One of Loraine Boettner's key points in his magnum opus, Roman
Catholicism--certainly the key textbook for professional anti-Catholics--is
that Catholicism must be untrue because in so many particulars it differs
from the Christianity of the New Testament. Over the centuries, he says,
the Catholic Church has added beliefs, rituals, and customs that often
contradict what is found in the Bible. He calls this "the melancholy
evidence of Rome's steadily increasing departure from the simplicity of the
Gospel," and he claims "human inventions have been substituted for Bible
truth and practice" (p. 9).
His point is that Catholicism can't be the religion established by
Christ because it has all these "extras," forty-five of which he lists (pp.
7-9) under the title "Some Roman Catholic Heresies and Inventions." A few
of these he examines at greater length later in the book, but most of them
are mentioned once here and then conveniently dropped.
Many anti-Catholic organizations have reprinted all or portions of
Boettner's list of "inventions," generally in leaflet form. These leaflets
are distributed, commonly, outside Catholic churches after Mass. Do they
produce the intended results? Yes and no. It depends, of course, on the
knowledge or sophistication of the readers. Some people just laugh at the
charges, since they know what the facts really are. Others are stumped for
answers, but figure they can establish the bona fides of the Catholic
religion if they have to. Yet some people are taken in, thinking,
apparently, that no one would go to the trouble of disseminating such
information if it weren't true, if the implications weren't valid; these
people start to think Boettner and his followers may be on to something.
Catholics need to realize that professional anti-Catholics have dozens
of charges like these up their sleeves, and they produce them whenever they
think they can make an impression on people who know even less than they
do. These off-the-wall allegations sow confusion in Catholic minds. After
all, most Catholics aren't conversant with the fine points of Church
history or practice (there's no reason they should be), and a confused
Catholic is a ripe target for evangelistic fundamentalists.
In a tract called Catholic "Inventions" we looked at five of
Boettner's charges. Let's look at a few more now. They're worth examining
because they're good examples of bad thinking. They aren't really
arguments, but mere statements intended to leave a bad impression. Throw
forty-five of them together in a list, and readers may think there is more
to anti-Catholic charges than meets the eye--even when there's not.
Item: "Making the sign of the cross ... [A.D.] 300." That's it.
That's the whole charge: that the sign of the cross was not "invented"
until well into the Christian era. Actually, Christians began making the
sign of the cross at a much earlier date. The theologian Tertullian,
writing in A.D. 211, said that "we furrow our foreheads with the sign [of
the cross]." Making the sign was already an old custom when he wrote. It
may well have been common even while some of the Apostles were alive.
But the mistake Boettner makes in the antiquity of the practice is not
the important thing. The real question is, Why does he include this point
at all? The answer: because the sign of the cross is something not found
in the pages of the New Testament. The reader is supposed to conclude that
it must thus be contrary to Christianity. But that makes little sense. In
fact, that principle undermines even Boettner's own fundamentalism.
After all, fundamentalists meet for worship on Sunday, yet there is no
evidence in the Bible that corporate worship was to be made on Sundays.
The Jewish Sabbath was, of course, Saturday. It was the Catholic Church
that decided Sunday should be the day of worship, in honor of the
Resurrection. And what about the form of fundamentalist services: hymns,
readings, preaching? No mention is made in the New Testament of the form
of worship (other than that set out at the Last Supper, which gives the
outline of the Mass).
If Catholicism has changed matters of practice or customs over the
centuries, fundamentalism has done the same. Isn't the proper question not
whether the Church founded by Christ looks today exactly as it did then (if
that is the criterion, then his Church can't be found anywhere), but
whether what purports to be his Church has kept all the same beliefs, while
understanding them better and drawing out their implications more deeply,
even if in external practices the Church has developed and changed?
Item: "Priests began to dress differently from laymen ... 500." So
what? Can't this charge be brought against fundamentalist preachers who
conduct services while dressed in choir robes? This statement happens to
be quite true, but it is irrelevant. The main vestment worn by priests
during Mass is the chasuble. It is really nothing more than a stylized
Roman overcoat. In the sixth century, while fashions changed around them,
for liturgical purposes priests kept the same clothing they had used for
some time. They didn't adopt special dress for Mass; they just kept to the
old styles, while everyday fashions changed, and over time their dress
began to stand out.
