Apologetics toolbox

This is the main reference page for all the Apologetics Toolbox posts. In each post, I try to give a concise defense of a particular orthodox Catholic teaching. Some subjects, such as sola scriptura, require more than one post because they present more than one problem; however, I'll also try to present a core problem for a "bottom line" answer.

Protestants, particularly Evangelicals and fundamentalists, like to charge that Catholics believe we are saved by works. This is a drastic oversimplification, generally caused by confusion over terms, especially the term "works" as used by St. Paul, who uses it in two senses. 

Also known as "once saved, always saved" , this is the belief common among Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants that, once a person has attained a moral conviction of his salvation, he is saved completely and permanently. This is an extreme position; other Protestants recognize that salvation isn't a "done deal" until the Final Judgment.

Sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation
If our salvation isn't assured merely by an assent of faith or conviction of salvation, then how do we get forgiveness for sins after baptism? Can we go directly to Jesus for forgiveness? No, because sins are not "just between God and me"; there is a community element which praying to Jesus directly doesn't address. 

The sola scriptura problems
Sola scriptura is the main doctrinal underpinning of the entire Protestant Reformation. Simply put, Sola scriptura ("Scripture alone") holds that Scripture, taken as a whole, is sufficient to act as the sole regula fidei ("rule of faith"), and that only Scripture can be considered infallible (i.e., reliable or trustworthy). There's more than one problem with this horribly bad doctrine, so it's broken into six parts:
  • Part I: The central dilemma — To hold that only Scripture is infallible, you must deny that the Church's teaching authority is infallible. However, Scripture itself teaches that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is reliable; you can't make the Church's teaching fallible without implicitly denying either or both of these teachings.
  • Part II: Sola scriptura and the preacher's authority — This builds on the central dilemma: If the guidance of the Holy Spirit can't impart infallibility to the Church, then neither can it do so to the individual preacher or theologian. For that reason, the Protestant minister's interpretation of Scripture is no more inherently trustworthy than the Catholic bishops'.
  • Part III: Authority over the Bible — The Bible didn't just come together naturally, nor did it always exist as a single work. The recognition of the individual books of the Bible as "God-inspired" depends on the recognition of an infallibly authoritative Church, an authority Martin Luther and the Westminster Confession assumed as much as did the Council of Trent.
  • Part IV: Material sufficiency of Scripture — "Material sufficiency" is the claim that all that one must believe to be a Christian is contained within Scripture. This section takes a look at the most common proof texts, and finds that they don't back the material sufficiency of Scripture.
  • Part V: Formal sufficiency of Scripture — "Formal sufficiency" is Martin Luther's claim that "Scripture is its own interpreter," often restated as the position that "Scripture speaks clearly" on matters of faith. However, the occasional nature of the books shows that none of the authors were attempting a single written resource of faith, that the apostles considered oral tradition trustworthy, and that Scripture can't be properly understood outside the context of authoritative Church standards.
  • Part VI: Scripture and Tradition — An authoritative tradition is necessary to pass on all the teachings of the Church, as well as the acceptable interpretation of Scripture. However, Protestants claim that Jesus rejected the authority of tradition, or at least set it on a lower plane than Scripture. This part looks at the proof texts and shows that their intent is much more limited than is claimed, and sums up the defense against sola scriptura.
  • Did the Church Fathers believe in sola scriptura? — None of the Church Fathers claim that sola scriptura is the sole infallible regula fidei of the Church, which is the central claim of sola scriptura. This post looks at one attempt to draft the Church Fathers into the debate, looks at some patristic citations on Tradition, and reminds us that the Protestant can't appeal to the Church Fathers without appealing to an authoritative Tradition.
The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
Protestants and liberal/progressive Catholics hold that no real ontological change takes place in the elements of the Eucharist; Lutherans and some others hold that Christ is present "with, in and under" the elements (consubstantiation), while others hold that Christ is present only symbolically. Both positions are untrue to the beliefs of the first Christians.

Infallibility
Many people resist the idea of Church or papal infallibility because they don't really understand what it covers ... and what it doesn't cover. At its root, infallibility asks us to trust that the Holy Spirit leads and guides the Church, as promised by Christ and as testified by Scripture. This post explains what infallibility means.

Apostolic Succession
Many Evangelicals and fundamentalists like to claim that apostolic authority ended with the passing of St. John the Evangelist. But in fact, there's quite a bit of evidence in the New Testament that they considered their authority transferable. And by the beginning of the second century, the bishop was considered the guarantor of the apostolic tradition, and thus the inheritor of the role of the apostles. 

