Questions and Answers on Catholicism

The information on this page is based on questions I received from someone who had rejected Protestantism and was inquiring into both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. In most of my answers above I have tried to quote Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. (The Church Fathers although fallible carry much weight in the Church, and the Ecumenical Councils are absolutely authoritative.) 

To the best of my knowledge all answers are consistent with Orthodox beliefs, and all Roman Catholic beliefs are treated fairly. If there are problems with either feel free to contact me and let me know.

QDid the Roman Catholic Church change the Nicene Creed and in doing so the nature of the Trinity?

AYes. The Catholic Church did change the Creed and the understanding of the Trinity. The Creed was worked out through the first two councils of the Church and ratified in the next five. The original Creed worked out in those first two councils is as follows:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ; the Son of God, the Only Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made: who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; the third day he rose again according to the scriptures; and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Notice that, being consistent with John 15:26, the Creed says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The first part of the Creed, which ended with “And I believe in the Holy Spirit” was written at the Council of Nicea, which was the first council of the Church, and was a response to Arianism. Arius was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt who made the claim that Jesus was not God. The rest of the Creed was written during the First Council at Constantinople, which was the second council of the Church, and was in response to the Macedonians who claimed that the Holy Spirit was not God.

The Catholic Church changed the Creed to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They say that this is not in conflict with the original rendering of the Creed because it is true that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. It is simply also true that he proceeds from the Son. They claim that the original Creed was not wrong; the Church just was not specific enough in her definition. This conflicts with the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which was the fourth council of the Church. It says:

And the same of the 150 saintly fathers assembled in Constantinople. This wise and saving creed, the gift of divine grace, was sufficient for a perfect understanding and establishment of religion. For its teaching about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is complete, and it sets out the Lord’s becoming human to those who faithfully accept it.

Therefore this sacred and great and universal synod, now in session, in its desire to exclude all their tricks against the truth, and teaching what has been unshakeable in the proclamation from the beginning, decrees that the creed of the 318 fathers is, above all else, to remain inviolate. And because of those who oppose the Holy Spirit, it ratifies the teaching about the being of the Holy Spirit handed down by the 150 saintly fathers who met some time later in the imperial city the teaching they made known to all, not introducing anything left out by their predecessors, but clarifying their ideas about the Holy Spirit by the use of scriptural testimonies against those who were trying to do away with his sovereignty.

Since we have formulated these things with all possible accuracy and attention, the sacred and universal synod decreed that no one is permitted to produce, or even to write down or compose, any other creed or to think or teach otherwise. As for those who dare either to compose another creed or even to promulgate or teach or hand down another creed for those who wish to convert to a recognition of the truth from Hellenism or from Judaism, or from any kind of heresy at all: if they be bishops or clerics, the bishops are to be deposed from the episcopacy and the clerics from the clergy; if they be monks or layfolk, they are to be anathematised.

Notice how it says that the teaching of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is complete, and the Creed was formulated with all possible accuracy and attention. This does not sound like people who left out something as important as the Holy Spirit also proceeding from the Son. Furthermore, the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) reiterated this by saying:

This pious and orthodox creed of the divine favour was enough for a complete knowledge of the orthodox faith and a complete assurance therein.

Once again this does not sound like the fathers of the council believed that they were leaving any thing out.

As we noted above, John 15:26 says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father:

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.

The word “proceedeth” comes from the Greek word Ekporeuomi which comes from two words. Ek, denoting origin (the point from which motion or action proceeds), and poreuomai, “to traverse”, i.e., travel.

So in this verse Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father as from a point of origin.

In John 14:26 and 16:7, which speak of Jesus sending the Holy Spirit into the world, a different Greek word is used, pempo, which means “to dispatch on a temporary errand.” One can see that in John 15:26 Jesus is speaking of the eternal origin of the Holy Spirit, and in the other verses he is speaking of the Holy Spirit coming into the world on a temporary mission.

The Orthodox Church also believes that the change in the Nicene Creed was a heretical change in our understanding of the Trinity. Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholics agree that the Trinity is defined as being three persons and one God. Therefore all of the characteristics of the Trinity must reflect this definition. For example, the three persons share the same essence, will, mind, action, etc. This shows one God. On the other hand only the Father is the Father, and only he begets a Son, and (according to the original Creed) only he brings forth the Holy Spirit. Only the Son is the Son, and only he is begotten. Only the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and only he proceeds. These characteristics, since only one member of the Trinity possesses them, show distinction of persons.

When the Roman Catholic Church changed the Creed they gave a characteristic, that of bringing forth the Holy Spirit, to two persons of the Trinity (the Father and the Son). This does not show one God because the characteristic is not shared by the three. Nor does it show a distinction of persons, because it is shared by two. Giving a characteristic to two persons of the Trinity had never been done before, nor has it been done since. It is not consistent with the Church’s historic understanding of God, as it does not show the Trinity to be three distinct persons and yet one God.

Another problem with the Roman Catholic version of the Creed has to do with where we place the unity of the Trinity. The West, through Augustine, said that this unity was in the common essence shared by the three persons. The East answered that the unity was in the person of the Father. The West therefore says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son by way of the common essence. One difficulty with this is that the Holy Spirit would also have to proceed from himself, as he shares the common essence with the Father and the Son. The East, on the other hand, says that the Holy Spirit can only proceed from the Father, as the Son can only be begotten of the Father. The problem for the Catholic Church is that the Creed, beginning with the statement “I believe in one God the Father almighty,” clearly puts the unity of the Trinity in the person of the Father. The only way the Roman Catholic understanding could possibly work is if the Creed stated, “I believe in one God the common essence almighty,” which it does not. If it did it would remove the personhood of God.

