by Christ on Calvary, and that the mass cannot possibly be a continuing sacrifice. Once he sees this point it becomes easy for him to accept the other doctrines of the Protestant faith.
The obligation that rests on a Roman Catholic to attend mass is a far different thing from the freedom that Protestants enjoy in the matter of church attendance. The Baltimore Catechism says:
“It is a mortal sin not to hear Mass on a Sunday or a holyday of obligation, unless we are excused for a serious reason. They also commit sin mortal who, having others under their charge, hinder them from hearing Mass without a sufficient reason” (Answer, 390).
The Roman Catholic, according to this authoritative standard, is obliged to attend mass every Sunday, and in the United States there are six special holydays. The mass is the most important ceremony of the Roman Church, the central and supreme act of worship. Everything else hinges on this. It becomes, therefore, the rule of discipline for all Roman Catholics, a mighty instrument in the hands of the clergy for the supervision of the laity.
Judged by outward appearances, Roman Catholics are quite faithful in attending Sunday mass, although on the acknowledgment of some there is nothing in the performance of a pleasing nature. But the Romanist, believing in the efficacy of good works, looks upon church attendance as a means of gaining merit for himself in the other world and as an offset to the evil charged against him. Attendance at mass gives him a sense of having fulfilled his duty. He has met the requirement. Regardless of how wicked a person he may be, if he continues to acknowledge the authority of the church by regular attendance at mass and by going to confession as required at least once a year, he remains a member “in good standing”—witness, for instance, the large number of gangsters and crooked politicians in the big cities who have maintained their standing in this church while continuing uninterruptedly their evil practices.
With the sagacity characteristic of her long career, the Roman Church takes advantage of that weakness in human nature which seeks some visible and outward object of worship. In the consecrated “host” she presents to her people a god whom they can see and feel. And it is generally accepted that Romanists, having been to mass, especially on Sunday, can do about as they please the remainder of the day. Rome is more concerned about the observance of a ceremony and the mark of allegiance which it implies than she is about holy living or about keeping a day holy to the Lord.
Another feature of the mass is that it is conducted in Latin,2 a language not spoken by the people in the Medieval church nor understood by people today unless they use a translation. Latin has been a dead language for centuries. Paul said: “Howbeit in the church, I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19). In response to the criticism that at mass the worshipper is not a participant, not able to understand what is said, but merely an observer, the Roman Church in some places conducts the services in the vernacular, or makes translations available so that the people can participate intelligently, at least to the extent of knowing what is said. But such is not the general practice. In fact the Council of Trent directed one of its anathemas against those who say “that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only.” But the prayers of the Jews in Old Testament times were always offered in the Hebrew vernacular; and we read that the members of the early church, when they met for worship, “lifted up their voices to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24). Yet, as C. Stanley Lowell has appropriately observed: “It is not essential [in the mass] that they understand. Ideas are not integral to the mass, may even defeat its purpose. The objective here is to produce through the medium of the miracle allegedly performed by the priest an emotional ecstasy in which thoughts or ideas become superfluous” (Article,Protestant and Papal Infallibility).
2 In the “New Mass,” introduced in 1965, Latin is no longer compulsory.
7 The Mass and Money
One very prominent feature of the mass as conducted in the Roman Church is the financial support which it brings in. It is by all odds the largest income producing ceremony in the church. An elaborate system has been worked out. In the United States low mass, for the benefit of a soul in purgatory, read by the priest in a low tone of voice and without music, costs a minimum of one dollar. The high mass, on Sundays and holydays, sung by the priest in a loud voice, with music and choir, costs a minimum of ten dollars. The usual price for high mass is twenty-five to thirty-five dollars. The high requiem mass (at funerals), and the high nuptual mass (at weddings), may cost much more, even hundreds of dollars, depending on the number and rank of the priests taking part, the display of flowers, the music, candles, etc. Prices vary in the different dioceses and according to the ability of the parishioners to pay. No masses are said without money. The Irish have a saying: High money, high mass; low money, low mass; no money, no mass.
In regard to the various kinds of masses, there are (1) votive masses, made for various purposes, such as relief of one suffering in purgatory, recovery from sickness, success in a business venture, a safe journey, protection against storms, floods, droughts, etc; (2) requiem or funeral masses, in behalf of the dead; (3) nuptual masses, at marriages; and (4) pontifical masses, conducted by a bishop or other dignitary. Each of these is available in high or low mass, and at various prices.
On Purgatory Day, November 2 of each year, three masses are said, for the souls in purgatory and one for the “intentions” of the pope—which “intentions,” we may assume, are directed for the good of the offerer. Every member of the church is urged to attend on that day. The priest of a church of 500 members may reasonably expect to take in from $500 to $5,000 on that day.
The most popular mass is that to alleviate or terminate the suffering of souls in purgatory. The more masses said for an agonizing soul the better. Sometimes ads are placed in church papers in which multiple or repeated masses are offered for a price. Purgatorial societies and mass leagues offer blanket masses recited for beneficiaries en masse, in which anyone who sends, say, $10, can secure for a departed soul a certain number of high masses celebrated daily for a month, or longer.
The present writer, who lives in Missouri, has for the past two Christmases received solicitations by mail from a priest and church in Maryland for a thousand masses, euphemistically called “spiritual bouquets,” for the apparently reasonable price of $10. The need for such large numbers of masses, continued over long periods of time, surely casts doubt on the claim that the mass is of such high value in matters of salvation. One consequence of this system is that the poor are left to burn in purgatory longer, while the rich can have more and higher grade masses said and so escape more quickly. People with property are sometimes urged to leave thousands of dollars to provide for prayers and masses to be said perpetually for their souls. According to the teaching of the Church of Rome the great majority of those dying within the pale of the church go to purgatory where they remain in a state of suffering with no known termination date before the day of judgment. Those outside the Roman Church are, for the most part, said to be hopelessly lost and therefore beyond help.
One of the worst features about the mass system is that the priest can never give assurance that the soul for which he has said mass is out of purgatory. He admittedly has no criterion by which that can be known. Hence the offerings may be continued for years—as long as the deluded Romanist is willing to continue paying. Says Stephen L. Testa:
“It would not pay the priest to say that the soul for which he prayed is already out of purgatory and gone to heaven and needs no further masses. It would cut off a rich source of income. Like many unscrupulous physicians who would rather prolong the illness of a wealthy patient, so he could continue to need his treatments, a priest would never tell a bereaved mother that her daughter is ‘with Jesus’ in heaven and needs no more requiem masses. A Protestant minister would give that comforting assurance from the Word of God, but never a Catholic priest!” (The Truth About Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, p. 13).
Dr. Zacchello says:
“The only ‘sacrifice’ in the Roman Catholic mass is that of the money of the poor given to the priest to pay for the mysterious ceremonies he performs, in the belief that he will relieve the suffering of their beloved ones in the fires of purgatory” (Secrets of Romanism, p. 82).
And L. J. King points out that…
“Death doesn’t end all with the Roman Church. A member cannot avoid his church dues by dying. His estate or friends have to pay on and on. Even the tax collector lets up on a dead man, but the Roman Church never. It retains its grip on its dupes long after their bodies are reduced to ashes. The priestly threat that the soul is suffering in the ‘devouring flames’ of purgatory and will remain there for a long, long time, will bring the last dollar from the sorrowing mother, whose only son or daughter is detained in that fiery prison.”
Those who contribute money for masses fail to appreciate the fact that the gifts of God cannot be bought with any amount of money. That was precisely the sin of Simon the sorcerer, who attempted to buy the power of God with money. But he received Peter’s stern rebuke: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast sought to obtain the gift of God with money” (Acts 8:20). The term “simony” has entered the dictionary, meaning “to make a profit out of sacred things,” “the sin of buying or selling ecclesiastical benefices,” etc.
8 Historical Development of the Doctrine
In view of the prominent place given the mass in the present day Roman Church, it is of particular interest to find that it was unknown in the early church, that it was first proposed by a Benedictine monk, Radbertus, in the ninth century, and that it did not become an official part of Romanist doctrine until so pronounced by the Lateran Council of 1215 under the direction of Pope Innocent III. It was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in 1545. Transubstantiation is not mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed, or in the Nicene or Athanasian creeds. Its first creedal mention is by Pope Pius IV, in the year 1564.
Only since the year 1415, by decree of the Council of Constance, has the Roman Church refused to give the cup to the laity. On various occasions in the earlier history of the church, popes have condemned as a sacrilege the serving of bread only in the holy communion. The decree that the bread only should be given to the laity was enacted on June 15, 1415, at a time when the Roman Church was without a head. For this same council had deposed Pope John XXIII on May 29, 1415, for crimes against the church and the state; and his successor, Martin V, was not elected until November 11, 1417.
The decree denying the cup to the laity contradicted Roman Canon Law of the preceding centuries. Pope Leo I, called the Great (440 461), said in his condemnation of the Manichaeans: “They receive Christ’s body with unworthy mouth, and entirely refuse to take the blood of our redemption; therefore we give notice to you, holy brethren, that men of this kind, whose sacrilegious deceit has been detected, are to be expelled with priestly authority from the fellowship of the saints.”
Pope Gelasius I (492-496), in a letter addressed to some bishops, said: “We have ascertained that certain persons having received a portion of the sacred body alone abstain from partaking of the chalice of the sacred blood. Let such persons… either receive the sacrament in its entirety, or be repelled from the entire sacrament, because a division of one and the same mystery cannot take place without great sacrilege.” The decree of the Council of Clermont, presided over by Pope Urban II, in 1095, and Pope Paschal II in 1118, also condemned the practice of giving the bread only in the sacrament. How can the Church of Rome claim to be catholic, apostolic, and unchanging when a council without a pope has deliberately overthrown the teaching of four popes concerning the matter of holy communion?
We can only conclude that the mass is a medieval superstition, designed to throw a veil of mystery over the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and to impress ignorant people. From a simple memorial feast it became a miraculous re‑enactment of the sacrifice on Calvary, through which Christ was constantly dying for His people. A similar effect was designed in the use of the Latin language in the liturgy—for which it certainly cannot be said that it was intended to make the Lord’s Supper more intelligible to the people, for practically none of them could understand Latin. The purpose of each of those innovations was to exalt the hierarchy, to clothe it with an air of mystery, and, particularly as regards the mass, to make the priest appear to have supernatural powers.
9 Seven Sacraments
What is a sacrament? To this question the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Standards answers:
“A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers” (Answer, 92).
According to the New Testament, and according to the teaching of the Protestant churches, two sacraments, and only two, were instituted by Christ. These are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the upper room during the last night with His disciples Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when He said: “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Baptism was practiced from the time of John the Baptist, and after His resurrection Christ specifically instituted it as a sacrament when He said: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. …” (Matthew 28:19).
To these two sacraments Rome has added five more, so that she now lists them as: (1) baptism, (2) confirmation, (3) eucharist (mass), (4) penance, (5) extreme unction, (6) marriage, and (7) orders (ordination of priests and consecration of nuns).
Rome holds that in the ordinary course of life, five of these—baptism, confirmation, mass, penance, and extreme unction—are indispensable to salvation, while marriage and orders are optional. But no church leaders nor any church council has the right to appoint sacraments. The church is Christ’s church, and only He, as its Head, has that right. Furthermore, Rome has altered the form of the eucharist, making it a sacrifice as well as a sacrament.
Rome can give no proof for the additional five sacraments, except that tradition holds them to be such. The number seven was arrived at only after centuries of drifting about. The early church fathers sometimes used the word in a broad sense, and spoke of the sacrament of prayer, the sacrament of the Scriptures, the sacrament of the Christian religion, the sacrament of weeping, etc., applying the term to various things that were regarded as in some way sacred or as designed to bring one closer to God, although it is evident from their writings that, strictly speaking, they recognized only two real sacraments. Peter Lombard (1100‑1164), who published the famous book of “Sentences” from the writings of Augustine and other church leaders, which was regarded as a standard book on theology until the time of the Reformation, was the first to define the number as seven. It is important to notice that no author for more than a thousand years after Christ taught that there were seven sacraments. It was not until the Council of Florence, in the year 1439 that the seven sacraments were formally decreed. Later the Council of Trent declared: “If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law were not instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or that are more, or less, than seven, to wit, baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony; or even anyone of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament, let him be anathema.”
