by Lorraine Boettner
Chapter Eleven – The Infallibility of the Pope
Chapter Twelve - Penance & Indulgences
Chapter Thirteen - Ritualism
Chapter Fourteen - Celibacy
Chapter Fifteen – Marriage
The Infallibility of the Pope
2. The Nature of the Pope’s Infallibility
3. Infallibility Not Taught in the Bible
4. History of the Doctrine before 1870
5. The Vatican Council of 1870
6. Errors of the Popes
The Vatican Council, which met in Rome, in 1870, defined the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope as follows:
“…We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrines regarding faith and morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff of themselves—and not by virtue of the consent of the Church—are irreformable.”
To this pronouncement there was attached the inevitable anathema of the church on all who dare to disagree:
“But if any one—which may God forbid!—presume to contradict this our definition: let him be anathema:”
It will be noticed that in this pronouncement there are three important restrictions: (1) infallibility is not claimed for every statement made by the pope, but only for those made when he is speaking ex cathedra, that is, seated in his papal chair, the chair of St. Peter, and speaking in his official capacity as the head of the church;1 (2) the pronouncement must be intended as binding on the whole church—infallibility is not claimed for statements addressed to particular segments or groups within the church which may relate more or less to local conditions; and (3) the pronouncements must have to do with matters pertaining to “faith and morals.” In actual practice, however, the term “faith and morals” is broad enough and elastic enough to cover almost any and every phase of religious and civil life. Practically every public issue can be looked upon as having some bearing on faith or morals or both. The Vatican takes full advantage of this, and the result is that within the Roman Church almost any statement issued by the pope is assumed to be authoritative.
1 A scientific commission appointed by Pope Paul VI in July, 1968, to investigate the antiquity of the “Chair of St. Peter,” using modern scientific methods for dating old objects, reported early 1969 that the chair dates from the late ninth century. It is of French origin. There is some evidence that it was the coronation chair of Charles II, king of France, known as Charles the Bald, who was crowned in Rome on Christmas day, 875, by John VIII, in an attempt to restore the Western (Holy Roman) empire. Hence while it may have historical and symbolical value, it is not an antique of the first century.
2 The Nature of the Pope’s Infallibility
The doctrine of papal infallibility does not mean that the pope is infallible as a man. It does not relate to his personal habits. It does not mean that he is sinless. Nor does it mean that he is inspired as were the apostles so that he can write Scripture. It means rather that in his official capacity as teacher of the church he has the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that he can interpret and state clearly and positively doctrines which allegedly have been a part of the heritage of the church from the beginning. Theoretically he cannot produce new doctrines, but some of the decrees issued have had that effect.
That the alleged infallibility cannot relate to personal morals is perfectly clear in the light of history. We merely state a fact when we say that some of the popes have been grossly immoral. That was one of the contributing factors in the rapid progress of the Protestant Reformation. Roman Catholic historians readily admit these facts. Some of the popes have been so illiterate that it would be absurd to attribute to them scholarly ability sufficient to propound doctrine. Even Cardinal Bellarmine, a Jesuit and a papal champion, now a canonized saint, frequently warned Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) that, not being a theologian, he could not expect to understand the Molinist controversy (concerning semi-Pelagianism). Words such as those of Pius V (1566-1572), to the effect that all the Huguenots should be exterminated, are explained away on the ground that in such cases the pope was not speaking ex cathedra.
It is interesting to notice that the popes, in issuing their decrees or pronouncements, do not label them ex cathedra or not ex cathedra. We may be sure that if this power were a reality they would not hesitate so to label them, that in fact they would find it very advantageous to do so. Surely it would be of inestimable value to know which deliverances are ex cathedra and which are not, which are infallible and authoritative and which are only private observations and therefore as fallible as those of anyone else. It seems impossible to secure such a list. We may safely assume that the proclamation of Pope Pius XII regarding the assumption of the Virgin Mary (1950) was ex cathedra. According to some Roman Catholic writers such utterances are relatively infrequent. It is also interesting to notice that neither the Church of Rome in her corporate capacity, nor any of her infallible popes, have ever given the world the benefit of their sanctity and infallibility in a commentary on the Bible, which assuredly would be a blessing of inestimable value. In fact they have never published an infallible exposition of even one chapter.
How then is anyone to know whether any given pronouncement is ex cathedra and therefore infallible? The pope presumably would be the most likely person to know his own intentions. How does he distinguish between pronouncements? Can he call up this peculiar kind of inspiration at any time? Does he have a particular sensation or feeling of any kind when exercising it?
A rather amusing aspect of this whole affair is the extreme reluctance of all the popes since 1870, when this decree went into effect, to use this amazing gift. The church and the world have passed through many controversies and have been faced with many perplexing problems in the solution of which some infallible pronouncements with divine authority behind them would have been of inestimable blessing. But instead the hierarchy as well as others have often been perplexed and have made many mistakes—we need recall only such events as the support given by the Vatican to Mussolini in his rise to power and in his military campaigns in Ethiopia and Spain, the concordat signed with Hitler, and the unfailing support given the Spanish dictator Franco since he first came to power. During these perplexing times the popes have been as confused as anyone else. They have merely issued “encyclicals” (formal letters, in Latin, addressed to all the bishops), for which no infallibility is claimed, and which can be modified or set aside by a successor. But of what conceivable value is papal infallibility unless it be to insure clarity and certainty of statement when circumstances make it desirable that the church should speak with authority? Furthermore, the procedure now followed when a pope wants to make an important statement is that he asks certain theologians or bishops to make a study of the subject and to give him their report. The report is then submitted to many others, whose opinions over a long period of time are considered. Last of all he decides on the matter. But if he possesses the attribute of infallibility why should he consult with theologians and bishops who individually are subject to error? Why is he not able to make the pronouncement merely upon his own authority? We take this reluctance as prima facie evidence that all concerned know that in reality no such infallibility exists, and that they do not want to run the risk of being discredited by such statements.
The average Roman Catholic layman usually assumes that anything the pope puts in writing relating to faith and morals is as infallible as if it had been uttered by Christ Himself. But representative churchmen are more cautious and warn that it is not easy to distinguish between ex cathedra and non-ex cathedra statements.
The notion that any human being is in any way infallible does not commend itself to the mind of a Christian. To most people such a claim does not seem worthy of serious consideration. There can hardly be any more brazen exhibition of arrogance, bigotry, and intolerance than this claim that the pope, who in reality is a mere man, is the very mouthpiece of God on earth, God’s sole deputy, and that he can impose dogmatic decrees under pain of excommunication and death in this life and the loss of eternal salvation in the next. How true the words of England’s Lord Acton, himself a Roman Catholic, who after visiting Rome and seeing at firsthand the workings of the papacy wrote: “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
How utterly different is this attitude of the popes from that of Peter, in whose succession they claim to follow, who humbly called himself a “fellow‑elder” and who warned so clearly against “lording it over the charge allotted to you” (1 Peter 5:1‑3)! And, more importantly, how utterly different from the attitude set forth by Christ, who said: “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
The doctrine of infallibility appeals to many people who are poorly informed and who are adrift spiritually. These people know practically nothing about the Bible. Consequently, they have no sound theology on which to base their actions. Oftentimes they are bewildered by the conflicting claims of the various churches and by the disappointing conduct of some church members. Particularly in the spiritual realm a state of uncertainty is a state of misery, so the Roman Church finds this situation ideally suited for her purpose. She skillfully presents her claims to speak with divine authority, and it is not surprising that there are those who respond. These people are fascinated by the call of a church which promises stability and calm. If the priest or the church says a thing is all right, then for them it is all right. Their consciences are relieved in that they no longer have to worry about the right or wrong of certain actions. They tend to surrender without first examining the promised certainty, only to find after it is too late that they have been cruelly deceived and that they cannot surrender their consciences to the rule of any man or church.
3 Infallibility Not Taught in the Bible
The silence of Scripture concerning an infallible church or concerning Peter as an infallible pope is sufficient to disprove the idea. Yet the most prominent characteristic of the papacy, the thing that sets it apart from all other churches, is its claim to supremacy, authority, infallibility. Had there been an infallible source of authority in the church, it is inconceivable that Peter, the alleged bishop of Rome, writing two general epistles and mentioning his departure which he indicated was close at hand (2 Peter 1:13), would not have acquainted the members of the church as to what guide or authority they were to follow after he was taken from them, or how that guide or authority was to be chosen. But he does not even mention the subject. On the other hand Christ and the apostles warned against false Christs, false prophets, false teachers who would arise and make such claims.
The Bible says: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). But the Church of Rome demands that all follow blindly and with implicit faith the interpretation of the Bible given by the pope and his hierarchy. In doing so it usurps the place of the Holy Spirit as teacher and leader. That Peter, the alleged first pope, was not infallible as a teacher of faith and morals is evident from his conduct at Antioch when he refused to eat with Gentile Christians lest he offend certain Jews from Jerusalem (Galatians 2:11‑16). Instead, he would have fastened the ritual requirements of Judaism on the new Christian Church. This should have been no problem at all for him if he had the special guidance of the Holy Spirit claimed by the Church of Rome for the pope. Furthermore, if any one of the apostles was to be chosen as the infallible head of the church, it would seem that that one should have been Paul, and not Peter. For both as a man and as a teacher Paul was a far greater personality. But the fact is that the New Testament nowhere gives the slightest indication that any man was to be chosen for that position.
In the New Testament, in addition to the two letters written by Peter, we have thirteen written by Paul. But in none of those does he refer to Peter as the bishop of Rome, or of any other church. In Paul’s most important letter, that to the church of Rome, he does not so much as mention Peter. In his letter to Timothy he mentions the office of bishop or elder, but he does not mention that of archbishop, supreme bishop, or pope. Surely if such an important office as supreme bishop or pope existed, he would have mentioned it. Nor in the literature of the early church during the second or third century is there any mention of a supreme bishop or pope. There are references to Christ as the Chief Shepherd, but none to any man as having that or any similar title.
The fact is that we have our infallible rule of faith and morals in the New Testament Scriptures. And having that it is not necessary to bestow infallibility on any man. For one who wants to know the truth, we point him to the Scriptures and say: “Here it is. Believe and practice what is taught here and you will live. The one who turns aside from this rule will not have life.”
4 History of the Doctrine before 1870
We may well ask: If the doctrine of infallibility was taught by Christ or by any of the apostles, why did the Roman Catholic Church wait for more than eighteen centuries before giving it acknowledgment? Dr. Geddes MacGregor, in his book, The Vatican Revolution, says:
“In spite of the early recognition of the importance of the See of Rome and the consequent prestige of its bishop, there is not even a hint of an ex cathedra notion before the eleventh century. Even in the fourteenth, in the lively debates on the nature of papal pronouncements, no such common notion was being either combatted or upheld” (p. 137).
And Edward J. Tanis, in his booklet, What Rome Teaches, says:
“Ireneus, who was a disciple of Polycarp (a disciple of John the apostle), died about the year 200. He knew what the early church believed and taught, and he wrote many books against heresies of various kinds, but Ireneus never taught that Christ intended any bishop to be the infallible head of the church.
“Tertullian was the greatest theologian of the early church before Augustine, the learned scholar who developed the doctrine of the Trinity, emphasizing the equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He died in the year 220. If any man knew what Christ and the apostles taught, Tertullian knew it. But Tertullian never heard of an infallible head of the church.
“One of the ablest scholars in the early church was Jerome, who died in 420. He provided the church with a new and better translation of the Scriptures and until this day his Latin translation of the Bible has been in use in the Roman Catholic Church, evidence that this scholar is held in high esteem among Roman Catholics. But even so great a scholar did not teach that the church had an infallible head.
“Gregory the Great was one of the most powerful and influential popes, bishop of the congregation in Rome from 590 to 604. He made a large contribution to the improvement of the preaching and music of the church and was an ardent defender of the Catholic traditions, but Gregory never taught that he was the infallible head of the whole church. Foakes-Jackson, the scholarly historian quotes Gregory the Great as saying that the title of pope as ‘Ecumenical Bishop’ (bishop of the whole church) was ‘proud and foolish’ and ‘an imitation of the devil’” (p. 17).
The clear teaching of history is that the office of pope was a gradual development. The early bishops in Rome knew nothing of it. They neither claimed the title nor exercised the power. But as time went on, particularly after the fall of the Roman empire, more and more power, political as well as ecclesiastical, fell into the hands of the bishop of Rome, and so the papacy developed.
For centuries before the doctrine of papal infallibility was adopted there was much difference of opinion as to where that infallibility lay. Some held that it rested in the councils speaking for the church. Two councils, that of Constance (1415), which deposed the first Pope John XXIII after he had held the office for five years and had appointed several cardinals and bishops who continued to hold their offices, and that of Basle (1432), declared that “even the pope is bound to obey the councils.” At another time it was held that infallibility lay in acts of the councils approved by the pope. But in 1870 it was declared to reside in the pope alone, and all good Roman Catholics now are compelled to accept that view. The Jesuits, because of their influence at the Vatican and their ability to influence the popes, supported that view. But the principal question remains: Which council pronouncement was “infallible,” that of Constance and Basle? Or that of the Vatican Council? Clearly they are contradictory and cannot both be right.
That the popes have not always been considered infallible is made clear by a review of events in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Such a survey is given by Dr. Harris as follows:
“In the 1300’s the popes moved to Avignon, France, and for seventy years were manifestly subservient to the French kings. This has been called the ‘Babylonian Captivity’ of the papacy. Following this time, Gregory XI went back to Rome. His successor, Urban VI (1378‑1389) made an election promise to return to France, but election promises are not always kept and he later refused. The French then called his election illegal and elected a new rival pope, Clement VII (1378‑1394). This continued until a council was called at Pisa in 1409 which deposed both rival popes and elected a new one, Alexander V (1409‑1410). The rival popes refused to accept the council and so three popes were on the scene. After the death of Alexander V, he was succeeded by John XXIII, whom Roman Catholics do not acknowledge and whose name the present pope has taken to show the illegality of the first John XXIII. Roman Catholics do not accept the Council of Pisa as an ecumenical council (that is, one representative of the whole church). But most of them accept Alexander V whom it elected! (Hefele,History of the Church Councils, Vol. I, p. 58). The Council of Pisa declared that a council is superior to a pope.
“The schism continued and the Council of Constance (1414‑1418) was called. This council deposed all three popes and elected a new one, Martin V (1417‑1431). … The Council of Constance also declared that a council is superior to a pope, and thus it acted to depose three popes at once. Hefele, one of the best known Roman authorities, takes the odd position that the first forty sessions of the council were not ecumenical but that sessions 41‑45, presided over by Martin V whom they elected, were ecumenical. Martin proceeded to confirm all the decrees of the first forty sessions except those which minimized the papacy. Here, of course, was the pope’s dilemma. If the earlier sessions were valid, the Council was supreme over the pope. If not, the other popes were not deposed and Martin V was not rightly elected! The Vatican Council of 1870 declared: ‘They err from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgment of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.’ This is wonderful. The pope is higher than a council. The Vatican Council made him so! But a previous council, just as regular, had denied him to be so” (article, The Bible Presbyterian Reporter, December, 1958).
The Council of Constance declared that “every lawfully convoked ecumenical council representing the church derives its authority immediately from Christ, and every one, the pope included, is subject to it in matters of faith, in the healing of schism, and the reformation of the Church.” But the Vatican Council of 1870 has decreed that infallibility is vested in the pope as head of the church, when speaking ex cathedra.
There were times during the Middle Ages when the popes increased their power until they were the unquestioned rulers in both the church and the state. Some deposed kings and lesser civil officials, and could imprison or commit individuals to servitude for life. The decree of excommunication, directed against individuals, in which those excommunicated were cut off from the church and were placed outside the protection of the civil law, and the interdict, by which whole nations were branded as outlaws and placed under the ban, were terrible things. Some popes took it upon themselves to declare any political action not pleasing to them null and void, as Innocent III did with Magna Carta after it had been won by the people of England from a despotic king, or as Pius V did in 1570 when he attempted to “uncrown” Queen Elizabeth I of England, and to release the people of England from allegiance to her. The Roman Catholic ideal is that the pope should be able to crown and uncrown kings, and that kings and other civil rulers should acknowledge that their power comes from God through the pope as God’s representative on earth. Where the Roman Church has been able to realize its ideal, it has made civil rulers vassals of the pope.
Before 1870 the ultimate authority commonly acknowledged in the Roman Church was the church speaking through its councils. While the doctrine of papal infallibility had been discussed for some centuries, it had never met with general favor. Instead, it had been repugnant to many of the most eminent scholars and theologians and to a large majority of the hierarchy. For nearly two hundred years before the Vatican Council the Roman Catholic bishops, clergy, and laity of England and Ireland had denied that infallibility was a doctrine of the church. In 1825, for instance, when the restoration of political privileges to English Roman Catholics was under discussion in Parliament, a British government commission asked a panel of Irish Roman Catholics if the Roman Church held that the pope was infallible. The bishops correctly replied that it did not. On the basis of that assurance the privileges were restored. Two catechisms in general use before 1870 verify this position. Keenan’s A Doctrinal Catechism asks: “Must not Catholics believe the pope in himself to be infallible?” And the answer is: “This is a Protestant invention; it is no article of the Catholic faith; no decision of his can oblige, under pain of heresy, unless it is received and enforced by the teaching body, that is, the bishops of the church” (p. 305). When papal infallibility was decreed by Pope Pius IX in 1870, this question and answer were quietly omitted from the catechism without note, comment, or explanation. The Catechism of the Catholic Religion gave substantially the same reply (p. 87).
It is well known that Cardinal Newman was strongly opposed to the promulgation of the doctrine of infallibility. But having left the Church of England in order to join the Roman Church and having given it such fulsome praise, he was powerless to prevent the change and did not have the courage to come back out of it. Shortly before the decree was issued, he wrote to a friend, comparing the impending decree with that setting forth the Immaculate Conception which was issued in 1854: “As to the immaculate Conception, by contrast there was nothing sudden, or secret, in the proposal. … This has taken us all by surprise.” And on January 18, 1870, while the council was in session, he wrote to Bishop Ullathorne, deploring what seemed imminent, and asked: “What have we done to be treated as the Faithful never were treated before? Why should an aggressive and insolent faction [by which he meant the Jesuits] be allowed to make the hearts of the just to mourn whom the Lord hath not made sorrowful?” It was a bitter pill for Newman to swallow, but he submitted and acknowledged papal infallibility.
5 The Vatican Council of 1870
The council which ratified the infallibility decree was clearly packed in favor of the Jesuit-controlled papal party. MacGregor, who has made a special study of this council and its effect on the Roman Church, says:
“Out of the 541 prelates from Europe, the Italian peninsula, with a population of 27 million, was represented by 276, or 11 more than the whole of the rest of the continent including Britain and Ireland. … Even more horrifying is the fact that those of the Papal States that had not at that time been seized, and which had a population of less than three quarters of a million, were represented by sixty‑two bishops, while five million Roman Catholics elsewhere were represented by only three bishops—those of Paris, Cambrai and Cologne—all three critical of the standpoint of the papalist party. … It was calculated in an anonymous pamphlet circulated in Rome after the Council had been in operation for five months and attributed to Mgr. Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, that one hundred ninety‑one members of the Council had no constitutional right to be there at all” (The Vatican Revolution, p. 28-29).
The church historian Philip Schaff says there was strong opposition to the call for the council, and that delegates representing 80 million Roman Catholics were opposed to it. A preliminary vote in secret session gave the delegates a limited opportunity to express themselves. Eighty‑eight delegates voted against it, 65 voted for it with reservations, and over 80 abstained. But the papal party was in firm control and easily carried the final voting. To take sides against the strong‑willed pope and against the Jesuits a minority had to be particularly courageous to express itself at all. It was a foregone conclusion that the decree would be passed. Opposition clearly was futile, and could mean reprisals affecting the delegates’ present positions or injury to any chances for future promotion. Before the final vote was taken 410 bishops petitioned in favor of the dogma, and 162 against it.
Among those who opposed the decree was the scholarly archbishop Strossmayer, who made a famous speech in which he declared boldly:
“I have set myself to study with the most serious attention the Old and New Testaments, and I have asked these venerable monuments of truth to make known to me if the holy pontiff, who presides here, is the true successor of St. Peter, vicar of Christ, and the infallible doctor of the church. I find in the apostolic days no question of a pope, successor to St. Peter, the vicar of Jesus Christ, any more than a Mohammed who did not then exist. Now having read the whole New Testament, I declare before God, with my hand raised to that great crucifix, that I have found no trace of the papacy as it exists at this moment.”
And in concluding his speech he said:
“I have established: (1) that Jesus gave to His apostles the same power that He gave to St. Peter. (2) That apostles never recognized in St. Peter the vicar of Jesus Christ. (3) That Peter never thought of being pope, and never acted as if he were a pope. (4) That the councils of the first four centuries, while they recognized the high position which the bishop of Rome occupied on account of Rome, only accorded to him the preeminence of honor, never of power or jurisdiction. (5) That the holy fathers in the famous passage, ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church,’ never understood that the church was built on Peter (super Petrum) but on the rock (super petram). That is, on the confession of the faith of the apostle. I conclude victoriously, with history, with reason, with logic, with good sense, and with a Christian conscience, that Jesus Christ did not confer any supremacy on St. Peter, and that the bishops of Rome did not become sovereigns of the church, but only by confiscating one by one all the rights of the episcopate.”
The bishops from the United States and Canada had very special reasons for disliking the infallibility decree. Lord Acton, of England, a Roman Catholic historian and editor whose scholarship cannot be questioned, recognized the peculiar circumstances under which this decree placed the American bishops and wrote in their defense:
“The Americans ask how they are to live under the free constitutions of the Republic, and maintain their position of equality with their fellow citizens, after committing themselves to the principles attested by papal infallibility, such as: (1) Religious persecution and the coercive power of the church. (2) The claim of Catholicism to exclusive mastery in the state. (3) The pope’s right to dispense from oaths. And (4) The subjection of the civil power to his supreme dominion.”
The discussion was abruptly closed before all the opponents had been heard. When the vote was to be taken practically all of those who were opposed to the decree absented themselves, since they did not want to be officially on record against it. Five hundred thirty-three delegates answered in the affirmative, two answered in the negative, and 106 were absent. And well might any delegate hesitate before voting against the decree, for to it would be attached the anathema: “If any one—which may God forbid!—shall presume to contradict this our definition, let him be anathema.”
The decree having been passed, all the bishops were required to give their consent. MacGregor writes:
“Some of the recalcitrant bishops were exceedingly dilatory in sending in their submission. But they did, and the papalists have ever since made a great deal of this fact. The alternative to submission was excommunication. This extreme penalty is terrible for a devout layman, since it deprives him of the sacraments, the greatest solace in a Catholic life. It is even worse for a priest for it cuts him off absolutely from every friend he is likely to have, not to mention his livelihood, making him at worst an object of contempt, at best an object of pity. But for a bishop excommunication is a sentence almost past endurance. Even the most heroic could hardly be expected to face it” (The Vatican Revolution, p. 63).
Thus the Roman Church, having no sure Scriptural anchorage concerning the problem of authority, drifted about for centuries before solving this problem. As we have indicated, some of the strongest opposition to the infallibility decree came from within the Roman Church. The leading German theologian, Dollinger, who had been a teacher of theology for 47 years, strenuously opposed the decree, and insisted that the three leading criteria in all such controversies—universality, antiquity, and consent—were clearly lacking. He could not be induced to change his mind, and was excommunicated on April 17, 1871. A further result of the decree was that a small group of anti‑infallibilists met in Munich, Germany, in September, 1871, withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church, and formed the “Old Catholic” Church, which, although not as well known as it should be, continues to this day and serves as a salutary and inconvenient reminder of the outrage perpetrated against the leading German theologian of the Roman Catholic Church.
By its vote the Council in effect abdicated its power and acknowledged that there was nothing that any future council could do that could not be done as well or better by the pope himself. Since the pope is acknowledged to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit and therefore to possess every power that a council could have, he has no particular need to call a council. This was clearly foreseen by Dollinger who, in a monumental work, Papal Infallibility (1871) wrote:
“Councils will for the future be superfluous: the bishops will no doubt be assembled in Rome now and then to swell the pomp of a papal canonization or some other grand ceremony,but they will have nothing to do with the dogma. If they wish to confirm a papal decision… this would be bringing lanterns to aid the light of the noon‑day sun.
“If the bishops know the view and will of the pope on any question, it would be presumptuous and idle to vote against it. An ecumenical assembly of the church can have no existence, properly speaking, in the presence of an ‘ordinarius ordinariorum’ and infallible teacher of faith, though, of course, the pomp, ceremonial, speeches, and voting of a council may be displayed to the gaze of the world. …
“Bishops who have been obliged to swear ‘to maintain, defend, increase, and advance the rights, honors, privileges, and authority of their Lord the Pope—and every bishop takes this oath—cannot regard themselves, or be regarded by the Christian world, as free members of a free council.”
The practical effect of the infallibility decree has been to stifle the development of theological doctrine within the Roman Church. For only the pope can speak with authority, and when he speaks there can be no opposition. No longer can a church council or a theologian appeal to the Scriptures as against the pope. Paul says: “The word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9). But by this decree the Word of God is frozen and chained down by a well‑nigh unbreakable chain.
It is interesting to notice that in the early Christian and later Roman Catholic Church history there have been but twenty‑one ecumenical councils, the latest having been the Second Vatican Council, which was called by Pope John XXIII, and which began its sessions in Rome, in October, 1962. It would seem, however, that such a council can be little more than a puppet gathering, since any action that it may take can become effective only after that action has been approved by the pope. It is safe to say that nothing will be done contrary to the pope’s wishes.
MacGregor calls the infallibility decree “the most momentous decision in the history of the Roman Church” (p. 3). He says that it “sounded the death knell to the democratic element in the Roman Catholic tradition”; and adds that, “So absolute is the papal authority that not even the entire church may dare to review or modify the pope’s judgment in tiny way. If the whole of the rest of the church should disagree with the pope, the whole of the rest of the church would be in error” (p. 6).
That the Vatican Council does mark a turning point in the history of the Roman Church is clear. For centuries the popes avoided church councils like the plague, because they regarded them as rivals to their own authority. But the Vatican Council changed all of that by making absolute the pope’s power and thus making all councils practically superfluous. The papacy today tolerates no criticism from its own people. There was a time in the early history of the church when priests, monks, and even the laity could express their criticisms of the church and be heard. But that has all disappeared and today the Roman Church is a total dictatorship with an infallible pope at its head. Says Dr. Walter M. Montano, editor of Christian Heritage, “All voices are silenced; protests are crushed; dissenters are excommunicated. A total dictatorship—in spirit and letter—rules every aspect of the Roman Catholic Church” (booklet, Can a True Catholic Be a Loyal American?, p. 14).
6 Errors of the Popes
It is difficult to say whether a claim such as that of infallibility is more wicked or ridiculous. It certainly is wicked, because it gives to a man one of the attributes of God and usurps the headship of Christ in the church. And it is ridiculous, because the history of the popes reveals many grievous errors, moral and doctrinal, with one often denying what another has affirmed. The claim to infallibility is so fantastic that it is hard to take seriously since the “infallible” church and the “infallible” popes have made so many mistakes. Many of their solemnly worded decrees are contradictory to the Word of God. And much of the prestige and temporal power of the Roman Church was gained through the use of forgeries such as the alleged “gift of Constantine,” or the Isadorian decretals.
Many of the popes have taught heretical doctrines. Some have been grossly immoral, although the theologians say that this does not affect their official powers. Several have been condemned by later popes and church councils, and some have been declared “antipopes,” that is, fraudulently chosen or elected, and later dropped from the official record. Among popes committing serious errors are the following:
Callistus (bishop of Rome, 221-227) is said by Hippolytus, a third century writer, to have been a kind of Unitarian, identifying the Father and the Son as one indivisible Spirit.
Liberius, in 358, subscribed to a heretical Arian creed in order to gain the bishopric of Rome under the heretical emperor Constantius. He broke with and anathematized Athanasius, the great trinitarian defender of the Nicene Creed, who records him as an opponent.
Zozimus (417-418) pronounced Pelagius an orthodox teacher, but later reversed his position at the insistence of Augustine.
Vigilinus (538-555) refused to condemn certain heretical teachers at the time of the monophysite controversy, and boycotted the fifth Ecumenical Council which met at Constantinople in 553. When the Council proceeded without him and threatened to excommunicate and anathematize him, he submitted to its opinions, confessing that he had been a tool of Satan (cf. Hefele, one of the best known Roman Catholic writers, History of the Christian Councils, Vol. IV, p. 345).
Honorius (625-638). The heresy of Honorius was clearly official. Dr. Harris has treated this case quite fully in the following paragraph:
“The greatest scandal of this nature is pope Honorius. He specifically taught the Monothelite heresy in two letters to the patriarch of Constantinople [that is that Christ had only onewill, which by implication meant that he denied either His deity or His humanity]. The opinion was condemned by the sixth ecumenical council (680) which condemned and excommunicated Honorius by name (Honorio haeretico anathema, Session XVI). The Roman breviary contained this anathema until the sixteenth century (until the time of Luther, when apparently the Reformers made so much of it that it was quietly dropped). … Honorius was a heretic according to Roman Catholic standards and was condemned by church councils and popes for 800 years. Such facts are not known to most Protestants as they arise from the technical study of history. They naturally are not publicized by Roman Catholics. But facts they are. And they entirely disprove the papal claims” (Fundamental Protestant Doctrines, II, p. 13).
This condemnation of Honorius as a heretic shows clearly that the bishops of that time had no idea whatever of papal infallibility. For how can a pope be infallible and at the same time be condemned as a heretic? Also let it be noticed that Honorius held the papal chair for thirteen years.