Communion of Saints
  • Sainthood and sanctificationThe best place to start understanding the communion of saints is with the Catholic understanding of sanctification and the role it plays in justification.  
  • "Saints are dead" — One objection to the communion of saints is that the saints are dead, and that prayer to them is a form of necromancy. However, traditional Christian belief, supported by Scripture, holds that they're alive and in communion with living Christians. 
  • "One Mediator between God and Man" — Traditional Christianity holds that we are "co-heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:16-17). Our membership in the Body of Christ means that we share in Christ's high priesthood and in his mediation. 
Sedevacantists are a segment of people who, while holding themselves out to be Catholics, maintain that the documents of Vatican II teach heresy. As a result of this, the popes and bishops responsible for this council were de facto excommunicate; by extension, since heresy impedes priestly and episcopal functions, there were no true apostolic successors after that point, and the Chair of Peter is an empty seat (sede vacante). As we see here, sedevacantism suffers the same cardinal difficulty of Protestants who hold to sola scriptura; indeed, considered a little loosely, sedevacantists are a kind of Protestant ... though they would be horrified and insulted to hear themselves described so.

Marian Doctrines:


  • The Assumption of Mary: The doctrine of the Assumption tends to cause Protestants problems for two reasons: 1) It's not recorded in Scripture; and 2) It was defined by Pius XII as part of the deposit of faith only in the last century, and as such is an example of what they think is wrong with the papacy. But belief in the Assumption actually goes back to the earliest days of the Church, and was declared dogma with the almost unanimous consent of the rest of the bishops.
  • The Immaculate Conception: 
    • Part I: The Historical ObjectionThe doctrine wasn't first explicitly argued until the early twelfth century. However, the underpinning of it can be found in early Christian writings even back to the end of the first century.
    • Part II: The Proof-Text Gantlet: Belief in Mary's sinlessness and her typology as the "New Eve" can be traced back to almost the very beginning. But there are three or four weak attacks from Scripture that we need to defend against.

Sunday worship

  • Part I — The basic case: Joe Heschmeyer of Shameless Popery posted some interesting material on Seventh-Day Adventists. While it’s worth reading in its own right, and I do recommend you check it out, I should also note that there are other, smaller Christian groups, like the Seventh-Day Baptists and Messianic Jews, who also insist on Saturday worship. Christians have worshipped on Sunday not only from the beginning, they have had very good reasons to do so; and the people who insist on the Jewish Sabbath make the same mistake as the earliest Judaizers.
  • Part II — St. Paul and the Law of Moses: This was written in response to a Facebook controversy, in which a Seventh-Day Adventist tried to sneak the Law of Moses back into Christian worship via St. Paul, a Pharisee trained by Gamaliel the Great. This argument flies in the face of the passages in the apostle's letters in which he makes clear that Christians are no longer under the Law.

Abortion and the silence of Jesus
Arguing from the silence of the Gospels is a two-edged sword: it can hurt you just as easily as your opponent.  Jesus may or may not have ever mentioned the subject of abortion, but we can make a pretty good guess by looking at what came before and after his ministry on Earth.  And that makes it even tougher for the person who wants to argue that Jesus would have tolerated abortion, for what evidence we have says God doesn't like baby-killers.

Matthew 6:7: "Vain repetition" or "babble"? 
Protestant Bible translations favor "vain/meaningless repetition" to translate the Greek word battalogeō, while Catholic Bibles favor "babble"; the word itself can mean either.  The difference is not inconsequential: Evangelicals constantly throw out this verse as "proof text" against Catholic devotions such as the rosary, chaplets and litanies.  But the context itself favors babble, and Jesus himself insists that we pester God with our prayers until they're answered.

Redemption and heaven
In a homily given on Wednesday, May 22, 2013,  Pope Francis called for Christians and atheists to work towards peace by doing good. In the midst of his homily, he made comments that some have interpreted to mean that atheists can achieve heaven without faith, by referring to the Catholic belief that Christ's sacrifice redeemed all of mankind. Here I give a thumbnail sketch of the doctrine of redemption, and explain why it doesn't grant entry into heaven without faith.

Catholic Answers to Slick Questions
Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry has a list of questions for his Evangelical readers to ask unsuspecting Catholics, to “lead them to the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ”. A well-prepared Catholic, however, can turn the tables on the questioner. Here are at least the outlines of the answers you’ll need.