What was the purpose of the Church of Rome in appointing seven sacraments? Probably in order that it might have complete control over the lives of its people from the cradle to the grave. This sacramental system is designed to give the priest control at the most important events of human life. From baptism as soon as possible after birth to the shadow of approaching death the laity is kept dependent on and under the control of the priests.
That the five sacraments added by the Church of Rome are spurious should be clear beyond doubt. Confirmation, penance, and extreme unction are not even mentioned in Scripture, and are therefore completely without authority. We shall discuss the seven in order.
1. Baptism. Rome has perverted the meaning of baptism so that instead of accepting it as a symbolical ordinance and an outward sign through which Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented and conveyed to the believer and received by faith, it is represented as working in a magical way to produce baptismal regeneration and securing automatically the forgiveness of all past sins, and as absolutely necessary to salvation. Rome teaches that it is not possible even for newly born infants to be saved so as to enjoy the delights of heaven unless they are baptized. To that end they have even invented a means of prenatal baptism. In the words of the Trent Catechism: “Infants, unless regenerated unto God through the grace of baptism, whether their parents be Christian or infidel, are born to eternal misery and perdition.” But what a horrible doctrine that was! And what a contrast with the generally accepted Protestant doctrine that all those dying in infancy, whether baptized or unbaptized, are saved!
The Romish doctrine was so horrible and so unacceptable to the laity that it was found necessary to invent a third realm, the Limbus Infantum, to which unbaptized infants are sent, in which they are excluded from heaven but in which they suffer no positive pain. The ecumenical councils of Lyons and Florence and the canons of the Council of Trent declare positively that unbaptized infants are confined to this realm. The primary purpose of the Church of Rome in excluding unbaptized infants from heaven is to force parents to commit their children to her as soon as possible. The long range design is to bring all people into subjection to her, to put her stamp of ownership on every person possible. And the pressure put on Roman Catholic parents to see to it that their children are baptized early is almost unbelievable—a commitment which once she receives she never relinquishes.
2. Confirmation. In the so‑called sacrament of confirmation the bishop lays his hands on the head of a person who previously has been baptized, for the purpose of conveying to him the Holy Spirit. But no apostle or minister in the apostolic church performed that rite, and no man on earth has the Holy Spirit at his command. Roman theologians are uncertain as to the time when this so‑called sacrament was instituted. The ritual leads those confirmed to think they have received the Holy Spirit, whereas all they have received is the word and ritual of fallible priests. Confirmation is also practiced in the Protestant Episcopal Church, but they regard it only as a church ordinance, not as an institution established by Christ.
3. Eucharist (the mass), discussed throughout this chapter.
4. Penance. What is penance? An authorized catechism says: “Penance is a sacrament in which the sins committed after baptism are forgiven by means of the absolution of the priest. … The priest gives a penance after confession that we may satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to our sins. We must accept the penance which the priest gives to us.”
The Word of God teaches that the sinner must truly repent from the heart for his sin. Otherwise there can be no forgiveness. But the Church of Rome to a considerable degree substitutes penance for Gospel repentance. Penance consists of outward acts, such as repeating certain prayers many times, e.g., the Hail Mary or the rosary, self-inflicted punishments, fastings, pilgrimages, etc. Penance represents a false hope, for it relates only to outward acts. True repentance involves genuine sorrow for sin, it is directed toward God, and the person voluntarily shows by his outward acts and conduct that he has forsaken his sin. Rome cannot point to any event in the Bible in which penance was instituted.
5. Extreme Unction. Extreme unction is described as “the anointing by the priest of those in danger of death by sickness with holy oil, accompanied with a special prayer. … It is called Extreme because administered to sick persons when thought to be near the close of life.” In this ritual the priest anoints the eyes, ears, nose, hands, and feet of the dying person with “holy oil,” as he pronounces an accompanying Latin prayer formula which offsets the sin committed by those members of the body.3 But no matter how good the priest or his prayer, he still cannot assure the dying person of heaven. The best he can do is to get him into purgatory, there to suffer the pains of fire. From that point his loved ones are supposed to purchase numberless masses to secure his early release. But how different that is from the Protestant assurance that all true believers at death pass into the immediate presence of and into the joys of heaven! Christ said: “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Christ gives liberty; the priest imposes bondage.
This sacrament in its present form was not introduced into the church until the twelfth century. And again the Roman theologians are uncertain as to the time of its institution. It is entirely lacking in Scriptural warrant. There is no case in Scripture of any apostle anointing a man with oil. The case recorded in James 5:14‑15 cannot be claimed, for the purpose there was to restore the sick one to health. But extreme unction is intended only for those who are expected to die, not for those who are expected to recover, and it is intended as a preparation for the next life.
3 Since 1965 this ritual has been simplified.
6. Orders. The ordination of church officials was appointed by Christ, but not the specific orders adopted by the Church of Rome—priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes. Furthermore, no sacramental sign was appointed to accompany the appointment of church officials.
7. Matrimony. Matrimony, too, is a divine ordinance, but it was given no outwardly prescribed sign. It was in fact instituted thousands of years earlier, even before the fall, and therefore is not an institution of the new covenant. The Church of Rome admits her uncertainty about the time of its appointment as a sacrament.
Rome’s error in making marriage a sacrament came about because of a mistranslation in the Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, which the Council of Trent made the official inspired version for the Roman Church. The passage in question is Ephesians 5:31‑32, which correctly translated reads: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great. …” But the Vulgate translated: “This is a great sacrament. …” Happily that error has been corrected in the new Confraternity Version, so that it reads: “This is a great mystery. …” But even so, Rome continues to teach that marriage is a sacrament. But cardinal Cajetan, Luther’s opponent at Augsburg, made the frank admission: “You have not from this place, O prudent reader—from Paul—that marriage was a sacrament; for he does not say that it was a great sacrament, but a great mystery.”
Furthermore, for six or seven centuries after the establishment of the Christian church, the laity made no acknowledgment of any claim that the clergy alone could perform marriages, and they exercised the right of divorce on Scriptural grounds. It was through the influence of strong popes, such as Hildebrand, who, wishing to bring the laity under the more complete control of the clergy, at last secured for the church complete control over marriage. Such was the situation during the Middle Ages. As a “sacrament” the new type marriage could be performed only by a priest and was indissoluble. The low state of morals in countries where the Roman Church has been able to enforce its rule shows the result of that false doctrine. A fee, of course, has always been charged for the marriage ceremony. And where the fee has been excessive, as in some Latin American countries, the result has been an abnormally large proportion of common law marriages, in some areas as high as 70 percent. Had the Roman clergy been truly Christian it would have modified its claims and practices when the practical results of those claims and practices became evident, and would have sought first of all to safeguard the honor of the church and the family. But instead it has held doggedly to its privileged position, refusing to give up anything.
In regard to the multiplying of sacraments, the words which God spoke to Moses regarding the laws of the Old Testament are particularly appropriate: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
The Church of Rome embodies further serious error in its doctrine of the sacraments in that it teaches that they confer divine grace automatically and mechanically, by their outward action, as fire burns by its heat or as medicine cures by its chemical properties. But the Word of God teaches just the opposite. The blessing is not inherent in the sacrament as such, nor in him who administers it, but is bestowed directly by the Holy Spirit, and it is received by the one who exercises true faith—“Without faith it is impossible to be well‑pleasing to him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him” (Hebrews 11:6). A sacrament is an outward visible sign of an inward invisible grace, through which the blessings of grace are conferred when appropriated by faith. As the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the pages of the Bible, yet warms the heart and enlightens the mind as we read, so grace does not reside intrinsically in the sacrament, but comes to the believer who receives it by faith.
In this chapter it has been our purpose to show that there is no transubstantiation in the mass and therefore no physical presence of Christ in the bread and wine, that there is no true sacrifice in the mass, and that the eucharist is instead primarily a means of spiritual blessing and a commemorative feast through which we are reminded of our Lord and what He has done for our salvation. We assert unqualifiedly that the mass as practiced in the Roman Catholic Church is a fraud and a deception—for the simple reason that it is the selling of non‑existent values. The sale of masses to gullible people for various purposes has transformed the ministers of the Roman Church into sacrificing priests, and has been an effective means by which under false pretenses huge sums of money have been extracted from the people.
In all the pagan religions of the world it would be hard to find an invention more false and ridiculous than that of the mass. To assert that an egg is an elephant, or that black is white, would be no more absurd or childish than to assert that the bread and wine, which retain the properties of bread and wine, are actually and totally the body and blood, the deity and humanity, of Christ.
The Roman doctrine of the sacraments constitutes the most elaborate system of magic and ritual that any civilized religion ever invented, and from first to last it is designed to enhance the power and prestige of the clergy. In its fundamental ideas it is as alien to the whole spirit of Christianity and as out of harmony with modern times as the Medieval science of astrology is out of harmony with astronomy, or alchemy with chemistry. Yet these are the beliefs to which the Roman Catholic people give allegiance, and to which they hope some day to convert the United States and the world. For these beliefs they are willing to overlook all the horrors of the Middle Ages and all the corruption of the popes and the papacy of that period—insofar as they know anything at all about the history of that period.
The fact that the elaborate ritual of the mass is totally unknown to Scripture, and that it is highly dishonoring to Christ in that it makes His work on the cross largely ineffective until it is supplemented by the work of the priest, does not impress the average Roman Catholic layman seriously, for the simple reason that he has practically no knowledge at all of what the Bible teaches concerning these things.
We ask in all seriousness: What is there in the Roman service of the mass that compares with the beauty and simplicity of the Lord’s Supper as observed in Protestant churches? In the latter you have no pompous hierarchy separated from the laity and communing with themselves, partaking of the bread and wine while standing at the altar on a higher level and with their backs to the congregation, while the laity, like children, kneel before the clergy with closed eyes and open mouths and receive only the wafer which is dropped into their mouths. In the Protestant churches the minister comes from the pulpit and sits at the communion table on the same level with the people. Minister and people are a company of Christian brethren partaking together of the Lord’s Supper as a simple memorial feast, each one eating of the bread and each one drinking of the cup as the rite was originally instituted. In the light of New Testament revelation surely the latter is right, and it alone.
CHAPTER IX The Confessional
1. The Nature of the Confessional
2. Mortal and Venial Sins
3. The Priests Cannot Forgive Sins
4. Scripture Teaching Regarding Confession
5. Alleged Roman Catholic Scripture Proof
6. Abuses of the Confessional
1 The Nature of the Confessional
The Baltimore Catechism defines confession as follows:
“Confession is the telling of our sins to an authorized priest for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness.”
“An authorized priest is one who has not only the power to forgive sins by reason of his ordination to the priesthood, but also the power of jurisdiction over the persons who come to him. He has this jurisdiction ordinarily from his bishop, or by reason of his office” (p. 315).
The important words here are “authorized priest.” And to be genuine a confession must be heard, judged, and followed by obedience to the authorized priest as he assigns a penance, such as good works, prayers, fastings, abstinence from certain pleasures, etc. A penance may be defined as a punishment undergone in token of repentance for sin, as assigned by the priest—usually a very light penalty.
The New York Catechism says:
“I must tell my sins to the priest so that he will give me absolution. I shall go to confession often… to fulfill a condition for gaining certain indulgences. … A person who knowingly keeps back a mortal sin in confession commits a dreadful sacrilege, and he must repeat his Confession. … The sacrament of penance remits the mortal sins and their eternal punishment; it revives the merits annulled by the mortal sins, and gives a special grace to avoid sin in the future.”
The French Catechism goes so far as to say:
“One must receive absolution in feelings of total humility, considering the confessor as Jesus Christ Himself whose place he takes.”
The priests can scarcely make a greater demand than that! Canon Law 888 says: “The priest has to remember that in hearing confession he is a judge.” Canon Law 870 says: “In the confessional the minister has the power to forgive all crimes committed after baptism.” And a book, Instructions for Non‑Catholics, primarily for use by those who are joining the Roman Catholic Church, says:
“The priest does not have to ask God to forgive your sins. The priest himself has the power to do so in Christ’s name. Your sins are forgiven by the priest the same as if you knelt before Jesus Christ and told them to Christ Himself” (p. 93).