Gregory I (590-604) called anyone who would take the title of Universal Bishop an antichrist, but Boniface III (607) compelled the emperor Phocas to confer that title upon him, and it has been used by all later popes.
Hadrian II (867-872) declared civil marriages to be valid, but Pius VII (1800‑1823) condemned them as invalid.
A curious case arises in regard to Hadrian IV (1154-1159), who authorized the invasion and subjugation of Ireland by the British king Henry II. That conquest marks the beginning of British rule in Ireland, a thing which has been bitterly resented by the Irish. It is of more than passing interest to note that Hadrian was an English pope, the only Englishman ever to hold that position. But that should make no difference. A pope is a pope regardless of nationality or race. In view of the attitude of later Roman Catholics toward British rule in Ireland, they evidently will have to say that in sanctioning the invasion the pope’s decree did not relate to morals. Or perhaps the problem is to be solved by saying that when the pope authorized that much to be regretted invasion, he was not seated on the papal chair, but was perhaps at the table, or perhaps reclining on a sofa! Indeed, if at the moment he did not happen to be seated on the papal chair, we may have to forget the whole matter. For by such means the Roman Church to escape from its embarrassing position as regards this invasion of Ireland, and to hold that there was no infallible mistake after all. But it will hardly do to say that the pope was not speaking ex cathedra. For if he has that great power but fails to use it in such momentous decisions, or uses it carelessly, he surely is culpable.
How can one infallible pope, Eugene IV (1431-1447), condemn Joan of Arc (1412-1431) to be burned alive as a witch, while another pope, Benedict XV, in 1919, declares her to be a saint?
There has been some dispute in the Roman Church concerning which version of the Vulgate should be used. Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) preferred the old version, personally supervised every sheet of an edition then being published, and prefixed an editorial bull to the first volume excommunicating anyone who in republishing the work should make any alterations in the text. But it turned out that the work contained so many errors that it had to be recalled, and another infallible pope published another version, altered in many particulars.
The condemnation of Galileo for his theory that the earth moves around the sun is a special case in point. Dr. Zacchello has stated this well:
“Were popes Paul V (1605-1621) and Urban VIII (1623-1644) infallible when they condemned Galileo for holding a true scientific theory? Did they not declare the Copernican theory was false, heretical, and contrary to the word of God? Did they not torture and imprison Galileo in the dungeons of the Inquisition for not sharing their erroneous views? In their decree prohibiting the book of Copernicus, De Revolutionibus, the congregation of the index, March 5, 1619, denounced the new system of the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun as ‘utterly contrary to the Holy Scriptures’” (Ins and Outs of Romanism, p. 28).
How is the decree of Clement XIV (July 21, 1773) suppressing the Jesuits to be harmonized with the contrary decree of Pius VII (August 7, 1814) restoring them?
Sixtus V (1585-1590) recommended the reading of the Bible, but Pius VII (1800‑1823) and various other popes condemned that practice.
As regards infallibility in the moral sphere, consider these cases. Pope John XI (931-936) was the illegitimate son of Pope Sergius III by a wicked woman named Marozia. The nephew of John XI, who took the name John XII (956-964), was raised to the papacy at the age of 18 through the political intrigue of the Tuscan party which was then dominant in Rome, and proved to be a thoroughly immoral man. His tyrannies and debaucheries were such that, upon complaint of the People of Rome, the emperor Otho tried and deposed him. Some of the sins enumerated in the charge were murder, perjury, sacrilege, adultery, and incest. Yet he is reckoned as a legitimate pope through whom the unbroken chain of apostolic authority descends from Peter to the pope of the present day.
Alexander VI (1492-1503) was one of the Borgia popes, from Spain, and had been made a cardinal at the age of 25. He had six illegitimate children, two of whom were born after he became pope. The charge of adultery was brought against him repeatedly. His third son, Caesar Borgia, was made a cardinal and was appointed to command the papal armies. The intrigues and immoralities of his daughter Lucretia Borgia, brought a full measure of disgrace upon the papal office. The Roman Catholic historian, Ludwig Pastor, in his History of the Popes, grants that he lived the immoral life of the secular princes of his day, both as cardinal and as pope (V, 363; VI, 140); that he obtained the papacy by the rankest simony (V, 385); and that he brought that office into disrepute by his unconcealed nepotism and lack of moral sense (VI, 139). The eloquent reformer Savonarola urged his deposition, whereupon Alexander had him condemned as a heretic, hanged, and publicly burned in 1498.
John XXIII (1410-1415) was deposed by the Council of Constance because of simony and immorality, and the Roman Church now attempts to deny that he ever was a legitimate pope. Apparently the recent John XXIII will have to be known as Pope John XXIII, the Second. During the period of history known as the Middle Ages many of the popes were guilty of nearly every crime in the catalogue of sin. Twenty-nine of those who held the office at one time or another, but who are now said to have obtained it by fraud or otherwise to have been unfit for it, are now listed as “anti‑popes.” Repeatedly the papal office was bought and sold by cardinals and popes as unworthy men sought to gain control. These abuses, together with many others, are described with surprising frankness and detail in a recent book, The Papal Princes, by a Roman Catholic, Glenn D. Kittler, with the Nihil Obstat of Daniel D. Flynn, S.T.D., Censor librorum, and the Imprimatur of Cardinal Spellman (1960; 358 pages; Funk & Wagnalls, New York).
In 1939 Pope Pius XII was inaugurated as the 262nd pope. But in 1947 Vatican scholars revised the official list of popes, dropped some, added some, questioned others, and reduced the number to 261. St. Anacletus, who was supposed to have reigned about the year 100, was eliminated when research showed that he and St. Cletus, who reigned about the year 76, were the same person. Donus II (973) was dropped when research showed that he never existed. Alexander V and John XXIII, fifteenth century figures, were relegated to the list of anti‑popes, or false claimants. The reign of John XIV (984) was once divided into two, erroneously adding a non-existent John to the series. In 1958 Pope John XXIII was inaugurated as the 262nd pope. But in 1961 still another pope was deposed, Stephen II (752). With the inauguration of Paul VI in 1963 he was accounted by some to be the 262nd pope, although the 1963 Pontifical Yearbook has abandoned for the present any attempt to number the popes, giving as its reason the impossibility of determining the validity of some of the names. Quite a record we would say for a church boasting infallibility, whether that infallibility be vested in its councils or in its popes!
We have called attention to the numerous false doctrines set forth by Pope Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors (1864). We single out just one for special mention as completely contrary to our American ideals of civil and ecclesiastical relations, namely, that which declares that the church and the state should be united, with the church in the dominant position. In fact he went so far as to declare that the separation of church and state is one of the principal errors of our age. Recently, however, the Knights of Columbus have circulated a pamphlet in which they declare that the pope in condemning the separation of church and state did not have in mind the kind of separation that exists in the United States. But the Syllabus made no exception for the United States. It was an unqualified assertion of the basic principles that should govern the church and the state everywhere in the world. The United States has the same form of government today that it had in 1864. Hence the Knights of Columbus are quite clearly resorting to subterfuge, and are simply attempting to shield the Roman Church from responsibility concerning one of its official doctrines which is diametrically opposed to our American form of government. The almost universal feeling today, even among enlightened Roman Catholics, is that the issuance of the Syllabus of Errors was in itself a serious error.
And yet despite these cases of error and many others that could be cited, the infallibility decree, which was retroactive and therefore applies to all earlier as well as later popes, officially pronounces all of the popes infallible as teachers of faith and morals.
We should point out that there have been several popes who expressly disclaimed the attribute of infallibility (we may even say, the divine attribute of infallibility, for only God is infallible as regards faith and morals), most conspicuous of whom have been Vigilius, Innocent III, Clement IV, Gregory XI, Hadrian VI, and Paul IV.
Thus Rome’s claim to infallibility is contradicted by Scripture, logic, and history. Dr. Harris writes appropriately:
“The fact is, the popes are not infallible. They preach and teach another gospel. They not only contradict themselves, but contradict the Bible as well. All the fanfare of wealth, the tinsel of ceremony, and the prestige of power which we witness at Rome cannot avail before God. The present pope John XXIII is neither infallible nor orthodox nor the successor of Peter, nor of any other of the holy apostles of Jesus Christ. He is an imposter as was the first John XXIII of the fifteenth century.”
As we have indicated, this alleged attribute of infallibility has been used only very sparingly by the popes, evidently because they do not want to risk being caught up by false statements. Apparently it has been formally invoked on only three occasions—twice by Pope Pius IX, once when he proclaimed his own infallibility, and once when, without benefit of a church council, he set forth the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary; and once by Pope Pius XII, when he promulgated the doctrine of the assumption of the Virgin Mary. And, we would say, in each instance the pope employing it set forth colossal error. Indeed the pope must be quite a practical joker if, possessing such power, he so seldom gives any indication that he is using it, but keeps the people guessing whether or not he is speaking authoritatively.
Probably no other element of the papal system causes the Romanists more embarrassment than this doctrine of papal infallibility. In the first place it asserts a doctrine that can be easily disproved, and in the second place it serves to focus attention on the utter unreasonableness of the powers claimed by and for the pope. To Protestants the whole ex cathedra business appears on the one hand, as particularly monstrous and vicious, and on the other, as just a big joke—a joke perpetrated on the Roman Catholic people who are so docile and unthinking and so poorly informed as to believe in and submit to such sophistry.
CHAPTER XII Penance, Indulgences: Salvation by Grace or by Works?
2. Penance as a System of Works
3. Salvation by Grace
4. Further Scripture Proof
6. Historical Development of the Doctrine of Indulgences
7. Assurance of Salvation
In the Roman system penance is one of the seven sacraments, the fourth in the series. The word, however, is used two different senses. As a sacrament, and in the broad sense, it refers to the act of confession on the part of the penitent, together with the priest’s pronouncement of absolution and his assigning of certain works to be done by the penitent. In the narrow sense penance has reference only to the works assigned by the priest and their performance by the penitent. The Baltimore Catechism defines penance as follows:
“Penance is the sacrament by which sins committed after baptism are forgiven through the absolution of the priest” (p. 300).
Another catechism, published in New York, says:
“The priest gives penance in Confession, to help me to make up for the temporal punishment I must suffer for my sins. The penance given to me by the priest does not always make full satisfaction for my sins. I should, therefore, do other acts of penance… and try to gain indulgences.” [Indulgences are remissions of so many days or months or years of punishment in purgatory.]
And in a Roman Catholic training book, Instructions for Non‑Catholics, we read:
“In the sacrament of penance, God gives the priest the power to bring sinners back into the state of grace and to prevent them from falling into the abyss of hell. Moreover, after confession some temporal punishment due to sin generally remains, and some of this punishment is taken away in the penance (prayers) the priest gives you to say. You should perform other acts of penance also so that you can make up for the temporal punishment due to sin and to avoid a long stay in purgatory. The Church suggests to us these forms of penance: prayer, fasting, giving alms in the name of Christ, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the patient sufferings of the ills of life, and the gaining of indulgences” (p. 95).
2 Penance as a System of Works
Penance, as the catechisms say, involves confession of one’s sins to a priest and the doing of good works as the only way by which sins committed after baptism can be forgiven. According to the Roman system God has established a tribunal on earth in which the priest sits as judge, through which the penitent receives absolution and an assignment of works to be performed, in doing which he shows his sorrow for sin. According to this view God does not cancel out all the punishment due to the sinner when he forgives his sins. No limit is set to the works and services that can be demanded. The poor sinner is always left at the mercy of the priest.
The Church of Rome thus demands acts of penance before she grants forgiveness, inferring that the sacrifice of Christ was not sufficient to atone fully for sin and that it must be supplemented to some extent by these good works. But what God demands is not acts of penance, but repentance, which means turning from sin, vices, injustice, and all wickedness in whatever form: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). From the Greek New Testament edited by Erasmus, Luther discovered that Jesus did not say, “Do penance,” as interpreted by the Roman Church, but “Repent.”
Protestantism is primarily a reassertion of New Testament Christianity, the teaching that salvation is by faith rather than works. Romanism, on the other hand, teaches that salvation depends ultimately upon ourselves, upon what we do, that one can “earn” salvation by obedience to the laws of the church, indeed that the saints can even store up excess merits in heaven beyond the requirements of duty, through such things as regular attendance at church, masses, rosary prayers, fastings, the wearing of medals, crucifixes, scapulars, etc. These excess merits Rome calls “works of supererogation.” Mary and the saints are said to have stored up vast treasures of merit, from which the pope can draw and dispense to the faithful as they perform the works assigned by the priests.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen expresses this doctrine in the following words:
“Through them, the Church gives her penitents a fresh start. And the Church has a tremendous spiritual capital, gained through centuries of penance, persecution, and martyrdom; many of her children prayed, suffered, and merited more than they needed for their own individual salvation. The Church took these superabundant merits and put them into the spiritual treasury, out of which repentant sinners can draw in times of spiritual depression” (Peace of Soul, p. 208).
Here indeed is salvation by works. This is the bondage in which the Church of Rome keeps its millions of adherents. But against all this futility of human works stand the simple words of Scripture. In response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” the Scripture answers simply and clearly: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30‑31). Dr. Woods has well said:
“Penance is a wholly different thing from Gospel repentance. Penance is an outward act; repentance is of the heart. Penance is imposed by a Roman priest; repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit. Penance is supposed to make satisfaction for sin. But nothing that the sinner can do or suffer can satisfy the divine justice. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do that, and He did it once for all when He made atonement on the cross and completely satisfied the divine law. Rome’s error is like that of the heathen religions, seeking to win forgiveness or deliverance from sin by self-inflicted or priest‑imposed punishment. Such are the tortures of Buddhist and Hindu devotees.
“What God desires in the sinner is not a punishment of oneself for sins, but a change of heart, a real forsaking of sin, shown by a new life of obedience to God’s commands.
“In short, penance is a counterfeit repentance. It is the work of man on his body; true repentance is the work of God in the soul. The divine Word commands: ‘Rend your heart, and not your garments’ (Joel 2:13). Penance is ‘rending the garments’; an outward form without inward reality, which Christ commands His people not to do” (Our Priceless Heritage, p.132).
In all Roman Catholic catechisms and theological books which deal with this subject it is taught that God grants forgiveness only to those who, on their part, try to atone for their sins through worthy fruits of penance. In the words of the French catechism, “Our satisfaction must be in proportion to the number and measure of our sins.” This false teaching, that forgiveness is only partial and that it is given only for a price, is the real basis of the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation, and must always be kept in mind in any effective controversy with Roman Catholics.
In other words, while Romanism teaches that Christ died for our sins, it also teaches that His sacrifice was not sufficient, that our sufferings must be added to make it effective. In accordance with this, many have tried to earn salvation by fastings, rituals, flagellations, and good works of various kinds. But those who attempt such a course always find that it is impossible to do enough to earn salvation.
Self‑inflicted suffering cannot make atonement for sin. To suffer as a Christian in defense of a righteous cause serves to identify one with his Lord and Master. But we cannot choose our own course of discipline, for “We are His workmanship.” We can only submit to His will. Each receives a discipline divinely suited to him and, as a living stone, each is polished for his unique setting when the Lord of Glory makes up His jewels. It has been the sad history of the Roman Church that while making much of outward evidences of humility and suffering on the part of its people as administered through its doctrine of penance, its priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes have flouted those principles and usually have lived in luxury and splendor.
The easy way in which the Church of Rome deals with sin is seen in this doctrine of penance. She does not require genuine repentance and sorrow for sin, nor any genuine purpose to turn from it, but accepts as a substitute an act of allegiance to the church and the penitent’s “fear of punishment.” Accordingly, the penitent receives pardon on comparatively easy terms, particularly so if he is on good terms with the priest. He is assigned some task to perform, usually not too hard or irksome, sometimes merely the recital of a given number of “Hail Mary’s.” The result is that he has no scruples about resuming his evil course. But the Bible teaches that the first duty of a sinner who is moved to true repentance is to confess his sin to God, and to Him alone, and to turn effectively from his sin. “If we confess our sins,” says John, “he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“The basic and fatal error of Romanism,” says Dr. C. D. Cole, “is the denial of the sufficiency of Christ as Saviour. It denies the efficacy of His sacrifice on the cross. Romanism has a Christ, but He is not sufficient as a Savior. What He did on Calvary must be repeated (in the mass) and supplemented (through works of penance), and this makes priestcraft and sacramentarianism necessary. Romanism is a complicated system of salvation by works. It has salvation to sell, but not on Isaiah’s terms—without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1). It offers salvation on the installment plan, and then sees to it that the poor sinner is always behind in his payments, so that when he dies there is a large balance unpaid, and he must continue payments by sufferings in purgatory, or until the debt is paid by prayers, alms and sufferings of his living relatives and friends. The whole system and plan calls for merit and money, from the cradle to the grave, and even beyond. Surely the wisdom that drew such a plan of salvation is not from above, but is earthly and sensual” (sermon delivered in the Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto).
Good works, of course, are pleasing to God, and they have an important and necessary place in the life of the Christian. They naturally follow if one has true faith, and they are performed out of love and gratitude to God for the great salvation that has been bestowed. If any professing Christian does not want to obey the Bible and live a good Christian life, that is proof that his faith is not sincere. Good works, in other words, are not the cause and basis of salvation, not what the person does to earn salvation, but rather the fruits and proof of salvation—“Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
The born again Christian produces good works as naturally as the grape vine produces grapes. They are a part of his very nature. He performs them not to get saved but because he is saved. And it is to be observed further that the distinguishing mark of a saint is not, as in the Roman Church, what one has done for God, but what God has done for him.
Penance is, therefore, merely another clever tool or scheme to control those who are ignorant of the Biblical way of salvation. We should confess all our sins to God, and to Him alone, and we need confess our personal shortcomings only to those who may have been injured by us.
3 Salvation by Grace
The Bible declares that the salvation of sinners is a matter of grace. From Ephesians 1:7‑10 we learn that the primary purpose of God in the work of redemption was to display the glory of this divine attribute so that through succeeding ages the intelligent universe might admire it as it is made known through His unmerited love and boundless goodness to guilty, vile, helpless creatures. Accordingly all men are represented as sunk in a state of sin and misery, from which they are utterly unable to deliver themselves. When they deserved only God’s wrath and curse, He determined that He would graciously provide redemption for a vast number. To that end Christ, the second person of the Trinity, assumed our nature and guilt, and obeyed and suffered in our stead; and the Holy Spirit was sent to apply that redemption to individual souls. On the same representative principle by which Adam’s sin is imputed to us that is, set to our account in such a way that we are held responsible for it and suffer the consequences of it although not personally responsible for it, our sin in turn is imputed to Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to us. This is briefly yet clearly expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Presbyterian), which says: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Ans. to Q. 33).
The word “grace” in its proper sense means the free and undeserved favor of God exercised toward the undeserving, toward sinners. It is something that is given irrespective of any worthiness in man, and to introduce works or merit into any part of the system vitiates its nature and frustrates its design. Just because it is grace, it is not given on the basis of preceding merits. It cannot be earned. As the very name imports, it is necessarily gratuitous; and since man in his fallen nature is enslaved to sin until it is given, all the merits that he can have prior to it are demerits and deserve only punishment, not gifts or favor.
Because of His absolute moral perfection God requires spotless purity and perfect obedience in His intelligent creatures. This perfection is provided for His people in that Christ’s spotless righteousness is imputed to them, so that when God looks upon the redeemed He sees them clothed not with anything properly their own, but with this spotless robe. We are told that Christ suffered as a substitute, “the just for the unjust.” And when man is encouraged to think that he owes to some power or art of his own that salvation which in reality is all of grace, God is robbed of part of His glory. By no stretch of the imagination can a man’s good works in this life be considered a just equivalent for the blessings of eternal life. We are in fact, nothing but receivers;we never bring any adequate reward to God, we are always receiving from Him, and shall be unto all eternity.
All men naturally feel that they should earn their salvation, and a system which makes some provision in that regard readily appeals to them. But Paul lays the ax to such reasoning when he says: “If there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would been of the law” (Galatians 3:21); and Jesus said to His disciples, “When ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do” (17:10). We have no righteousness of our own; for as Isaiah says: “Our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment”—or as the King James Version expresses it, “as filthy rags” (64:6). Salvation is based solely on the merits of Christ who suffered and died for His people. It is for this reason that God can demand perfection of all who enter heaven and yet admit into heaven those who have been sinners.
When Isaiah wrote, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (55:1), he invited the penniless, the hungry, the thirsty, to come and to take possession of, and to enjoy the provision, free of all cost, as if by right of payment. And to buy without money must mean that it has already been produced and provided at the cost of another. The farther we advance in the Christian life, the less we are inclined to attribute any merit to ourselves, and the more to thank God for all.
Paul says concerning some who would base salvation on their own merit, that, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3), and that they were, therefore, not in the church of Christ. He makes it plain that “the righteousness of God” is given to us through faith, and that we enter heaven pleading only the merits of Christ. Time and again the Scriptures repeat the assertion that salvation is of grace, as if anticipating the difficulty that men would have in coming to the conclusion that they could not earn it by their own works.
The reason for this system of grace is that those who glory should glory only in the Lord, and that no redeemed person should ever have occasion to boast over another. Romanism destroys this purely gracious character of salvation and substitutes a system of grace plus works. No matter how small a part those works may be said to play (and in the Roman system they play a conspicuously large part), they are decisive and ultimately they are the basis of the distinction between the saved and the lost; for he that is saved can then justly point the finger of scorn and say, “You had as good chance for salvation as I had. I accepted, and you rejected the offer; therefore you deserve to suffer.” But if saved by grace, the redeemed remembers the mire from which he was lifted, and his attitude toward the lost is one of sympathy and pity. He knows that but for the grace of God he too would be in the same state as those who perish, and his song is, “Not unto us, O Jehovah, not unto us, But unto thy name give glory, For thy lovingkindness, and for thy truth’s sake” (Psalm 115:1).
And yet the Council of Trent, in its opposition to the Reformers’ doctrine of justification by faith alone, and in defense of its doctrine of penance, declared:
“If anyone saith that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sin for Christ’s sake alone; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified, let him be anathema” (Sess. VI, Can. 12).
In taking this stand Rome rejects the teaching of Augustine, one of the church fathers whom she is most anxious to follow; for Augustine taught that salvation is purely by the grace of God, not by human merit.
Against Rome’s anathema Paul declares: “But though we, or an angel from heaven should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1:8). And again he says: “For as many as are under the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all the things that are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10), by which he teaches that anyone who would earn salvation by keeping the law must render perfect obedience—“all the things that are written in the book of the law, to do them”—which manifestly is impossible for any human being. Hence Paul’s anathema shatters that of Rome, for it is the curse of God upon those who teach salvation by works in any form.
It was this great truth of justification by faith alone that flashed through the mind of Martin Luther when, while still a monk, on a pilgrimage to Rome he was climbing the scala sancta, the “sacred stairway,” one step at a time and on his knees, trying to find peace with God. Suddenly the truth burst upon him and he saw the real meaning of the verse, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, KJV). Immediately he got up on his feet and walked down the steps. How wrong it was for anyone to think that he could earn salvation through works of penance! Although Luther did not make a formal break with the Roman Church until some years later, his action in Rome that day was in reality the prelude to the Protestant Reformation.
4 Further Scripture Proof
New Testament Christianity repudiates the doctrine that the believer must, or can, earn his salvation through good works assigned by a priest, or that saving grace can be conferred by a priest regardless of his moral character, or that such grace is given because of allegiance to any church or organization. Instead it teaches that we have only to receive it in simple faith. Witness the following:
“By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory” (Ephesians 2:8‑9).
“The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
“But if it is by grace, it is no more works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6).
“If righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for naught” (Galatians 2:21).
“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” (Romans 4:3‑5).
“Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
“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).
“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31).
“But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe. … We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:21-22,28).
What a significant coincidence it is that this doctrine of justification by faith is given such prominence in the Epistle to the Romans, since Rome later became the seat of the papacy! It seems to be written there as if intended as a strong and permanent protest against the errors of the Roman Church. For if we believe that we are justified by faith in Christ, who died “once for all,” we certainly cannot believe in “the sacrifice of the mass” as so many repetitions of that sacrifice on Calvary.
Another subject closely related to penance is that of indulgences. The Baltimore Catechism defines an indulgence as follows:
“An indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to sin. … There are two kinds of indulgences—plenary and partial. … A plenary indulgence is the full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. … A partial indulgence is the remission of a part of the temporal punishment due to sin. … To gain an indulgence we must be in the state of grace (the result of a satisfactory confession to a priest) and perform the works enjoined.”
Another catechism defines an indulgence more briefly as “a remission of that temporal punishment which even after the sin is forgiven, has yet to be suffered either here or in purgatory.”
An indulgence, therefore, is an official relaxation of law which shortens or cancels one’s sufferings which are due to sin, and it usually has reference to the sufferings in purgatory.
Indulgences are granted by the pope, who the Roman Church teaches has personal jurisdiction over purgatory; and they usually are granted through the priests in return for gifts or services rendered to the church or as a reward for other good deeds.
This release from punishment is said to be possible because the church has a vast treasury of unused merits which have been accumulated primarily through the sufferings of Christ, but also because of the good works of Mary and the saints who have done works more perfect than God’s law requires for their own salvation. Thus not only the suffering and death of Christ, but also the good works of Mary and the saints, are the grounds of forgiveness of sins. The church claims to be able to withdraw merits from that store and to apply them to any member of the church just as if he had suffered what was necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
An indulgence is not, as many think, and as the term might suggest, a license to commit sin, although that has been done on numerous occasions particularly among the more backward and ignorant people. That was one of the abuses that developed during the Middle Ages. An indulgence is rather a limited period of release from punishment (1 day, 10 days, 30 days, etc.) which the person would have to suffer in purgatory. Indulgences are like prison paroles. A man sentenced to imprisonment for one year may be released at the end of eight months if he manifests truerepentance and good behavior. In the same manner an indulgence affords release from a part or the whole of the punishment due because of sin.
Indulgences are not available to those guilty of mortal sin until they confess to a priest and receive absolution. The priest forgives only mortal sins in the confessional, which saves the soul from hell. He does not forgive venial sins. Those have to be atoned for in the present life, or they have to be suffered for in the flames of purgatory after death.
According to Roman doctrine, all those dying in mortal sin go straight to hell, where prayers, masses, etc., cannot effect any alleviation of their pains. For those who go to confession, the absolution of the priest removes mortal sin and thereby releases from eternal punishment; but the punishment remains and must be atoned for by good works, prayers, etc., in this life, or by sufferings in purgatory in the next. In practice this means that every Roman Catholic, if he escapes hell, must reckon on going through purgatory. As we have indicated earlier, there seems to be no very definite catalogue of which sins are mortal and which are venial. The classification varies from place to place and from priest to priest, depending on the priest’s definition and the nature of the purpose to be served.
Only the pope can grant a plenary indulgence, canceling out all suffering. Bishops can grant up to forty days, and parish priests shorter periods. During the Middle Ages plenary indulgences were granted to persons who visited the holy sepulcher in Jerusalem, or joined the crusades to regain the Holy Land, or helped in the work of persecuting Protestants and extirpating heresy. Partial indulgences were granted for lesser services, such as reciting the rosary, ritual prayers to the Virgin Mary or to some saint, self‑denials, gifts of money or property, etc. The list is almost endless.
Technically, indulgences must not be sold by the church. But that rule has been violated on many occasions, and the spirit of it on many more. The sale is still carried out in countries where Rome is supreme, and where it is not calculated to revolt public opinion. The first Pope John XXIII sold indulgences openly, but was condemned for it by a church council. The late Pope John XXIII, in 1958, granted a plenary indulgence to all who attended his coronation ceremony or listened by radio or viewed the ceremony by television or news reel. And again, on Easter Sunday, 1961, he granted a plenary indulgence to all who attended the Easter observance in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Most indulgences, however, are partial. The Roman Church is careful to point out that “only God knows exactly how much of the temporal punishment is taken away by an indulgence.” Hence no one can ever be sure that he has done enough and that he needs no further indulgences.
Likewise many “dispensations” or permissions to do certain things not approved by the Roman Church are granted each year, such as marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant, annulments, and even, as in Spain until recently, permission on payment of a small fixed sum, to eat meat on Friday, which otherwise would be a mortal sin. There is no fixed price for “dispensations,” but it is understood by both parties that there are to be gifts and that for the more important ones the gifts are to be generous.
6 Historical Development of the Doctrine of Indulgences
The practice of granting indulgences was unknown in the early church. It arose in the Middle Ages in connection with penances imposed by the Roman Church. At first they were applicable only to the living. Gelasius, bishop of Rome in 495, said: “They demand that we should also bestow forgiveness of sins upon the dead. Plainly this is impossible for us, for it is said, ‘What things soever ye shall bind upon earth.’ Those who are no longer upon the earth He has reserved for His own judgment.” Now if this pope was infallible in his exegesis of Scripture, the current Roman practice is false. In the year 1096, at the Synod of Clermont, Urban II promised a plenary indulgence for all who would take part in the crusades. From that time on indulgences became a fixed and remunerative part of the religion of Rome. Pope Clement VI (1342‑1352) proclaimed the doctrine that the church has control of a treasury of merit, and that it can give to one believer the excess merits of another. And in 1477 Pope Sixtus IV declared that indulgences were available for souls in purgatory. Since that time indulgences have been considered helpful to the dead as well as to the living.