On very formal occasions today, such as a presidential inauguration,
the principal players wear top hats and tails. You don't otherwise see
that kind of clothing anymore, but remember that Abraham Lincoln used to
wear the equivalent all the time. That is another example of dress for a
special occasion being frozen in a particular style. It just so happens
that priests' vestments are much older than top hats.
Item: "Extreme Unction ... 526." This single line by Boettner is no
doubt intended to make the reader believe the Catholic Church invented this
sacrament, which is also known as the Anointing of the Sick, five centuries
after Christ. But notice that Boettner makes no effort to give the
Church's explanation of the sacrament's origin. Why? Because the origin
is found in the New Testament itself: "Is one of you sick? Let him send
for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him
with oil in the Lord's name. Prayer offered in faith will restore the sick
man, and the Lord will give him relief; if he is guilty of sins, they will
be pardoned" (James 5:14-15). This scriptural injunction was followed from
the earliest days of the Church. If Boettner wanted to say this sacrament
was invented, at least he should have said it was invented while the
apostles were still alive, but that, of course, would simply give the
Item: "Worship of the cross, images, and relics authorized in ...
786." What's this? Do Catholics give slivers of wood, carvings of marble,
and pieces of bone the kind of adoration they give God? That's what
Boettner seems to say. What if a Catholic were to say to him, "I saw you
kneeling with your Bible in your hands. Why do you worship a book?" He'd
rightly answer that he doesn't worship a book. He uses the Bible as an aid
to prayer. Likewise, Catholics don't worship the cross or images or
relics. They use these physical objects to remind themselves of Christ and
his special friends, the saints in heaven.
The man who keeps a picture of his family in his wallet does not
worship his wife and children, but he honors them. The woman who keeps her
parents' picture on the mantle does not subscribe to ancestor worship; the
picture just reminds her of them so she can honor them. (Remember Ex.
20:12: "Honor thy father and thy mother.") No one really thinks the
pictures are themselves objects of worship.
The origin of Boettner's allegation is this: In the Byzantine Empire
there developed what was known as the Iconoclastic heresy, which held that
all images (statues, paintings, mosaics) of saints and of God must be
destroyed on the theory that they were meant to be worshiped. Eventually,
around 786, this heresy was defeated, and the old custom (going back to the
first century) of permitting artistic representations was again allowed.
Boettner has the date right; he just doesn't understand the story.
Item: "Celibacy of the priesthood, decreed by pope Gregory VII
(Hildebrand) ... 1079." Anti-Catholics take considerable delight in noting
that some of the apostles, including Peter, were married and that for
centuries Catholic priests were allowed to marry. Catholics do not deny
that some of the early popes were married and that celibacy, for priests in
the Western (Latin) Rite, did not become mandatory until the early Middle
Ages. Anti-Catholic writers generally fail to note that even today many
Catholic priests in the Eastern Rites are married, and that is the way it
has always been. Celibacy in the Western Rite is purely a matter of
discipline. It came to be thought that priests could more perfectly
fulfill their duties if they remained unmarried. This follows Paul's
After saying he wished those to whom he was writing were, like he,
unmarried (1 Cor. 7:7-9), Paul said he thought celibacy was the best state
to be in (1 Cor. 7:26), noting that "he who is unmarried is concerned with
God's claim, asking how he is to please God; whereas the married man is
concerned with the world's claim, asking how he is to please his wife" (1
Cor. 7:32-33). When a man becomes a priest in the Western Rite, he knows
that he will not be able to marry. Marriage is a good thing (in fact,
Catholics acknowledge Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament), but it is
something that priests are willing to forgo for the sake of being better
No one is forced to be a priest (or a nun for that matter: nuns don't
marry either), so no Catholic is forced to be celibate. Those who want to
take the vows of the religious life shouldn't object to having to follow
the rules. That doesn't mean that the rules, as found at any one time, are
ideal or can't be modified--after all, they aren't doctrines, but matters
of discipline--but it does mean that it's unfair to imply from the rules,
as Boettner has, that the Catholic religion scorns marriage.