Thus Roman Catholics are required to confess all their mortal sins to a priest who sits as a judge and who claims to have the power to forgive sins in the name of God. The priest forgives the guilt of mortal sins, which saves the penitent from going to hell, but he cannot remit the penalty due for those sins and so the penitent must atone for them by the performance of good works which he prescribes. Priests, too, including the bishops, cardinals, and even the pope, receive forgiveness in this same manner, confessing their sins to other priests.
In the language of Romanism a “penitent” is one who confesses to a priest, not necessarily one who is repenting of sin, although that is implied; and the “confessor” is the priest, not the one who confesses.
The confessional “box” found in all Roman Catholic churches, is divided into two compartments. The priest enters one, and the penitent the other. In the wooden partition between them is a metal gauze about two feet square. The penitent kneels, and through the gauze whispers or speaks in a low voice his or her sins. The confession is secret, and is called “auricular,” because spoken into the ear of the priest. It supposedly is a detailed confession of all the mortal sins committed since the last confession.
The penitent may be, and usually is, interrogated by the priest, so that he or she may make a full and proper confession. That, of course, gives the priest the opportunity to find out practically anything and everything that he may want to know about the person or about community affairs. Stress is placed on the fact that any sin not confessed is not forgiven, and that the omission of even one sin may invalidate the whole confession.
The form of confession is quite interesting. After kneeling before the priest and asking and receiving his blessing, the penitent must repeat the first part of the Confiteor:
“I confess to the Almighty God, to the blessed Virgin Mary, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, father, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” (latter, repeated three times).
The penitent must then confess all his mortal sins, concealing nothing. Venial sins, in most instances, may be omitted, since they are comparatively mild and may be expiated by other means.
We notice concerning this form of confession that (1) it places Mary, Michael, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, the Roman saints, and the officiating priest on a level with God Almighty; (2) it addresses the confession of sin to all of them, as if the sin was committed equally against all of them, and as if they were holy beings with power to forgive; and (3) it makes no mention whatever of Christ, through whom alone pardon is to be had, or of the Holy Spirit, by whom alone the soul can be cleansed. And there sits the priest, usurping the place of God and forgiving sins! Notice how the penitent is constantly put in a subordinate role and at the mercy of the priest.
Every loyal Roman Catholic is required under pain of mortal sin to go to confession at least once a year. The Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, decreed that every adult, man or woman, should confess all his or her sins to a priest at least once a year. This decree was ratified by the Council of Trent, 1546, and remains in force today. More frequent confession is advised, particularly if public or heinous sins have been committed. This decree has been elaborated and extended by various church laws so that considerable pressure rests on the average church member to go to confession more often, the preferable time period frequently being set at once a month.
Confession is facilitated through “societies,” or “confraternities,” which under the guidance of the priest urge their members to confess at least once a month. Young women may belong to an organization known as “Children of Mary.” Boys and young men have similar organizations, most of which have a provision for confession at least once a month. Membership in such organizations supposedly is voluntary, but the social pressures may be such that one who fails to join is made to feel practically ostracized. Hence “voluntary” confessions are fairly frequent and fairly easy to secure. Ordinarily a child is required to begin going to confession at the age of seven, as though he comes to accountability at that age.
Historical development. We search in vain in the Bible for any word supporting the doctrine of auricular confession. It is equally impossible to find any authorization or general practice of it during the first one thousand years of the Christian era. Not a word is found in the writings of the early church fathers about confessing sins to a priest or to anyone except God alone. Auricular confession is not mentioned in the writings of Augustine, Origen, Nestorius, Tertullian, Jerome, Chrysostom, or Athanasius—all of these and many others apparently lived and died without ever thinking of going to confession. Those writers give many rules concerning the practice and duties of Christian living, but they never say a word about going to confession. Never were penitents forced to kneel to a priest and reveal to him the secret history of all their evil thoughts, desires, and human frailties. No one other than God was thought to be worthy to hear confessions and to grant forgiveness. There were, to be sure, public confessions before local church groups, in order that offenders might be restored to fellowship. Such practice is found even in some Protestant groups of our own day. But such confessions were open, general, and voluntary, and were as different from auricular confession as light is from darkness.
But gradually as the church gained power the practice of seeking spiritual counsel and advice from the priest was turned into the confessional. Confession was first introduced into the church on a voluntary basis in the fifth century, by the authority of Leo the Great. But it was not until the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, under Pope Innocent III, that private auricular confession was made compulsory and all Roman Catholic people were required to confess and to seek absolution from a priest at least once a year. At that council the twin doctrines of auricular confession and transubstantiation were decreed. It will be recalled that that was the period of the greatest extension of priestly and papal power over the people. It was, therefore, during the darkest days of the state and of the church that this masterpiece of deception was brought forth.
2 Mortal and Venial Sins
The Roman Church divides all sin into two classes, making an important and elaborate distinction between so‑called “mortal” and “venial” sins. Mortal sin is described as “any great offense against the law of God,” and is so called because it is deadly, killing the soul and subjecting it to eternal punishment. Even after a penitent has received pardon, a large but unknown amount of punishment remains to be expiated in purgatory.
Venial sins, on the other hand, are “small and pardonable offenses against God, or our neighbor.” Technically, venial sins need not be confessed since they are comparatively light and can be expiated by good works, prayers, extreme unction, purgatory, etc. But the priests are not to be outdone by this technicality. The terms are quite elastic, and permit considerable leeway on the part of those who want to probe more deeply into the affairs of the penitent. It is generally advised that it is safer to confess supposed venial sins also, since the priest alone is able to judge accurately which are mortal and which are venial. The Baltimore Catechism (written, of course, by priests) says: “When we have committed no mortal sins since our last confession, we should confess our venial sins or some sin told in a previous confession for which we are again sorry, in order that the priest may give us absolution” (p. 329). What chance has a poor sinner against such a system as that?
There is no agreement among the priests as to which sins are mortal and which are venial. But they all proceed on the assumption that such a distinction does exist. What is venial according to one may be mortal according to another. If the pope were infallible in matters of faith and practice, as claimed by the Roman Church, he should be able to settle this important matter by accurately cataloging those sins which are mortal as distinguished from those which are venial. But such a list no pope has ever been able to produce. Instead what they have is an elaborate system of compromise which is designed to promote the authority of the church and to give a considerable amount of leeway to the priest as to what seems expedient in individual cases.
Among mortal sins, however, are those committed in breaking the ten commandments, together with the so‑called “seven deadly sins”: pride, covetousness, lechery (lust, lewdness), anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Included are practically all sexual offenses, whether in word, thought, or deed, and a long list of transgressions down to attending a Protestant church, reading a Protestant Bible, eating meat on Friday, or “missing mass on Sunday morning” without a good excuse (which means that considerably more than half of the claimed Roman Catholic membership throughout the world is constantly in mortal sin). Sometimes violations of the rules of the church are treated as mortal sins, while transgressions of the commandments of God are treated as venial sins. All mortal sins must be confessed to the priest in detail or they cannot be forgiven. The theory is that the priest must have all the facts in order to know how to deal with the case and what penance to assign the real reason, of course, is to place the penitent more fully in the hands of the priest.
But the Bible makes no such distinction between mortal and venial sins. There is in fact no such thing as venial sin. All sin is mortal. It is true that some sins are worse than others. But it is also true that all sins, if not forgiven, bring death to the soul, with greater or lesser punishment as they may deserve. The Bible simply says: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)—and there Paul was not speaking of any particular kind of sin, but of all sin. Ezekiel says: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (18:4). When James said, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all” (2:10), he meant, not that the person who commits one sin is guilty of all other kinds of sin, but that even one sin unrepented of shuts a person out of heaven and subjects him to punishment, just as surely as one puncture of the eyeball subjects a person to blindness, or as one misstep by the mountain climber plunges him to destruction in the canyon below. In the light of these statements, the distinction between mortal and venial sins is shown to be arbitrary and absurd.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Presbyterian), in answer to the question, “What is sin?” says: “Sin is any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Question 14). And we are reminded that in the Garden of Eden eating the forbidden fruit appeared to be but a very trifling offense; yet the consequences were fatal, not only for Adam and Eve but for the entire human race.
Romanism presents a purely arbitrary classification of sins. The effect of that classification is in itself immoral. We know how quick corrupt human nature is to grasp at any excuse for sin, and how readily this distinction gives license for its commission. Furthermore, we may point out that a Roman Catholic who commits mortal sin shortly before his death, but who cannot find a priest to whom he can confess, by definition of his church, runs the risk of dying in mortal sin. It is so easy to commit mortal sin. As just stated, even failure to attend Sunday mass without a good excuse is a mortal sin.
Through the use of the confessional the priest has been able to pry into the conscience of each individual, so that no heretic might escape, and in the case of the faithful to gain entrance into the privacy of the domestic family circle. There is literally and in truth no area of life that is exempt from the scrutiny and supervision of the priest. “Knowledge is power,” and that power can be wielded in many ways, to direct people along lines that will promote the church program, or for the personal benefit of the priest himself. It is perfectly evident that the priest to whom a person has confessed his thoughts, desires, and every sinful action just as it occurred, has placed that person largely under his control. For some that means little less than slavery. This is particularly true of women and girls who have even destroyed their self-respect in so surrendering themselves to the priest. The result is a sense of shame, worry, and of being at the mercy of the priest. Through the confessional Rome has been able to exercise an effective control not only over the family, but over political officials of every grade, teachers, doctors, lawyers, employers and employees, and indeed over all who submit to that discipline.
3 The Priests Cannot Forgive Sins
The Scriptures teach that only God can forgive sins: “Who can forgive sins but one, even God?” (Mark 2:7); “…The Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). It is because God is our Creator and Owner and Judge, and because it is His law that we have broken, that He can forgive sins. The Lord Jesus Christ has this power because He is God.
But the Church of Rome teaches that her priests also can forgive sins, and that “They pardon sins, not only as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, but as judges, and by way of jurisdiction” (Council of Trent, Sess. 14,9; Bellarmine, De Poenit, 3,2). The Council of Trent declares further: “Whosoever shall affirm that the priest’s sacramental absolution is not a judicial act, but only a ministry to pronounce and declare that the sins of the party confessing are forgiven, let him be anathema.” And the priest, after hearing the confession says to the penitent: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Thus the priest in the confessional claims not merely a declarative power through which the penitent’s sins are pronounced forgiven, but a judicial power through which he assigns penances. Unlike the priests of the Old Testament who merely declared the leper cleansed from his leprosy, the Roman priest actually claims power as a minister of God to forgive sin. Though a mere human being, he exalts himself to a position as a necessary mediator between God and man, and insists that in his office as confessor he be considered as Christ Himself. Auricular confession therefore becomes a public act of idolatry in that the penitent bows down before a man, who is dependent on him for his living, and asks from him that which God alone can give. And on the part of the Roman Church it is the height of sinful pride and folly thus to put in the place of God a priest who himself is only a man and guilty of sin.
Even a priest who is in mortal sin still can forgive sin in the confessional. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, after saying that “The Church asks that a priest who absolves a penitent be in the state of grace, a participant, himself, of the Divine Life,” adds “This does not mean, however, that a priest in the state of mortal sin would not possess the power to forgive sins or that when exercised it would not be effective for the penitent” (Peace of Soul, p. 136; 1949; McGraw Hill Book Co., New York).
Dr. Zacchello tells of his experience in the confessional before conversion to Protestantism in these words:
“Where my doubts were really troubling me was inside the confessional box. People were coming to me, kneeling down in front of me, confessing their sins to me. And I, with a sign of the cross, was promising that I had the power to forgive their sins. I, a sinner, a man, was taking God’s Place, God’s right, and that terrible voice was penetrating me saying, ‘You are depriving God of His glory. If sinners want to obtain forgiveness of their sins they must go to God and not to you. It is God’s law that they have broken, not yours. To God, therefore, they must make confession; and to God alone they must pray for forgiveness. No man can forgive sins, but Jesus can and does forgive sins.’”