The abuses connected with the granting or sale of indulgences became so flagrant that clear‑thinking men in the clergy and laity alike came to despise the practice. Many of the promoters played heartlessly on the credulity of the bereaved. The great majority of mankind was pictured as suffering in the flames of purgatory until their survivors provided the money for their release. The demoralization which resulted from this evil practice spread like poison through the church. In 1250 Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, England, protested to the pope that the low morality of the priesthood was due to the purchasable pardon. A commission of cardinals reported to Pope Paul III (1534-1549) that pardons and dispensations produced indescribable scandals, and begged him to put an end to them.
For years indulgences were sold openly. When Pope Leo X (1513-1521) needed money to complete the great cathedral of St. Peter’s in Rome he offered plenary indulgences for sale and sent his special emissaries to every nation, promising forgiveness of sins to the living and release from the flames of purgatory for the dead. Those found a ready market in many parts of Europe. It was for this purpose that the Friar Tetzel came through the region around Wittenburg, Germany, making the claim: “A soul is released from purgatory and carried to heaven as soon as the money tinkles in the box.”
It was this corrupt practice of taking money from the people that revolted Martin Luther against the whole system of indulgences and led to his posting the 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenburg, Germany, October 31 on the eve of All Saints Day, 1517. The act marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The 86th thesis read: “The pope’s riches at this day far exceed the wealth of the richest millionaires; can not he therefore build one single basilica of St. Peter out of his own money, rather than out of the money of the faithful poor?”
Luther’s action was in effect a daring challenge to the papal authorities for public debate on each of the propositions listed. Needless to say, his challenge was not accepted. But it did arouse intense excitement, and it met with a ready response in the hearts of the people over a wide area. And well might he challenge the indulgence system, for in so doing he was simply taking his stand for first century Christianity. We wonder how many who visit St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome today realize that the construction of that church was the event that set in motion the Protestant Reformation.
The question may well be asked: If indulgences are so clearly opposed to the Gospel plan of salvation, why did the popes persist in selling them? Or why do they still uphold the practice? The answer is: Because indulgences have been a source of enormous revenue to the Vatican. Although the popes knew there was no warrant whatever in Scripture for such practice, they could not resist the temptation to acquire easy money. By appealing to the superstitions and fears of the people, high and low, they collected large sums. Not only St. Peter’s cathedral, but many other projects have been financed in considerable measure by money raised in this manner. Papal indulgences are not sold today, but they still are granted; and it is understood that “the faithful” who come seeking them must not come empty-handed.
Having examined the tenets and practices of the Roman Church as regards the matter of individual salvation, we have no hesitation at all in branding as false the entire system of penance and indulgences. And that for the simple reason that those who trust Christ for salvation are justified by faith, not by works. They have no need for penances or indulgences from any priest or pope. The superabundant merits of the saints, alleged to have been accumulated by those who have done more than was required, are purely imaginary. No man can earn his own salvation by good works, much less can he have merits left over which can be transferred to others. The penances and indulgences which the people receive are not only worthless but are clever frauds and are without any foundation whatever in the Bible.
Such a system represents God as forgiving sins, yet holding the sinner guilty and subjecting him to punishment both here and after death. What an arrogant assumption that is on the part of the priests when they presume to take charge of and to dispose as their own the merits of the saints, and even those of Christ Himself! It is readily apparent what effective weapons the assigning of penances and the granting of indulgences really are for keeping a spiritually unenlightened people under the power of the priesthood.
7 Assurance of Salvation
The first consequence of the doctrine of penance and indulgences is that the Roman Catholic, though baptized and confirmed, can never have that assurance of his salvation and that sense of spiritual security which is such a great blessing to the Protestant. In proportion as he is spiritually sensitive, the person who holds to a works religion knows that he has not suffered as much as his sins deserve, and that he can never do as much as he should in order to be worthy of salvation. The dying Roman Catholic, after he has done all that he can do and after the last rites have been given to him, is told that he still must go to purgatory. There he will suffer unknown torture, with no assurance as to how long it will continue, but with the assurance that if his relatives pay with sufficient generosity his suffering will be shortened.
But what a contrast with all of that is the death of the true believer, who has the assurance that he goes straight to heaven into the immediate presence of Christ! What a marvelous blessing is the evangelical faith, both in life and at the time of death!
The Council of Trent even pronounced a curse upon anyone who presumed to say that he had assurance of salvation, or that the whole punishment for sin is forgiven along with that sin. Such assurance is pronounced a delusion and a result of sinful pride. Rome keeps her subjects in constant fear and insecurity. Even at death, after extreme unction has been administered and after thousands of rosary prayers have been said “for the repose of the soul,” the priest still cannot give assurance of salvation. The person is never “good enough,” but must serve in purgatory prison to be purified of venial sins before he can be admitted to the celestial city. No one can be truly happy without the assurance of salvation; and particularly in spiritual matters a state of doubt and uncertainty is a state of misery.
The simple truth, however, is that one can be saved and can be sure that he is saved. All he has to do is to trust in the finished work of Christ and to receive from Him the gift of eternal life. For His Word declares, “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). “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). The Bible tells us that “the blood Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), and that to be “absent from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Paul expected that at his death he would go into the immediate presence of Christ, for he wrote to the church in Philippi: “But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better [no purgatory there!]: yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake” (Philippians 1:23). And in the parable that Jesus gave of the rich man and Lazarus, Lazarus was carried by the angels directly from earth to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:19‑31).
Furthermore, Christ is able to keep His people saved, not because of their goodness or faithfulness, both of which are very erratic, but because of His power and grace: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28‑29). This eternal life of which Christ speaks is a gift (John 3:16); it is made effective by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the soul which is called “regeneration” (Titus 3:5), or a new birth, a being “born anew” or “from above” (John 3:3), and as such it is irrevocable—“for the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of” (Romans11:29). Nothing less than a supernatural act on the part of God (regeneration) can bring a soul from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life, and nothing less than another supernatural act of God could reverse that condition. This is the true “perseverance of the saints”—not that we persevere in holding on to God, but that He perseveres in holding on to us.
Thus God wants us to be saved, and He wants us to know that we are saved. He has told us so in His Word. We have a salvation that is complete, a salvation that meets all the needs of the sinner. In Protestantism salvation is present, when one accepts Christ as Savior. In Romanism it is future, after he has been through purgatory, and only then if he has “good works” added to confession, penance, and communion. In Protestantism salvation is a matter of grace. In Romanism one must work hard for it and must pay dearly for it, and after he has done all that the priest has prescribed, he still cannot know whether he has it or not. And through it all there stands the anathema of the Council of Trent against all who affirm the certainty of their salvation. Hence there is not to be found anywhere a consistent Roman Catholic who enjoys the assurance of eternal life. Nor can Modernism or Liberalism give that assurance, nor Judaism, nor Mohammedanism, nor any of the pagan religions. Evangelical Protestantism alone can give that assurance. That was the message of the Reformation in the 16th century when it proclaimed justification by faith alone.
A very curious thing happened in connection with the death of Pope Pius XII, in 1958. His personal physician, Dr. Galeazzi‑Lisi, shortly afterward wrote an article for publication in a Rome newspaper in which he described “the agonizing death of Pope Pius XII,” and told of the pope’s fear and insecurity regarding the future. But the article met strong disapproval on the part of the church authorities. Copies of the newspaper were confiscated before they could be distributed, and Dr. Galeazzi-Lisi was promptly dismissed from his position. Dr. Walter M. Montano, at that time editor of Christian Heritage, recalled that when Pope Benedict XV died in 1922 a similar report was given of his death, and added:
“One can feel only a sense of pity for the last end of such a man. How is it possible that the ecclesiastical demigod who had the keys of heaven and earth is unable to use those keys to gain entrance into his own eternal salvation? What a pathetic ending for a man who has devoted his life to religion; who has directed, as they say, ‘the barque of St. Peter’; who was infallible; who has elevated the Virgin Mary to a state that no other pope had dared to imagine.
“At the end of his life he dies in fear and agony, not knowing what the future holds in store for him. All the pomp and ceremony, all the masterfully devised rituals in his honor may impress the people, especially Roman Catholics, but they cannot gain him one inch of heaven. And what about his soul and his eternal destiny? What Roman Catholic knows where this pope is right now? The doctrine of the Roman Church established that anyone who can say ‘I am saved’ at any time in his life commits a mortal sin.
“If pope Pius XII had had the courage to express faith in the only One who died for our sins; if he had realized that there is only one Mediator between man and God; if he had accepted the fact that Christ’s death invalidated any other sacrifice and that once for all He died for the sins of the world—then pope Pius XII would not have faced a death of fear and desperation, an ‘agonizing death.’ Instead, he would have been able to say: ‘I know whom I have believed!’” (issue of December, 1958).
CHAPTER XIII Ritualism
4. Rosary, Crucifix, Scapulars
5. Relics, Pilgrimages
6. Prayers for the Dead
If we search for the factors that account for the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church, not only over its own members but over many others who have no personal connection with that church, we find that one of the most important is its ritualistic worship. The gorgeous vestments, colorful processions, pageantry and mystifying symbolism, the stately music, the solemn intonations of the priests in a singsong voice, the flickering candles, the tinkling bells, the sweet-smelling incense, the dim light of the cathedral where Mary holds sway—all are designed to impress the senses and the emotions. Witnessed in a great cathedral, Roman Catholic worship appeals to the senses as much as any spectacular on the stage of the Roxy Theatre in New York. Hollywood could never outdo, nor even equal, the colorful coronation of Pope John XXIII, in November, 1958, as that ritual was presented directly to some fifty thousand persons in Rome and to millions more by television and movie film. One news source described the coronation spectacle in part as follows:
“…Swiss guards in polished breastplates and scarlet and gold uniforms, and a scarlet-robed ecclesiastic carrying the pontifical tiara. Chaplains in violet soutanes, bishops in white mitres and robes decorated with silver; ecclesiastics in scarlet capes, and the College of Cardinals in cream colored vestments heavy with gold embroidery, followed each other in measured procession. Finally, amid renewed shouts of enthusiasm, the pope was carried in by 12 bearers, seated in the gestatorial chair beneath a richly embroidered canopy. The pontiff wore a gem‑studded mitre and the ritual falda. To right and left were members of the noble guard and Palatine Guard in gala uniforms.”
All of that in a purely manmade religious display, a ritualistic ceremony that is not even hinted at anywhere in the Bible! Representative Roman Catholic writers acknowledge that the entire series of rites in connection with the coronation is unessential since a man becomes pope at the moment he accepts the office after his election. There were no papal coronation ceremonies before the 10th century, and the form has varied considerably since that time.
An American observer describes a public appearance of the pope in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome in these words:
“First, soldier guards with rifles enter—perhaps 50 of them, then the papal officials. Then borne by 12 men on their shoulders, a huge chair on which the pope sits. He has a white skull cap and is dressed in white robes. We see the light flash on the diamond of his crucifix. Twenty thousand people shout, ‘Viva il Papal’ ‘Long live the Pope!’ He begins to salute the people genially on all sides, scattering his blessings with great liberality. He is carried through the full length of the great church to the great altar and steps from his chair to a red throne on a platform raised above the heads of the people.
“The people are wild with enthusiasm. They cheer and raise their children to see his face. As one looks about at the beaming faces, one wonders if the participants understand the difference between latria and dulia—one permits devotion to a holy thing, and the other, devotion due only to God. We fear the devotion given him is the type one would give only to his God! …
“As he mounts his chair to be borne out again on the shoulders of 12 men dressed in red, the children cry and women plead not to be crushed. The pope is carried out, scattering his greetings all about him. As he is about to pass the curtain, he rises and again gives the apostolic blessing. The vast crowd pours out into the Piazza San Pietro, having seen a man who, to most of them, stands in the place of God. It has been the highest point in their experience the most exquisite emotion of their lives.
“One wonders what passed through the mind of the old man as the delirious crowds did him such great honor. Once before crowds exclaimed, ‘It is the voice of a god and not of a man’ (Acts 12:22), but God strikingly demonstrated His displeasure.
“How striking was the dissimilarity between the Lord of heaven and His pretended vice-regent in Rome! Jesus was a humble itinerant preacher, but this gentleman rides into the church on the shoulders of 12 men. All the pomp, the ostentation, the lights, the ceremony, all the wealth imaginable, are employed to enhance the grandeur of an institution which in every sense is the opposite of the simple church of the Gospels and the book of Acts” (article, Henry F. Brown).
Eucharistic and Marianistic congresses, with priests, bishops, and cardinals wearing gorgeous robes and bejeweled mitres, present similar spectacles. In February, 1946, when thirty‑two new cardinals were created by Pope Pius XII, Americans were surprised to learn that the scarlet robes alone of each new American cardinal’s outfit cost $10,000. The pope’s robes, of course, are much more expensive. The jewels in the pope’s triple-decked crown alone are said to be worth $1,300,000. What a contrast with the manner in which Protestant ministers dress! And what a contrast with the words of the alleged founder of the Roman Church, the Apostle Peter, who said to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6). Peter warned against the “wearing of jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel” (1 Peter 3:3). Paul, too, could say, “I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel” (Acts 20:33).
Some people however, want to be dazzled with a theatrical display of religion, and the Roman Church readily obliges. But the total effect of such ritualistic displays, so lacking in spiritual instruction is usually repulsive to thoughtful minds, and is entirely outside the bounds of true Christianity. What spiritually sensitive souls most condemn seems often to have been the chief attraction for the great mass of people who, without interest in religion as such, are moved by the spectacular display of what seems to be a union of the human and the divine. To the ignorant and uneducated, and also to a considerable extent to the educated, the splendor of the Roman Church appears as something awesome, fascinating, and inspiring. But many a spiritually weary traveler has found after all that such ritual and ceremony is only a mirage seen from a distance, a gorgeous display promising rest for the traveler on his way through a desert land, but failing utterly to supply the water of life that could bring peace and joy to his thirsty heart. Gradually the mirage fades on the horizon, and the desert that was to have bloomed as the rose yields only briars and thorns. How different from all that is the evangelical Protestant service, where with a minimum of ritual the emphasis is on the sermon which is designed to impart Biblical knowledge and to nurture and edify the spiritual and moral nature of man!
Concerning the rituals and ceremonials of Romanism, Stephen L. Testa says:
“Pagan Rome and Jewish Jerusalem had these ceremonials. But when Christ came to save the world He did not copy or adopt any of them; rather He disdained them. He founded His church, not as a hierarchy, but as a simple brotherhood of saved souls, commissioned to preach the Gospel to all the world. The early church, the church of the catacombs, for 300 years had no such ceremonials. It was in the fourth century, after the so‑called conversion of Emperor Constantine, that he made Christianity the State Church and those pagan ceremonials were introduced. It was then that the Catholic Church became the Roman Catholic Church. Italy and the other Catholic countries have derived no benefit whatever, spiritual or material, from them, as anyone can see for himself. The Reformation of course rejected them.”
We are often amazed at the magnificence of Roman Catholic churches and cathedrals, even in areas where the people are comparatively poor, or even in poverty. The following account of how the Roman Church developed in one area is given by August Vanderark, in the booklet, Christ the Hope of Mexico:
“The American visitor to Mexico is often amazed to discover an abundance of large beautiful churches in almost every part of the nation. Frequently the question arises, ‘How could they afford to construct such a vast number of imposing edifices?’ The answer, of course, is slave labor.
“Following the conquest by Cortez, the Indians were forced into slavery by the Roman Church and put to work building its places of worship and other religious structures. In Henry Bamford Parkes’ most excellent work, A History of Mexico, we read: ‘Twelve thousand churches were built in Mexico during the colonial period; and though they testify to the triumph of Christ over Huitzilopochtli (chief god of the Aztecs), they also testify to the skill of the missionaries (Jesuits) in obtaining unpaid labor from the Indians.’ Many of the Indians died as a result of being forced into the strenuous labor to which they were not accustomed.”
Romanism is largely a religion of ceremonials and rituals, and as such it is a far departure from the purity and simplicity of the Gospel. The supposed blessing is mysterious and magical. No really intelligent participation is required on the part of the people. They are largely spectators watching the pageantry, and are supposed to be blessed simply because they are there. The mystifying mannerisms of the priests, and the mumble-jumble of the unknown tongue used at the altar, tend more toward credulity and superstition. Fifteen centuries of history make it clear that the Roman ritual is powerless to uplift the world. Indeed, is it any wonder that Roman Catholic countries are proverbially impoverished, illiterate, and degraded? We charge Rome with obscuring rather than revealing the simple truth of the way of salvation as set forth in the Bible, and with the addition of many doctrines and practices not found in the Bible. When we tear aside the gaudy trappings of Romanism we find only an ugly skeleton, which, because it cannot find support in Scripture, is not able to stand on its own feet. Applicable here are the words of Joel: “Rend your heart, and not your garments” (2:13); and especially the words of Isaiah:
“What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt‑offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; for I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he‑goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them” (1:11-14).
Elaborate ritual and ceremony, which theoretically are designed to aid the worshipper, usually have the opposite effect in that they tend to take the mind away from things which are spiritual and eternal and to center it on that which is material and temporal. Artistic ritual and exquisite music often become ends in themselves, and can easily become instruments which prevent the people from joining in the worship of God. The reason the Roman service tends to become more and more elaborate, liturgical, and ritualistic, is that the heart of the exercise, true adoration of God, is missing, and a persistent effort is made to fill up the emptiness and unsatisfactoriness of it all by piling one ceremony and ritual upon another. But ironically, the more that is done the more difficult it becomes to worship God, and so the vicious circle goes round and round.
We object to the elaborate ceremonials and gorgeous furnishings of Romanism, not because of any lack of aesthetic taste, but on theological grounds. Such things may be all right in a theater, but they are out of place in a Christian church. Within proper limits dignity and beauty are characteristics which are proper in the worship of God, as indeed is clear from the prescriptions for worship which were given to the children of Israel. But the various elements of the Old Testament ritual were types and shadows portraying God’s plan of salvation. Their purpose was to present the Gospel in picture to a primitive people. But those things were done away in Christ, and no others were put in their place (Hebrews 8:5, 9:23, 10:1). The only references to incense, for example, in connection with the New Testament church are found in the book of Revelation where it is used figuratively, referring to the prayers of God’s people (Revelation 5:8, 8:3‑4). Romanism is in this respect a recrudescence of Judaism, and in its ceremonialism stands much closer to Judaism than to New Testament Christianity. It has a delight in the picture language of ceremonies that were designed for the childhood of the church, and it still is fascinated with the beauty of the temple and its gorgeous ritual.
We maintain that the New Testament assigns no liturgy at all for the church. We maintain further that there is a beauty in chaste simplicity, that this characterized the early church, that the departure from this simplicity in the fourth and later centuries was the result of spiritual deterioration, and that most of the ritualism and ceremonialism was taken over from the pagan religion of ancient Rome. But while no required form is demanded, it is necessary that some systematic form be developed, so that “all things” may be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14 40). Most churches develop an order of service sufficient to give order and dignity to the service without going to the extreme of Romanism.
Let Protestants not be deceived by the outward splendor of Romanism. The most elaborate rituals will not save one if the heart is not right. Neither the two thousand proscriptions of the Canon Law, nor all the absolutions of the priests, can open the kingdom of heaven for one who is not first of all a true believer.
Some of the ceremonials of Romanism are of special interest. First of all and most important is the Ave Maria, or “Hail Mary,” which was used in part as early as 1508, completed 50 years later, and finally approved for general use by Pope Sixtus V at the end of the 16th century. It reads as follows:
“Hail, Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among 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.”
The “Hail Mary” is thus a prayer. It is repeated many times in the churches, in the schools, and by individuals in private as a work of penance and as one of the most effective means of storing up merit.
Another ceremonial, always used by Roman Catholics in entering a church as well as in various personal acts, is the sign of the cross. This is considered both a prayer and a public profession of faith. In entering a church they dip the forefinger of the right hand in holy water, and touch the forehead, the breast, and the left and right shoulder, thus tracing upon their person the figure of the cross while reciting aloud or in silence the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Fasting has a prominent place in Romanism. When carried out according to the rules of the church it is supposed to gain certain merits for the person fasting. A fast day is not one on which no food at all is eaten, as the name might imply, but one on which persons over twenty‑one and under sixty years of age are allowed but one full meal, and are forbidden meats, unless granted a special dispensation. A day of abstinence is one on which meat is forbidden, but the usual number of meals is allowed. Fasting is required during Lent1 (the forty week-days preceding Easter), and on certain other appointed days. Fish, but not other meat, allowed on Fridays. This, like the days of fasting and the days of abstinence, is of course an empty formalism, a purely arbitrary rule, without any New Testament authority, and can be set aside at any time by a dispensation from the priest because of hard work, sickness, or for various other reasons. Yet the people are taught that under normal conditions it is a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday and on other days of abstinence. In 1958 Pope John XXIII granted Roman Catholics throughout the world a special dispensation to eat meat on Friday, December 26, the day after Christmas, because of continued Christmas festivities and celebrations.
1 On February 17, 1988 Pope Paul VI relaxed the Lenten rules for fasting except for Wednesday and Good Friday. The general rule against eating meat on Friday has also been abolished. Thus what only a short time ago was a mortal sin now becomes permissible, changed by the bishops as nonchalantly as if they were merely changing for worship on Sunday morning.
The fasts commanded by the Church of Rome are wholly different from those in the Old Testament. Rome’s fasts are purely arbitrary and mechanical, not spiritual, appointed by the popes. They are not necessarily connected with any religious observances. The wild revelry, drinking, and feasting which precedes Lent and other occasions in Roman communities, particularly that best known one, the Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans and some other cities, proves this beyond dispute. True fasting is a spiritual exercise usually connected with prayer, repentance, and meditation.
Mere arbitrary fasting is denounced in Scripture as an abomination. To Jeremiah God said concerning the people of Israel, who were outwardly religious and observed forms but who in heart rejected Him and broke His commandments: “Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry” (14:12). Christ rebuked the Pharisees because they were particular about keeping the fasts but neglected obedience to God (Matthew 6:16), and Paul warned against manmade commandments “to abstain from meats” as a mark of apostasy (1 Timothy 4:3). How completely arbitrary and unchristian are commandments which impose fasts, making certain meats edible on some days but not on others, edible at certain times of the day but not at other times, and for some people but not for others! Paul’s words concerning food dedicated to an idol are equally applicable here: “But food will not commend us to God: neither if we eat not, are we the worse; nor if we eat, are we the better” (1 Corinthians 8:8). That, in fact, is the New Testament principle as regards eating or fasting.
Still another Roman ceremonial is flagellation, or self‑torture. This is not to be thought of as merely a barbaric and stupid custom practiced back in the Middle Ages. In some places it still is a reality in our twentieth century. Emmett McLoughlin, in his People’s Padre (p. 17), tells how three times a week, at a certain hour in the evening, the students in the seminary where he obtained his training were required to go to their rooms, disrobe, and practice flagellation. And in a recent popular movie, The Nun’s Story, produced under Roman Catholic supervision, the mother superior is pictured handing the novitiate girl a whip which she is to use on herself, with the admonition that she should use it “neither too little, nor too much”; “for,” said the mother superior, “the one is as bad as the other.” In the Philippine Islands the fanatical “Flagellantes,” at the Lenten season each year can be seen in processions, carrying heavy crosses, chanting Latin hymns, and beating their bodies with a scourge until the flesh is raw and bleeding, in a blind hope that through that kind of suffering merit will be stored up and their souls will be released sooner from purgatory. How can an intelligent and professedly Christian priesthood allow such things to continue? Flagellation, however, has never been practiced by the rank and file of Roman Catholics.
Another important peculiarity of the Roman Church has been its use of the Latin language. It has been a long standing rule that the mass cannot be celebrated in any language other than Latin, that it is better not to celebrate mass at all than to do so in the language of the people. However, the Second Vatican Council, in 1964, gave permission for the mass to be celebrated in the common tongue, or for a translation to be provided so that the people can follow intelligently what is being said. Early in the Middle Ages, about the year 600, preaching in the Latin tongue was instituted—which surely was one of the most ridiculous things in the world. Latin had been the basis of the Italian language, but was no longer understood by the people. However, preaching never was a very important part of the Roman service, and it is no longer conducted in Latin. But the mass, which is the very heart of the service, still is in Latin,2 although the great majority of present day congregations know nothing about Latin. A little reflection should convince anyone that neither the Lord’s supper as instituted by Christ, nor His passion, which is reenacted in the mass, was done in Latin. Christ spoke the Aramaic of His day, which was the language of the people. Yet Roman priests hold that it is a sacrilege to commemorate that experience in anything but Latin!
2 The requirement regarding Latin was relaxed by pope Paul V1.
The Apostle Paul, who himself was a scholar and who probably could speak more languages than anyone in his audiences, nevertheless insisted that a few words spoken with the understanding were better than many spoken in a tongue that could not be understood: “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); and again: “If any man speaketh in a tongue, let it be by two, or at the most three, and that in turn; and let one interpret: but if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:28 ); and further: “So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air” (1 Corinthians 14:9). Protestants always conduct their services in language of the people and that surely is more uplifting.
There are certain benefits, however, which in a may seem to accrue to the Roman Church as it conducts its ceremonials under the veil of a dead language. Most importantly, it adds to the air of mystery that surrounds the service, and helps to set the priest apart from the people as a man with special wisdom and special powers. Every priest at times has to bless the “holy water” with which Roman Catholics sprinkle themselves, and which is sprinkled on various objects to purify or consecrate them. The prayer by which that is done intimates that its object really is to drive the devils out of this common water, and indirectly to keep them from the people who are sprinkled. Probably not one priest in a hundred really believes that, and it doubtless would seem rather crude and awkward to go through the ritual in English. But they do not seem to mind doing it in Latin. In Medieval times it was customary for the priest to do a preliminary devil chase before the service began by going back through the audience and sprinkling holy water on the people while calling on all demons and devils to depart. The baptism of infants is an elaborate ritual in which the Devil is exorcised and commanded to depart from the child, and undoubtedly would be somewhat embarrassing if done in English. Yet the Latin ritual is accepted without question. Also, the mother who has given birth to a child is considered polluted and unfit to enter the church with respectable people until she has been “churched” through the use of an ancient ritual which if spoken in English probably would cause so much resentment that it would have to be abandoned. And in theological books detailed instructions to the priests concerning questions relating to sex to be asked of women and girl penitents in the confessional are given in Latin, and so in the main are kept concealed from the public.
Still another problem to be considered in this connection is the appearance of priests and nuns in public in their church garb, which of course is offensive to Protestants. Recently C. Stanley Lowell wrote:
“In long-suffering Mexico which finally rose up in wrath against the church, to this day the clergy are not permitted to appear on the streets in clerical garb. Resentment mounted to such a pitch that the people did not even want to look at the clergy.”
“Roman Catholic politicians dote on public demonstrations of their denominational symbols and observances. Roman Catholicism is a majority faith in many areas of this country. As a majority faith Catholics frequently show insensibility to the religious sensitivities of those who do not share their faith. They may flaunt their religious practices and virtually force them on the entire community. They have an astonishing faculty for never suspecting that the symbol or observance which inspires them may be shocking and abhorrent to persons of another faith.”
The fact is that Romanist religious regalia is almost always offensive to those who do not belong to that church. Oftentimes the tendency toward forcing their religion on other people of the community is also carried out by dedicating public statues, parks, schools, etc., to Roman Catholic saints or church leaders. We submit that in fairness to all the people of a community statues, parks, schools, etc., should not be given names that are offensive to the people of the community who are of other faiths.
In the first commandment we are commanded to worship God, and none other. In the second commandment we are commanded to worship directly and not through any intervening object: “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image… thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. …” (Exodus 20:4-5). Literally hundreds of other passages also condemn the making or worshipping of images. A few examples are:
“Ye shall make you no idols, neither shall ye rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am Jehovah your God” (Leviticus 26:1).
“Cursed be the man that maketh a graven or molten image, an abomination unto Jehovah, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and setteth it up in secret” (Deuteronomy 27:15).
“My little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
“…the works of their hands… the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk” (Revelation 9:20).
“What agreement hath a temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
The Jerusalem Conference warned the Gentiles:
“…that they abstain from the pollution of idols” (Acts 15:20).
How very clearly, then, the commandment against the making or use of images or idols (for they are the same thing if used in worship) is written into the law of God!
But in direct opposition to this the Council of Trent decreed:
“The images of Christ and the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints, are to be had and to be kept, especially in Churches, and due honor and veneration are to be given them” (Sess. 25).
Where can a more deliberate and willful contradiction of the command of God be found than that?
The practice of the Church of Rome is that she solemnly consecrates images through the blessing of her priests, places them in her churches and in the homes of her people, offers incense before them, and teaches the people to bow down and worship before them. It cannot be denied that the Roman Church has made the second commandment of no effect among her people, and that she teaches for Christian doctrine her own precepts, which are the commands of men. She has not dared to remove the commandment from her Bible, but she has withdrawn it as much as possible from view. Since her practices are contrary to the Bible, she covers up her guilt by simply omitting that commandment from her version of the Decalogue and from her catechisms and textbooks! She then re‑numbers the commandments, making the third number two, the fourth number three, and so on. And in order to cover up this deficiency, she splits the tenth commandment in two, thus making two separate sins of coveting—that of coveting one’s neighbor’s wife, and that of coveting one’s neighbor’s goods. As a result of this sophistry multitudes of people are misled and are caused to commit the sin of idolatry.
With this official encouragement it is not surprising that images of Christ, Mary, the saints and angels are very common in Roman Catholic circles. They are found in the churches, schools, hospitals, homes, and other places. Occasionally one even sees a little image of Jesus or Mary or some saint on the dashboard of an automobile (often the image of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers). Thus as one drives he supposedly has the protection of Jesus, or Mary, or the saint.3
3 On May 14, 1969 Pope Paul VI demoted 33 saints from the level of universal veneration to that of local or regional levels. Those included Christopher (whose existence is not certain); Nicholas, patron saint of gifts and givers; Valentine, patron saint of lovers; and Barbara, patron saint of artillerymen. There remain 58, plus Mary, Joseph, the apostles, and the angels, who are objects of universal veneration must be mentioned at mass at least once a year. And there are hundreds of others at lower levels.