Item: "Auricular confession of sins to a priest instead of to God,
instituted by pope Innocent III, in Lateran Council ... 1215." It is
charges like this that make one doubt the good faith of professional anti-
Catholics. It would have taken little to discover the antiquity of
auricular confession--and even less to learn that Catholics don't tell
their sins to a priest "instead of to God," but to God through a priest,
appointed by our Lord as an alter Christus or "other Christ," an official
stand-in for Christ.
Origen, writing his Homilies on Leviticus around 244, referred to the
sinner who "does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the
Lord." Cyprian of Carthage, writing seven years later in The Lapsed,
said, "Finally, of how much greater faith and more salutary fear are they
who ... confess to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in
sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience." In the fourth century
Aphraates gave this advice to priests: "If anyone uncovers his wound before
you, give him the remedy of repentance. And he that is ashamed to make
known his weakness, encourage him so that he will not hide it from you.
And when he has revealed it to you, do not make it public."
These men, writing as much as a thousand years before the Lateran
Council of 1215, were referring to a practice that already was old and
well-established. Christ commissioned the Apostles this way: "When you
forgive men's sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are
held bound" (John 20:23). Clearly, no priest could forgive sins on
Christ's behalf unless he was first told the sins by the penitent.
Auricular confession is implied in the very institution of the sacrament.
The Lateran Council did not "invent" the practice; it merely reaffirmed it
while emphasizing the importance of penance.
Item: "Adoration of the wafer (host), decreed by pope Honorius III ...
1220." What the reader is supposed to think, apparently, is that Catholics
worship the bread used at Mass. They don't. What they worship is Christ,
and they believe the bread, along with the wine, is turned into his actual
body and blood, including not only his human nature, but also his divine
nature. If Catholics are right about that, then surely the host deserves
to be worshiped since it really is God. A pope would be perfectly correct
in decreeing that the host should be worshiped, just as he would be right
to say Jesus should be worshiped if he walked in the room. Boettner should
direct his complaint not at some non-existent worship of ordinary bread,
but at what Catholics think that bread becomes.
Item: "Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent ...
1546." This reminds one of a famous comment made by a writer (obviously
not a Catholic) who said, in discussing the English Reformation, that "the
pope and his minions then seceded from the Church of England." It was not
the Council of Trent that "added" what Protestants call the apocryphal
books to the Bible. Instead, the Protestant Reformers dropped these books
from the Bible that had been in common use for centuries.
The Council of Trent, convened to reaffirm Catholic doctrines and to
revitalize the Church, proclaimed that these books always belonged to the
Bible and had to remain in it. After all, it was the Catholic Church, in
the fourth century, at councils held in Carthage and Hippo, that officially
decided what books belonged to the Bible and what didn't. The Council of
Trent came on the scene about thirteen centuries later and merely restated
that ancient position.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that few people in America hate the
Catholic religion, but many people hate what they mistakenly believe is the
Catholic religion--and that if what is hated really were the Catholic
religion, Catholics would hate it too. Confusing lists--lists intended to
cause confusion, like the one published in Roman Catholicism--have done
much to foster this kind of hatred. What's more, they have discouraged
fundamentalists from finding out what the Catholic religion really is, and
that's a disservice both to fundamentalists and to Catholics.
Like others before him, Loraine Boettner has found an enemy of his own
fashioning. He castigates it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, but it is
not the Catholic religion as Catholics know it, and the "history" he
presents is not the history of the Catholic Church. Fundamentalists who
are curious about the Catholic religion do themselves no favor by allowing
themselves to be hoodwinked by such lists of "inventions." If they want to
know what really happened, how Catholic beliefs and practices really arose,
they will have to turn to writers not tempted to pull a fast one.
P.O. Box 17181
San Diego, CA 92117