In the United States the Roman hierarchy is much more reserved in its claims than it is in Roman Catholic countries, and the priests often say to uninformed people that they do not presume to forgive sins. But that is a deliberate falsehood, as is shown by the official decree of the Council of Trent, and by the formula of absolution which is, “I absolve thee. Go in peace.” The Roman position is that, through the power given to Peter, and received from him by apostolic succession, they have the power to forgive or to refuse to forgive sins. That was a power claimed by the priests of pagan Rome, and it was taken over by the priests of papal Rome. Many American Roman Catholics have been enlightened by their contacts with Protestantism to the extent that theyrefuse to believe such claims. But where Rome is unopposed the claims are asserted boldly.
In the Roman system the priest constantly comes between the sinner and God. In Father McGuire’s edition of the New Catechism No. 1, with imprimatur by Cardinal Spellman, of New York, we read: “You must tell your sins to the priest to have them forgiven.” And again, “Confession is telling your sins to the priest to obtain forgiveness.” As the penitent confesses to the priest and does the penance assigned, there is no direct contact with God, but only with the priest. A Roman Catholic does not pray to God spontaneously as to one who is a Friend, Comforter, Forgiver. To him God is exalted beyond the reach of ordinary mortals, and his contact is on a lower level, with the priest, who presents himself as God’s representative. The result is that Roman Catholics never really settle the sin problem. The only solution they have is in their contact with the church; original sin is removed by baptism, and mortal and venial sins are confessed to the priest who absolves them in his own right. They may be punctual in prayer to God, but only to venerate and adore Him. The priest represents God in personal problems. Consequently, they have religion, but not the religion of the Bible. Martin Luther says that after becoming a priest, which he did primarily as a means of gaining assurance concerning his own salvation, he realized, as most priests eventually do, that forgiveness of sins in the Catholic confessional had no effect on him and that he was just the same after confession as before.
In this connection Dr. Paul Woolley, Professor of Church History in Westminster Theological Seminary, says:
“People today love authority. In a disordered and uncertain world that may blow up in their faces, they have a deep desire to listen to the man who knows or the church which knows. The Roman Catholic Church says that it knows. But the substitution of the authority of the Roman Church for the authority of God is exceedingly dangerous. It results in such phenomena as the denial of the freedom of Protestant preaching in Spain and in Colombia, in the physical persecution of Protestants in various areas where Rome is dominant. This is not the exercise of the authority of God; it is the tyrannous perversion of God’s authority by sinful men. It is a denial of the New Testament teaching that the Gospel is to be preached by spiritual means, that violence cannot bring in the kingdom of God, that ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God,’ not by imposition from above.
“Catholicism is a refuge for the lazy thinker. The man who wants to be told the answers to everything, to be treated like a child, can find what he wants in the Roman Church. But God gave His Word to man to read, to study, to ponder, to apply. Only under the freedoms of modern Protestantism can this be done with a good conscience. These freedoms must be protected as of the vital core of our liberties. Rome claims the right not only to suppress free preaching but to deny civil liberties in general. Let us not barter away these freedoms” (The Presbyterian Guardian, December 15, 1958).
The somber attitude of the confessional cannot be denied. The priest sits as judge of the eternal destiny of all who come before him. He may, at his own discretion, forgive or withhold forgiveness for every kind and number of sins. There are no witnesses to what is said. No record of the proceedings is kept. The penitent is merely given a promise that secrecy will be observed. For the devout, sincere Roman Catholic salvation depends upon his ability to call to mind while in the confessional all of his sins and to confess them. It is impressed upon him that only that which is confessed can be forgiven. The priest cannot forgive that which he does not know about. What spiritual agony that means for many a soul who fears he may have omitted some things that should have been told, and that he will have to make amends for them in purgatory! And even though he does his best, he may, from one confession to another, fall into mortal sin and be lost.
On the other hand, no matter how serious the crime, whether murder, robbery, adultery, fraud, etc., no public jail sentence or fine is imposed, but instead only a few minutes of prayer, the saying of the rosary or of “Hail Mary’s,” and a verbal promise of reform is imposed. This secret process of forgiveness and of hiding of crimes may be accomplished again and again as long as the sinner conforms to the church regulations. A consequence of easy absolution is that many take the moral law more lightly and sin more freely just because they know absolution is easy to obtain.
The Roman Church denies that anyone can have assurance of eternal life—such assurance, of course, would undermine the confessional itself, for the penitent must be made to feel his constant dependence upon the priest and the church. But how contrary is such teaching to the word of Christ: “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Here Christ clearly teaches that (1) the believer now has eternal life, (2) he does not come into judgment, and (3) he has passed from death into life. All three of these blessings are given solely on the basis that one has heard and believed the promise of Christ. Not a single word is said about confession to a priest or about doing penance. And nowhere in the New Testament is there any record of forgiveness having been obtained from a priest.
We may well ask: If Roman priests have the apostolic power of binding and loosing, of granting or refusing absolution from sin, why do they not also possess the ‘power’ to perform miracles which Christ conferred upon the apostles? Christ said that it was just as easy to say, “Arise, and walk,” as to say, “Thy sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:5). Why cannot Roman priests do the same? The fact is that all men are sinners, all have serious defects and faults, and none can exercise the powers of God. Those who play God are only acting foolishly.
4 Scripture Teaching Regarding Confession
The Bible teaches that it is the privilege of every penitent sinner to confess his sins directly to God: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). What did the Lord Jesus say when He spoke of the Pharisee and the publican? The publican had no priest, and he did not go to a confessional. All he did was to cry with bowed head, “God, be thou merciful to me a sinner.” He went directly to God. And Jesus said that he went down to his house justified (Luke 18:9‑14). Indeed, why should anyone confess his sins to a priest when the Scriptures declare so plainly: “There is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). And yet the priest presumes to say, “I absolve you,” “I forgive your sins.”
Confession of sins is commanded all through the Bible, but always it is confession to God, never to man. It is a striking fact that although Paul, Peter, and John dealt frequently with men and women in sin, both in their teaching and in their practice, they never permitted a sinner or a saint to confess to them. Paul wrote thirteen of the New Testament epistles, and in them he often speaks of the duties and practices of Christians. But never once does he mention auricular confession. Peter, John, and Jude wrote six epistles in which they have much to say about the matter of salvation. But not one of them ever mentions auricular confession. And certainly Christ never told anyone to go to a priest for forgiveness. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God appointed a special class of men to hear confessions and to forgive sins.
If such an important tribunal as the confessional had been established, undoubtedly the apostles would have commented on it repeatedly. Had the power of forgiving sins been committed to the apostles, it would have been one of the most important parts of their office and one of the leading doctrines of Christianity. We cannot imagine that they would have been so remiss as never to have exercised that most important function, and nowhere even to have alluded to it. John, for instance, says: “If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He does not say that we have a priestly tribunal to which we can go and having confessed our sins receive forgiveness. Everywhere throughout the Bible the remission of sins and the gaining of salvation is connected with faith in Christ. “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life: but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul (Romans 5:1). Everywhere the exhortation is, “Believe and be saved.” Nowhere are we told to seek the absolution of a priest.
The statement of James, “Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (5:16), and that in Acts 19:18, “Many also of them that had believed came, confessing, and declaring their deeds,” alleged by Roman Catholics to support their position, do not teach private confession to a priest, but are rather proof against it since they imply the duty of the priest to confess to the layman as well as for the layman to confess to the priest. These statements properly mean, “Confess your faults, your shortcomings, to your fellow Christians who have been injured by you.” They mean that when one has wronged his neighbor he should acknowledge his fault and make restitution. Paul used the word “sin” in this sense when he said: “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar, have I sinned at all” (Acts 25:8).
Public confession was practiced in the early church on occasions, as it now is in some Protestant churches when members wish to give a testimony of their lives. But secret auricular confession to a priest, with the priest privileged to draw out the individual and probe for details, to pronounce a judgment upon him and assign a penance, is an entirely different thing. The Bible does not require us to parade our sins before a priest or before the congregation, but only to confess to God. In any event, for one sinner to confess his sins to another sinner to obtain forgiveness is degrading and demoralizing, and, more than that, it is dishonoring to God.
5 Alleged Roman Catholic Scripture Proof
In defense of the confessional the priests depend primarily on the two following Scripture references:
“I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
“He therefore said to them, ‘Peace be to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:21‑23, Confraternity Version).
In the chapter on Peter, and the section dealing with the “Keys,” we have discussed the meaning of Matthew 16:19, and have pointed out that the power given to the apostles was symbolical and declarative, and that it related to the authority given to them to preach the Gospel, which contains God’s conditions for repentance and forgiveness. “Repentance and remission of sins” was to be “preached in his name unto all the nations” (Luke 24:47). “To him (Christ) bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). And again, “Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins: and by him every one that believeth is justified from all things” (Acts 13:38-39).
Christ often used figurative language, as when He said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:2‑3); and, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter” (Matthew 23:13).
The scribes and Pharisees were in possession of the law. In that sense they sat on Moses’ seat. As the law was faithfully given to the people, or withheld from them, the way to heaven was opened before them, or closed to them. In the failure of the scribes and Pharisees to give the law to the people they were shutting the kingdom of heaven against men, not literally, but figuratively.
“The keys of the kingdom” was a symbolic expression for the Old Testament Scriptures which set forth the way of salvation. The Old Testament, of course, was the only Scripture they had at that time. It was the responsibility of the scribes and Pharisees, who were the custodians of the Scriptures, to acquaint the people with that knowledge by making the Scripture truth available to them. But instead, they not only neglected that duty but actually veiled the Scriptures and perverted their meaning so that the people who wanted that knowledge were deprived of it. Similarly, in the Christian dispensation, the apostles were given “the keys of the kingdom,” not a set of metallic keys, of course, and not that they could by a mere word admit certain individuals into the kingdom while excluding others, but that, in the words of Paul, they were “intrusted with the Gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4), and so opened or closed the kingdom as they proclaimed the Word of Life or withheld it. In that sense every minister today, and indeed every Christian, who teaches the Word also possesses the “keys” and admits to, or excludes from, the kingdom. The key to the kingdom is the Gospel of Christ. Peter was given that key, and he used it to unlock the kingdom to those to whom he preached. We have that same key, and we must use it in the same way, by making known the message of salvation and so opening up to others the way into the kingdom of heaven.
The powers of binding or loosing, and of forgiving or retaining sins, were given to the apostles as proclaimers of the Word of God, not as priests. As we have shown elsewhere, there are no Christian “priests” in the New Testament dispensation. The apostles never claimed the power of forgiving sins by absolution as Roman priests do. Rather they preached the Gospel of salvation through Christ—which was a declarative power, by which they announced the gracious terms on which salvation was granted to sinful men.
As Dr. Woods has said:
“These expressions indicate a declarative power only: the right to proclaim in Christ’s name and with His authority, that all who truly repent of sin and trust in Him for pardon and salvation, shall surely be forgiven and saved. But it is Christ alone, and not the minister, who forgives. According to Scripture, the minister is only a herald to announce what the King will do, on condition of repentance and faith on the part of the sinner.
“This was the teaching of the apostles, and of the early church before the papal party corrupted it; for Tertullian in the third century declared that all Christians have, like Peter, the power of the keys, to proclaim forgiveness and salvation through Christ. And this has always been the doctrine of the Reformed Church of all branches” (Our Priceless Heritage, p. 118).
That this is the true meaning of Matthew 16:19 and John 20:21‑23 is clear from the practice and preaching of the apostles. They always directed sinners to Christ. Never once did any apostle say, “I absolve you,” or, “Your sins are forgiven.” Instead, we read that when Peter entered the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and this man “fell down at his feet, and worshipped him,” Peter “raised him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:25‑28). And when the people of Lystra attempted to confer divine honors upon Paul and Barnabas, these two Christian missionaries promptly stopped such procedure, saying, “We also are men of like passions with you” (Acts 14:15).
Language similar to that spoken to the Apostles was addressed to the prophet Jeremiah. We read: “And Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth: see I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:9‑10). But Jeremiah never literally plucked up, or broke down or destroyed, or planted nations and kingdoms. His mission was to declare to the nations the terms on which God would build up or destroy, or reward or punish nations. His wasdeclarative, not executive, power. Similarly, Peter and the other apostles were given authority to declare the terms on which God would save His people and forgive their sins.