Roman Catholics tell us that they do not pray to the image, or idol, but to the spirit that is represented by it. But that is the answer given by idol worshippers the world over when they are asked why they pray to their idols. That was the answer given by the Israelites when they worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness; for after making the idol they said: “These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). They did not intend their worship to terminate on the image. They were worshipping their gods through the use of an image, or idol, a likeness which they thought appropriately represented their gods. But on other occasions the Israelites worshipped idols as such. Hosea’s condemnation of idolatry in Israel: “The workman made it; there fore it is not God” (8:6), implies that the calf of Samaria was worshipped in the Northern Kingdom as a god. See also Psalm 115:4‑8. Undoubtedly the better educated do make the distinction between the idol and the god or spirit which it is designed to represent. But in actual practice in Roman Catholic countries and among the ignorant, the tendency is for this distinction to disappear and for such worship to become simply idolatry. The Old Testament prophets and the Bible as a whole makes no distinction between false gods and their images, and the cult practices of the heathen tend to identify them completely. The Israelites were severely condemned for using idols in their worship of God. It cannot be otherwise with the Roman Catholics.
On numerous later occasions the Israelites attempted to worship God through the use of images, but such practices were always severely condemned. Even if it were true that Roman Catholics pray only to the person or spirit represented by the image, it still would be sin, for two reasons: (1) God has forbidden the use of images in worship; (2) there is only one mediator between God and men, and that one is Christ, not Mary or the saints.
Historically, when men have made images or idols which they could see, as an aid to worship, they later came to think of the images themselves as indwelt by their gods. The images became the centers of attention rather than that which they were supposed to represent. Instead of helping the worshippers they confused them. This has been particularly true in regard to the larger images which are preserved from one generation to another. In the same manner as the heathen, the Romanists make gods of wood and stone, dress them up, paint them with gaudy colors, bow down before them, and worship them. The priests encourage the people to have little shrines in their homes at which they can worship. Millions of illiterate people in Europe and in the Americas attribute supernatural qualities to those images. In doing so they feel that they have the full approval of their church—which of course they do have. But the Bible calls such practice idolatry and condemns it. The Bible teaches that God is a Spirit, and that they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). We should never forget that one of the most heinous sins of ancient Israel, in fact the besetting sin of ancient Israel, was the worship of idols, and that Israel paid a fearful penalty for that practice.
Were the apostles to return to earth and eater a Roman Catholic church, they would scarcely be able to distinguish between the pagan worship of idols that they knew and the present day practice of kneeling before images, burning incense to them, kissing them, praying to them, and carrying them in public processions. The Roman Church today is about as thoroughly given over to idolatry as was the city of Athens when Paul visited there. Many priests do not believe in images, but they keep them in their churches because it is established custom and because, they say, it helps the worshippers, particularly if they are uneducated, to have a visual representation of the person they are worshipping.
But how very foolish is the practice of idolatry!
For life man prays to that which is dead.
For health he prays to that which has no health or strength.
For a good journey he prays to that which cannot move a foot.
For skill and good success he prays to that which cannot do anything.
For wisdom and guidance and blessing he commits himself to a senseless piece of wood or stone.
Romanism, with its image or idol worship, has no appeal at all for the Mohammedan world, which is so strongly opposed to all forms of idolatry. In fact it has made practically no attempt to win Mohammedans. The great mission field of North Africa lies only a short distance across the Mediterranean from Italy, practically on Rome’s doorstep. But through the centuries that field has remained almost untouched and unchallenged by Roman Catholicism. Yet Rome sends thousands of missionaries across the oceans to India, Japan, South America, and even to the United States, which even by Roman standards is in much less need of them than is North Africa. Nor does Roman Catholicism have any attraction for the Jews, who also are strongly opposed to all forms of idolatry. Instead, the Roman Church persecuted the Jews for some fifteen centuries. The evangelization of both Jews and Mohammedans has been left almost exclusively to Protestants. As we have indicated earlier, Roman Catholics attempt to justify the use of images by making a distinction between what they term latria, which is devotion given only to God, hyper‑dulia, which is given to Mary, and dulia, a lower form of devotion which is given to the saints, images, and relics. But in practice that distinction breaks down. The people, particularly those who are illiterate, of whom the Roman Catholic countries have so many, know nothing of the technical distinctions made by the theologians. They worship the images of Mary and the saints in the same way and often with more fervency than they worship those of Christ, or the “Blessed Sacrament” which they believe is the actual body, soul, and divinity of Christ. The only name for their practice is idolatry.
The Old Testament strictly forbade image worship, and in time such practice came to be an abomination to the Jews. With that background it seems incredible that idols should ever have been admitted into the more spiritual worship of the Christian church. But in the fourth century, with the granting of official status to the Christian church and the great influx of pagans, the heathen element in the church became so strong that it overcame the natural opposition to the use of images. Most of the people could not read. Hence it was argued that visible representations of Scripture persons and events were helpful in the church.
At the beginning of the seventh century, Pope Gregory the Great (590‑604), one of the strongest of the popes, officially approved the use of images in the churches, but insisted that they must not be worshipped. But during the eighth century prayers were addressed to them and they were surrounded by an atmosphere of ignorant superstition, so that even the Mohammedans taunted the Christians with being idol worshippers. In 726 the Eastern emperor, Leo III, first attempted to remedy the abuse in his dominion by ordering that the images and pictures be placed so high that the worshippers could not kiss them. But when that failed to achieve the desired ends, he issued an order forbidding the use of images in the churches as heathenish and heretical. To support his action a council was called in Constantinople, in 754, which gave ecclesiastical sanction to his actions. This great controversy became known as the “iconoclastic” dispute, a word which means the breaking of images. The Eastern church banned all use of images or icons, and to this day that remains one of the great contrasts between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church.
But in 787 a council met at Nicaea (Bithynia), repudiated the work of the earlier council, and fully sanctioned the worship of images and pictures in the churches. This action was defended on the principle on which image worship, whether among the heathen or Christians, has generally been defended, namely, that the worship does not terminate on the image but on the object that it represents.
Thomas Aquinas, who is generally acknowledged as the outstanding medieval theologian of the Roman Church, fully defended the use of images, holding that they were to be used for the instruction of the uses who could not read and that pious feelings were excited more easily by what people see than by what they hear. The popes of the Roman Church have strongly supported the use of images.
The argument in favor of the use of images, that in the Old Testament God commanded the making of the cherubim and the brazen serpent, ignores the fact that the cherubim were not to be used in worship, whereas the images are. The cherubim were placed in the holy of holies where they were not seen by the people but only by the high priest, and then only as he entered once each year, whereas the images are displayed in public. A further and most important difference is that God commanded the making of the cherubim, but He strictly forbade the making of images. Likewise the brazen serpent was not made to be worshipped. When it later became a sacred relic and was worshipped by people who offered incense to it, good king Hezekiah destroyed it.
The moral and religious effects of image worship are invariably bad. It degrades the worship of God. It turns the minds of the people from God, who is the true object of worship, and leads them to put their trust in gods who seem near at hand but who cannot save.
Closely akin to the use of images is that of pictures of Christ. And these, we are sorry to say, are often found in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches. But nowhere in the Bible, in either the Old or New Testament, is there a description of Christ’s physical features. No picture of Him was painted during His earthly ministry. The church had no pictures of Him during the first four centuries. The so‑called pictures of Christ, like those of Mary and the saints, are merely the product of the artist’s imagination. That is why there are so many different ones. It is simply an untruth to say that any one of them is a picture of Christ. All that we know about His physical features is that He was of Jewish nationality. Yet He more often is represented as having light features, even as an Aryan with golden hair. How would you like it if someone who had never seen you and who knew nothing at all about your physical features, resorted to his imagination and, drawing on the features of his own nationality, painted a picture and told everyone that it was a picture of you? Such a picture would be fraudulent. Certainly you would resent it. And certainly Christ must resent all these counterfeit pictures of Him. He was the truth; and we can be sure that He would not approve of any form of false teaching. No picture can do justice to His personality, for He was not only human but divine. And no picture can portray His deity. All such pictures are therefore fatally defective. Like the grave of Moses, the physical features of Christ were intended to be kept beyond the reach of idolatry. For most people the so‑called pictures of Christ are not an aid to worship, but rather a hindrance, and for many they present a temptation to that very idolatry against which the Scriptures warn so clearly.
4 Rosary, Crucifix, Scapular
The rosary may be defined as (1) a series of prayers, in its long form consisting of 15 Paternosters (the Lord’s prayer, addressed to God the Father), 15 Glorias, and 150 Hail Mary’s addressed to the Virgin Mary; or (2) the mechanical device used in counting the prayers, the short and more common form being a string or chain of beads divided into five sections, each consisting of one large bead and ten small ones. The large rosary consists of fifteen sections. But usually one who wishes to say the complete rosary goes over the short form three times. In some religious orders the large rosary is used, and is worn as a part of religious habit. Holding the large bead of each section in turn, one says the Our Father, and holding the small ones the Hail Mary for each separate bead. Between each section the Gloria is said: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” The Apostles’ Creed may also be recited with the rosary.
As for the origin of the term “rosary,” a book, Things Catholics Are Asked About, by Martin J. Scott, S. J., says: “Rosary means a garland of roses. A legend has it that Our Lady was seen to take rosebuds from the lips of a young monk when he was reciting Hail Mary’s, and to weave them into a garland which he placed on her head” (p. 237). Another explanation is that the beads originally were made of rosewood. But they may also be of glass, stone, or other hard material.
The rosary has ten times as many prayers addressed to Mary as to God the Father, with none addressed to Christ or the Holy Spirit. It is designed primarily as a devotional to Mary, thus exalting a human being more than God. It is more commonly used by girls and women, and is by far the most popular and universal devotion in the Roman Church.
Peter the Hermit invented the rosary, in the year 1090, more than a thousand years after the time of Christ. It is acknowledged by Roman Catholics not to have come into general use until after the beginning of the 13th century, and was not given official sanction until after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
The rosary represents a form of prayer that was expressly condemned by Christ, for He said: “And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:7‑8). Yet the priests encourage their people to use the rosary frequently, and in giving penances after confession they often assign a certain number of Hail Mary’s to be said. The more such prayers are said the more merit is stored up in heaven.
The Bible teaches that the true believer should pray to God reverently, humbly, and with a believing and thankful heart, thinking of what he doing and of the great King to whom he is praying. It is a distinguishing mark of Romanism, and also a matter of primary importance between Romanism and Protestantism, that a Roman Catholic “says” or “recites” his prayers, while for the most part the Protestant speaks extemporaneously, with his own words, thinking out his praise, petitions, requests, and thanks as he prays. For a spiritually minded person the mechanical use of beads destroys the true spirit of prayer.
A mechanical device similar to the rosary and used for counting prayers had been in use among the Buddhists and Mohammedans for centuries before the rosary was introduced, so its origin is not hard to trace. It is simply another device borrowed from paganism. And, strange as it may seem, Roman Catholics who condemn as pagan and foolish the use of prayer wheels by the Buddhists in Tibet (wheels with attached prayers, placed in a stream of water or in the wind so that each time the wheel turns over the prayer is repeated), nevertheless display great devotion in counting their repetitious rosary prayers as one bead after another is pushed across the string. But surely the principle is exactly the same. A similar practice is the use of eight‑day candles in little red cups, usually placed at the front and to one side in the churches, which are sold to those who are so busy they do not have time to pray. Indeed, why should Roman priests condemn the chanted incantations of African and West Indies Voodoo priests while themselves continuing the practice of sprinkling holy water with solemn exorcisms of demons or evil spirits?
Crosses and crucifixes. The most widely used religious symbol both for Roman Catholics and Protestants is the cross, much more so in Roman Catholic than in Protestant churches. The crucifix is a cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it. In the Roman Church the sign of the cross has to be in every altar, on the roofs of all Roman Catholic churches, in the school and hospital rooms, and in the homes of its people. For interior use the crucifix is often displayed rather than the cross. Small crosses four or five inches long and suspended on a chain are often worn as part of the religious garb of priests and nuns, and a small gold cross on a chain suspended around the neck is often worn by the women.
But as regards the cross as a symbol of Christianity, we must point out that the Scriptures do not give one single instance in which a mechanical cross was so used, or in which it was venerated in any way. There are, of course, numerous instances in Scripture in which the cross is spoken of figuratively. Nor is there any evidence that the cross was used as a Christian symbol during the first three centuries of the Christian era. A Roman Catholic authority asserts:
“It may be safely assumed that only after the edict of Milan, a.d. 312, was the cross used as a permanent sign of our redemption. De Rossi (a Roman Catholic archaeologist) states positively that no monogram of Christ, discovered in the Catacombs or other places, can be traced to a period anterior to the year a.d. 312” (The American Ecclesiastical Review, p. 275;September, 1920).
The cross as a symbol of Christianity, then, it is generally agreed, goes back only to the days of emperor Constantine, who is supposed to have turned from paganism to Christianity. In the year 312 he was engaged in a military campaign in western Europe. According to tradition he called upon the pagan gods, but there was no response. Shortly afterward he saw in the sky a pillar of light in the form of a cross, on which were written the words, “In hoc signo vinces,” “In this sign conquer.” Shortly afterward he crossed into Italy and won a decisive victory near Rome. Taking this as a token of divine favor, he issued various edicts in favor of the Christians. Whether he ever became a Christian or not is disputed, some holding that he remained a pagan all his life and promoted paganism and Christianity alternately as best served his purposes, although he professed Christianity and was baptized shortly before his death in 337. At any rate, the alleged sign in the sky, like so many other signs of that and later times, undoubtedly will have to be explained on other grounds. The idea that Christ would command a pagan emperor to make a military banner embodying the cross and to go forth conquering in that sign is wholly inconsistent with the general teaching if the Bible and with the spirit of Christianity.
In any event, the cross, in pre-Christian as well as in Christian times, has always been looked upon as an instrument of torture and shame. Christians do not act wisely when they make such an instrument an object of reverence and devotion. Paul spoke of what he termed “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11, KJV). And in Hebrews 12:2 we read that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” In view of these things we should not regard the device on which Christ was crucified as holy or as an object of devotion. Rather we should recognize it for what it is, a detestable thing, a pagan symbol of sin and shame.
When Jesus said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), He did not mean that one should have a gold representation of it hanging from a chain about his neck or dangling from long cords at his side. He meant rather that one who is a faithful follower should be willing to do His will, to serve and to endure suffering as He did, since all those who sincerely follow Him will meet with some degree of hardship and suffering and perhaps even with persecution. Ever since the time that the emperor Constantine allegedly saw the sign of the cross in the sky, and took that as his banner, that banner has been raised over a half-Christian, half-pagan church. Protestant churches, too, have often offended in matter, and, like Lot, who pitched his tent too close to Sodom, these bodies have camped too close to the gates of Rome. The true Christian conquers, not through the sign of a fiery cross or the charm of a jeweled crucifix, but through the Gospel of Christ, which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16).
Scapulars. Another object of special devotion in the Roman Catholic Church is the scapular. This can best be described as a “charm” which is designed to give the wearer protection against all kinds of perils, such as accidents, disease, lightning, fire, and storms, and to ward off witchcraft and enchantments, and put evil spirits to flight.
The scapular was invented by Simon Stock, an English monk, in the year 1287. According to tradition this holy man withdrew into a wood where he lived in great austerity for twenty years, at the end of which time the Virgin Mary appeared to him in celestial splendor, with thousands of angels, and, holding the scapular in her hand, commissioned him to take this as the sign of the Carmelite Order to which he belonged.
The scapular consists of two pieces of brown cloth about four inches square, on which are pictures of the Virgin Mary, to be worn next to the skin, suspended over the shoulders by cords fore and back. Normally it must be of wool or other cloth, but not of silk, since it is worn in honor of the Virgin Mary and it is said that she never wore silk. It is to be worn day and night, never to be taken off until death, and it is good even to be buried with it. During the Second World War a metal scapular was supplied to Roman Catholic service men and was called the “Scapular Militia.” On one square were printed the words, “S. Simon Stock, pray for us,” and on the other, “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us.”
Paul Blanshard cites the following use (or misuse) of the scapular:
“I have before me as I write a four page circular called The Scapular Militia, issued by the Carmelite National Shrine of Our Lady of Scapular, of 338 East 29th St., New York. It bears the official Imprimatur of Archbishop [now Cardinal] Spellman, and it was issued at the height of the war in 1943. The slogan emblazoned on its cover is ‘A Scapular for Every Catholic Service Man,’ and it carries, underneath a picture of Mary, Joseph, and St. Simon Stock, the specific guaranty in heavy capitals: Whosoever dies clothed in this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire” (American Freedom and Catholic Power, p. 248).
That, we assert, is pure fetishism, the same kind of thing practiced by primitive tribes in many pagan countries. By such means do priests (and cardinals) substitute charms and superstitions in place of the New Testament which contains no such deceptions.
5 Relics, Pilgrimages
A relic is a piece of bone or other part of a saint’s body or some article which a saint touched during his life. Each of these supposedly has some degree of the supernatural attached to it and is regarded with more or less reverence, depending to a considerable extent on the education or lack of education of the worshipper. Such relics have an important place in the worship of the Roman Church. Paul Blanshard writes:
“Many non-Catholics imagine that relics are used by Catholicism merely as symbols of faith and devotion. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Church, even the American Church of the present day, still operates a full-blown system of fetishism and sorcery in which physical objects are supposed to accomplish physical miracles. Sometimes it is claimed that these physical objects also accomplish spiritual miracles and change the physical or spiritual destiny of any fortunate Catholic who relies on them” (Ibid., p. 248).
Relics range from pieces of the true cross, the nails, thorns from the crown of thorns, the seamless robe of Christ, the linen of Mary, her wedding ring, locks of her hair, vials of her milk, and her house miraculously transplanted from Palestine to Italy, to the more common and more abundant bones, arms, legs, hair, garments, and other possessions of the saints and martyrs. Many of the alleged relics have been proved false and have been dropped, but others continue to the present day. Some of the bones have been exposed as those of animals. In one instance the alleged bones of a famous Neapolitan saint, which it was claimed had worked countless miracles, were found to be those of a goat.
As for the actual cross on which Christ was crucified, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The so‑called true cross of Christ was found in the mount Calvary by the mother of Constantine (in the fourth century), and taken to Jerusalem by Constantine himself” (Vol. VIII, p. 238). But since that time hundreds of pieces of the true cross have been scattered over the earth for the veneration of superstitious Roman Catholics and for the enrichment of the clergy. Calvin wrote concerning the fragments of the cross alleged to exist in Roman churches in his day: “If all the pieces… were collected into a single heap, they would form a good shipload, although the Gospel testifies that a single individual was able to carry it! What effrontery, then, to fill the whole earth with fragments which it would take more than 300 men to carry.” St. Paulinus, one of the Roman Catholic apologists for the veneration and defense of relics, says that “a portion of the true cross kept at Jerusalem gave off fragments of itself without diminishing.” That would seem to be the only way in which the facts in question can be accounted for.
There is an abundance of nails from the true cross, and almost every city in Italy and France has one or two thorns from the true crown of thorns. Nearly every town in Sicily has one or mere teeth of Saint Agatha, the patron saint of the island. The multiplication of nearly every relic of primary interest should, of course, be sufficient to convince even the most credulous that these are nothing but pious frauds.
A report in The Kansas City Star, September 21, 1959, said that the Holy Robe of Christ, in a glass‑enclosed case, was displayed for the first time in 26 years in the cathedral at Trier, Germany, the oldest cathedral in Germany, that during the two months of its public viewing it drew 1,800,000 pilgrims, and that the final display was attended by more than 35,600 people including Cardinal Ottaviani, pro‑secretary of the Holy Office at the Vatican. About ten years ago there was returned to this country an arm of Saint Francis Xavier, famous Spanish Jesuit missionary to the Orient in the 16th century, which attracted large crowds at public showings in Los Angeles and other cities. In Spain there have been exhibited in different cathedrals two heads of John the Baptist, and in one of the cathedrals there is a magnificent ostrich feather preserved in a gorgeous case, which it is said fell from a wing of the angel Gabriel when he came to make the announcement to Mary. Perhaps the best known present day event in connection with any relic is that of the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius, patron saint of Naples, Italy, which we are told liquefies three times annually, proving that their saint still watches over the city. In Rome the Scala Sancta, the sacred stairway, exhibited as the one Jesus mounted going up to Pilate’s judgment hall, is crowded continually with devout pilgrims who climb the steps on their knees, saying a prayer on each step to gain indulgences. It will be recalled that this was the stairway that Martin Luther was climbing when there dawned upon him the truth of the words, “The just shall live by faith.” Luther arose from his knees, walked down the steps, and from that time did no more works of penance.
Most intriguing of all relics is “the House of Mary,” or “the Holy House of Loretto,” in Italy. This house is said to have been the house of the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, in Palestine. It is a stone structure about twenty‑eight feet long and twelve feet wide. A booklet purporting to give the authentic history of the house as sanctioned by the Roman Church is sold to visitors. The booklet says that in this simple apartment the Virgin Mary lived with Jesus until He grew to manhood and departed on His mission. After the crucifixion Mary continued to live in it until her death, visited frequently by the apostles and other disciples of Jesus. When Nazareth was plundered by the Roman soldiers the house was miraculously preserved in that the soldiers could not enter it or touch it. In 1291, when Palestine was overrun by the Saracens, so the booklet relates, the house was detached from its foundation by the angels, and was carried by them across the sea to Dalmatia, in Macedonia, where it was deposited on a hill. The Dalmatians gave it a friendly welcome, devoutly worshipped it, and for three years and seven months it was visited by many pilgrims. Then suddenly it removed and flew over the sea to eastern Italy, first coming to rest near the town of Loretto, about two miles from the coast. A few months later it removed again a short distance to its present home, on a hill in the town of Loretto, where it has been enshrined in a beautiful church. The Dalmatians lamented its departure, and for a long time in their prayers were wont to say: “Return to us, O beautiful lady; return to us, O beautiful lady; come back to us, O Mary, with your house.” But it would not come. In its present location it is visited by many pilgrims, some of whom climb the hill leading to it on their knees, kissing the stones of the walk as they move themselves forward. This same account regarding the house of Mary is recorded by Liguori in his book, The Glories of Mary, 1902 edition, pp. 72-73.
The Standard International Encyclopedia says concerning the town of Loretto:
“It is noted as the seat of the Holy House, which according to tradition, was occupied as a dwelling by the Virgin Mary at Nazareth and, in 1295, was removed to Loretto. The building was originally of simple construction, but it has been adorned by marble sculptures. The town is visited annually by many tourists, who go there to view the structure and to witness an image of the Virgin which is reputed to be a carving by St. Luke.”
That the legend concerning the house now existing in Loretto is a mere fabrication should be clear on two points: (1) Some bricks in the structure were made in an oven, while in the time of Christ bricks were sun baked; (2) the house has a chimney, while the houses of Palestine did not have chimneys, the smoke escaping through holes in the sides or roofs of the buildings.
What a varied collection of relics the Roman Church maintains to assist the faithful of its members! The whole Roman Catholic world is full of frauds of this kind, exhibited as openly and as often as seems advisable. Every Roman Catholic church is supposed to have at least one relic. The only justification that the more intelligent Romanists can give for this situation is that it is justifiable to deceive the people for their own good. But as Dr. Woods has said:
“The Church of Rome asserts that relics are intended ‘to excite good thoughts and increase devotion.’ But instead of doing this, for the most part they excite irreverent curiosity in careless sightseers, and disrupt true religion by exhibiting as genuine what men know to be counterfeit. The right way to ‘excite good thoughts and increase devotion’ is by the reverent study of God’s Word and prayer. The right way to honor a good man who has passed away, is not to venerate one of his bones, but to emulate his virtues in the service of God and our fellow men” (Our Priceless Heritage, p. 169).
Fraud is practiced in the Roman Church not only in exhibiting relics of the saints, but also in attributing supernatural powers to them. Each time a new saint is canonized, the church comes into possession of a new collection of relics which are alleged to have performed miracles. All of this is on a par with the customs in the pagan religions. Interestingly enough, an AP dispatch from Kandy, Ceylon, published in The Kansas City Star, August 20, 1959, reported that a temple elephant had run amuck through Buddhist crowds during a ceremony at the Temple of the Holy Tooth, killing 20 people and injuring 250 others. The temple houses a tooth relic of the Buddha who founded that religion 25 centuries ago, and is considered one of the most sacred spots in Buddhism. The Roman devotion to sacred relics cannot be looked upon as one whit better than the same misguided devotion paid to relics in pagan temples.
Many priests have little or no faith at all in relics, even though it is part of their work to recommend them and to supervise their use by the pious faithful. Priests who have been to Rome for any length of time lose any reverence they may have had for such things when they see the shameless traffic that is carried on in that city in bits of bones and pious objects of all kinds.
The amazing thing about this whole business is that presumably intelligent and educated Roman Catholics, clerical and lay alike, even in an enlightened country such as the United States, either tacitly accept such relics as genuine or fail to denounce them for the gross superstition that they know them to be. Veneration of such articles is of the same order as that of the heathen who, in their blindness, “bow down to wood and stone.” The great lesson taught by the history of image worship and the reverencing of relics is the importance of adhering strictly to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice.
Closely akin to the subject of relics is that of “Holy Water,” so‑called, which is nothing more than ordinary water with a pinch of salt added and blessed by a priest. A holy water font is found just inside the entrance in every Roman Catholic church. That is another empty superstition from the Dark Ages, borrowed from paganism, and introduced into the church in the ninth century. Pagan temples in Rome had holy water stoups or basins long before they were introduced into the Christian churches, and all of those entering were expected to sprinkle themselves.
If the reader has ever visited a Roman Catholic goods store he doubtless has seen the hundreds of statues of Mary and the saints on sale there, row on row, some highly ornamented and expensive, others quite plain, in various sizes and colors and prices. All of those are, or become, small Roman gods; for when blessed by the priest they are thought to have deep religious significance and are worshipped and given places of honor in the churches and homes. Then there are literally thousands of rosaries, crucifixes, crosses, sacred pictures, candlesticks, holy oils, incense, medals, and little charms and gadgets which the Roman Church blesses and encourages the people to use. For a Protestant it is a disturbing experience for he cannot help but feel that he is indeed in the house of the idols.
Pilgrimages. Another characteristic of Romanism is the idea that special merit attaches to pilgrimages made to holy places. This too is an idea that was entirely foreign to first century Christianity. Most important of the pilgrimages in our day is that to Rome. And of course no one must go empty-handed. Pope Boniface VIII (died 1303) proclaimed a jubilee with plenary indulgences granted to all who visited Rome, and the project brought such crowds and such a great amount of money that it has been repeated periodically ever since, the most recent having been the Marian year proclaimed by Pope Pius XII, in 1954, this after having promulgated the doctrine of the assumption of Mary in 1950. During the Middle Ages much virtue was thought to attach to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Plenary indulgences were offered to those who joined the Crusades in an attempt to wrest the Holy Lands from the Mohammedans. Pilgrimages have been much in vogue in pagan religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Mohammedanism (that to Mecca being the most famous), as a means of pleasing the god or gods who are worshipped and of accumulating merit.
Famous, too, as pilgrimage cities, are Lourdes, in extreme southwestern France, and Fatima, in Portugal. At Lourdes the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858. When Bernadette dug in a certain place as commanded by Mary, a spring of water with curative powers was uncovered. The Basilica of the Rosary was later erected on the site and every year tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the place in search of cures. Thousands of cures have been claimed, but the Roman Church officially claims but very few. Hardly more than one person in a thousand is actually helped, and those frequently are psychological cures, on the order of those sometimes achieved by the Christian Scientists and other faith healers. Yet the Roman church promotes pilgrimages to Lourdes. The place is now highly commercialized, and directly and indirectly is a source of revenue for the church. We notice, however, that when a pope gets sick he does not go to Lourdes, but instead secures the best medical help available—as was the case with the late Pius XII.
In recent years the shrine of Fatima, Portugal, has become even more popular than that at Lourdes, with as many as 700,000 people said to have visited it in a single month. There, in 1917, shortly before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Virgin Mary appeared to three children, ages from ten to thirteen, who had never gone to school and, curiously enough, in messages subsequently released by the church, gave warnings against the evils of Communism, messages having more to do with present day relations between the Vatican and Russia than with anything that might be thought to concern children of those tender ages. Rome’s promotion of the Fatima shrine has been coupled with her crusade against Communism.
In our western world the two most important shrines are Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the outskirts of Mexico City, and Ste. Anne de Beaupre, in Quebec. After Cortez’ conquest of Mexico the Romanists practically forced their religion upon the Mexican people. Cortez and his soldiers took Mexico City. With them were a number of priests. Some of the Indians eventually were converted, despite the greed and cruelty of the Spanish soldiers. But not many could be persuaded to worship the Virgin Mary because she was not an Indian—hence the invention of “The Virgin of Guadalupe,” in reality a Mexican goddess who was absorbed into the Roman system.
According to tradition “The Virgin” appeared to Juan Diego, an uneducated Indian, who was one of the converts, and told him that the Indian people should build a temple in her honor and that she would be their protector. At first no one would believe his story. But an allegedly miraculous picture of the Virgin imprinted on his cloak proved convincing. A giant church eventually was erected in honor of the Virgin at the place where he had seen the vision. The cloak with its picture is still preserved in the church. All indications are, however, that priestly influence was behind the entire project, and that Juan Diego was merely its tool. At any rate, today thousands of Mexicans, some of whom “walk” on their knees for miles before reaching the church, visit the shrine to bow to the image of the Virgin and to those of the saints.
The shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre is located on the north bank of the St. Lawrence River, about 20 miles northeast of the city of Quebec. It was dedicated to Saint Anne, who according to early legend was the mother of Mary. It is visited annually by thousands from the United States and Canada. Large numbers of crutches and canes are exhibited, allegedly left by cripples who received miraculous cures.
Religious parades or processions are common to all Roman Catholic countries. In Spain they have the procession in which the image of the ‘Señor Jesus del Gran Poder” is paraded; and in Portugal that of the Señor de los Pasos.” In Peru they have the procession of “The Lord of Miracles,” in which a large image of Jesus is carried through the streets, to which the people give special veneration and of which they ask all kinds of favors—healings, success in business, happiness in love, luck in the lottery, etc. Thousands of people participate in these parades, carrying burning tapers, counting their rosaries, forming a guard of honor for the painted and clothed images. But such images and parades are totally ineffective in teaching anything about Christ and the way of salvation, for the people know practically nothing about who He is or what He taught.
6 Prayers for the Dead
A common practice in the Roman Church is that of praying for the dead. This is closely connected with and is a logical consequence of their doctrine of purgatory. The high Anglican Church, which holds a position about half way between Roman Catholicism and representative Protestantism, also follows that custom. But practically all Protestant churches reject it.
Prayers for the dead imply that their state has not yet been fixed, and that it can be improved at our request. We hold, however, that there is no change of character or of destiny after death, and that what the person is at death he remains throughout all eternity. We find an abundance of Scripture teaching to the effect that this world only is the place of opportunity for salvation, and that when this probation or testing period is past, only the assignment of rewards and punishments remains. Consequently we hold that all prayers, baptisms, masses, or other rituals of whatever kind for the dead are superfluous, vain, and unscriptural.
As for the righteous dead, they are in the immediate presence of Christ, in a perfect environment of holiness and beauty and glory where their every need is satisfied. They have no need of any petitions from us. They lack nothing that our prayers can supply. Their state is as perfect as it can be until the day when they and we receive our resurrected bodies. To petition God to change the status or condition of His loved ones in glory, or to suggest that He is not doing enough for them, is, to say the least, highly presumptuous, even though it may be well intended.
At for the wicked dead, their state too is fixed and irrevocable. They have had their opportunity. They have sinned away their day of grace, and the uplifting and restraining influence of the Holy Spirit as directed toward them has been withdrawn. It is understandable that remaining relatives and friends should be concerned about them. But the determination of their status after death is the prerogative of God alone. The holiness and justice of God are all‑sufficient guarantees that while some by His grace will be rewarded far above their deserts, none will be punished beyond their deserts. Consequently, the dead in Christ have no need of our prayers; and for the dead out of Christ, prayers can avail nothing.
It is very significant that in Scripture we have not one single instance of prayer for the dead, nor any admonition to that end. In view of the many admonitions for prayer for those in this world, even admonitions to pray for our enemies, the silence of Scripture regarding prayer for the dead would seem to be inexplainable if it availed anything.
Such is the background of ritualism and superstition against which the Roman Catholic people have to struggle. Forms and ceremonies and rich clerical vestments impress the eye, but they deaden the soul to spiritual truth. They are like opiates in that they take the attention of the worshipper and cause him to forget the truths they were originally intended to convey. By absorbing his attention they tend to hide God rather than to reveal Him. And the people, like wide‑eyed children at a circus, see the showy ritualism but nothing of the shoddy meanness that lies behind it.
Most Roman Catholics have a fear of entering a Protestant church. They have been forbidden by their priests to do so, under penalty of mortal sin. It is a revealing experience, therefore, when for the first time they are persuaded to do so. They find no images, no musing angels, no confessional, no incense, no mention of purgatory or of salvation by good works, no penance, indulgences, etc. Instead they hear the simple Gospel message and a plain invitation to accept Christ as Savior. The sermon is delivered in English, not in Latin which they cannot understand, as in the mass. And with a minimum of ritualism, they find that the sermon is the principal part of the service. How rich they find the hymnology of the Protestant church, and how free and spontaneous the singing! The Roman Church has nothing to sing about. The best it can promise is the flames of purgatory, of greater or lesser intensity and of longer or shorter duration, depending on how good or bad their works have been.
Multitudes of Roman Catholics, ensnared in a religion that teaches salvation by works and merit, are searching for the truth that makes men free. Protestantism has that truth, due largely to its emphasis on the reading and study of the Bible. That truth is set forth as a life to be lived, not as a formula or a ritual. Its emphasis is upon a change of heart and a life of fruitful service. It behooves us as Protestants, therefore, to see to it that when Roman Catholics do come to our churches, where they miss the ritual and pageantry and the outward things that so appeal to the senses, they find compensating values—first of all an evangelical sermon, and then a group fellowship that is spiritually uplifting and rewarding beyond anything that they have experienced in the more formal church.
CHAPTER XIV Celibacy
1. Definition and Presuppositions
2. The Monastic System
3. Imposed Celibacy a Hindrance to Personal Sanctity
4. History of the Doctrine of Celibacy
5. Scripture Teaching
6. Immorality Often a Result of Celibate Restrictions
7. Nuns and Convents
8. Entering the Convent
9. Convent Life
1 Definition and Presuppositions
By celibacy, in the present discussion, is meant the sectarian requirement of the Roman Catholic Church that its priests, monks, and nuns abstain from marriage. It is not to be confused with the vow of chastity, which is also taken by the members of these groups, and which means abstention from sexual relations.
According to Canon Law the vow of celibacy is broken if the priest marries, but not if he engages in sexual relations. Pardon for sexual relations can be had easily at any time by confession to any fellow priest. But absolution for any priest who marries can be obtained only from the pope, with accompanying severe penalties. And to obtain such pardon it is required that he forsake his wife.
The requirement for celibacy, as we shall see shortly, is entirely without Scriptural warrant, and was not generally enforced in the Roman Church until more than 1,000 years after the time of Christ.
Protestant clergy may marry, and most of them do. Eastern Orthodox priests also may marry, provided they do so before they are ordained, and most of them are married men. They are not allowed to marry after ordination. Nor if they are married can they become bishops. Bishops are chosen from among the celibate priests. Jewish rabbis, too, may be and usually are married men.
By a strange inconsistency the Church of Rome holds that marriage is a sacrament, that is, something regarded as in a special sense sacred or holy, yet she denies marriage to her priests, monks, and nuns, who supposedly are the most holy people. She holds that celibacy is a state superior to marriage, and the Council of Trent even pronounced anathema against all who teach that the married state is preferable to that of virginity or celibacy. Thus on the one hand she exalts marriage, while on the other she degrades it.
In the eyes of Rome there is something unclean about marriage. The boy who enters a monastery to study for the priesthood and the girl who enters a convent are taught, not that sex is the normal reproductive instinct found in every healthy person and animal, but that these romantic desires are sinful, something to be ashamed of. Under the misleading name of “virginity” the Church of Rome has promoted the notion that the instinct of procreation is in itself a foe to spiritual advancement and that it should be suppressed. L. H. Lehmann says concerning the seminary training of those who are being prepared for the priesthood:
“Young men thus kept apart from the ordinary mode of life of the people, of necessity fall short of full sympathy with the people and of intimate understanding of the needs of common folk. During the years of their blossoming youth they are immured in closely‑guarded seminaries. Every indication of the adolescent urgings, which in other young men find healthful expression in the practical affairs of life and in romantic response to sweet and wholesome affection, are crushed out at their inception. The promptings of such urges to affectionate companionship are even taught to be regarded as sinful. A cold, stoical, and indifferent attitude toward the life that other men and women lead, is cultivated in them as of the highest virtue and as essential for the exalted position which they are to occupy as priests.
“As a safeguard for the celibate life imposed upon them they are counseled to harden themselves against the tenderness of domestic happiness enjoyed by ordinary men with loving wife and growing children. Although they are commissioned as guides and counsellors, especially in the confessional, in everything that concerns the relations between the sexes priests personally must abhor the tender glances of women as an instrument of the Devil’s guile to lead them into sin” (The Soul of a Priest, p. 152).
To the same effect Emmett McLoughlin writes concerning an event that occurred after he left the priesthood:
“The announcement of my marriage brought out another facet of the Roman Catholic mind, both clerical and lay—its preoccupation with sex. Of the thousands of letters that I received, the majority even from married Catholics, spoke of matrimony as if physical glorification were its only purpose. And they wrote of natural love as a deplorable, filthy, unnatural thing” (People’s Padre, p. 194).
Mr. McLoughlin says concerning his own seminary training that a compendium of Roman Catholic moral theology that they used, which was merely a summary of the several volumes studied, contained thirty-two pages devoted to the infinitesimal details of the multiplicity of sexual sins, while only twelve pages were required to set forth the hierarchy’s teachings on assault, suicide, murder, dueling, capital punishment, the relations among nations, and the morality of war from the stone age to the atomic era. He also quotes Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, after his exhaustive studies in the field of sex, as having said that the largest collection of books in the world on the subject of sex is in the Vatican Library in Rome.
In opposition to that attitude we hold that the sex urge is a gift imparted to man by the Creator Himself, and that consequently there is nothing unclean or sordid about it. Men and women have been so created that they are instinctively drawn to someone of the opposite sex. This natural attraction of one sex toward the other is God’s way of assuring the propagation of the race. It is as wholesome as the forces which operate in seedtime and harvest. The natural instinct of every normal man and woman is to give expression to the romantic side of his or her nature, to marry, and to have a family. God planned it that way. All through Scripture the blessing and dignity of parenthood is extolled and exalted, and the refusal to assume the responsibilities and blessings of parenthood are vigorously condemned. The disposition of some people to surround sex with impure associations is a travesty on life as God meant it to be. Historically, celibacy had its roots in the Gnostic and Manichaean heresies of the second and third century which taught that matter was inherently evil and that salvation consisted in resisting and overcoming it.
2 The Monastic System
In order to understand the Roman Catholic position regarding the grouping of men and women in monasteries and convents we must understand the basic viewpoint which underlies that system. During the Middle Ages the idea developed in Roman theology that man’s work was to be divided into the natural (i.e., the secular) and the spiritual. Only the spiritual was thought to be pleasing to God. Consequently, while the natural man might be satisfied with the common virtues of daily life, the ideal was that of the mystic who in deep contemplation reached out for the spiritual. In achieving this higher life the natural was thought of not as a help but as a hindrance. The life of the monk and the nun who withdrew from society and from the workaday life of the world and retired into the quiet of the cloisters, thus losing themselves in mystic contemplation, was thought to be the higher life. There, in seclusion from the world, the image of God, which had been lost in the fall, was to be restored in its beauty. The monastic system is thus based on two false principles, namely, that celibacy is a holier state than matrimony, and that total withdrawal from the social intercourse and business life of the world is conducive to true religion.
That type of thinking remains a part of the Roman system even to the present day and is particularly prominent in two different aspects:
1. The vow of celibacy which is required of the priests, and the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which are required of the monks and nuns in the different monastic and convent orders.
2. The ceremony that is performed before anything can be used for sacred purposes. All such things must undergo a ceremony of purification and consecration, the prominent part of which is sprinkling with holy water. All priests and clergy, as well as churches, crosses, images, garments, bells, cemeteries, etc., must be sprinkled with holy water and consecrated.
The ascetic viewed the natural world as in itself sinful, a sphere to be avoided as much as possible. Consequently he developed a contempt for the things of the world and sought to withdraw from it in order that he might practice the heavenly virtues. The most effective way to do that was to seek the seclusion of the cloister. Hence the rise of monasteries and convents, and the unmarried state of the priests and nuns.
But the Reformation swept away all such erroneous views for Protestants. In contrast with Romanism, Protestantism looks upon all phases of life, the secular as well as the ecclesiastical, as sacred, all as a part of God’s plan and so to be lived under His blessing and to His glory. Whether in the church, or in science, politics, art, or the various professions, whether married and in the life of the family or in the single state, the Protestant is to serve God not by withdrawing from the world but by going out into the world, ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of the people, and by using his time and talents efficiently in his chosen occupation. Whatever his work, he is to perform it to the glory of God, and so to have a part in the advancement of the kingdom of God.
The Protestant holds that the world, though fallen, has been in principle redeemed through the work of Christ, that this is our Father’s world, that it does not belong to the Devil although he has usurped much authority, and that our duty is to live so as to recapture it for our Lord who is the rightful King over the redeemed creation. This view casts a sacredness over all of life, and stimulates the natural virtues such as industry, fidelity, loyalty and order, and so remakes people and nations. Only as we see this contrast between Romanism and Protestantism shall we be able to understand why the Roman Church establishes monasteries and convents, and why Protestantism has no use for them.
The New Testament makes it clear that Christ was no monk. He did not withdraw Himself from the world, nor did He teach His disciples to do so. He prayed for His disciples, not that they should be taken out of the world, but that they should be kept from the evil one (John 17:15). True Christian service is manifested most efficiently by going out into the world and ministering to its needy men and women, not by withdrawing into a monastery or convent and donning funereal garments which tend only to keep one in bondage. The risen Lazarus is not to wear grave clothes, and the born again Christian is not to be a recluse.
The inmates of monasteries are unmarried men, whose interests by training and profession are alien not only to the family and society, but to the civil and ecclesiastical institutions of the country. Convents too promote an abnormal type of life. The many monasteries that sprang up in Europe during the Middle Ages often accumulated such wealth and encouraged such idlesome and luxurious living among the monks that the church at large was brought into disrepute.
No doubt some monasteries did much good in keeping alive the lamp of learning during the dark centuries. We hold, however, that the Roman Church was in large measure responsible for the darkness of that era in that it withheld the Bible from the people. It may at least be questioned whether the well‑intentioned monks and nuns might not have done much more to promote the church and to uplift society had they gone out to evangelize a rude world instead of withdrawing from it. In any event the monastic system represented a far different spirit and practice from that found in first century Christianity.
As a matter of historical interest, the most prominent orders, the Dominican, Franciscan, and Jesuit, arose during the later Middle Ages. St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi lived around a.d.1200. The Jesuit order was founded by Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish soldier priest, in 1534. The Jesuit order was suppressed throughout Roman Catholic Europe by Pope Clement XIV, in 1773, but survived in Russia where the pope’s authority did not reach, and finally was re‑established in 1814 by Pope Pius VII. The monastic orders within Roman Catholicism probably have been as numerous as the major denominations within Protestantism, and oftentimes they have differed as sharply as ever did the Protestant denominations. Witness for instance the prolonged and often bitter rivalries between the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and particularly the rivalries between both of these and the Jesuit order. Protestant churches often unite, but who can imagine a union between the Dominicans and Franciscans, or between either of these orders and the Jesuits? There are various orders of nuns, although rivalry between them to a considerable extent is kept down since they are under the control of the bishops. At the present time the Jesuits, although not so numerous, are the most powerful order, and for more than a century they have dominated the papacy, much to the chagrin of the other orders. One of their goals has been the strengthening of the papacy while weakening the powers of the bishops. And in that they lave been eminently successful.
3 Imposed Celibacy a Hindrance to Personal Sanctity
Voluntary celibacy on the part of those who are dedicated to a great cause and who have what we may term “the gift of celibacy,” can be a real blessing. The Bible commends such practice. But celibacy enforced indiscriminately against whole groups of men and women is shown by its fruits to be not only difficult and irksome but productive of untold evils. The quite uniform testimony of those who have experienced it and who are free to talk is that it does not suppress desire, but on the contrary increases and heightens it. Priests and nuns are not superhuman, as has so often been represented, nor are they even normally human, but because of the unnatural laws under which they live they are particularly susceptible to temptation. Both groups are denied normal family life. Both groups therefore live in contravention of the deepest cravings of their nature, and are subject to needless temptations. God has said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And that also means that it is not good for a woman to be alone. The practical effects of the monastic system down through the ages show clearly that the forced and unnecessary restrictions are a hindrance, not a help, to personal sanctity.
Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church is, of course, merely a church regulation, not a command of Scripture. But this fact is cleverly concealed from the submissive Roman Catholic people. They refuse to believe that their clergy are following anything other than a divinely instituted role. Nor will they believe without the most explicit proof that the apostle Peter was a married man, although that fact is recorded three times in the New Testament (Matthew 8:14, Luke 4:38, 1 Corinthians 9:5).
Dr. Charles Hodge has well said:
“It is only in the married state that some of the purest, most disinterested and most elevated principles of our nature are called into exercise. All that concerns filial piety, and parental and especially maternal affection, depends on marriage for its very existence. It is in the bosom of the family that there is a constant call for acts of kindness, of self‑denial, of forbearance, and of love. The family, therefore, is the sphere the best adapted for the development of all the social virtues; and it may be safely said that there is far more of moral excellence and of true religion to be found in Christian households, than in the desolate homes of priests, or in the gloomy cells of monks and nuns” (Systematic Theology, III, p. 371).
L. H. Lehmann repeatedly referred to the bitter disappointment and broken lives of the priests under the monastic system. Said he:
“The saddest experiences of my years as a priest are the evidences I found everywhere of the broken hopes and crushed ideals of priests, young and old, the same in every country that I visited. Imposed celibacy is the primary cause of the failure of which priests themselves are most fully conscious. Not that the physical implications of celibacy are a matter of great moment; it should never have been made a matter of importance. Had it not been imposed to serve the ends of the papal power, but left to free, voluntary choice, priestly celibacy might have been a real service. Instead it has been made the cause of scandal and shame to the Christian church. Forced as it is by human and not divine law, it has perverted any good that otherwise might come from it. It has had the effect of belittling the sanctity of the marriage relation; for the only object which it can attain is the denial to priests of legal marriage rights, not abstention from sexual indulgence. The pope alone can absolve a priest who avails himself of civil sanction to contract a legal marriage relation; private sexual aberrations can be either concealed, or absolved by recourse to an ordinary confessor.
“But the real evil consequent upon forced clerical celibacy is its enervating effect upon the bodily and mental faculties. It saps all the vigor of manhood from those who must employ the continual force of mind and will against the natural bodily urge. Its victims have to confess that, far from freeing them from the sexual urge, it actually breeds a very ferment of impurity in the mind. It is the boast of the Roman Catholic Church that priestly celibacy makes its clergy something more than men—that it makes them supernatural, almost angelic. The simple people readily believe this. In truth it makes them something less than men.
“It is almost impossible for the laity to understand to what extent Roman Catholic priests fail to live up to the celibate state imposed upon them. … The general public today knows enough about sex, and the part it plays in the lives of all normal men and women, to judge for themselves. If priests were as celibate as they appear, then the conviction of the simple Irish about them must be more than an induced pious belief, namely, that priests are especially endowed with a kind of angelic continence at their ordination ceremony.
“Totally at variance with that induced pious belief of the Irish about their priests, which I had shared from my youth, were my findings among them during my ministry upon three continents. Not one in a hundred was free from a tense bodily and mental struggle with the sex urge.
“Among the priests in the United States who became my co‑workers were many companions of my seminary days in Ireland and in Rome. Of the religious enthusiasm, the intense Christian idealism, even the personal sanctity, which had possessed them, little remained. The soul‑destroying process which I had seen working in my brother-priests in other lands, had also been at work in these others from whom I had been separated by thousands of miles of ocean. All without exception groaned out their confession of disillusionment. Invariably they expressed their desire to escape from the bondage, to go far away to some place where they could forget that they ever had been priests.
“Not that these young men had become bad. They were just sick, tired, and disappointed; once imbued with a saintly, self‑sacrificing Christian idealism, worthy indeed to serve a better cause than that of Roman Church propaganda in modern countries, they had succumbed to a state of indifferent lethargy. They could see no recognized, respectable retreat out of it. They had therefore submitted to the loyal soldier’s rule: “Theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die”‘ (The Soul of a Priest, pp. 120-124).
To the same general effect is the testimony of Emmett McLoughlin, who writes of present day conditions in the United States:
“The life of a priest is an extremely lonely one. If he lives in a large rectory, he is still lonely. Other priests are not interested in him or in his doubts and scruples. If he is the only priest in a solitary parish or desert mission, he is still more alone.
“As his years slip by and the memories of seminary and its rigidity fade away, the realization may dawn that his life is not supernatural but a complete mental and physical frustration. He sees in his parish and his community the normal life from which he has been cut off. He sees the spontaneous childhood which he was denied. He sees the innocent normal companionship of adolescence which for him never existed. He performs the rites of matrimony, as starry‑eyed young men and women pledge to each other the most natural rights and pleasures. He stands alone and lonely at the altar, as they turn from him and confidently, recklessly, happily step into their future home, family, work, and troubles and the uses of a normal life.
“More than anything else, he seeks companionship, the companionship of normal people, not frustrated, disillusioned victims like himself. He wants the company of men and women, young and old, through whom he may at least vicariously take part in a relationship with others that has been denied him and for which, at least subconsciously, the dept of his nature craves.
“No priest who has heard priests’ confessions and has any respect for the truth will deny that sexual affairs are extremely common among the clergy. The principal concern of the hierarchy seems to be that priests should keep such cases quiet and refrain from marriage. …
“The number who rebel against the frustration and unnaturalness of this form of life is far greater than anyone realizes. No one knows how many priests have quit the Roman Catholic Church in America. I know of approximately one hundred. Most ex‑priests do not reveal their identity for fear of persecution by the hierarchy. There are no official records as far as I know. The bishops and the orders are so jealous of one another that they do not reveal the ‘defections’ in their areas” (People’s Padre, pp. 93-94).
The subject of birth control has aroused much debate in recent years. The priests profess to be strongly opposed to all mechanical and medical methods, while at the same time they violate the principle which they profess to hold by approving the rhythm method which supposedly accomplishes the same result through “natural” methods. The absurdity of a celibate, bachelor priesthood, the members of which have not even the ordinary man’s understanding of the complexity of woman, presuming to dictate the practices of married couples in regard to their sex life and family arrangements is well set forth in the following paragraphs by Mr. McLoughlin, who himself married after leaving the priesthood. He says:
“The Roman Catholic priest is supposed to teach his parishioners how to live in marriage, when marital relations should or should not be had, how to solve the big and little problems of conjugal life. His word is final, above that of the trained counselor, the family physician, or the psychologist.
“But the Roman Catholic priest can no better teach or counsel people about marriage than the paint salesman can advise the artist, or a stone cutter guide the sculptor. The blind cannot teach art. Those born deaf cannot conduct symphonies.
“The Roman Catholic priest actually knows nothing about marriage except that sex is involved and lots of little Catholics are its desired results. The priest, in his thinking, contrasts celibacy with marriage. Celibacy means simply the inhibition of sex. Marriage, to him, means the satisfaction of its urge—little more.
“Many things happen in marriage besides the act that leads to procreation, but the Roman Catholic priest’s ignorance makes him unequipped to advise others about them. He has no concept of the softer, enduring, satisfying, non‑sexual aspects of marriage, such as the intellectual complement between two people, the emotional balancing between a man and a woman” (People’s Padre, p. 91).
4 History of the Doctrine of Celibacy
The practice of celibacy had a gradual development. An unnatural asceticism was manifesting itself even in the days of St. Paul, and was condemned by him: “…forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats” (1 Timothy 4:3); and again: “Why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances? … Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will‑worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20,23). Such practices were present in the East, and were strongly developed especially in Buddhism which had its monks and nuns long before the Christian era.
Asceticism was practiced by individuals of both sexes, who dedicated themselves to God through vows of perfect obedience. This was promoted by the heresy of justification by human efforts, human suffering, and so‑called merits. The practice of withdrawing from society, or from “the world,” seems to have originated in southern Egypt, where various ones established themselves in warm desert abodes. Around such hermits, especially around those who were considered saints, there often gathered a group of disciples. This was considered the highest form of Christian piety. One of the earliest of the hermits was St. Paul of Thebes. Around there developed a community of monks who imitated him. His famous disciple, St. Anthony, about the year 270 placed his sister in a “convent.” Originally the movement was confined to Egypt, then spread to Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. St. Basil of Cappadocia (329‑379), who refused to recognize the primacy of the church in Rome, and who is regarded as the founder of eastern monasticism, drew up a reform code for monasteries, including a novitiate trial period, and limited monasteries to groups of from 30 to 40.
From the fourth century asceticism was more widely practiced, and in spite of vigorous protest, it came to be the rule for the clergy. The Spanish council of Elvira, in 305, enacted decrees against the marriage of the clergy. These decrees however, were of limited extent, and no serious effort was made to enforce them. St. Patrick of Ireland, for instance (died 461), declared that his grandfather was a priest. But the Roman Church was persistent in requiring a celibate priesthood. In the year 1079, under the strong hand of Hildebrand, known as Pope Gregory VII, the celibacy of the priesthood was again decreed and was made reasonably effective, although Gregory could not curb all of the abuses. Popes Urban II (1088‑1099) and Calixtus II (1119‑1124) made a determined fight against clerical concubinage. The decree of the First Lateran Council (1123) declared the marriage of all in sacred orders invalid, and the Council of Trent (1545) made strict pronouncements concerning the celibacy of the clergy. According to those decrees a priest who married incurred excommunication, and was debarred from all spiritual functions. A married man who wanted to become a priest was required to leave his wife, and his wife was also required to take the vow of chastity or he could not be ordained. The Council decreed:
“Whoever shall affirm that the conjugal state is to be preferred to a life of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more conducive to happiness to remain in virginity or celibacy, than to be married, let him be accursed” (Canon 10).
Thus during the first centuries of the Christian era the clergy were permitted to marry and have families, and for more than a thousand years after the time of Christ, the Roman priesthood, without too much opposition, exercised the privilege.
The immorality of the priests was the special target of the reformers who appeared from time to time, such as William of Occam, John Wycliffe, John Huss, Savonarola, and especially Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox, at the time of the Reformation. The churches of the Reformation restored the liberty of marriage to the clergy, citing in particular Paul’s injunction to Timothy: “The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2).
It is easy to see why the pope and the hierarchy are so insistent on enforcing the law of celibacy against the priests, monks, and nuns. The reasons are both ecclesiastical and economic. In the first place it gives the pope and his prelates a higher degree of control over the priests and nuns, so that, not having wives or husbands or families which must be consulted in making their plans, they are more responsive to the orders of the hierarchy and can be transferred more readily from one parish to another or to different points around the world. And secondly, property owned by the priests, which in some cases is quite considerable, and which if they were married would go to their families, either automatically falls to the church or likely will be left to it by choice in much larger proportion. Thus the pope has secured for himself an army readily available to carry out his commands. That in accomplishing this purpose the priests and nuns are doomed to a life of celibacy, oftentimes to a life of misery in contending against nature, appears to be of little concern to the hierarchy.
A curious situation has arisen in the Roman Church in that several Uniat churches, Eastern Rites, which permit a married clergy, are united with the Roman Church under the pope. There are about nine million Catholics in those, divided into seventeen sects, with somewhat different doctrines and practices. They are located primarily in the Near East, but are not connected with the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the most part they are dissident groups which have broken with the Eastern Church. Most prominent among them is the old church in Lebanon, making that country about 55 percent Christian, and about 45 percent Mohammedan. The most striking difference between them and the Western Church is that their priests may be married men. Also, their services are conducted in their native tongues rather than in Latin, they have no images, in the eucharist the communicants receive both the bread and the wine, and baptism is by immersion. Priests from those churches and Roman Catholic priests may exchange places in conducting church services, or may transfer from one church to another. Even in the United States there are a few Roman Catholic priests who have come in through those churches and who still are permitted to retain their married status and to have families—showing that in reality the celibacy of the priesthood is nothing but an arbitrary church regulation which the pope can modify or abolish any time he pleases. The one thing required of the Uniat churches is that they acknowledge the authority of the pope.
5 Scripture Teaching
Christ imposed no rule against the marriage of Christian ministers, nor did any of the apostles. On the contrary, Peter was a married man, and his wife accompanied him on his missionary journeys. The same is true of the other apostles, and of the brothers of Jesus. This information we have from the writings of Paul, who in 1 Corinthians 9:5 says: “Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” The Confraternity Version reads: “Have we not a right to take about with us a woman, a sister, as do the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” But in the Greek the word is gune, wife, not adelphe, her.
Moreover, Peter continued in the married state for at least 25 years. Early in His public ministry Jesus had healed Peter’s wife’s mother, who was sick with a fever (Matthew 8:14‑15). Hence Peter was a married man at that time, and therefore at the time Jesus addressed to him the words which Rome says constituted his appointment as pope (Matthew 16:18). And Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, just quoted, was written about the year a.d. 58. Hence Peter was a married man during a considerable part of the time that the Roman Church says that he was a pope in Rome (a.d. 42‑67); and his wife was there with him. But as we have indicated earlier, we think Peter never was in Rome at all, that instead his ministry, which was primarily to the Jews, took him to the provinces of Asia Minor and to the East, as far as Babylon (1 Peter 1:1, 5:13).
Rome claims that she never changes. But the popes are all single men, therefore Peter was no pope, certainly not in the sense that the present day head of the Roman Church is a pope. It would indeed be a first rate scandal if the pope were to get married. We can scarcely imagine anything more revolutionary. Yet if he were to do so he would merely be following the example of Peter. If celibacy properly has the place that is given to it in the Roman Church, it is incredible that Christ would have chosen as the foundation stone and first pope a man who was married.
The fact is that when Christ established His church He took no account at all of celibacy, but instead chose for the apostolic college men who were married. In the verse that we have just quoted Paul defended his own right to have a wife and to take her with him on his missionary journeys if he chose to do so. In this same verse he tells us that “the rest of the apostles,” and “the brethren of the Lord,” also were married men, and that their wives accompanied them on their missionary journeys. That ought to settle forever the question as to whether or not it is permissible, yes, and advisable, for the clergy to marry.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says that a bishop should be “the husband of one wife, temperate, sober‑minded… one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (3:2,4). Likewise the elders (Titus 1:5‑6) and the deacons (1 Timothy 3:12) should each be the husband of one wife, “ruling their children and their own houses well.” In the light of those statements, what right has the Roman Church to infer that the apostles were single men and that the single state is holier than the married state? Certainly no Roman Catholic wrote those verses!
The patriarchs, prophets, and priests of the Old Testament era were for the most part married men. During that period marriage for the priests was practically obligatory, since the priesthood was hereditary, that is, perpetuated by the descendants of the priests. It is assumed by many that Paul too had been married, and that his wife had died. At any rate, in telling of his persecution of the Christians before the time of his conversion he said: “And when they were put to death I gave my vote against them” (Acts 26:10)—which vote presumably was cast as a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, one of the requirements for membership in that body being that the person should be a married man.
If celibate priests are more holy, or more industrious, or if they set a better example in the community, why did not Jesus choose unmarried men for that apostolic group upon which such great responsibility was to rest? All the excellencies and advantages that Roman Catholic writers ascribe when they try to show the need for the celibate state would have been equally applicable for the patriarchs, prophets, and priests of the old dispensation. But we know that such was not the case, that the very opposite was true. We may even say that Christ apparently chose married men to be the first ministers and missionaries of the church by way of example of what the later clergy should be, and as a safeguard against the very scandals and abuses that have been so common in the Roman priesthood.
It is true, of course, that in certain ministries under the old covenant the priests were to dedicate themselves exclusively to spiritual activities, separated from all fleshly intercourse and from all worldly affairs. But those were only temporary parentheses in their matrimonial life, accepted as such and blessed of God. Likewise under the new covenant there are special situations in which an unmarried person may render more efficient service, or in which it may be temporarily inexpedient to marry. Both Christ and Paul made exceptions for such cases. But they did not make them the rule, and there is no reason to believe that they expected any large number of Christians to refrain from marriage for those purposes. To conclude from the exceptions that lifelong continence is a necessity is to make a baseless assumption.
Continence, said Jesus, is for those to whom the capacity has been given to receive it. “For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matthew 19:12). And Paul said, “If they have not continency, let them marry” (1 Corinthians 7:9). Continency is a gift, even as are certain talents and skills (1 Corinthians 7:7). But it is not given to all men, nor to all women. Hence no church should make it compulsory on those to whom it has not been given. And it is evident that it has not been given to all the priests, for not all of them understand it, nor are all of them able to practice it consistently.
There is nothing sinful about marriage in itself. Instead, God instituted marriage as a holy ordinance: “And Jehovah God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. … Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:18,24); “The bishop [and, we may also say, the priest] therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2); “Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
The Holy Spirit uses marriage as a type of that most sacred of all relationships, the union of the church and the believer with his Lord (Ephesians 5:23‑33). Yet many Roman authorities extol the celibate state as peculiarly holy, and the Roman Church presumes to teach that the marriage of clergy is “a pollution and a sacrilege.” But if marriage is a sacrament, as the Roman Church teaches, it is difficult to see why it should be considered the worst kind of sin and a most abominable thing for a priest to have a legitimate wife.
Dr. Charles Hodge has given an excellent summary of this whole teaching in the following paragraphs:
“The very fact that God created man, male and female, declaring that it was not good for either to be alone, and constituted marriage in paradise, should be decisive on this subject. The doctrine which degrades marriage by making it a less holy state, has its foundations in Manichaeism or Gnosticism. It assumes that evil is essentially connected with matter; that sin has its seat and source in the body; that holiness is attainable only through asceticism and ‘neglecting of the body’; that because the ‘vita angelica’ is a higher form of life than that of men here on earth, therefore marriage is a degradation. The doctrine of the Romish Church on this subject, therefore, is strongly anti-Christian. It rests on principles derived from the philosophy of the heathen. It presupposes that God is not the author of matter; and that He did not make man pure, when He invested him with a body.
“Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures marriage is presented as the normal state of man. The command to our first parents before the fall was, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.’ without marriage the purpose of God in regard to our world could not be carried out; it is therefore, contradictory to the Scriptures to assume that marriage is less holy, or less acceptable to God than celibacy. To be unmarried was regarded under the old dispensation as a calamity and a disgrace (Judges 11:37; Psalm 78:63; Isaiah 4:1, 13:12). The highest earthly destiny of a woman, according to the Old Testament Scripture, which is the Word of God, was not to be a nun, but to be the mistress of a family, and a mother of children (Genesis 30:1; Psalm 113:9, 127:3, 128:3-4; Proverbs 18:22, 31:10,28). The same high estimate of marriage characterizes the teachings of the New Testament. Marriage is declared to be ‘honorable in all’ (Hebrews 13:4). Paul says, Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband’ (1 Corinthians 7:2). In 1 Timothy 5:14, he says, ‘I will that the younger women marry.’ In 1 Timothy 4:3, ‘forbidding to marry’ is included among the doctrines of devils. As the truth comes from the Holy Spirit, so false doctrines, according to the Apostle’s mode of thinking, come from Satan, and his agents, the demons; they are the ‘seducing spirits’ spoken of in the same verse. Our Lord more than once (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7) quotes and enforces the original law given in Genesis 2:24, that a man shall ‘leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.’ The same passage is quoted by the Apostle as containing a great and symbolical truth (Ephesians 5:31). It is thus taught that the marriage relation is the most intimate and sacred that can exist on earth, to which all other human relations must be sacrificed. We accordingly find that from the beginning, with rare exceptions, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, confessors, and martyrs, have been married men. If marriage was not a degradation to them, surely it cannot be to monks and priests” (Systematic Theology, III, p. 368‑370).
6 Immorality Often a Result of Celibate Restrictions
A charge that the Roman Church has had to contend with down through the ages is that of immorality in the monasteries and convents, and between some of the priests and certain of their parishioners. Undoubtedly in the United States, where the Roman Church is in competition with Protestantism, and where restrictions are more severe, there is comparatively little of such practice. But even here the church authorities constantly warn priests and nuns against scandal. There is, of course, no way of knowing how many priests and nuns violate the vows of chastity.
But it is revealing to read what struggles the great saints of the Roman Church, themselves unmarried, have endured in order to keep themselves pure. There is no difference, of course, between the human nature of priests and nuns and that of laymen and laywomen, and certainly the temptations in the modern world are many and deceptive.
Forced celibacy and auricular confession are by their very nature conducive to sex perversion. To all outward appearances, and, we believe, in reality, the behavior of the Roman Catholic clergy in the United States is far superior to that of their counterpart in Italy, Spain, France, and Latin America. But there is abundant evidence that in the predominantly Roman Catholic countries, particularly during the Middle Ages, the monasteries and convents sometimes became cesspools of iniquity.
L. H. Lehmann, after saying that the primary purpose for which the custom of celibacy has been retained is (1) to maintain the principle of centralized power, and (2) to retain property for the church that otherwise would go to the priest’s family, says:
“It is not for spiritual reasons that the Roman Catholic Church has for so many centuries denied legitimate marriage to its priests. Those in power have always known that it is only the legality of the marriage relation that can be denied them, and that the custom of clerical concubinage, with resultant generations of illegitimate offspring, has always taken its place. Loss of centralized power and property titles, disruption of its authoritarian system of government, would have been the result if these generations of priests’ children in the past had been legalized. Clerical concubinage has thus been tolerated in preference to this loss of undisputed power centered in Rome.
“The children of a priest in the past had the right to call him ‘Father’ only in the spiritual sense of the word. The illegitimate sons of popes, cardinals and bishops, however, were often enabled to rise to high positions in the church and state. Several popes were themselves sons and grandsons of other popes and high church dignitaries. My researches among the collection of papal bulls reveals that concubinage among the clergy of Europe was so prevalent that it was necessary to regulate the practice by law—less clerical concubinage itself should ever become a legal right” (Out of the Labyrinth, pp. 99-100).
In the ninth century, an age in which ignorance and superstition were prevalent even among the clergy, the emperor Charlemagne, in an attempt to suppress vice among ecclesiastics, issued this edict:
“We have been informed to our great horror that many monks are addicted to debauchery and all sorts of vile abominations, even to unnatural sins. We forbid all such practices and command the monks to cease wandering over the country” (T. Demetrius, Catholicism and Protestantism, p. 26).
The Irish historian, William Lecky says:
“An Italian bishop of the tenth century described the morals of his time, saying that if he were to enforce the canons against unchaste persons administering ecclesiastical rites, no one would be left in the Church except the boys. A tax was systematically levied on princes and clergymen for license to keep concubines” (History of European Morals).
Bernard of Clairvaux protested against enforcing celibacy on the clergy as contrary to human nature and divine law, saying:
“Deprive the Church of honorable marriage, and you fill her with concubinage, incest, and all manner of nameless vices and uncleanness.”
John Calvin, in his Institutes, inveighed with all the power of his vast learning and all the passion of his scorn against the papal requirement of celibacy. Said he:
“In one instance, they are too rigorous and inflexible, that is, in not permitting priests to marry. With what impunity fornication races among them, it is unnecessary to remark. Emboldened by their polluted celibacy, they have become hardened to every crime. This prohibition has not only deprived the Church of upright and able pastors, but has formed a horrible gulf of enormities, and precipitated many souls into the abyss of despair. … Christ has been pleased to put such honor upon marriage as to make it an image of his sacred union with the Church. What could be said more, in commendation of the dignity of marriage?” (IV, Ch. 12, sections 23-24).
Henry VIII of England, in 1536, appointed commissioners to inspect all monasteries and nunneries in the land, and so terrible were the cruelties and corruptions uncovered that a cry went up from the nation that all such houses without exception should be destroyed. The fall of the monasteries was attributed to “the monstrous lives of the monks, the friars, and the nuns.” This suppression of the monasteries undoubtedly did much to widen the gap between the Roman Church and this British monarch who had already declared his independence of the pope.
Henry Bamford Parkes, in his A History of Mexico, says:
“Clerical concubinage was the rule rather than the exception, and friars openly roamed the streets of cities with women on their arms. Many of the priests were ignorant and tyrannical, whose chief interest in their parishioners was the exaction of marriage, baptism, and funeral fees, and who were apt to abuse the confessional.”
Many more such testimonials might be given. The widespread looseness of domestic manners in European and Latin American countries where that system has prevailed has been a disgrace to religion and a scandal to Christendom. It is extremely difficult to bring a priest into a civil court for punishment because the Roman Church forbids all Roman Catholics to testify against a priest. And most such crimes have been committed against their own people—another evidence that the Roman Catholic people are themselves the first and primary victims of their own church.
Numerous Roman Catholic historians have acknowledged that the law of celibacy for priests and the vows of chastity for monks are historical failures. What we are most concerned to criticize is not the sins of individual men, but the system as imposed by the Roman Church which leads to and tolerates such abuses. When will the Roman Catholic people throughout the world open their eyes and see that the boasted holiness of their church and of their priests is a pure fiction?
7 Nuns and Convents
There are some 177,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the United States alone, according, to The Official Catholic Directory. All of these are under strict vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in their various orders, and constitute a vast pool of unpaid labor with which the Roman Church operates the thousands of parochial schools, hospitals, orphanages, and in some instances commercial establishments, which are under her control. This army of obedient, self‑sacrificing nuns gives the Roman Church an immense advantage over establishments which pay their employees regular salaries or wages. To keep this labor force is of vital importance to the Roman Church, and to that end the priests usually are promoted by their bishops on two counts—first, the amount of money they turn in to the diocese; and second, the number of “vocations” (commitments to church service) they muster.
We have little criticism of the nuns as a class, except for their blind, unreasoning submission to orders from the priestly caste. As a rule they are kind, gentle, courteous, sincerely trying to practice their professions. They are far more human, less religious, and much less happy than the people of their own church, or others for that matter, are led to believe. While we regard the system as evil, we regard the nuns as primarily its victims, not its instigators.
The nuns have to fight a hard battle to crush out the natural and maternal instincts, to give up all prospects of marriage and family, which means so much to a woman, in order to enter the stoical convent system. The burden assumed by them is far heavier than is generally realized. In most cases the nuns are so helpless, so fearful of the persecution, ostracism, and other consequences which they have been led to believe will be visited upon them if they leave the convent, and so poorly prepared to make their way in the outside world, that they have no choice but to stay where they are. The course of convent training is purposely planned to fit them only for the work that the church has for them, deliberately excluding those courses that might be of value to a girl if she decided to leave the convent and turn to some other occupation.
In the normal course of life, marriage is a woman’s natural, God‑given privilege. Playing on this matrimonial instinct, the church deceives the nun with the fiction that she is the “bride of Christ,” or “wife of Christ.” She is even given a “wedding” ring, which she wears as a symbol of her union with Christ. Furthermore, the priests have imposed on the nuns a medieval church garb consisting of a long, black dress, the very symbol of grief and death, and a grotesque headgear which is awkward to wear and which is totally unfit for either hot or cold weather. We say the priests are to blame for this form of dress, for they are the real masters and rulers in the Roman Church, and the nuns obey them. Convent orders are subject to the bishop of the diocese. The distinctive garb keeps, and is designed to keep, both priests and nuns constantly aware of the fact that they are committed totally to the service of the church, and places an impassable gulf between them and the world. The pope in Rome has the supreme and final authority over all nuns, and could relieve their hardships if he chose to do so.
The testimony of Emmett McLoughlin concerning the place of the nun in the Roman Church is very enlightening. He writes:
“The nun is one of the most remarkable products of the Roman Catholic Church. She is an absolute slave; one whose willingness to offer her life should fill Communist leaders with jealousy; one from whom the hierarchy conceals her slavery by the wedding ring on her finger; one who believes that in shining the bishop’s shoes, waiting on his table, or scrubbing the floor, she is gathering herself ‘treasure in heaven.’ She is the one who makes possible the Church’s hundreds of hospitals; the one who teaches in its thousands of parochial schools and orphanages; the one who (with her 156,695 sisters in 1952) does the drudgery behind the scenes in the hierarchy’s drive to ‘make America Catholic.’ She is also a woman, with all the desires, instincts, loyalties, and hatreds of which a woman is capable; subservient to her ‘man’ through her indoctrination of her ‘wedding’ to Christ; often catty and gossipy toward her sister nuns and hospital nurses; maternal in her hoverings over priests and children; matriarchal in her petty policies for the control of her hospital or convent; and magnificent in her spirit of abasement, poverty, and self‑annihilation in behalf of God and the Roman Catholic Church.
“In many seminaries in the United States, nuns—living in walled-off sections to prevent contact with the priests or seminarians—spend their lives performing the domestic services of cooking, laundry, and cleaning. During the persecutions of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico in recent decades, many nuns sought refuge in the United States. The Bishop of Tucson, the Most Rev. Daniel J. Gercke, offered some of them refuge in his episcopal mansion. He dispensed with his servants. The Mexican nuns took over all the household duties. If he merely rang a bell, a nun stepped in with bowed head to receive his orders, and on bended knee kissed his episcopal ring in appreciation of the privilege. As a dinner guest in his home, I personally witnessed this scene” (People’s Padre, pp. 107, 108).
The position of the cloistered nuns, those committed to certain convents for life, is quite different from that of the regular nuns. They usually have gone into this seclusion because of some great sorrow or disappointment. Dr. Montano says concerning them:
“There are 100,000 nuns in the world living in strict seclusion in convents. Subsisting in these retreats are nuns who have retired behind closed doors for life. Young women who accept the vows of the cloistered nuns renounce their homes, their loved ones, their families, never to see them again. They will stay behind bars for the rest of their lives, shut away from the world.
“These unfortunate souls have cloistered themselves thinking that the fact they are not in touch with the world will save them from temptations. But again and again, throughout my lifetime, some of the most prominent nuns and monks have confessed to me that it is precisely behind the walls of these convents and monasteries that temptation has tortured them more than it ever did when they lived in the world. Here temptation has beset them until they have finally succumbed, because of the unnatural life they lead. Many poor souls have become tools of Satan, victims of the most monstrous sins.
“Severe discipline is inflicted upon these nuns by the Mother Superior, and flagellation and mortification of the body is practiced. Self‑inflicted suffering is for the purpose of gaining indulgences by works, a striving to achieve salvation by merits. These poor souls are taught that they are putting treasures in the bank of indulgences. …
“The psychological disturbances that have resulted from this type of existence are such that not a few of these poor creatures have had to live out their days within the walls of mental institutions. To confirm this, Father More, of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., states: ‘Insanity among priests and nuns (compared with a general population ratio of 595 per 100,000)… among sisters who were cloistered rather than active showed a rate of 1,034, nearly twice the general population ratio.’
“Father Bief, president of the American Catholic Psychiatric Association, writes: ‘Schizophrenia is by far the most frequent disorder among institutionalized priests and religious.’”
Dr. Montano adds:
“Of all the devices that Satan has employed to mislead souls who desire to serve God, this is the most perverted and institutionalized program in existence. That it should have been permitted to continue in a land of freedom, where governmental agencies have more and more reached a protective arm into all institutions to defend the physical and spiritual well-being of its sons and daughters, is most astonishing” (Christian Heritage, September, 1959).
8 Entering the Convent
Why do girls enter convents? The large majority of girls have no desire to become nuns, and few would do so if left to their own choice. They instinctively shrink from the prospect of along life spent within the walls of a convent. The fact is that in recent years the Church of Rome in the United States has found it increasingly difficult to secure enough American Catholic girls to staff her schools, hospitals, churches, etc., and has been obliged to import sisters from Europe. So serious has become this shortage that in some areas plans have been considered for dropping part of the lower grades in parochial schools in order to concentrate on the upper grades.
Why do girls enter convents? Let Helen Conroy, an ex-nun, give the answer:
“The truth is that girls go into convents because they are recruited. They are recruited for the convents and nunneries because the Church of Rome must have an unlimited number of pauper laborers to insure a fair return on the billions of dollars she has invested in ‘charitable’ institutions, such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, and laundries” (Forgotten Women in Convents, p. 32).
In the setup of the Roman Catholic Church it is the confessional box that feeds the nunneries. The ground work is done on the Catholic girl in the parochial school, where the nun is made an object of holy glamour, almost a replica of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The institution of the confessional makes it easy for the priests to find the ones they want, and of course they try to select the very choicest ones. That, in brief, is the reason the young nuns, as a rule, are above average in beauty, personality, and ability.
Ordinarily confessions begin at the age of seven. Through this means the priests come to know the very hearts and souls of those who confess before them, which would be desirable in the service of the church and which would not, which can be persuaded and which cannot. “Vocations” is the term euphemistically applied to the pressure that is put upon adolescent girls, with the object of persuading them to become nuns.
At this most susceptible age, when a girl’s kaleidoscopic enthusiasm for becoming now a nurse, now a nun, now a stewardess, is at its height, it is easy for a trained priest to seize upon a passing fancy and blow it up into a full scale vocation. Once the victim has been chosen, pressure is applied directly and indirectly until the battle is won. Appeals are made to the girl’s Christian sense of duty. Visits may be arranged on the part of those who already are nuns, or who are in training. Weekend retreats may be arranged at convents where she is royally entertained. Special favors and even flattery may also be used. The girl’s natural reluctance to enter such a life is pictured as the evil influence of the world, or more directly of the Devil, attempting to hold her back from her divine calling, and she is warned that those who refuse their vocations quite possibly will be lost. She is told that within the convent she will be secluded from the evil influences of the world, and assured of everlasting happiness in heaven.
There is a sharp contrast between the exhortation Rome gives to her masses, to raise large families, and that given to the girl who is a prospect for the convent. To the latter, virginity is held up as the perfect state and as more pleasing to God. Marriage and motherhood are spoken of disparagingly, as a lower form of morality, designed for the less perfect. The girl who may be matrimonially inclined is warned of the problems of home, childbearing, care of children, problems of in‑laws, annoyances of all kinds. She is told that if she turns down this offer of “marriage” to Christ, she will be committing a terrible sin and will have to take the consequences.
Usually the most opportune time for persuading a girl to enter the convent comes just after she has been disappointed in love. Blighted romance often affords the priest his most valuable opportunity. Says Helen Conroy:
“A jilted girl, in the first rush of shame and agony at the shattering of her romance, is an easy victim of any priest. Knowing that such intense grief cannot last long, the girl is urged to go into a convent at once. The poor girl sees in it a chance to get away from an embarrassing situation, and this, coupled with the fact that she is assured she can leave any time she wishes, has led thousands to rush headlong into the convent” (Ibid., p. 3).
Often the priest can count on the support of the girl’s family, which stands to gain social prestige and other favors in the Catholic community by giving a nun to the church. The deference which the Church of Rome teaches the people to pay to the priests and nuns extends itself to the families from which the priests and nuns come. Families of such are often showered with social and financial favors through which Rome cleverly makes them her allies. Should any boy or girl renounce his or her profession, that becomes a reflection on the family, and many a family that has owed its prosperity to the influence of the church has marked its decline from the day a son or daughter abandoned the religious life, particularly so if the parents sympathized with them and helped them to that end.
For parents who resist the idea that a son or daughter should enter the religious life, the Church of Rome also has a word. In a book, The Parents’ Role in Vocations, by Poage and Treacy, parents are encouraged to do what they can toward furthering such vocations. “Parents who without just cause prevent a child from entering a religious state,” they are told, cannot be excused from mortal sin” (ch. 10). Thus the threat of mortal sin, which to a Roman Catholic means the loss of salvation, is held over the heads of any parents who seek to keep a boy or girl from becoming an inmate of a monastery or convent!
The practice of the Roman Church is to persuade boys to enter monasteries and girls to enter convents at an early age. Rome well knows the value of this early training. In the book just referred to, the question is asked: “Which is preferable, entering a convent after high school or after college?” and the authors reply: “The Church recommends that the entrance be made as soon as possible.” The Council of Toledo laid down the rule that, “As soon as a child has arrived at adolescence, that is to say, at the age of twelve for girls and fourteen for boys, they may freely dispose of themselves by entering religion.” Thus the uninformed, inexperienced, immature mind is molded toward the religious vocation before it has a chance to develop independent ways of thinking and acting.
The normal practice in convent training is that during the first two years a girl may leave any time she pleases. Some do leave. Others are sent home because they are not found satisfactory. Following that period, the girl takes a vow for one year. If she first entered a convent near her home, she probably now will be sent to one some distance away. Even then she still can leave if she is unhappy or wants to leave. At the end of the third year the permanent vow is taken. This commits one for life.
Some, however, refuse to commit themselves permanently, and will renew the vow for only one year at a time. The Roman Church does not like this practice, but, when pressed for teachers or nurses, often has no choice but to tolerate it. The nuns who commit themselves only for one year at a time usually do about as they please.
The Church of Rome well knows the influence that strong family ties can have on the nun, pulling her back to an independent life. Consequently a determined effort is made to break all her ties with home and relatives.
The first step in that program is to change her identity. This is done at one stroke by dropping her real name and giving her a fictitious one, usually the name of some obscure saint. Thenceforth she is known as Sister So‑and‑so, symbolical of the fact that she now is a new person and that she is breaking all ties with the old life. Experience proves, however, that the man or woman who finds it necessary to use an assumed name loses self‑respect, and with it courage and initiative. The mere use of a false name tends to make one feel that he can escape obligations. And by what authority does the Church of Rome arrogate to herself the right to change the names of her members without recourse to civil law? Photographs, even of the girl’s mother and father are taken away from her. For photographs are strong reminders of the old life and tend to make “dying to the world” harder and slower by prolonging the agony. Even the memory of her parents pulls her back to the old life, and so must be obliterated as far as possible. Her incoming and outgoing mail is censored by the Mother Superior, and may be mutilated or withheld if it contains unfavorable comments about the convent or convent life. Again, by what authority does the Church of Rome tamper with the mail? Why, by the authority of the pope, of course. He is a law unto himself and above all civil law. He is the representative of God on earth, and is not to be hampered by the civil laws of the various nations!
Concerning the matter of breaking relations with home and family Liguori, the most noted moral theologian in the Church of Rome, utterly perverting the true sense of Scripture, says:
“If attachment to relatives were not productive of great mischief, Jesus Christ would not have so strenuously exhorted us to estrangement from them. ‘If,’ He says, ‘any man comes to me, and hates not his father and mother, and brethren and sisters, he cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26). And again, ‘I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother’ (Matthew 10:35).”
We point out, however, that the true explanation of Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:35 is found in Matthew 10:37, where we read: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:35, in which our obligation to Christ as compared with that to our closest relatives and friends is stated negatively, and Matthew 10:37, in which it is stated positively, simply mean that we are not to put any other person before Him. They do not mean that we are not to continue to have a proper love and regard for our relatives and friends as such.
“But why does the Redeemer insist so strongly on alienation from relatives? Why does He take so much pains to separate us from them? He, Himself, assigns the reason: it is because ‘A man’s enemies shall be those of his own household’ (Matthew 10:36). Relatives are the worst enemies of the sanctification of Christians, and particularly of religious; because they are, according to St. Thomas [Aquinas], the greatest obstacle to achievement of virtue. ‘Frequently,’ says the Holy Doctor, ‘carnal friends oppose the progress of the spirit; for in the affairs of salvation, the nearest of kin are not friends, but enemies’ (p. 189).
“The truth of this assertion is fully established by experience. … He who desires to walk in the way of perfection must fly from relatives, must abstain from taking part in their affairs, and when they are at a distance, must not even inquire about them. The religious who tells her parents, and her brothers, and her sisters, that she knows them not, is the True Spouse of Christ.”
To the same effect St. Jerome says:
“It is a great advantage to forget your parents; for then ‘the King shall greatly desire your beauty.’”
“How many monks have by compassion towards their father and mother, lost their own souls! A religious who is attached to her relatives has not yet left the world.”
And St. Teresa, who is held up as a model for nuns, says:
“For my part, I cannot conceive what consolation a nun can find in her relatives.”
But to such reasoning Helen Conroy gives this devastating reply:
“This infamous system, not satisfied with getting the girl away from her parents, poisons the mind and heart of the girl against the mother who bore her, as well as against the father, sisters, and brothers. Of all the crimes committed in the name of religion, this forcing of hatred of parents is the blackest. Siva (a Hindu deity) may have been the Great Destroyer, but Rome is the Great Dehumanizer. This doctrine of hatred of parents by nuns and sisters fully explains why a girl is not allowed to dispose of her property until sixty days before she is to take the veil and the vows. The church fully expects that by that time the girl will have learned the hymn of hate, and refuse to leave them anything” (Forgotten Women in Convents, p. 82).
We have mentioned the fact that a girl entering a convent takes solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The vow of poverty reduces those who take it to the status of paupers. Giving up all property rights, the girl thenceforth has in common with the other members of the Order only what is given them by the mother superior. Canon Laws 568 and 569 relate to any property that the novitiate may have, and provide that must all be given up. Liguori says:
“All the money, furniture, clothes, and whatever species of property you possess, all that you receive from your parents or relatives, or the fruit of your industry, belong, not to you, but to the convent. You have only the use of what the superior gives you. Hence, if you dispose of anything without her leave you are guilty of theft, by violating the vow of poverty” (The True Spouse of Christ, p. 159).
The prospective nun is forbidden to dispose of her property before she enters, or at the time she enters, the convent. Instead, she must wait until within sixty days of the time she is to make her solemn, permanent profession. The reason behind this rule is that it is assumed that by that time she will be sufficiently alienated from her family, and sufficiently committed to the convent, that she will give her property, in large amount at least, to the convent. These two rulings are of great importance to the Roman Church, for through them a great amount of property falls into her hands.
There is a widespread belief among Protestants, and even among Roman Catholics, that the convents are financed by the Roman Church, so that those who wish may retire from the world and spend their lives in seclusion. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Canon Law requires that the girl bring with her a specified amount of money or property, depending on her status in life, which money is known as “the dowry,” or marriage portion of the spouse of Christ. This money is invested, and if for any reason she leaves the convent, it must be returned to her, but not the interest that may have been derived from it. There are exceptions, however, in which no dowry is required, in which other considerations prevail, such as education, special talents, the church’s need for teachers, nurses, etc. But one of the usual considerations in selecting a girl who is to be urged to become a nun is that she come from a family in which she will have some inheritance.
Those who on entering the convent bring money, or education, or special talents, are known as “choir sisters”; those who bring neither money, nor education, nor special talents are known as “lay sisters,” and may he assigned to menial work such as cooking, sweeping, scrubbing, waiting on the choir sisters, etc. No girl lacking good health will be accepted. If the novitiate breaks down, she is promptly returned to her family. The Church of Rome has no intention of spending money on a nun who is not a good investment. Thus in the Roman Church even the privilege of working for one’s salvation has a price tag on it—and oftentimes it is a very high price tag. Going to heaven via the Roman route calls for money first, last, and all the time. Money is the golden key that most effectively unlocks the pearly gates.
9 Convent Life
The Roman Church seeks to convey the idea that a nun is the happiest of women, and that a convent is the most holy, delightful, and peaceful place of abode. “No girl can be a nun or stay a nun unless she herself desires it,” says Charles F. X. Dolan, in a Roman Catholic Questionnaire. “Nobody,” he continues, “can make her stay in the convent. Convent walls are not to keep the nuns in, but to keep the world out.” On the strength of such promises many a poor, deluded girl has sought shelter in a convent. But quite a different picture is presented by some of those who have left the convents through the regular procedures, or who have escaped from them. For instance, Helen Conroy says:
“The fact is that the average convent is a hornet’s nest of intrigue. In them are cliques and factions, and many an ambitious sister gets to be superior, the most coveted position in a convent, not by an honest election, but by crushing all opposition ruthlessly, and by catering to the priest. … The convent system is honeycombed with spies, who are known by the name of ‘discretes.’ They are the G‑men, the undercover agents. They are seldom known. This is what makes real friendship among sisters and nuns an impossibility” (Ibid., p. 56).