It is perfectly obvious that the teaching of these verses regarding the forgiving or retaining of sins, and the binding or loosing, are not intended to contradict the clear teaching of the rest of the Bible on this subject, which states explicitly that only God has the power to forgive sin. If we read carefully Matthew’s account, for instance, we find that the context deals with disciplinary problems in a local church. The immediately preceding verses, 15‑17, read: “And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the word of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.” Then follows the statement: “Verily I say unto you, What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Here we have a case in which a difference develops between two believers. This passage tells us how such a difference is to be settled. If our Christian brother has sinned, it is our duty first to go to him and tell him about it. If he hears us and mends his ways, well and good. But if he does not hear us, then we are to go back to him, taking one or two Christian brothers with us. If that is unsuccessful, then we are to bring the matter before the local congregation. If he refuses to heed the admonitions of the church, i.e., the whole assembly of believers, then we are to treat him as a Gentile and a publican, as no longer a member of the congregation. In this manner disciplinary action is to be exercised, not secretly by a priest, but openly by the collective decision of the local church, the elders of course leading as they do in all other functions of the local church. If their efforts prove futile, then the “sin” of this member is to be “bound,” that is, the offender is to be officially charged with it, pronounced guilty, and expelled from the membership. But if he is found innocent, he is to be “loosed” from the sin, that is, acquitted of the charge of which he was accused. In this sense, and in this sense only, not a priest, nor an elder, but the local congregation is to exercise discipline. And Christ has promised to honor such action in His church, so long as it is done in a Christian manner under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—what they bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what they loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
6 Abuses of the Confessional
If the confessional has no sanction in Scripture, how did it come to be established in the church? Let Dr. Woods answer:
“Because its establishment was greatly to the interest of the hierarchy. The confessional enormously increased the power of the pope and the clergy. The priests came to know the secrets of men from the emperor down to the humblest peasant, and all classes of society were thus placed in the power of their religious leaders, whom they did not dare to disobey or offend. Not only were the sins and scandals of each individual’s life and that of families laid bare, but all the intrigues of State, the political schemes of the rulers of Europe, were in the possession of the confessor, who could use his knowledge for the advancement of the church, or to help a political party in which he was interested. What greater intellectual and moral bondage for human beings could be imagined, or what more dangerous power could be possessed, than that of the Roman confessional? History furnishes many impressive warnings; see Charles IX and the massacre of St. Bartholomew; or of Louis XIV and the cruel revocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685” (Our Priceless Heritage, p. 129).
Listen again to the testimony of Lucien Vinet, who for years operated the confessional and who knows the Roman system well:
“A Roman Catholic, says his church, must, in order to obtain peace with God, declare all his sinful actions, omissions and his most secret thoughts and desires, specifying minutely the kinds of sins committed, the number of times and all the circumstances that might alter the gravity of a sin. A murderer is obliged to declare his crimes, a young girl her most intimate thoughts and desires. We have seen men tremble, women faint and children cry when the time to confess their sins to us had come. A priest cannot hear confessions for many months before he realizes that this ordeal cannot be requested by the kind and merciful Lord. On the other hand we have seen priests laugh and joke in referring to their embarrassed penitents. Confession is a usurpation of authority by priests who investigate the minds and souls of human beings. When an organization such as the Roman system can control not only the education, the family and policies of the civil government of its members, but even their very thoughts and desires, we do not wonder that it can prosper and succeed. Roman Catholics, whether they feel that they ought to admit it or not, are forced into submission to Romanism through the process of torturing auricular confession.”
Vinet then gives the following specific examples of the abuse of the confessional:
(a) “Confession of a Child. The child may be only seven years of age. He has been told that he must tell all his sins to the priest. If he does not, he will commit a sacrilege and should he die, he cannot go to heaven. He is naturally very confused as to what really constitutes sin. He is naturally shy and reluctant to tell what he has done or thought. The result is that he omits to declare certain things that are really not sinful but he thinks they are. His conscience will reproach him for having hidden a sin in confession and he cannot make peace with his God. Confession has ruined the soul of many a child. How different is all this from the words of Christ who said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’!
(b) “Confession of a Young Girl. We now have a shy Roman Catholic young girl, passing through the state of childhood to puberty, who is about to enter the confessional. She is naturally embarrassed and her state of mind is just what a sordid confessor wishes to explore. The priest will now hear from a young woman the most secret thoughts and desires of her soul. Her mind and soul are sacrificed on the altar of Romanism. Many embarrassing questions are asked according to the sins accused. … These shameful details of a confession are mentioned here to illustrate what is meant by the torture of confession. Roman Catholics know very well that what we disclose is the crude truth.
(c) “Confession of a Married Woman. A married woman enters the confessional. She will tell a strange man secrets which she probably would not dare to reveal to her husband. She is even bound to reveal certain secrets of her husband. In the Roman Church birth control of all varieties is a sin and must be confessed with all its circumstances. The husband might be of Protestant faith and his Roman Catholic wife will have to disclose to the priest the most intimate relations of their marital life. The priest will know more about the wife than the husband. There are no family secrets because Rome has required that hearts and souls shall be fully explored by priests. In this manner Romanism controls the whole intimate lives of married couples.
“A married woman, who has any amount of natural discretion and honesty, will enter the confessional with apprehension and often despair. She fears that terrible infallible questionnaire. It is impossible to describe the mental inconvenience she now experiences by the spectre of compulsory confession. …
“Poor Roman Catholic women! We know well that your kind souls are tortured to death by this terrible Roman obligation of telling, not only your sins, but also the most intimate secrets of your married life. As an ex‑priest we can tell you that these mental tortures imposed upon your souls are not a prescription of the Saviour of mankind to obtain forgiveness of your sins, but are pure inventions of men to keep your minds and hearts under the control of a system, the torturous Roman religious organization. We must admit that as a priest we had no power to forgive your sins. No priest has such powers” (I Was a Priest, pp. 62-67).
Father Charles Chiniquy, after spending twenty-five years as a Roman Catholic priest in Canada and the United States, renounced the Roman Church and the priesthood and in the following paragraphs expressed his sense of humiliation and shame at having ever engaged in the processes of the confessional.
“With a blush on my face, and regret in my heart, I confess before God and man, that I have been through the confessional plunged for twenty-five years in that bottomless sea of iniquity, in which the blind priests of Rome have to swim day and night.
“I had to learn by heart the infamous questions which the Church of Rome forces every priest to learn. I had to put these impure, immoral questions to women and girls who were confessing their sins to me. Those questions, and the answers they elicit, are so debasing that only a man who has lost every sense of shame can put them to any woman.
“Yes, I was bound in conscience, to put into the ears, the mind, the imagination the memory, the heart and soul of women and girls, questions of such a nature, the direct and immediate tendency of which is to fill the minds and hearts of both priests and penitents with thoughts and temptations of such a degrading nature, that I do not know any words adequate to express them. Pagan antiquity has never seen any institution more polluting than the confessional. I have lived twenty-five years in the atmosphere of the confessional. I was degraded and polluted by the confessional just as all the priests of Rome are. It has required the whole blood of the great Victim, who died on Calvary for sinners, to purify me” (The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional, pp. 67-68).
This book by Charles Chiniquy is, we believe, the best available dealing with all phases of the confessional, and should be read by everyone who would have a clear understanding of the evils involved in that institution. It describes conditions which existed in Montreal and in other parts of Canada in the middle 19th century, and shows the depths to which the confessional tends if unrestrained by evangelical forces.
Such testimonies as we have cited make it clear that the confessional is contaminating alike to the penitent and to the priest. The great ornament of the woman is modesty and purity. But when a woman is taught that modesty and restraint in the confessional are in themselves sins, womanly virtue is bound to suffer. Most of the priests are educated, trained, clever men, who know how and to what extent they can safely ply their penitents. Appropriate here are the words:
Vice is a monster of such hideous mien,| As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; But seen too oft, familiar with her face, We soon approve, admire, and then embrace.
Husbands and fathers are not ordinarily asked such questions as are put to girls and women in the confessional, and it is not an unusual thing when they become enlightened as to what conversations are carried on between the priests and their wives and daughters that they absolutely forbid them to go to confession. The unfortunate thing, however, is that even after they become enlightened concerning this phase of Romanism, they usually remain in that church and continue to try to fulfill all of the other requirements, despite the fact that failure to comply with the regulations concerning the confessional is in itself a mortal sin.
Another who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church describes the confessional and its effect on the people in these words:
“The confessional is a system of espionage—a system of slavery. The priest is the spy in every home. Many Catholics are shocked by the character of the questions put to them. A Catholic woman said to a Protestant friend, ‘I would rather take a whipping any day than go to confession.’ One can readily understand why most Catholics are timid and afraid of the priest and are obedient to the letter of his wishes because they know that through the confessional the priest has secured a knowledge of their habits and life that no one else knows anything about. The average priest can stride along with that lofty air. When he meets his parishioners he often tosses his head as though he were a demigod. Why is it? Because he holds the secrets of the personal lives of all his flock—of all who trust him” (John Carrara, Romanism Under the Searchlight, p. 70).
Under the rules of the Roman Church the priest is forbidden to reveal anything told him in the confessional. This is known as the “seal of the confessional.” Otherwise the practice of confession could not be maintained. But under certain circumstances he can pass on information gained: (1) with the consent of the penitent, which for the priest often times is not hard to obtain; (2) anything revealed apart from the confession itself, that is, in further conversation, can be passed on; (3) among themselves priests often discuss information gained in the confessional without mentioning names, and so stay within the limits of Canon Law; and (4) if a dispute arises as to whether or not permission was granted, the word of the priest is to be accepted in preference to that of the penitent. And, as the clergy are not permitted to tell what transpires in the confessional, so neither are those who confess permitted to repeat anything, since they too are a part of the church system. This, then, gives the priests an ideal situation for the secret direction of the personal affairs of their parishioners, including their family life, community affairs, voting, or the management of any political machines directed by them or political offices held by them.
The assertion of the priests that the confessional brings peace to the soul is cruel sarcasm. In most cases the result is exactly the opposite, and the penitents remain a certain period of time, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, in a distressed state of mind. For the honest, conscientious person, young or old, the fear of not making “a good confession,” of omitting or inaccurately reporting the various experiences, and so making the entire confession null and void, is in itself a tormenting worry. Believing that their salvation depends, as the priest tells them that it does, on a full and truthful recounting of all their sinful actions, those honest souls fear that they have not been sufficiently contrite, or that they have withheld some necessary details. Women in particular dislike the confessional, and usually restrict themselves to what they must say.
The Roman Catholic people pay dearly for this invention as they submit themselves to its discipline. Much depends, of course, upon the individual priest. Some are truly considerate of the sensitivities of their people and refrain from unreasonable probing, while others abuse the privilege. In any event, every priest knows that he proffers what is flagrantly false every time he dismisses his penitent with the benediction: “Go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee.” For Protestants the confessional is undoubtedly the most revolting feature of the Roman system. Fortunately, in the United States, where Protestantism is the predominant religion, the abuses of the confessional do not reach such depths as in the Roman Catholic countries. Why is it, for instance, that the Roman Catholics of Southern Ireland are so inferior to their Protestant neighbors in Northern Ireland? Why so much poverty, ignorance, superstition, and immorality? Nearly a century ago Charles Chiniquy wrote concerning the Roman Catholic nations of his day:
“The principal cause of the degradation of Ireland is the enslavement of the Irish women by means of the confessional. After the Irish woman has been enslaved and degraded, she, in turn, has enslaved and degraded her husband and sons. Ireland will be an object of pity; she will be poor, miserable, degraded, as long as she rejects Christ and is ruled by the father confessor.”
“The downfall of woman in France, and her degradation through the confessional, is now an accomplished fact, which nobody can deny; the highest intellectuals have seen and confessed it. Why is it that Spain is so miserable, so weak, so poor, so foolishly and cruelly reddening her fair valleys with the blood of her children? The principal, if not the only cause of the downfall of that great nation is the confessional. There, also the confessor has defiled, degraded, enslaved women, and women in turn have defiled and degraded their husbands and sons” (The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional, p. 64-66).