Conditions in convents in the United States, where the Roman Church is subject to restraining influences from Protestantism, and where abuses are more likely to be publicized, are far better than in the Roman Catholic countries where restraints are at a minimum and where the ecclesiastical, governmental, and police power are all under Roman domination. A majority of the nuns here undoubtedly are sincere, hard‑working, well-meaning women. Those who are engaged in teaching and nursing still have some contact with the outside world, but they too are carefully restricted in their social contacts, their reading, travel, living quarters, etc. There is no reason to believe that immorality in any appreciable degree exists in these convents. But the basic principles of convent life are the same everywhere, and the convents here have many of the undesirable characteristics that are commonly found in such institutions.
The best analysis of convent life that we have seen is given by Dee Smith, formerly a layman in the Roman Church. He divides the nuns into four distinct groups. Concerning these he says:
(1) “It must not be supposed that all nuns are unhappy and wish to leave the convent. Temperaments differ inside the convent as well as outside of it. Some nuns enjoy communal life and find all the fulfillment their natures require in doing the work they love. I believe these to be a fairly large minority.”
He then divides the remaining majority into three groups as follows:
(2) “The largest group consists of those who are disillusioned with convent life, depressed by the spite, petty politics, and lack of charity within the convent walls. But they have lost none of their faith in the Roman Catholic Church, believing it their duty to stay on and endure. They are totally unaware that their lives are being worse than wasted—used in fact as a commodity to keep unscrupulous men in power. These sad, empty‑hearted, betrayed souls sincerely believe they are serving God.
(3) “Next comes the group who are not only disillusioned with the convent but wish to leave it. They do not, however contemplate leaving the church nor do they attach any blame to convent life, believing themselves simply to have misjudged their ‘vocation.’ What are their chances of getting out? If they come from influential families sufficiently broadminded to support their plea for release and to welcome them back with understanding, their chances are good. While leaving the convent is not a common event, no few individuals have done so, and have lived a normal life within the Roman Catholic fold afterward.
“If, however, the nun comes from the superstitious and fanatical type of Catholic family which supplies most of the church’s vocations, she may find her family itself opposing her release, and her superiors, mindful of the impending loss of a trained drudge, will not be slow to take advantage of this. She will find her Mother Superior and her Confessor both pleading the dangers of a vocation relinquishment.
“Under the circumstances the nun gives up hope of getting out. What else can she do? She has no money, no clothes except her convent garb, no means of communicating with the outside world since her mail is censored, nowhere to go if she did get out. When Catholics say that any nun can leave the convent at any time she wishes, they are simply talking nonsense. Many a nun who would love to get out is spending her life within convent walls because she has no alternative and is making the best of it.
(4) “The nun in the last group is the one who has the least chance of all to find freedom. She is almost hopelessly incarcerated. These are the alert, intelligent women who have seen through the whole scheme and have been injudicious enough to say so. They want not only to get out of the convent but out of the Roman Church. Their families seldom support their stand, but if they seem likely to, communication between the family and the recalcitrant is shut off. At first the usual pleas and admonitions are used on them, but if these fail to impress, a Roman Catholic doctor or psychologist obligingly examines them and they disappear forever into a Catholic mental institution.
“The only way this type of individual ever frees herself from the convent is by shrewdness and diplomacy, by withholding all criticism of church and convent and concentrating on concern over her vocation. If sufficiently convincing she may sometimes be able to secure her release. Once outside, these are among the most valiant fighters against Roman tyranny.”
Dee Smith then concludes:
“The convent has its full quota of hard, malicious characters who take out their frustrations on the gentler and more sweet‑tempered of their associates. If these women have ability they quite often become Superiors, as they are usually endowed with a capacity for driving others” (Christian Heritage, December, 1958).
With particular reference to cloistered nuns Dr. Montano says:
“Having been won to the cloister by the promise of being wedded to Christ she takes part in the binding. After the organ music is silenced, after the congratulations of loved ones have died away, alone in her cell the poor victim awakens to the sad reality that the mirage which drew her behind these walls has faded. She finds herself on the lonely road between life and death. What of her future? To remain there, shut away from human experience, human fellowship, human love, human service. She finds herself surrounded by utter disillusionment as her eyes are opened to the petty jealousies, enmities, cruelties, and the spiritual unbalance. In her vows she has pronounced the words, ‘until death.’ She is chained behind the walls of the convent until she dies.
“Any visitor to those cloistered must be appointed by Roman Catholic dignitaries. Only the priests of the monasteries have access to these cloistered nuns. They go to inspect the convent, to attend a sick nun, or to hear their confessions. Secular justice has no entree behind the barred doors and windows of the cloisters. No one from the outside can reach inside these walls to help free these souls, nor can those within escape unless, as a few have done, they manage to flee by risking their lives” (Christian Heritage, September, 1959).
Throughout the world there are some 100,000 cloistered nuns. Speaking of one of the more extreme orders, and quoting the regulations under which they live, Dr. Montano says:
“The discalced (barefoot) Carmelite sisters, for example, neither teach, nor nurse, nor care for the old, the orphans, the infirm. They take a vow of silence—complete silence.
“At 5:30 a.m. the nuns arise from their pallets, which are wooden boards across sawhorses, covered with a straw‑filled tick—for they have also taken a vow of poverty.
“At 8:30 a.m. they eat a slice of bread and drink one cup of black coffee. The table is set with plain wooden utensils and a covered water pitcher. The mask of death, a skull, is on the table, to symbolize thoughts of death, that we are mortal beings, soon to pass into the unknown.
“Their main meal may be of fish and vegetables, and their evening meal is soup and bread. Their day ends at 11 p.m., when they silently return to their cells furnished with only pallet, table and chair” (Christian Heritage, September, 1959)
How, then, are these pitiable souls to be reached? That is indeed a very difficult, and in most cases an impossible, task. Civil governments are extremely reluctant to interfere in church affairs. And even the communities in which convents are located usually know practically nothing about what goes on behind convent walls.
Fortunately the working nuns are not bound so tightly by their convent regulations. But their case is difficult enough. Many a young, impressionable girl has gotten worked up into an enthusiastic hysteria, has been swept off her feet, and has taken the veil. By the time she sobers down and regrets her decision, she finds herself so deeply involved that it is next to impossible to retrace her steps. Perhaps she entered the convent against the protest of her parents, who wanted her to think it over a while longer. Now she regrets her unwise haste. What is she to do?
Probably her property commitments are so binding that she cannot renounce them, for she has signed legal documents that in most cases turn her property over to the convent. She finds that the course of training that she has received has been designed to fit her only for the work of the church. She has been left completely unequipped to meet the problems of everyday living in the world. She is told that if she turns back she will be branding herself a traitor to God and to her church, and that public opinion will be strongly against her—which in most cases is not true. The stigma that the Roman Church in Catholic communities attaches to those who abandon convent life is another powerful reason why she feels that, happy or unhappy, she must remain where she is. Furthermore, her vows of service were made to the pope, and official release from them must be obtained from him—a procedure which may involve endless red tape. Under such circumstances many a girl has felt completely helpless and has concluded that she had no choice but to continue in the convent.
In regard to the problems that a nun who leaves the convent has in re‑establishing herself in life, listen to the testimony of Helen Conroy:
“I shrink at the memory of the awful struggle back to normalcy which I, in common with every other ex‑nun, went through. With no business training, no knowledge of homemaking, no sense of values without which any life is a failure; with no decision, a prey to a thousand terrors, afraid of myself and everyone else; timid, cringing, physically emancipated, but mentally chained, the unfortunate ex‑nun in too many cases returns to her cell voluntarily, because, ‘there are no decisions to be made.’ Rome clips the wings of her victims so that they cannot fly, then tells the believing world that they stay because they like it” (Forgotten Women in Convents, p. 109).
And Daniel March says:
“The vows of a nun are fetters of brass. Around the nun is an invisible wall so high she cannot scale it, so strong she cannot pierce it. If she abandons the convent she abandons the only friends she knows. The years she has spent in the convent, far from fitting her to cope with reality, have made her a creature without a will of her own.”
In this connection it is interesting to read that the Roman Catholic Teresa Foundation recently made application to establish a convent for Carmelite (cloistered) nuns in Glumslov, Sweden. No Roman Catholic convents have been permitted in Sweden since the Reformation. The Swedish Advisory Council is opposed to the move, and has declared that “if permission is granted” it will be only “in consideration of personal freedom” for the women who have taken the vows, and that they must have permission to “leave the convent if they wish without fear of punishment.”
What a pity it is that in the United States, in this fabled “land of the free,” we do not have a requirement that convents can exist on our soil only if the nuns are assured “personal freedom,” and only if they may “leave the convent if they wish without fear of punishment.”
Freeborn Protestant women can have little idea of the spiritual, mental, and physical slavery in which their unfortunate Roman Catholic sisters in some instances have been held and still are held by that church. Even in the United States thousands of broken‑hearted convent girls and women are shut away from parents, friends, and homes, forbidden to appear alone in public, forbidden even to carry on an ordinary conversation with other people. That this slavery is in many cases voluntary or semi‑voluntary does not make it any less real. Those who have lost the sense of freedom, or the desire for freedom, or who never had it in the first place, do not know what it is. Rome claims some 177,000 nuns in the United States, and many more thousands throughout the world. Keep the girls and women from the confessional box and take them out of the convents, and Romanism will wither. It is well known that in the confessional the priests do not make one tenth the progress with men that they do with women, nor do they waste much time attempting it.
Christ established no convents, no nunneries. In the true Christian church there are no high stone walls, no locked doors and barred windows such as so often have been a part of the Roman convent system. Instead, the convent system is of pagan origin. Practically every Buddhist temple in India has its “virgins” consecrated to the service of the god worshipped there, complete with holy water, holy ashes, charms, bones, bells, and pictures, all blessed by the priests. The historical fact is that the Buddhist convent system antedated the Roman Catholic system of pious slavery of women by more than 500 years.
What, then, must be our conclusion regarding the convent system? That it is abominably cruel, unnatural, un‑American, and unscriptural, and that it should be abolished by law. In our own country the so‑called “sanctity” of those institutions is honored, so that secular justice and the protective agencies of government have no entrance. If there is a convent in your community, ask the sheriff what he knows about the things that go on inside those walls. He will have to acknowledge that he knows practically nothing about how many people are there, who they are, what they do, how they are treated, or whether or not they are there of their own volition. The government of the United States should give the women in American convents a new status, based not on Roman Catholic Canon Law, but on the Constitution of the United States.
In her book, Forgotten Women in Convents, Helen Conroy suggests an eleven-point program for convent reform. It is as follows:
1. “It should be made illegal to accept into any convent or monastic institution of any kind any boy or girl under eighteen years of age, with or without the consent of their parents.
2. “No person should be allowed to make vows until twenty‑one years of age. This would end the exploitation of mere children in the name of religion.
3. “Every state where monastic institutions exist should have on file a sworn statement of the exact number of inmates in the house. This list should be kept up to date.
4. “All arrivals and departures of members of these colonies should be reported (even hotels and motels are required to keep a record of their guests).
5. “The state should have a certified list of the real names of the inmates, together with the names and addresses of their parents, or of their nearest kin.
6. “Since the act of entering a monastic institution is, to all intents and purposes, a renunciation of the rights of citizenship, for no man can serve two masters (the pope and the state), members of monastic communities are no longer free citizens and should be debarred from voting in any election, state, county, or national, and from teaching in public schools.
7. “Members of religious orders entering the country should be required to take out citizenship papers within the time specified by law. Do they all stay in the convents? No one knows.
8. “All persons entering a monastic institution should be required to make a will and file the same. The renunciation which the Church of Rome forces all religious to make sixty days before profession should be null and void.
9. “The use of special regalia should be confined to the premises.
10. “The board of public health should have full control of monastic institutions, and should make regular visits to them.
11. “Death certificates of all persons dying in monastic institutions should be signed by a non-Catholic doctor as well as by a Catholic doctor” (pp. 119-120).
To these suggestions we would add the further provision that inmates of such institutions should be free to leave at any time without fear of punishment. Surely the adoption of these recommendations would go far toward eliminating the most objectionable features of the convent system. There is considerable restlessness in the Roman Catholic Church concerning the matter of clerical celibacy. Some of the bishops wanted to place this subject on the agenda at the last session of the Vatican Council in 1965 and had prepared documents to be introduced. But Pope Paul issued a statement in which he strongly defended the practice, and forbade the Council even to discuss the subject. But debate continues in the church at large, and Roman Catholic sources acknowledge that thousands of petitions from priests and nuns asking to be dispensed from that requirement are now pending at the Vatican.
CHAPTER XV Marriage
1. The Christian View of Marriage
2. The Roman Doctrine that Marriage is a Sacrament
3. Roman Denial of the Validity of Protestant and Civil Marriage
4. The Pre-Marital Contract
5. The Injustice of the Pre-Marital Contract
6. A Fraudulent Contract
7. Mixed Marriage Difficulties
8. The Roman Catholic Attitude toward Divorce
1 The Christian View of Marriage
The teaching of Scripture concerning marriage can be set forth in the four following propositions:
1. Marriage is a holy and sacred relationship between one man and one woman, designed to continue as long as they both live.
2. Marriage is the normal state for the average adult both from the social and the hygienic standpoint.
3. Children are a gift from God.
4. The family (not the individual) is the fundamental unit of society.
In the Christian view of marriage sex is set forth as one of the powers divinely implanted in human nature. It is, therefore, not to be looked upon as something evil, something to be suppressed and put down like a plague. The Bible tells us: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). In that same passage we also read: “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (vs. 31).
God, then, is the author of sex. He created mankind with that particular power, and when He had done so He pronounced it good. He also made clear that the purpose of sex was (1) that the human race might be perpetuated and that it might increase upon the earth, and (2) that it might provide a special kind of companionship among human beings. Viewed in this light, marriage is a gift that not even the angels know, and sex is a high and wholesome gift from God to the highest of His earthly creatures. Sex, therefore, can become evil only when it is perverted.
Says one writer: “The attraction which men and women and boys anal girls feel for each other is a normal, natural thing. It is part of the nature that God has put within us, but it must be governed by the ideals and rules that He has given us. The fullness of human relationship is to be shared by only one man with one woman and vice versa. It is intended that this human partnership shall be on a lifetime basis. It is a union which is physical and spiritual, and it is the ultimate in human relationships” (B. Hoyt Evans, The Presbyterian Journal, August 5, 1959).
For the Christian man and woman marriage properly begins in the church. Most Christians realize the importance of religion for marriage, and they want to have the ceremony solemnized and blessed by the church. The vows taken are religious. The spiritual aspect of marriage and the blessing of God upon the new union are the very heart of the matter. For Christians it just does not seem right or sufficient to be married before a civil official even though such marriage is legal. A mere civil ceremony seems cold and lacking in that spiritual aspect which can do so much to enrich and ennoble the new union and make it permanent. For non-Christians, however, the civil ceremony is both legal and proper.
2 The Roman Doctrine that Marriage Is a Sacrament
Because the supposedly infallible Vulgate mistranslated Ephesians 5:32 to read, “This is a great sacrament,” the Roman Church for ages has taught that marriage is a sacrament. But the correct translation is: “This is a great mystery.”
In his broader teaching in Ephesians chapter 5, Paul is speaking of the union that exists between Christ and the church, and he points to marriage as a symbol of that union. He teaches that as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it (v. 25), so should husbands love their wives as their own bodies (v. 28). He says: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh”; and then he adds: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (vv. 31-32, King James Version). The American Standard Version reads: “This mystery is great,” which is substantially the same. Today even Roman Catholic writers acknowledge that the old translation was in error. The new Confraternity Version translates it correctly: “This is a great mystery”—which is the same as the King James Version. But the Church of Rome continues to hold zealously the doctrine that was formulated on the erroneous Vulgate translation, namely, that marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is now firmly established as one of the seven sacraments of the Church of Rome, and evidently cannot be relinquished.
A vital consequence of the erroneous translation has been that the Roman Church has attempted to control everything pertaining to marriage. Since marriage was held to be a sacrament, that placed it entirely under the control of the church; for only the church can administer a sacrament. Civil marriage was declared to be unlawful. And since at the time of the Council of Trent the Roman Church did not acknowledge the validity of Protestant marriage, the Council simply declared that any marriage not performed by a priest was null and void. The 73rd article of theSyllabus of Errors issued by Pope Pius IX, which even today forms a part of the ordination vow of every Roman Catholic priest, says: “Marriage among Christians cannot be constituted by any mere civil contract; the marriage contract among Christians must always be a sacrament; and the contract is null, if the sacrament does not exist.” In another statement Pius IX declared that marriage without the Roman sacrament was “low and abominable concubinage.”
The Catholic Almanac for 1954 says: “… a Catholic who goes through a marriage ceremony before a minister or justice of the peace contracts no marriage.” And America’s most distinguished Roman theologian, Monsignor Francis J. Connell, for many years Dean of the School of Sacred Theology at Catholic University, in Washington, D. C., sets forth the rule that Roman Catholics who are married before a Protestant minister must be punished even to the graveyard. In answer to the question, “Is it correct to tell Catholics that they will be denied Christian burial in the event that they attempt marriage before a non‑Catholic minister?” he replied: “Such a statement can be made correctly, as long as the clause is added, ‘unless before death they give signs of repentance’ (Canon 1240, Section 1). The reason is that by such a sinful act a Catholic becomes a public and manifest sinner, and to such a one Christian burial is denied (Canon 1240, Section 1, Note 6)” (American Ecclesiastical Review, October, 1959, p. 266). And The Sign, a Roman Catholic magazine, issue of May, 1958, expresses typical Roman Catholic bigotry on this subject when it refers to marriage not performed by a priest as merely “attempted” marriage, and rates a marriage ceremony performed by a Protestant minister as inferior even to that of a civil official. It says: “The attempted marriage of two Catholics, or of even one Catholic, before a civil official is invalid. On that score, however, excommunication is not incurred, as would be the case were the marriage attempted before a non‑Catholic religious minister.” A practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (1925), by S. Woywod, page 563, carrying the imprimatur of Cardinal Hayes, sets forth this same view, as does another book, Catholic Principles of Politics, by Ryan and Boland, a widely used text in Roman Catholic colleges and universities. Hence it is clear that the Roman Church claims exclusive jurisdiction over the marriage contract and the marital state of Christians, and that all civil laws that contradict Canon Law are held to be null and void.1
1 Marriage requirements were liberalized somewhat in 1966 and again in 1970. See footnote [#2].
But the fact is that Rome’s own teaching is null and void, for Paul does not say that marriage is a sacrament, nor is that statement found anywhere in the Bible. Marriage was not instituted by Christ, which is a requirement for a true sacrament, but instead was instituted in the Garden of Eden thousands of years before the time of Christ. Hence Rome’s attempt to bring all marriage under her exclusive jurisdiction stands revealed as merely another of the methods which she uses in her attempt to nullify an important area of civil control and to bring all human relationships under her own control. Her clearly revealed purpose is to rule the entire life of the family.
The fact that Roman Catholicism holds that marriage is a sacrament does not mean that it holds marriage in greater reverence than does Protestantism. Protestantism holds that marriage was divinely instituted in the Garden of Eden, and so was established by God’s blessing. For a Christian, therefore, it is a sacred ordinance that should be performed by a minister and blessed by the church.
3 Roman Denial of the Validity of Protestant and Civil. Marriage
During the Middle Ages, when the Roman Church had a monopoly over all religious affairs, her control over marriage was effective and ruthless. Civil law was conformed to Canon Law, and no form of marriage other than that performed by a priest was recognized as valid or legal. Even after the Reformation the Roman Church for centuries continued to deny the validity of all marriage performed by Protestant ministers or by officials of the state. She asserted that all couples not married by a priest were living in adultery and that their children were illegitimate.
Few Protestants seem to know that even today the Roman Church still claims authority over the marriage of all Christians everywhere, over Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, and that it is only since the Ne Temere decree, issued by Pope Pius X, April 19, 1908, that the marriage of Protestants, performed by Protestant ministers, has been regarded as valid by the Roman Church. And even today in several countries where there is a concordat between the Vatican and the civil government, as in Spain and Colombia, Protestant marriages still are illegal. Civil marriages are legal for Protestants, but they have to be approved by judges who usually are Roman Catholics and they often are hindered by all kinds of impediments. If one party has been baptized into the Roman Church even in fancy (as most people in those countries have been), even though he has long since left that church, Rome still opposes the marriage and seeks to bring it within her own jurisdiction. That, of course, is Roman practice everywhere, never to give up to another church one who has been baptized in the Roman Church. In the concordat countries the marriage of two Roman Catholics, or of a Roman Catholic and a Protestant, or of a Roman Catholic and an unbeliever, before a Protestant minister or official of the state is strictly forbidden by the Roman Church and is illegal in the state. That is a consistent pattern in countries where Rome has the power to enforce her will, and that is what we can expect in the United States if this ever becomes a Roman Catholic nation.
The Ne Temere decree of 1908, while granting that the marriage of Protestants by Protestant ministers after that date would be considered valid, was not retroactive and did not validate such marriages performed before that date. On the other hand it defined more specifically the rule of the Roman Church regarding its own members, in that anywhere the marriage of two Roman Catholics, or of one Roman Catholic and a Protestant, before a Protestant minister or an official of the state was pronounced null and void, even though the marriage had occurred years earlier and had brought forth several children. Furthermore, the decree of 1908 was made only as a concession, largely because of pressure brought to bear on the hierarchy in the United States and other Protestant countries. Hence the pope may revoke that decree any time he deems expedient and declare that no marriage of Christians anywhere is valid without the special blessing of his priests.
Because of the pope’s asserted authority over all Christian marriage, he claims the authority to annul any Protestant marriage anywhere and at any time. That authority is no idle boast, and is exercised today in some cases in which Protestants wish to be free from present mates in order to marry Roman Catholics. Though professing to be unalterably opposed to divorce, the Roman Church gets around that obstacle quite easily by declaring those marriages null and void, that is, never to have existed in the first place. She simply grants an “annulment.” Surely it would be hard to find bigotry and intolerance in a more exaggerated form than is thus displayed officially and continually by the Roman Church.
There is a strange inconsistency in the application of the Ne Temere decree. Under that decree if two Protestants are married by a Protestant minister the marriage is held to be valid. But if two Roman Catholics, or a Roman Catholic and a Protestant, are married by the same minister, using the same service and taking the same vows, she calls it “attempted marriage,” and pronounces it null and void. By all the rules of logic if the ceremony is valid in one case it is also valid in the other. Such a distinction in Canon Law is merely another evidence of the compromising nature of the Roman Church, conceding as much as seems expedient under certain circumstances, but enforcing her rule wherever she is able.
That the Roman Church in Protestant countries today does not interfere directly with marriage when only Protestants are concerned is due only to the fact that she does not have the power, not because she willingly and freely makes that concession. Let it never be doubted that if Rome gains the power she will again enforce her claim over all marriage as she did before the Reformation. She would like nothing better than to return to that period, which even yet she refers to nostalgically as “the age of faith.” An example of what Roman Catholic domination in the field of marriage can mean, and of the ideal that Rome would like to put into effect everywhere, is set forth in the report of the Evangelical Confederation of Colombia, dated August 24, 1959. It reads as follows:
“Protestant marriage not legal. As the Roman Catholic and the civil ceremonies are the only forms of marriage which produce legal effects in Colombia, Protestants are first married by a magistrate and then solemnize their union with a religious service in their church.
“The Roman Catholic clergy is jealous of its privileged position in the performance of the marriage ceremony. It brands as ‘public concubinage’ the union produced by civil marriage. It puts pressure on the civil authorities to delay and obstruct the civil ceremony, if not to prevent it altogether. Against those couples who have the courage and tenacity to carry through with the civil ceremony the church hurls its penalty of excommunication in an attempt to force the pair, through social ostracism and economic pressure, to renounce their sin and return to the Catholic Church in repentance.”
For members of the Roman Catholic Church in Colombia only a church ceremony is valid. However, a national law states that if both parties to the marriage declare that they have never been members of the Roman Catholic Church, or that they have formally separated from it, a civil ceremony is valid. But the process is a difficult one. The magistrates must notify the priest in whose parish the couple are resident, and then a delay of one month is required, during which time the priest has opportunity to try to dissuade the parties from their contemplated step. At the request of the priest the civil ceremony may be postponed indefinitely. Conditions in Spain are similar to those in Colombia.
Marriage of a Roman Catholic and a Protestant before a Protestant minister opens the way for easy divorce on the part of the Roman Catholic. Suppose a Roman Catholic man marries a Protestant girl. If marriage proves to be satisfactory, well and good; he is content to let stand. But if it does not turn out well, he can easily accept the teaching of his church that it was not a valid marriage in the first place. He does not see it as the solemnly binding union that the Protestant holds it to be. If he finds himself forbidden absolution from sin by the priest because of a Protestant marriage, he may feel obliged in conscience to separate from the Protestant partner. But if the couple wishes to remain together he may proceed to obtain from the pope a dispensation or a “revalidation” of the marriage. An effort usually will be made to persuade the Protestant to submit to a Roman Catholic wedding. But if that fails, a curious thing happens. The Roman Catholic party then goes alone to the priest. Lucien Vinet describes this process as follows:
“He or she will be married ‘validly’ without the consent or knowledge of the Protestant party. This wonderful Roman invention is called, in Latin, ‘Revalidatio in radice’ (Cure from the very root). The pope in Rome will give his consent to this marriage in union with that of the Roman Catholic party, using also the original marriage consent of the Protestant party, and this will render valid the marriage of this unfortunate couple. The cure has been effected. The ‘Sanatio’ of the pope has validly married the two persons without the knowledge of the Protestant party. Now the couple can live together and the Roman Catholic party has no more conscientious troubles” (I Was a Priest, p. 56).
Recently a case arose in Italy in which a man who was not a member of the Roman Catholic Church and a woman who was a member were married in a civil ceremony. At the direction of the bishop of Brato the local priest read a letter to the congregation in which the legality of the marriage was denied and the relationship was denounced as “low and abominable concubinage.” The case was taken to court by the husband, on the charge of slander, and in March, 1958, a verdict was obtained against the bishop and the priest. The court was composed of three judges who were Roman Catholics. The bishop was fined 40,000 lire ($64) and costs of the six-day trial, and was ordered to pay the injured couple $672 damages. The $64 fine, however, was suspended. The bishop appealed the case and strong pressure was brought to bear on the court by the hierarchy from the pope down. The pope declared a period of mourning, because a fine had been laid on a bishop of the Roman Church by a civil court. That apparently was more pressure than the court could stand. The result was that the verdict was reversed, the claim for damages was denied, and the couple was ordered to pay the court costs. There the case ended, but not without a great deal of very unfavorable publicity for the Roman Church.
There is, of course, nothing in Scripture that gives to church authorities the exclusive right to perform the marriage ceremony. According to American law the legal right and privilege of performing marriage ceremonies is given to the ministers of all churches who qualify and to certain officials of the state. No person or church should attempt to usurp that power, or to say that marriages performed by rituals other than their own are illegal and that the people who employ them are not married but are living in sin. Such procedure is a vicious repudiation of American law, and should be punishable as slander in the courts. In New Zealand it is a felony punishable in the courts for any church or individual to declare or teach that a marriage contracted in accordance with the civil law is not a true marriage. Certainly church laws made in a foreign country and utterly lacking in Scriptural authority, should not be allowed to supersede American laws, resulting in the vilification of the ministers of other churches, our court officials, and many of our people whose good name is injured by such laws. But Roman Church law, based on Canon 1094, does precisely that. In Roman Catholic countries it is a common occurrence for the civil laws to be conformed to or based on the Roman Church Canon Law. The Roman Church thus claims that she is above all civil authority, that to her belongs the authority to legislate on matters pertaining to marriage, and that any conflict between the church and the state is to be resolved in favor of the church.
4 The Pre-Marital Contract
Since the Roman Church denies the validity of the marriage of a Roman Catholic before a Protestant minister, there is strong pressure on Roman Catholics, if they wish to remain in good standing with their church, to be married only by a priest. When a Protestant consents to marry a Roman Catholic before a priest, he finds that he must agree, first, to take a series of religious instructions. This course, given by the priest, consists of at least six one‑hour lessons in which the doctrines of that church are favorably presented in the hope that the Protestant will be persuaded to become a Roman Catholic. Ten to fifteen such lessons are preferred if the Protestant will consent to take them. He is also given some books to study which glorify the Roman Church and condemn Protestant churches. He soon learns that he must sign away all his religious rights and privileges in the home, and that he must make all of the concessions while the Roman Catholic party makes none at all. He also learns that the Roman Catholic party must secure a dispensation from the bishop (the priest cannot grant it) before a mixed marriage can be performed, for which dispensation a payment be made (every service in the Roman Church seems to have a fee attached to it, and this fee is in addition to the regular marriage fee). This payment normally is made by the man. But if the man happens to be a Protestant, and particularly if he might be expected to resent a request for such a payment, it is made by the future wife.
The following contract must be signed by the Protestant:2
“I, the undersigned, not a member of the Catholic Church, wishing to contract marriage with _____ _____, a member of the Catholic Church, propose to do so with the understanding that the marriage thus contracted is indissoluble, except by death. I promise on my word of honor that I will not in any way hinder or obstruct the said _____ _____ in the exercise of _____ religion, and that all children of either sex born of our marriage shall be baptized and educated in the Catholic Church, even though the said _____ _____ should be taken away by death. I further promise that I will marry _____ _____ only according to the marriage rite of the Catholic Church; that I will not either before or after the Catholic ceremony present myself with _____ _____ for marriage with a civil magistrate or minister of the gospel.”