As regards the comparative status of Roman Catholic and Protestant nations, it is a fact that every Roman Catholic nation in the world today is bankrupt, and that every Roman Catholic nation in the world today is looking to Protestant United States for financial and economic aid in one form or another. The Protestant nations of Europe—England, Scotland, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and northern Germany—have been far more enlightened and progressive than have their Roman Catholic neighbors. This is not mere chance, but a consistent pattern that has been in evidence since the days of the Reformation. Surely the facts speak for themselves. Someone has said: “Every Protestant nation is superior to every Roman Catholic nation.” We believe that is true.
According to a decree of the Council of Trent it is not necessary, in order to obtain pardon in the confessional, that the sinner be sorry because his sin was an offense against God, but only that he be sorry for fear that unless he confesses before a priest and receives forgiveness he will go to hell forever. The decree reads:
“It is sufficient if he is sorry for fear of otherwise burning in hell for all eternity” (Sess. 14, C. H.).
Commenting on this phase of the confessional Dr. Zacchello says:
“Anyone can understand that this practice of the Catholic confession is no deterrent to crime, and can easily, in fact, be made an excuse for continuing in it. Big‑time criminals and racketeers generally can find ways to circumvent the civil law and its penalties. If they are Roman Catholics and believe in confession, they have assurance of an easy way of also escaping punishment in the next life.
“Examples are plentiful of such big‑time Catholic criminals and racketeers continuing in crime without any qualms of conscience. ‘Big Tom’ Pendergast of Kansas City who died after release from federal penitentiary was one of them. Under his rule Kansas City was a menace to the morals of young and old. Brothels flourished openly and criminal gangs enforced his edicts. Gambling houses were commonplace, and he himself was the biggest gambler of his age. Political corruption abounded and Pendergast, as the boss of it all, grew fabulously rich from the wealth that flowed into his pockets from this underworld traffic in crime. Yet, when he died on January 26, 1945, Monsignor Thomas B. McDonald who preached his funeral sermon after solemn high mass, publicly proclaimed him ‘a man with a noble heart and a true friend,’ because ‘he went to mass every morning at 7:30 for 30 years.’
“Tom Pendergast did not fear the penalties of the civil law, because he could escape them by bribing and corrupting judges and officers of the law whom he himself had appointed. He was assured by his church’s teaching that he could also escape God’s punishment as long as he went to confession regularly, told his crimes to the priest and said he was sorry merely because he was afraid of going to hell. He was assured that he could continue his life of crime with impunity as long as he made sure of having a priest to absolve him before he died and to say masses afterward for his soul in purgatory. … We former priests now know what true forgiveness of sins means in Christian teaching; that God alone forgives sin and with forgiveness comes a complete change of life. The Catholic practice of confession is merely a recital to a man of sins committed, with no guarantee of pardon from God, and nothing to prevent the repetition of the same sins over and over again” (Secrets of Romanism, pp. 123-125).
What a fraudulent, dishonest, futile, and unscriptural practice the operation of the confessional really is!
CHAPTER X Purgatory
1. Rome’s Teaching concerning Purgatory
2. The Terrifying Aspect of Purgatory
3. The Money Motive in the Doctrine of Purgatory
4. Scripture Teaching
5. History of the Doctrine
1 Rome’s Teaching Concerning Purgatory
The Roman Catholic Church has developed a doctrine in which it is held that all who die at peace with the church, but who are not perfect, must undergo penal and purifying suffering in an intermediate realm known as purgatory. Only those believers who have attained a state of Christian perfection go immediately to heaven. All unbaptized adults and those who after baptism have committed mortal sin go immediately to hell. The great mass of partially sanctified Christians dying in fellowship with the church, but who nevertheless are encumbered with some degree of sin, go to purgatory where, for a longer or shorter time, they suffer until all sin is purged away, after which they are translated to heaven.
The Roman Church holds that baptism removes all previous guilt, both original and actual, so that if a person were to die immediately after baptism he would go directly to heaven. All other believers, except the Christian martyrs but including even the highest clergy, must go to purgatory to pay the penalty for sins committed after baptism. The sacrifices made by the martyrs, particularly those that reflect honor upon the church, are considered adequate substitutes for the purgatorial sufferings.
The doctrine of purgatory is not based on the Bible, but on a distinction which Rome makes by dividing sin into two kinds. This distinction is clearly set forth by Dr. Zacchello, who says:
“According to Roman teaching a person can commit two kinds of sin against God: mortal and venial. By mortal sin is meant a grave offense against the law of God or of the church. It is called ‘mortal’ because it kills the soul by depriving it entirely of sanctifying grace. Venial sin is a small and pardonable offense against God and the laws of the church. Then, this confusing and unscriptural doctrine continues: Two kinds of punishment are due to mortal sin, eternal (in hell forever), and temporal (in purgatory). Eternal punishment is cancelled by the sacraments of baptism and penance or by an act of perfect contrition with promise of confession. Temporal punishment is not cancelled by these sacraments, but by works of penance, by almsgiving, by paying the priest to say mass, by indulgences, etc., which reduce the temporal punishment for mortal sins that would have to be suffered in purgatory. Thus even if all mortal sins of a Roman Catholic are forgiven in confession by a priest, and he does not perform enough of these ‘good works,’ he will go to purgatory and remain there in torture until his soul is completely purified” (Secrets of Romanism, p. 101).
The doctrine of purgatory rests on the assumption that while God forgives sin, His justice nevertheless demands that the sinner must suffer the full punishment due to him for his sin before he will be allowed to enter heaven. But such a distinction is illogical even according to human reasoning. For it manifestly would be unjust to forgive a criminal the guilt of his crime and still send him to prison to suffer for it.
The Roman Catholic people are taught that the souls of their relatives and friends in purgatory suffer great torment in the flames, that they are unable to help themselves, that not even God can help them until His justice has been satisfied, and that only their friends on earth can shorten or alleviate that suffering. Purgatory is supposed to be under the special jurisdiction of the pope, and it is his prerogative as the representative of Christ on earth to grant indulgences (i.e., relief from suffering) as he sees fit. This power, it is claimed, can be exercised directly by the pope to alleviate, shorten, or terminate the sufferings, and within limits it is also exercised by the priests as representatives of the pope. It is, of course, impossible but that power of this kind could be abused even in the hands of the best of men. Vested in the hands of ordinary men, as generally must be the case, or in the hands of mercenary and wicked men as too often has happened, the abuses are bound to be appalling. The evils that have flowed from this doctrine, and which are its inevitable consequences, make it abundantly cannot that it cannot be of divine origin.
2 The Terrifying Aspect pf Purgatory
Since none but actual saints escape the pains of purgatory, this doctrine gives to the death and funeral of the Roman Catholic a dreadful and repellent aspect. Under the shadow of such a doctrine, death is not, as in evangelical Protestantism, the coming of Christ for His loved one, but the ushering of the shrinking soul into a place of unspeakable torture. It is no wonder that millions of people born in the Roman Catholic Church, knowing practically nothing about the Bible but believing implicitly in the doctrines of their church, should live and die in fear of death, in fear of spending an unknown number of years in the pain and anguish of that place called purgatory. How tragic that these people live in fear and servitude to the priests, who they are taught to believe hold in their hands the power of life and death, when all the time Christ has paid for their redemption in full. Even their own Roman Catholic Bible says: “Wherefore because children have blood and flesh in common, so he in like manner has shared in these; that through death he might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver them, who throughout their life were kept in servitude by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15, Confraternity Version). These words, “Kept in servitude by the fear of death,” describe the spiritual state of even devout Roman Catholics. All their lives they are kept in bondage through fear of this imaginary purgatory.
The sufferings in purgatory are said to vary greatly in intensity and duration, being proportioned to the guilt and impurity or impenitence of the sufferer. They are described as being in some cases comparatively light and mild, lasting perhaps only a few hours, while in others little if anything short of the torments of hell itself and lasting for thousands of years. They differ from the pains of hell at least to this extent, that there is eventually an end to the sufferings in purgatory, but not to those in hell. They are in any event to end with the last judgment. Hence purgatory eventually is to be emptied of all its victims.
As regards the intensity of the suffering, Bellarmine, a noted Roman Catholic theologian, says:
“The pains of purgatory are very severe, surpassing anything endured in this life.”
The Manual of the Purgatorial Society, with the imprimatur of Cardinal Hayes, says:
“According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, the fire of purgatory does not differ from the fire of hell, except in point of duration. ‘It is the same fire,’ says St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘that torments the reprobate in hell, and the just in purgatory. The least pain in purgatory,’ he says, ‘surpasses the greatest suffering in this life.’ Nothing but the eternal duration makes the fire of hell more terrible than that of purgatory.”
And in another book with the imprimatur of archbishop Spellman (now cardinal), Bellarmine is quoted as saying:
“There is absolutely no doubt that the pains of purgatory in some cases endure for entire centuries” (John M. Haffert, Saturday in Purgatory).
It seems that the Church of Rome has rather wisely refrained from making any official pronouncement concerning the nature and intensity of purgatorial suffering. Books and discourses intended for Protestant readers or hearers speak of it only in the mildest terms. But the Roman Church does not thereby escape responsibility, for it has always allowed free circulation, with its expressed or implied sanction, of books containing the most frightening descriptions, ranging all the way from comparatively mild disciplinary measures to a burning lake of billowing flames in which the souls of the impenitent are submerged. Among their own people and in the hands of the priests the doctrine of purgatory has been an instrument of terrifying power. We are reminded of the remark of Charles Hodge in this connection: “The feet of the tiger with its claws withdrawn are as soft as velvet; but when those claws are extended, they are fearful instruments of laceration and death.”
Furthermore, as Dr. Augustus H. Strong has appropriately said:
“Suffering has in itself no reforming power. Unless accompanied by special renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, it only hardens and embitters the soul. We have no Scriptural evidence that such influences of the Spirit are exerted after death, upon the still impenitent; but abundant evidence on the contrary, that the moral condition in which death finds men is their condition forever. … To the impenitent and rebellious sinner the motive must come, not from within, but from without. Such motives God presents by His Spirit in this life; and when this life ends and God’s Spirit is withdrawn, no motive to repentance will be presented. The soul’s dislike for God (we may even say, the sinner’s hatred for God) will issue only in complaint and resistance” (Systematic Theology, p. 1041).
We ask: How can spirits suffer the pains of material fire in purgatory before they have resurrection bodies? In answer to this question the Roman theologians have invented a theory that in purgatory the soul takes on a different kind of body—the nature of which they do not define—in which the suffering can be felt. But that is like the doctrine of purgatory itself, a purely fictitious assumption without any Scripture proof whatever, and in fact contrary to Scripture.
Roman Catholicism is often described as a religion of fear. The doctrine of purgatory is where much of that fear centers—fear of the priest, fear of the confessional, of the consequences of missing mass, of the discipline of penance, of death of purgatory, and of the righteous judgment of an angry God. L. H. Lehmann tells us concerning his boyhood in Ireland:
“A sense of constant fear overshadowed everything. Ingrained fear is, in fact, the predominant note running through the life of all children born and reared in Catholic Ireland. Few ever get rid of it completely in after life, even in America. That fear concerns everything in this life on earth, and still more terrible is the fear of the terrors in the life beyond the grave” (The Soul of a Priest, p. 34).
3 The Money Motive in the Doctrine of Purgatory
It is safe to say that no other doctrine of the Church of Rome, unless it be that of auricular confession, has done so much to pervert the Gospel or to enslave the people to the priesthood as has the doctrine of purgatory. A mere reference to the days of Tetzel, Luther, and the Protestant Reformation, not to mention present day conditions in the Roman Catholic countries in Southern Europe and Latin America where that church has had undisputed ecclesiastical control for centuries, is sufficient to illustrate this point. Every year millions of dollars are paid to obtain relief from this imagined suffering. No exact figures are available. In contrast with the custom in Protestant churches, in which itemized financial statements of income and expenses are issued each year, Roman Catholic finances are kept secret, no kind of budget or balance sheet ever being published which would show where their money comes from, how much it amounts to, how much is sent to Rome, how or where the remainder is spent. In this as in other things, the people must trust their church implicitly.
The doctrine of purgatory has sometimes been referred to as “the gold mine of the priesthood” since it is the source of such lucrative income. The Roman Church might well say, “By this craft we have our wealth.”
In general it is held that the period of suffering in purgatory can be shortened by gifts of money, prayers by the priest, and masses, which gifts, prayers, and masses can be provided by the person before death or by relatives and friends after death. The more satisfaction one makes while living, the less remains to be atoned for in purgatory.
At the time of death the priest is summoned to the bed of the dying person. He administers extreme unction, and solemnly pronounces absolution. Yet after death occurs, money is extracted from the mourning relatives and friends to pay for masses to be said in order to shorten the period of torment in purgatory. The result, particularly among ignorant and uneducated people, has been that the Roman Church sells salvation for money, not outwardly and directly, but nevertheless in reality. All understand that the service of the church in securing the salvation of a soul in purgatory is to be rewarded with appropriate gifts or services. It has well been said that the Roman Church is a huge money‑gathering institution, and that everything in Rome has a price tag on it.
It is due in no small measure to this doctrine of purgatory that the Roman Catholic Church has been able to amass large sums of money and to build magnificent cathedrals, monasteries, and convents, even in regions where the people are poor. This has been particularly true in the Latin American countries. It is a common experience in Mexico, for instance, to find in almost every town an impressive Roman Catholic church surrounded by the miserable huts of the natives. The practical outworking of the system has been seen in several countries, e.g., France, England, Italy, Austria, Mexico and others when a disproportionately large amount of property fell into the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes as much as a fourth or a third of all the property of the nation, and had to be confiscated and redistributed by the government in order to redress the economic situation. There is literally no limit to the amount of property that the Roman Church seeks for itself if it is not restrained. Those who contribute money for masses, particularly those who at the urging of the priests leave substantial portions of their estates to the Roman Church so that future masses can be said for them, are helping to keep in being a lucrative and detestable system which did not become a regular practice in the church until centuries after the time of Christ and which is a disgrace to Christianity.
At this point another question arises. If the pope, or the priest acting for him, really has the power to shorten or modify or terminate the suffering of souls in purgatory, why does he not, if he is a good man, render that service freely and willingly as a Christian service to humanity? In the hospitals the doctors and nurses try in every possible way to relieve the pain and misery of those who come to them. Why does the pope, or the priest, keep those poor souls suffering horrible pain in the fire if at any time he can pay all their debt out of his rich treasury of the merits of the saints? Why? Does Romanism have an answer?
If any one of us actually had the power to release souls from purgatory and refused to exercise that power except in return for a payment of money, he would be considered cruel and unchristian—which indeed he would be. By all Christian standards that is a service that the church should render freely and willingly to its people. No decent man would permit even a dog to suffer in the fire until its owner paid him five dollars to take it out. The insistence on a money transaction before a soul can be released, and sometimes money transactions over long periods of time, shows clearly the sinister purpose for which the doctrine of purgatory is invented. The simple fact is that if purgatory were emptied and all those suffering souls admitted to heaven, there would be little incentive left for the people to pay money to the priests. The doctrine of purgatory is a horribly cruel doctrine in that the priests, all of whom in the United States at least, are educated, intelligent men, know how flimsy or how utterly lacking is all actual evidence for such a place. Under the pretense of delivering souls from that suffering, large sums of money are wrung from the bereaved at a time when hearts are sore and when they are least able to think logically about such matters. Says Stephen L. Testa:
“Purgatory has been called ‘a gigantic fraud,’ and ‘a colossal racket’; for it deprives the poor of their last pennies and extorts large funds from the rich in exchange for nothing. During the Middle Ages the rich rivaled each other in leaving their estates to the Church, and the poor gave out of their poverty till the Church became the richest landowner in every country. In several countries the Church owned one half of the land and one third of all the invested funds. It built great cathedrals and bishops’ palaces and left the poor to live in huts and shanties. You can see even today in Europe and in Mexico great massive cathedrals surrounded by the hovels of the poor who grovel in misery, ignorance, and wretchedness.
“But many of those Catholic nations during the last century had their wars of independence, beginning with the French Revolution, and the Church was deprived of its temporal power and the landed properties were seized by the State and partitioned among the poor farmers. In Italy this happened in 1870. But Mussolini restored the temporal power of the pope (in name only) in 1929. However, the church is not the rich land owner that it once was. The spirit of liberty and democracy is fatal to the autocracy and totalitarianism of the Roman Church” (booklet, The Truth About Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, p. 14).
And Dr. Robert Ketcham asks:
“How do you know, Mr. Priest, when to stop praying and taking money from your parishioners for a given case? How do you know when John Murphy is out of purgatory? His getting out is dependent upon the saying of masses paid for by his bereaved ones. If you stop one or two masses too soon, what then? If you keep on saying masses for the fellow after he is out, that is bad. It is bad either way you come at it. I ask seriously, Sir, Mr. Roman Catholic Priest, How do you know when to stop saying masses for a given individual? Do you have some kind of a connection with the unseen world?” (booklet, Let Rome Speak for Herself, p. 20).
The fact is that Roman Catholic priests admit that they have no way of knowing when a soul is released from purgatory. One former layman from that church writing on this subject says that it was the priests’ abuse of this doctrine that finally turned him against Roman Catholicism. He tells of an incident that occurred 45 years after the death of a man in his congregation when the then officiating priest again asked the widow for money that he might say mass for her husband. A succession of priests in turn had taken money from that widow, always on the pretense of getting her husband out of purgatory. But they had never gotten him out. And there, 45 years later, they were still extracting money on that fraudulent claim.
We charge in the strongest terms that the practice of saying mass for souls in purgatory is a gigantic hoax and fraud, a taking of money under false pretenses, because it purports to get people out of purgatory when actually no such place exists. We would not trust a judge who manipulated the law to make himself rich, nor would we trust a policeman who asked for a bribe. Why, then, should we trust a priest who presents an interpretation concerning the afterlife which is not only not in the Bible but which is contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible? Such practice is fraudulent and is designed primarily for only one purpose, that of keeping the people under the power of the priests and controlling their lives and property as far as possible.
4 Scripture Teaching
That the doctrine of purgatory is unscriptural can be shown easily. The Bible says nothing about any such place, and in fact the most devastating arguments against purgatory come from those inspired pages. Christ made not even so much as a passing allusion to purgatory. Instead He said: “He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Hence eternal life is already possessed by the soul that believes on Christ, and there can be no possible condemnation of that soul. When Jesus said to the penitent thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), the clear inference was that at his death he would go immediately to heaven. Christ’s words, “It is finished” (John 19:30), spoken at the end of His suffering on the Cross, mean that the work of redemption which He came to perform has accomplished, finished, not partially, but completely. Furthermore, there is no transfer from one realm to another after death. Those who go to the place of outer darkness cannot cross from that sphere to the other: “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us” (Luke 16:26).
The Apostle John teaches the same: ‘“The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. … If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7,9). Hence our sins, all of them, are forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ, and none are left to be purged away by human merit. And again: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them” (Revelation 14:13).
Paul’s teaching on this subject is quite full. He anticipated no purgatory, but said that to depart was to “be with Christ,” and that it would be “very far better” (Philippians 1:23). While we are “at home in the body,” we are “absent from the Lord”; but to be “absent from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). To the Philippians he wrote: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21). In answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” he gives the straightforward and unqualified answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31)—no reference there to confession to a priest, penance, purgatory, or any other thing such as a religion of works attaches. Those who put their trust in Christ’s atoning death do not come into judgment: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Peter, the alleged founder of Romanism, declared: “Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Hence we cannot be made to suffer for that sin a second time. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that God not only forgives, but pledges Himself never to bring our sins to His remembrance: “And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (10:17).
What a contrast there is between these words of Scripture concerning the state of the righteous immediately after death, and that teaching which would have us believe that the sufferings of purgatory must be endured indefinitely, perhaps even for years! The Roman Church knows, of course, that this doctrine of purgatory, which is of such great importance to it, is not in the Bible. And that undoubtedly is one of the reasons that through the ages it has kept the Bible from the people.
Purgatory is, therefore, a travesty on the justice of God. God’s justice has been fully satisfied once and for all by the sacrifice of Christ, and God cannot exact double punishment, once from Christ, and again from those for whom He died. Hence the redeemed soul goes not to any midway station between earth and heaven, but directly to heaven; and the sacrifice on Calvary was sufficient to “purge” all our sins without the need of any “purgatory.”
A Roman Catholic cannot approach his deathbed and the certain prospect of the interminable fires of purgatory with anything other than fear and dread. For as he is true to the doctrines of his church he can see only great fires beyond. It is difficult to conceive of a belief so groundless and yet so frightening as that of the doctrine of purgatory. But what a marvelous, glorious thing it is at death to go straight to heaven! And what good news it is for Roman Catholics when they learn that there is no such place as purgatory, no suffering for the redeemed soul beyond the grave!
Where, then, does Rome find her authority for the doctrine of purgatory? Four Scripture verses are cited, but not one of them has any real bearing on the subject. They are (Confraternity Version): “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (the words of John the Baptist concerning Christ) (Matthew 3:11); “If his work burns, he will lose his reward, but himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15); “And some, who are judged, reprove; and others, save, snatching them from the fire” (Jude 1:22-23); and “Christ… [who] was brought to life in the spirit, in which also he went and preached to those spirits that were in prison. These in times past had been disobedient when the patience of God waited in the days of Noe while the ark was building. In that ark a few, that is, eight souls were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20).
None of these verses mentions purgatory, nor gives any real ground for believing that such a place exists. 1 Peter 3:18-20 at first seems more plausible. But on closer examination these verses simply tell us that the Spirit through which Christ “was brought to life” (in the resurrection), which we believe refers to the Holy Spirit, was the same Spirit in which He preached to the people in Noah’s day. The preaching referred to by Peter was long since past. It occurred while the ark was in process of construction, and the tragic thing about it is that only eight souls responded to that preaching. Those eight, and only those, were saved through water. Those who refused the testimony of the Spirit of Christ as He spoke through Noah were “those spirits that were in prison” (the American Standard Version translates more accurately: “the spirits in prison”), that is, in the prison house of sin, or in hell, at the time Peter wrote. And they still are imprisoned. These verses are, in brief, a warning against disobedience to God and rejection of the Gospel, but they have no bearing on the doctrine of purgatory. Thus the four passages cited by Roman Catholics surely are a very light cord on which to hang so heavy a weight.
But Rome bases her doctrine of purgatory primarily on a passage in Maccabees, which is a Jewish book written after the close of the Old Testament. It is, of course, an apocryphal writing, and is not acknowledged by Protestants as having any authority. In order to show how flimsy this evidence is we quote this passage in full:
“And the day following Judas (Maccabeus) came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that had been slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers. And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgiven. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a great gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for a sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins” (12:39-45, Douay Version).
But these verses really do not teach the doctrine at all. Nowhere in this passage is there any mention of fire in which souls are tormented. All that is mentioned is prayers for the dead, from which the Roman Catholic theologians infer, first, that such prayers are proper, and secondly, that such prayers can be effective for the salvation of the dead. Furthermore, from the Roman Catholic viewpoint, these verses prove too much, for they teach the possible salvation of soldiers who had died in mortal sin, that of idolatry. And that contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine, which is that those dying in mortal sin go straight to hell and are permanently lost. They do not go to purgatory where they can be aided by the prayers of people still on earth. Surely one who had never heard of purgatory would not learn about it from this passage. The word purgatory is not found here. This, again, is a precarious passage on which to build such an important doctrine.
5 History of the Doctrine
The germ of what afterward grew into the doctrine of purgatory is to be found in the idea of a purification by fire after death among ancients long before the time of Christ, particularly among the people of India and Persia. It was a familiar idea to the Egyptian and later to the Greek and Roman mind. Plato accepted the idea and gave expression to it in his philosophy. He taught that perfect happiness after death was not possible until one had made satisfaction for his sins, and that if his sins were too great his suffering would have no end. Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek influences spread through all the countries of western Asia, including Palestine. We have seen that it found expression in 2 Maccabees. The Rabbis began to teach that by means of sin offerings children could alleviate the sufferings of deceased parents. Later Jewish speculation divided the underworld into two abodes—paradise, a place of happiness, and Gehenna, a place of torment.