The following promise is to be signed by the Roman Catholic party:
“I, _____ _____, a Catholic, wishing to marry _____ _____, a non‑Catholic, hereby promise that, if the Most Reverend Bishop grants me a dispensation, I will have all my children baptized and reared in the Catholic Church, sending them, if possible to a Catholic school, and will practice my religion faithfully, and do all in my power, especially by prayer, good example, and frequentation of the Sacraments, to bring about the conversion of my consort.”
2 Twice in recent years Pope Paul VI has made some concessions regarding the marriage ceremony. On March 18, 1966, it was left to the bishop to decide whether the pledges from both parties that any children born to the union should be baptized and educated in the Roman Catholic Church should be oral or in writing. A mixed marriage could be performed by the priest in the church, with mass and nuptual blessing. Permission was granted for a Protestant minister to have a part in the ceremony and to offer words of congratulations and exhortation, but only after the priest had conducted the ceremony and had secured the pledges that any children would be raised as Roman Catholics, and the Protestant had pledged not to interfere with their religious training. Marriage performed by a Protestant minister or by a civil ceremony was not recognized as lawful, but a Roman Catholic so married was no longer excommunicated. A separate ceremony in any other church, either before or after the Roman Catholic ceremony, was forbidden as before. Only a minute number of Protestant ministers, most of them very liberal minded, consented so to cooperate.
And on April 29, 1970, though still upholding the church’s objection to mixed marriages, but described by Vatican officials as a “definite step” toward other churches for the sake of Christian unity, Pope Paul gave permission for bishops to permit mixed marriages to be performed without a priest, “if serious difficulties stand in the way.” The Protestant is not required to promise that the children will be reared in Roman Catholic Church, but the Roman Catholic still must promise the bishop “to do all in his power” to have the children so reared. Previously such a dispensation could be obtained only from the Vatican.
This promise by the Roman Catholic party, containing among other things a pledge to work for the conversion of the Protestant party, is not necessarily brought to the attention of the Protestant party, but may be signed in secret. Resentment has often arisen when it has been discovered, sometimes years afterward, that such a pledge was made a part of the wedding contract without the knowledge or consent of the Protestant party.
After these pledges have been signed the wedding ceremony can be performed only by a Roman Catholic priest. It cannot, however, take place in the church, but only in the rectory or church vestry. No organ will be played, and no singing will take place. The girl, if she is the Roman Catholic party, is purposely deprived of the glamour of the ritual and of the blessing of her church, which means so much to a Roman Catholic girl. Thus in her eyes her marriage is made to fall short of a true wedding. She is made painfully aware that it is a defective wedding. And for a Roman Catholic man who values his church the wedding is equally marred. By these restrictions the official sorrow of the Roman Church is expressed, because a Protestant is becoming a proximate cause of the loss of a Roman Catholic to the Roman Church—by means of his or her lifelong association with a member of another church. Such impediments, promises, and dispensations illustrate and emphasize in a very practical way the hierarchy’s determination to isolate Roman Catholics from other people so far as possible. The Roman Church thus recognizes the evils of a mixed marriage, and is as set against it as is any Protestant church. She seems to feel that in a mixed marriage she probably will be the loser, that the Roman Catholic party if exposed to Protestant influences is more likely to leave his or her church than is the Protestant to be won to it. And indeed statistics show that such is the case.
In some dioceses, because of the fact that the premarital contract often is not carried out, a new method has been adopted—the Milwaukee diocese form—which gives the archbishop the authority to enforce all the promises made by either or both parties. This form reads:
“The parties hereto expressly state that they do hereby give to the Most Reverend Archbishop of __________, as the representative of the Roman Catholic Chinch or his delegates, or representatives, the right to enforce each and every promise herein contained in the event of the violation by either party or both, and empower him to give full force and effect to the agreement herein contained.”
Such a marriage becomes in fact a three‑cornered affair. The two young people not only marry each other, but admit into their married life a third party, the archbishop, who is given specific legal authority to enforce the provisions between them as individuals, or between them and the Roman Church. In the event that they do not fulfill the terms of the agreement he can, by his own authority, revoke the dispensation, if he does nothing more, and, so as far as the Roman Church is concerned, dissolve the marriage.
But even before the present method was thought of, the Roman Church was attempting to deal with the situation. Because so many Roman Catholics who signed the premarital contract were disregarding it, the Holy Office of the Inquisition, in Rome, in 1922, issued a more drastic decree which declared that if the conditions were not adhered to, the dispensation must be counted “null and void.” Thus if parties to a mixed marriage fail to have their children baptized and educated in the Roman religion, their marriage is automatically dissolved so far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned. And that has proved to be a powerful weapon for keeping Roman Catholics in line, for, since they trust to their church for salvation, there is nothing they fear more than condemnation by their church. But when marriages of many years standing, which have produced families and which the husband and wife want to preserve, are dissolved for such frivolous and selfish reasons, how clearly that reveals the hierarchy’s lack of appreciation of the true sacredness of marriage! And how clearly it reveals the basically unchristian character of that church! We can only conclude that such action is another product of a celibate priesthood which knows nothing of the pleasures and responsibilities of home and family.
It is well known that many Roman Catholics resent these stringent requirements. Some authorities tell us that in the Protestant parts of the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, approximately one fourth of the Roman Catholics contract Protestant or civil marriages, and that in so-called Roman Catholic France, and in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, before those countries became fascist, the proportion was even higher.
5 The Injustice of the Pre-Marital Contract
A Protestant who has any respect for his church will not sign such a contract. When he is asked to sign he is in effect asked to acknowledge that his own church, which be holds to be a true church of Christ, is no church at all, but instead a dangerous organization. And he is also asked to do a further unreasonable and even sinful thing, namely, to surrender his right to any voice in the religious affiliation or the spiritual training of his own children. To sign such a pledge is to betray his Christian heritage. Such action invariably brings not happiness but heartache and tragedy.
It is the duty of a Protestant minister, when any member of his congregation is being led into or is contemplating marriage with a Roman Catholic, to enlighten him or her concerning the situation that will result and to do all within his power to prevent such a marriage. He should challenge the right of any Roman Catholic priest to instruct any member of his congregation, particularly if he himself is not also present at such meetings. If such instruction is given any member of his congregation, he should invite personally the Roman Catholic party for a series of lessons on the Bible or demand an equal opportunity to give him instruction in the Protestant faith. In view of the Roman practice, no Roman Catholic should be allowed to marry a Protestant without knowing what Protestant life and doctrine is, and this provision should be made effective through church discipline against the Protestant member if necessary. And beyond that the Protestant minister should see to it that the young people of his church are properly instructed, through their group meetings or special study classes, concerning the nature and practices of Roman Catholicism.
How shameful for a Protestant boy or girl to sign a premarital contract forever surrendering the religious freedom of his or her children, in order to marry someone, no matter how attractive, in the Roman Church! To such we say: “The Roman Catholic Church wants your children. It wants them more than you want them, for it extracts a pledge from them while you are willing to give them up. In signing that contract while yourself refusing to join that church you are saying in effect that the Roman Church is not good enough for you but that it is good enough for your children.” Let any Protestant who contemplates signing that contract realize that it bars Protestant parents from their precious children completely and forever in that most sacred of all relationships, spiritual guidance. Let him also realize that financially it means that in time his family inheritance will pass into Roman Catholic hands. This latter, of course, is one of the primary aims that the Roman Church has in forcing through such a contract.
Too often when young people fall in love, everything else, including church, becomes secondary. Wrapped up in each other, and in a mood to be magnanimous and charitable, they are at that time peculiarly susceptible to pressure and are in a mood to sign anything. So, at the opportune moment, the priest presents his exorbitant demands, mixing love with religious proselytizing. Pledges are made that under normal conditions would not be made. The marriage ceremony is performed. Then gradually disillusionment sets in. The Roman Catholic member is pledged to do everything possible to convert the Protestant, but the Protestant is forbidden to do anything to convert the Roman Catholic or to have any voice in the religious life of the home. This makes for disharmony from the beginning. Children arrive, and the Protestant parent awakens to the fact that his child is already contracted to the Roman Church. The premarital pledge casts its evil shadow, and in many instances leads to broken hearts and bitter family relations. Under normal conditions children serve to bring parents closer together. But in mixed marriages they tend to tear them apart. The threat of ecclesiastical discipline makes family unity more difficult. And the Christian religion, which should be a means of binding the family more closely together, serves instead to tear it apart and to make family unity impossible except on the basis of total surrender. The chance for separation, annulment, or divorce is greatly increased. And most unfortunate of all, the children become the victims of sectarian exploitation.
Furthermore, the Protestant who enters into such a marriage with a loyal Roman Catholic finds that the priest, in the confessional as frequented by the other party, deems it his privilege and duty to inquire into the most intimate habits and practices of the home and to give advice and commands regarding them. It is the priest who will forever stand between those two people, and, if that influence is not resisted, it is he who will win the battle of minds in that marriage.
Let the Protestant who is engaged to marry a Roman Catholic make a serious attempt to lead him or her to become a true Christian, with sincere faith in Christ and in Christ alone as Lord and Savior, to be proved by a consistent manner of life over a period of time. If possible, let him persuade the Roman Catholic to join a Protestant church. The Protestant cannot get fair play in the Roman Church; therefore the Roman Catholic should be persuaded if possible to join a Protestant church. Otherwise the engagement should be broken off. Such procedure will go far toward avoiding the tragedy of a mixed marriage.
Any unprejudiced person will readily understand how intolerant and cruel is a system which takes advantage of the noblest and most intimate affections of two young people in order to force one of them into submitting to the authority of a religious system which he cannot accept. Protestant churches have never attempted to control and exploit marriage so as to increase the membership and wealth of their denominations as the Roman Church has. They instinctively expect and practice fair play in such matters, while the Roman Church, under threat of eternal damnation, demands all of the children and so attempts to rob Protestants of the heritage of their faith, their children, and their family fortunes.
6 A Fraudulent Contract
If a Protestant has had the misfortune to have signed the Roman Catholic premarital contract, is he legally and morally bound to keep it?
The answer is that in Roman Catholic countries, where civil law is based on or conformed to Canon Law and the courts are under the domination of the Roman Catholic Church, it can be enforced. Children often are taken from one or both parents, allegedly for their own good, when the terms of the contract are not complied with, and are given to the Roman Catholic parent or placed in Roman Catholic institutions. Homes have been broken up by this cruel practice. But in democratic and Protestant countries it usually cannot be enforced. In the United States, for instance, the Roman Church, sensing that trouble might arise if attempts were made to enforce such agreements, has made but little effort toward that end. But the Canon Law which is the basis for that practice remains a part of the system, ready to be applied if and when Roman influence increases, so that it can be made effective.
In the few cases in which court tests have been made, the courts have quite consistently held that no agreement as to the religious education of children entered into by the father and mother, before or after marriage, is binding. The welfare of the child takes precedence in such cases. In most such cases the Roman Church has simply been running a bluff when it has insisted on enforcement of the contract through the courts. Whenever the Protestant parent has had the courage to assert his rights rather than surrender his children, the presiding judge almost invariably has ruled in favor of religious freedom and has refused to allow his court to be used to promote the membership of an ecclesiastical organization.
Furthermore, in the United States where the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to every person, it is the privilege of either parent to change his or her mind in matters of religion,and to teach his or her children those moral and religious truths which at the time seem best. If outside pressure is brought to bear upon a person so that he signs away his constitutional rights, the transaction is fraudulent and should be repudiated. For any church or individual to attempt to freeze a person’s religious thinking is a violation of those constitutional rights.
But above and beyond the legal aspects of the case, the Roman Catholic premarital contract is morally fraudulent, and as such it should be repudiated. In the first place it is fraudulent because it compels the Protestant husband to abdicate his divinely appointed right to be the head of the family in the realm of faith and morals, and it is unchristian for the Roman Church to attempt to usurp that right. The Bible says: “The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23); and again, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man” (1 Corinthians 11:3). But in signing that pledge the Protestant husband abdicates his God‑given right to be the head in that most important realm, the spiritual, and instead makes his wife the head. And the Protestant girl simply should not marry a man who will claim the right to make Roman Catholicism the religion of the home.
Secondly, it is fraudulent because no church has a right to compel parents to sign over their children to it for religious training. The Scriptures expressly place upon the parents, not the church, the primary responsibility for the right training of their children.
Thirdly, it is fraudulent because the Roman Church represents itself as a true Christian church, indeed as the only true church, which it most certainly is not, as is proved by many events in its past history and by the fact that it teaches numerous doctrines which are contrary to the Bible.
And fourthly, it is fraudulent because under threat of excommunication it is forced upon young people who want to get married. Yet the Roman Church itself, in its system of granting annulments, separations, or divorces, acknowledges that coercion invalidates the marriage. And since it so readily and pointedly recognizes the illegality of a contract that has been entered into through coercion, the premarital contract that is forced upon all Protestants who marry Roman Catholics by a priest is equally invalid.
Is it, then, morally wrong to break such a contract? The answer is, No! It was a fraudulent contract, obtained under duress, and therefore invalid even by Rome’s own standards.
Sooner or later most people who have been foolish enough to sign such a contract wake up to the fact that they have done something that is morally wrong. What they should do then is to repent of their sin, ask God to forgive them, repudiate the contract, and from there on do as the Bible and their consciences direct. The primary guilt for such a situation rests on the church that has taken advantage of a delicate situation and has sown the seeds of matrimonial disharmony by coercing a couple to sign away their Christian privileges.
C. Stanley Lowell, in a splendid article dealing with this subject says:
“Any moral code makes allowance for actions taken under duress. A trusted bank teller would not ordinarily hand over a bag of the bank’s money to a stranger. But when the stranger demands the money at gun point, he may do that very thing. The bank does not discharge the teller for dereliction of duty. It recognizes that the act was done under dire coercion.
“The Roman Catholic ante‑nuptial pact is an agreement at gun point. When a man and woman are in love they are notoriously unable to think straight. More than that, they are under the influence of the most tender and powerful emotions. Sign the agreement? Of course they will sign! They will sign anything; they’re in love! Such an agreement can hardly be expected to stand, however, once reason has reasserted itself.
“When the day of awakening comes, as it always comes for the Protestant or Jew who has been coerced, there is only one thing to do. Let the two persons involved sit down together and look clear‑eyed into a problem that is uniquely their own. Let arrogant clerical counsel be disregarded for the interference it patently is. Let these two—and no others—think the problem through and arrive at their solution. This is a hard thing; perhaps it is impossible. But there is one thing more impossible—the attempt to stand slavishly upon an agreement that was coercive from the first” (pamphlet, Is the Catholic Ante‑Nuptial Agreement Binding?).
7 Mixed Marriage Difficulties
A happy home must be built on a firm foundation. Harmony in religious belief is a great asset toward that end. Every couple will find that marriage presents plenty of problems without adding to them an unnecessary and unsolvable religious problem. A mixed marriage is in itself a cause for alarm, and all groups, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Jewish strongly advise against it. Almost invariably those couples who have been so involved will advise against it. That a mixed marriage occasionally works out well does not disprove the general rule, and in those cases it probably will be found that one or perhaps both parties did not take their religion seriously, or that each was willing to go more than halfway in giving in to the other.
In most cases mixed marriage means civil war, whether hot or cold. The most difficult problems usually come with the arrival of children. The Protestant father is reminded that he signed an agreement to allow all of his children to be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. So they are baptized in that church. When Sunday comes the mother and children go to one church, while he disheartedly makes his way to another. There he sees other families, parents and children, worshipping together. But he sits alone, and feels more lonely. Church attendance may cease to have any pleasure for him, and he may even stop going to church. The children go to parochial school where their training is in the hands of the nuns. They are taught to kneel before images and crucifixes, to pray to the Virgin Mary, and to confess to a priest. They are also taught that all non‑Catholics, including their own father, have no chance for salvation, and in general are given a philosophy of life and a code of ethics that outrages his conscience. Disagreement is certain to arise between husband and wife regarding the support of the churches. The husband may want to support Protestant missions in Latin America, or Japan, or particularly in Italy, while the wife probably will want to support Roman Catholic churches and convents and schools.
The home is the most important influence in the life of a child. But children are quick to sense it when there is trouble between parents. Quite often they are the chief casualties in a religiously mixed home. Caught up in the crosscurrents of conflict between father and mother, they are more or less forced to take sides. There is scarcely anything in the world more painful than that, and they rebel against having to make such a choice. Their tendency is to reject both, and to become irreligious. It then becomes easier to take the next step, rebellion against civil authority and against society itself. Social workers tell us that much juvenile delinquency arises because of religious conflict and religious indifference in the home. It is significant that the divorce rate in mixed marriage families is as high as among non‑religious people, while it is considerably lower where husband and wife are of the same faith.
Some very interesting and significant facts were brought out recently in the Harvard Survey of 60,000 homes, by two prominent sociologists, Dr. Carle C. Zimmerman, of Harvard University, and Dr. Lucius F. Cerventes, S.J., of St. Louis University. The findings were as follows:
1. “Couples with different religious affiliation have fewer children than those who marry within their own faith.
2. “Children of interfaith marriages are much less likely to finish high school than those whose parents are of the same religious faith.
3. “Six out of every ten children of a Catholic‑Protestant marriage end by rejecting all religions—Catholic, Protestant, and others.
4. “About half of the Catholic men who marry non‑Catholics abandon their faith. [No doubt this is one of the primary reasons the Roman Catholic Church is so opposed to interfaith marriages, and why it seeks to restrict them with such stringent rules.]
5. “Men and women of all faiths showed a higher divorce rate when they married someone of a different religion. In an interfaith marriage by a Protestant, the divorce rate was two to three times as great as in an all‑Protestant marriage. Among Catholics, the increase was three to four times. Among Jews, five to six times. Among other religions, two to three times.
6. “In this survey, Jewish men had the highest percentage of interfaith marriages. Twenty‑four percent of those studied had married non‑Jews.
7. “Teenage arrests are much higher in mixed‑marriage families. When Protestant men married outside their faith in St. Louis, Omaha, and Denver, their youngsters suffered twice as many arrests as youngsters in single faith homes. In marriages between Catholics and non‑Catholics, the arrests of teenage children in every city doubled or tripled. The children of Jewish husbands and Gentile wives in Boston, St. Louis, Denver, and Omaha, had four to ten times as many arrests for juvenile offenses as the children of all-Jewish marriages in those cities” (This Week, September 20, 1959).
A report from the United Lutheran Church of America, issued by Dr. E. Epping Reinartz, of New York, secretary and statistician for the denomination, showed that mixed marriages between members of the United Lutheran Church and Roman Catholics totaled 3,343 in 1958, and that two thirds of the couples so married went to Lutheran pastors for the ceremony. It also showed that four times as many Roman Catholics joined the United Lutheran Church as United Lutherans joined the Roman Catholic Church and that the United Lutheran Church gained 3,566 in baptized members from Roman Catholic congregations while losing 868 members to the Roman Catholic Church.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S., in 1959, counseled its church members as follows concerning mixed marriages:
“The Roman Catholic attitude with reference to mixed marriages makes it impossible for a wholesome family religious life to exist and continually requires the Protestant to surrender or compromise his personal convictions. What is even more serious it involves the signing away of the spiritual birthright of unborn children by denying them the possibility of any religious training in the home other than that prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church. It is far better that the parties concerned not marry than that these tragic results should follow.”
A man needs a wife who can stand at his side and support him in all of the important things in life, one who attends the same church, hears the same sermons, and prays the same prayers. And a woman needs a husband who can give her spiritual as well as material support in all of the trials and problems of life. But even the standard of authority is different for Protestants and Roman Catholics. For Protestants the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice, while Roman Catholics believe that the church sets forth that rule, that whatever the church teaches must be received implicitly, and that what the priest commands should be done. Long ago the prophet asked: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
From every side comes the warning that religiously mixed marriages are sources of trouble. Many of these marriages might turn out more happily if they were left to themselves. But constantly there rises up between husband and wife, and between parents and children, the black-robed priest of the church. He comes armed with the anathemas which are so dreaded by devout Roman Catholics, and presumes to give instructions concerning church obligations, financial affairs, and the rearing of children, depending in each instance on how far he considers it expedient to go. Such interference makes normal family relationships impossible.
The most important decision one makes in life is whether or not he will accept Christ as Savior. For most people the second most important decision is the choice of a life partner. Christian marriage involves not only a civil union of two people, but also a spiritual union of two souls. Yet how can there be a union of religious ideals when one is governed by Protestant principles and the other by Roman Catholic principles? Obviously the difference is too great and the antagonisms too strong for any such union. A Protestant, therefore, should not allow himself to fall in love with a Roman Catholic, but should regard that as forbidden territory unless he can win the Roman Catholic to his faith. The time to settle the matter of religion is before, not after, marriage. Those who carefully and prayerfully study God’s Word and then come to marriage in a unity of spiritual understanding are far more likely to find that the blessing of God will rest upon their home than are those who attempt to disregard this problem.
The Bible strongly warns against mixed marriages, against marriage with one of another religion, or one with no religion. In the Old Testament the Jews were strictly forbidden to intermarry with the people around them. And in the New Testament Paul says: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Let anyone who is contemplating a mixed marriage stop and count the cost before he mortgages his own future and sells the birthright of his children. What heartache, what bitter remorse, is suffered by those who are caught in this dilemma! Many would give almost anything if they could undo what they have done—if they could go back and listen to the warnings they once spurned. There is no solution for this problem after marriage. The only way to solve it is to avoid it in the first place.
8 The Roman Catholic Attitude toward Divorce
The Roman Catholic Church boasts of her strictness regarding divorce, and seeks to create the impression that divorces are much less common among Roman Catholics than among Protestants. In order to understand her claims it is necessary to distinguish between the different classifications which she makes of marriage as legitimate, ratum, and consummatum.
A marriage between Protestants, or between those who profess no religion, performed by a Protestant minister or official of the state, is called legitimate. A marriage between Roman Catholics performed by a priest is called ratum. And a marriage between those married by a priest is called consummatum after they have exercised their marital rights.
We have seen that for many centuries the Roman Catholic Church held that any marriage performed by a Protestant minister or by an official of the state was invalid, and that Pope Pius IX, setting forth these principles, condemned all marriage not performed by a priest as “low and abominable concubinage.” We have also seen that in 1908 the Roman Church reluctantly issued theNe Temere decree through which it would recognize future Protestant marriages as valid, but that that decree was not retroactive.
Let it be remembered that while the pope has conceded the validity of Protestant marriage since the new Canon Law in 1908, he has never given up the claim of superior authority over all Christian marriage everywhere. By virtue of that power he claims the right to annul any Protestant or civil marriage. Since the concession in Canon Law was made only as a concession and under pressure, it may be withdrawn at any time that the Roman Church feels itself strong enough to enforce its claims, and all Christian marriage again be placed in the hands of the priests.
In the Roman Church every diocese has its divorce court. It refuses to recognize civil divorce of its members in certain instances, and holds that marriage of one of its members performed by a Protestant minister or civil official is not valid. On the basis of the so‑called “Pauline privilege” as set forth in 1 Corinthians 7:15, in which a believer is declared to be under no further obligation to a deserting unbeliever, the Roman Church teaches that a marriage between Protestants, or between unbelievers, can be dissolved when one member is converted to Roman Catholicism. A marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant, or between a Roman Catholic and an unbeliever, performed by a Protestant minister or official of the state, comes under this classification. This provides an easy “out” when a Roman Catholic wants to be free from a non‑Roman Catholic in order to marry another Roman Catholic. This device is not called a divorce, but an “annulment.” It says that in such cases a true marriage never existed in the first place. As such it opens the way for the dissolution of a large number of marriages by the simple expedient of giving another definition to what we term divorce, and exposes the hypocrisy of the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is unalterably opposed to divorce.
Even a marriage that is ratum (between two Roman Catholics before a priest), but which one or both participants claim is not consummatum, can be dissolved (1) by profession of religious vows in a religious order approved by the Roman Church, e.g., entering a convent as a nun, or becoming a monk or a priest; or (2) by a dispensation from the pope. There is, of course, no Scripture warrant for such exceptions, nothing but manmade decrees by the hierarchy.
Paul Blanshard, in his American Freedom and Catholic Power, discusses quite fully the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning separation and divorce. He says:
“Legal and permanent separation without remarriage is permitted in the Catholic system for many reasons. … The Canon Law permits separation not only for adultery and habitual crime but also for simple difference in religious conviction ‘if one party joins a non‑Catholic sect; or educates the offspring as non‑Catholics.’ This rule is so sweeping that it is a ground for separation if a parent who has been married by a priest sends a child to an American public school without the priest’s permission. In some cases it is also ground for the complete nullification of a mixed marriage. …
“There is almost no type of marriage that cannot be annulled under the complex rules of the Catholic marriage courts if a determined spouse is willing and able to go to the expense of prolonged litigation, and uses sufficient patience and ingenuity in constructing a plausible case.
“The annulment process is used eagerly and frequently by American Catholics as a kind of Catholic substitute for divorce. Hundreds of annulments of valid civil marriages are granted each year by the Catholic hierarchy in the United States without reaching public attention. The Church’s annulment statistics tell only a fragment of the real story. The rest of the story is contained in tables and reports that never reach the public. …
“Any Catholic who has married a non-Catholic without getting his spouse to promise that all their children will be reared as Catholics can easily secure an annulment from a local bishop without any judicial formalities by proving that his original marriage was not ‘correct in form.’ The Canon Law says that such marriages are null and void from the beginning, so the priest does not need to submit the case to a tribunal. He delivers a one‑sheet Decree of Nullity after making sure that the former marriage was actually performed in the way described. A modest fee—usually $15—is asked for this service. …
“When shortcuts to annulment are unavailable, the Church provides a number of special elastic interpretations of marriage vows that can be used to dissolve marriages. One of these elastic devices is the theory that there must be an ‘interior consent’ to a marriage or it is void from the beginning. … The priests have stretched this to include many cases of apparent valid marriage in which a married person changes his attitude toward his spouse long after marriage, and then announces that he never consented to the marriage in the first place. … Any Catholic can obtain an ecclesiastical annulment if he can prove that in entering marriage he made it a condition that he would not have children, or that the parties agreed that they could get a divorce if the marriage proved to be unsuccessful. In such cases the hierarchy holds that the parties to a marriage never actually consented to full marriage. They made a mental reservation about two essentials of marriage, children and indissolubility” (pp. 198-208).
Thus the Roman Church, while pretending to be zealous in maintaining the marriage bond, makes exceptions on the basis of excuses so flimsy that they would not be given serious consideration in a civil court. Fortunately in the United States these church decrees do not give legal annulments or divorces, since American civil law is superior to Roman Catholic Canon Law. But they are effective in countries where church law has the force of civil law, either because civil law has been written to conform to church law or because it readily approves and supplements church law. We have already pointed out that since the Roman Church acknowledges coercion as invalidating a marriage, therefore, on the same principle the premarital contract which is forced upon a Protestant in a mixed marriage, is equally invalid.
L. H. Lehmann makes the following comparison between marriage relations in Protestant and Roman Catholic countries:
“Despite the obvious evils of divorce in modern democratic countries… the number of divorces is no greater than the number of unfaithful husbands in Catholic authoritarian countries where the church’s prohibition against divorce is upheld by the civil law. In such countries there is no check on the waywardness of men and no recourse to the law by wives to obtain either freedom or support from adulterous husbands.
“In Latin Catholic countries especially, the priests have always indulgently ignored the traditional custom of married men having one, if not many, mistresses, but have always fought relentlessly against divorce, by which wives could free themselves from such men. The result is a very high rate of illegitimacy in such countries as compared to Protestant countries.
“Safeguarding property rights, social status and legitimacy, has always been considered of greater importance to the Roman theologians than individual morality. This accounts for the extraordinarily high rate of illegitimacy in Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and all Latin American countries. … In Latin American countries the rate of illegitimacy ranges from 25% to 50%, and the illiteracy is correspondingly high. North of the Rio Grande, in Protestant democratic countries, even though it includes Catholic Canada, the rate of illegitimacy is only 2.4%, and the illiteracy rate only 6%” (Out of the Labyrinth, p. 190).
Any departure from Scripture invariably works evil in one form or another. The first and most detrimental result of the Roman Catholic doctrine that not even adultery is a proper ground for dissolution of the marriage bond (although annulments are granted for much less serious offenses), is to render that crime easier of accomplishment and more frequent. An unscrupulous husband or wife knows that his or her partner cannot obtain a divorce on the ground of adultery and so feels less restraint. As just pointed out in the quotation from Mr. Lehmann, it is notorious that in the Latin American countries the men are more lax in their extra‑marital relations, it being not an uncommon practice and one accepted without serious protest for men of wealth and prominence to have a “mistress” in addition to a lawful wife. Another result, again particularly prominent in Latin America where the priests attempt so much interference in family affairs, is the abnormally large number of “common law” unions. And still another result is that numerous causes are allowed for permanent separation, a thoro et mensa, from bed and board. Certainly it is not the mark of a true church for divorce to be disguised under other terms and treated so lightly. In actual fact the sacred institution of marriage is handled in a quite arbitrary manner in the Roman Church. The whole matter of marriage and divorce is in the hands of the hierarchy, which exercises the right of setting up or removing impediments at its pleasure, supported only by papal decrees. And the inevitable result, far from rendering marriage a more sacred institution among Roman Catholics than among Protestants, is exactly the opposite.
END OF SECTION THREE