We need only read church history to discover how this doctrine developed by slow processes into its present form. In the early Christian era, following the Apostolic age, the writings of Marcion and the Shepherd of Hermes (second century) set forth the first statement of a doctrine of purgatory, alleging that Christ after His death on the cross went to the underworld and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19) and led them in triumph to heaven. Prayers for the dead appear in the early Christian liturgies and imply the doctrine since they suggest that the state of the dead is not yet fixed. Origen, the most learned of the early church fathers (died a.d. 254), taught, first, that a purification by fire was to take place after the resurrection, and second, a universal restoration, a purifying by fire at the end of the world through which all men and angels were to be restored to favor with God.
In the writings of Augustine (died a.d. 430) the doctrine of purgatory was first given definite form, although he himself expressed doubt about some phases of it. It was, however, not until the sixth century that it received formal shape at the hands of Gregory the Great, who held the papal office from a.d. 590 to 604. Thereafter eschatology entered upon what we may term its mythological phase, during the period of history known as the Dark Ages. The invisible world was divided into heaven and purgatory, with the imagination attempting to portray as vividly as possible the topography and experiences of each region. The doctrine was proclaimed an article of faith in 1439 by the Council of Florence, and was later confirmed by the Council of Trent in 1548. But does any intelligent person believe that if such a place as purgatory is described in the Bible it would have taken the church fathers 600 years to discover it and another 1,000 years to confirm it? At any rate, the Protestant Reformation swept away those creations of terror and fancy, and reverted to the Scriptural antithesis of heaven and hell. The Eastern Orthodox Church, incidentally, does not teach the doctrine of purgatory.
The following paragraph by Dr. Charles Hodge shows the influence that this doctrine had in the lives and thinking of all classes of people during the Middle Ages:
“It was Gregory the Great who consolidated the vague and conflicting views circulating through the church, and brought the doctrine into shape and into such connection with the discipline of the church, as to render it the effective engine of government and income, which it has ever since remained. From this time onward through all the Middle Ages, purgatory became one of the prominent and consistently reiterated topics of public discussion. It took firm hold of the popular mind. The clergy from the highest to the lowest, and the different orders of monks vied with each other in their zeal for its inculcation, and in the marvels which they related of spiritual apparitions, in support of the doctrine. They contended fiercely for the honor of superior power of redeeming souls from purgatorial pains. The Franciscans claimed that the head of their order descended annually into purgatory, and delivered all the brotherhood who were detained there. The Carmelites asserted that the Virgin Mary had promised that no one who died with the Carmelite scapulary upon their shoulders, should ever be lost. The chisel and pencil of the artist were employed in depicting the horrors of purgatory, as means of impressing the public mind. No class escaped the contagious belief; the learned as well as the ignorant; the high and the low; the soldier and the recluse; the skeptic and the believer were alike enslaved. From this slavery the Bible, not the progress of science, has delivered Protestants. … All experience proves that infidelity is no protection against superstition. If men will not believe the rational and true, they will believe the absurd and false”(Systematic Theology, III, p. 770).
Dr. Harris says:
“It is well to remember that the doctrine of purgatory which rests like a heavy burden upon the heart of every Roman Catholic was not taught by any of the early church fathers and had a very slow growth until the fifth century. Its beginnings in prayers for the dead and a difference in status between the martyred dead and the ordinary Christian departed may be found as early as a.d. 200 in Tertullian. Mention of the penal fires comes much later, and the masses for the poor souls in purgatory still later. The doctrine of purgatory is another one of those foreign growths that has fastened itself like a malignant tumor upon the theology of the Roman Catholic Church” (Fundamental Protestant Doctrines, V, p. 7).
And Alexander Hislop, in his exhaustive study of the origin of Roman Catholic doctrines, finds that the doctrine of purgatory was adopted from paganism—from Babylonian, Greek, and Roman mythology:
“In every system except that of the Bible the doctrine of a purgatory after death, and prayers for the dead, has always been found to occupy a place. Go wherever we may, in ancient or modern times, we shall find that Paganism leaves hope after death for sinners, who, at the time of their departure, were consciously unfit for the abodes of the blest. For this purpose a middle state has been feigned, in which, by means of purgatorial pains guilt unremoved in time may in a future world be purged away, and the soul be made meet for final beatitude. In Greece the doctrine of purgatory was inculcated in the very chief of the philosophers (Plato). … In pagan Rome, purgatory was equally held up before the minds of men.
“In Egypt, substantially the same doctrine of purgatory was inculcated. But when once this doctrine of purgatory was admitted into the popular mind, then the door was opened for all manner of priestly extortions. Prayers for the dead ever go hand in hand with purgatory; but no prayers can be completely efficacious without the interposition of the priests; and no priestly functions can be rendered unless there be special pay for them. Therefore, in every land we find the pagan priesthood ‘devouring widows’ houses,’ and making merchandise of the tender feelings of sorrowing relatives, sensitively alive to the immortal happiness of the beloved dead” (The Two Babylons, p. 168).
As we have indicated, there is surprisingly little revealed in Scripture concerning the intermediate state. This has led some to resort to conjecture and imagination in order to fill out the picture that revelation has given only in the barest outline.
The Roman Catholic theologian Newman cites the doctrine of purgatory as one of the clearest instances of “development” from a slight Scriptural germ. But in reality it is an instance of the development from a germ of that which was never in it to begin with—as if from a mustard seed one could derive an oak tree.
In defense of this doctrine Roman Catholics lay considerable stress upon the fact that the custom of praying for the dead prevailed early and long in the church. Such prayers, it is said, take for granted that the dead need our prayers, and that they are not immediately in heaven. But the fact is that prayer for the dead is merely another superstitious practice which is entirely without Scriptural support. That was one of the many corruptions introduced into the church from heathenism. It will not do to argue from one corruption to support another.
One thing that has given the doctrine of purgatory a certain amount of plausibility is the fact that we all are sinners and none attain perfect holiness in this life, while heaven is a place of perfect holiness where nothing evil can enter. The question naturally arises, How is the soul cleansed from the last remnants of sin before it enters heaven? Since this deals with something that is outside the realm of our experience it might seem reasonable to believe that there would be a place of further purification. In this case the Bible is our only trustworthy source of information. But a careful examination of all the passages relating to this subject show that there are only two abodes for the dead—a heaven for the saved, and a hell for the lost. And in response to the question as to how the Christian is made ready for heaven, the Bible teaches that perfect righteousness is not to be had by any process at all, but only through faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). We are not justified by the works of the law. As expressed in the Westminster standards: “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness.” And if it be doubted that holiness can be attained in a single moment, let it be remembered that recovery from disease is ordinarily a process but that when Christ said, “I will; be thou made clean,” even the leper was cleansed in an instant (Matthew 8:3).
Belief that one can maintain contact with the dead, and that he can influence them for good or bad, has been a common element in the pagan religions. When the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, Moses strictly charged them that they were not to follow the customs of the land in making gifts to or sacrificing for the dead, nor were they to allow any marks to be made in their flesh to appease or facilitate contact with the spirits of the dead. In Deuteronomy 26:13‑14 we read: “And thou shalt say before Jehovah thy God, I have put away the hallowed things [objects of heathen veneration and worship] out of my house. … I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean nor given thereof for the dead.” The Roman practice of gifts for the dead and prayers to and for the dead (to Mary and the saints and for deceased relatives and friends) is not far removed, if indeed it is removed at all, from such customs.
Mr. Norman Porter, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, tells of a conversation that occurred during a visit to a Roman Catholic monastery in connection with a course of instruction offered on Roman Catholic beliefs. “I asked the priest, ‘Sir, when you die, where do you hope to go?’ He replied, ‘I hope that when I die I shall go at least to the lowest place in purgatory. That was his hope. I said, ‘Tell me, when the pope dies, where will he go?’ He said, ‘He will be just as I am. He hopes that he will go to purgatory.’ I said, ‘The so‑called Vicar of Christ, the man who has claimed for himself the right to represent Christ on earth, is going to purgatory?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I then said, ‘Sir, when do you get out of purgatory? When will you be in heaven?’ He answered, ‘I don’t know.’ So not even the Roman priests know when a soul escapes from this mysterious place. What a message for a perishing world!”
Furthermore, the doctrine of purgatory represents God as a respecter of persons, which the Bible says He is not. Because of money a rich man can leave more for prayers and masses and so pass through purgatory and into heaven more speedily than many a poor man who is more deserving and who has more to commend him in the sight of God. The Bible teaches that God’s judgment is based on character alone, not on outward circumstances of wealth, position, or special standing.
This doctrine turns to commercial gain the sorrow of relatives and friends for their departed loved ones and prolongs indefinitely the hold of the priest over the guilty fears and hopes of people which otherwise would end at death. It is not difficult to imagine the anguish in the heart of a devout Roman Catholic who accepts the teachings of his church and believes that his father or mother, son or daughter, is suffering in the flames of purgatory. Millions of people are steeped in that superstitious system, and those who sincerely believe it will do almost anything to provide relief. It is not strange that the Roman Church accumulates wealth.
What a striking contrast there is between a Protestant and a Roman Catholic funeral! For the Protestant, death is his promotion to glory and his coronation. He has gone to heaven to be with Christ. He has preceded us to the Father’s house. We gather not primarily to mourn a loss, but to celebrate a victory. The Scriptures are read, and the words of Christ comfort our hearts: “Let not your hearts be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” And the words of Paul, such as these: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… having the desire to depart, and be with Christ; for it is very far better”; “…willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at with the Lord”; etc. Christian hymns about heaven are sung, such as “Safe in the arms of Jesus”; “O think of the home over there”; “When we all get to heaven”; “And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story, ‘Saved by grace’”; “Beyond the sunset”—hymns which speak of heaven as our home. Then words of comfort and consolation are spoken to the bereaved family, words of inspiration and warning to the congregation, urging them to accept Christ as Savior and to walk in His way as He is the way that leads to heaven.
But how different is the Roman Catholic funeral! We quote the words of Stephen L. Testa as he describes a funeral that he attended recently:
“It was a high requiem mass, with three priests officiating, all in black robes chanting a dirge of penitential psalms in Latin, in lugubrious tones which heighten the wailing and crying of the bereaved family especially if they come from Latin countries. The friends of the family read the prayer on the prayer card given to them at the door by the undertaker, praying to Jesus to have mercy on the soul of the deceased and release it soon from the ‘devouring flames’ (of purgatory) where it is supposed to be imprisoned. At one point during the mass the priest will sprinkle the casket with holy water and pronounce the ‘absolution of the dead,’ and then he will fumigate it with sweet smelling burning incense, walking around the casket or catafalque, mumbling Latin prayers.
“No hymns about heaven are sung. It is a fact that Catholic prayer books have no songs about heaven.1 And no sermon or words of consolation are spoken by the priest to the bereaved family, for the whole service is intended to appease God, that He may have mercy on the soul of the deceased and deliver him soon from the flames of purgatory. If any words are spoken in English it is to induce the friends of the bereaved family to pay for more requiem masses to be said in the future at $5.00 per, for the refreshment and repose of that soul in purgatory.”
The strong public sentiment that is found everywhere against obtaining money under false pretenses should apply to the Roman Catholic priests who extort money from deceived relatives for prayers and masses which they pretend will better the condition of the dead. And the church that maintains this species of dishonesty should be held in disrepute and contempt by all honest people regardless of denominational differences.
Our conclusion, therefore, after an extensive survey of the doctrine of purgatory is that it is not in the Bible, that it is a human invention and contrary to what the Bible teaches. Redeemed souls are cleansed, not by the fires of purgatory, but by the blood of Christ and in this present life; for the Bible says, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7)—thereby eliminating once and for all any need for such a horrible place as purgatory. We do not say that any person who believes in purgatory cannot be a Christian. Experience shows that Christians as well as unbelievers sometimes are very inconsistent, that they may accept without thinking it through a doctrine or theory that is contrary to what the Bible teaches and to what their hearts know to be true. But how thankful we should be that we are not under the false teaching of a misguided church or priesthood that threatens us with the torments of purgatory, that instead we have the assurance that at death we go immediately to heaven and enter into its joys.
1 The new Roman Catholic hymnal of 1965 includes some Protestant hymns which speak of heaven.
END OF SECTION TWO