QIs this what caused the schism between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church?

AThe break between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church was over the change in the Nicene Creed, and Rome’s claim that her bishop had jurisdictional authority over all other bishops. Because of this authority Rome believed that she could change the Creed unilaterally. The East said that since the entire Church, in two ecumenical councils, had composed the Creed, then it could only be changed by the whole Church in an ecumenical council.

QWhat then was Rome’s position in the Church?

AThe Orthodox Church believes that Rome had a place of honor in the Church because it was the capital of the empire, but she did not have jurisdictional authority over the whole Church.

Notice below that when Constantinople was raised next to Rome in honor it was because it was now the capital city of the empire.

Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome. (The First Council of Constantinople, 381 A.D.)

Below it is clear that Rome got her place because she was the imperial city. No reference is made to Peter or Matthew 16.

Canon 28 of the fourth council of the Church (Chalcedon 451) reads:

Following in every way the decrees of the holy fathers and recognizing the canon which has recently been read out–the canon of the 150 most devout bishops who assembled in the time of the great Theodosius of pious memory, then emperor, in imperial Constantinople, new Rome — we issue the same decree and resolution concerning the prerogatives of the most holy church of the same Constantinople, new Rome. The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equaling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her.

QHow do the Orthodox see the Roman Catholic claim that the pope is the infallible head of the Church?

AAs far as the pope and his place in the Church is concerned, the Catholic Church focuses on Matthew 16:18-19 to make her claim that the bishop of Rome has jurisdictional authority over the rest of the Church.

In Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus gives to Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and tells him that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. The Roman Catholic Church claims that this means that Peter had authority over the other apostles, and by extension the pope who is the successor to Peter, has authority over all of Christendom.

In Matthew 18:18 Jesus gives the same authority to bind and loose to all of the apostles though he does not give them keys. So it is the keys that the Catholic Church focuses on for Peter’s, and by extension Rome’s, authority.

They point to Isaiah 22:22-24 to show that when the king gave to his steward the keys to the kingdom this meant that the steward had authority over the entire kingdom. The problem is that in Isaiah 22 only one person is given the authority that goes with the keys. In Matthew 18 Jesus gave the same authority that goes with the keys (binding and loosing) to all of the disciples. So what is the significance of the keys?

The Catholic Church says that all of the apostles were given authority, but the keys indicate that Peter was given greater authority. Why then does Jesus use the exact same words when he gives authority to the rest of the apostles as he did when he gave Peter the keys? One would think that if the other apostles were given less authority than Peter, then Jesus would have indicated this with different wording. It seems to make more sense that if Jesus uses the exact same wording in giving authority to the rest of the apostles as he does when he gives Peter the keys, then they must have the exact same authority.

What then is the significance of the keys? There may be none. It could be that the keys were implied when Jesus gives the same authority to the apostles as he did to Peter. It could also be that in only giving Peter the keys, but giving the rest of the apostles equal authority with him, Jesus was giving Peter the place of honor amongst the disciples. So the keys in Matthew 16 show Peter’s special place amongst the disciples, while equal authority is given to all in Matthew 18.

This seems to be the more Biblical and historical way of seeing Peter and by extension Rome’s place in the Church. Below are some quotes to back up this assertion.

St. John Chrysostom is one of the major saints of the Church. He was bishop of Antioch and then Constantinople. The Roman Catholic Church gives him the title of “Doctor,” which she does for very few saints. Below, in his commentary on Matthew 16, he interprets the rock as being the faith of Peter’s confession not Peter himself.

What then says Christ? You are Simon, the son of Jonas; you shall be called Cephas. Thus since you have proclaimed my Father, I too name him that begat you; all but saying, As you are son of Jonas, even so am I of my Father. Else it were superfluous to say, You are Son of Jonas; but since he had said, Son of God, to point out that He is so Son of God, as the other son of Jonas, of the same substance with Him that begat Him, therefore He added this, And I say unto you, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And if not against it, much more not against me. So be not troubled because you are shortly to hear that I shall be betrayed and crucified. (emphasis mine)

St. Cyprian was a western Bishop under the Pope. Note the underlined portion where St. Cyprian says that Peter did not claim primacy.

Neither must we prescribe this from custom, but overcome opposite custom by reason. For neither did Peter, whom first the Lord chose, and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul disputed with him afterwards about circumcision, claim anything to himself insolently, nor arrogantly assume anything; so as to say that he held the primacy, and that he ought rather to be obeyed by novices and those lately come. Nor did he despise Paul because he had previously been a persecutor of the Church, but admitted the counsel of truth, and easily yielded to the lawful reason which Paul asserted, furnishing thus an illustration to us both of concord and of patience, that we should not obstinately love our own opinions, but should rather adopt as our own those which at any time are usefully and wholesomely suggested by our brethren and colleagues, if they be true and lawful. (Epistle 70, emphasis mine)

Notice the emphasized portion below where St. Cyprian says that Peter had his place in the Church for purposes of unity, but all of the apostles had equal honor and authority. St. Cyprian makes it clear that no one, not even the Pope is a bishop of Bishops. Read more from St. Cyprian.

St. Gregory the Great Pope of Rome (540-604) is one of the few Popes to be called the Great so his words have special importance. But we see St. Gregory fighting against the Bishop of Constantinople’s attempt to be called universal bishop as the Pope is now called. He doesn’t tell the bishop that he couldn’t have it because it belonged to Rome. He says that no one should have it because it would demote all other bishops. Notice also in the last sentence St. Gregory makes the point that if a bishop who is called universal errs then all bishops who follow him will also be in error. Why would he say this if he believed that he, the bishop of Rome, was the universal and infallible bishop? He seems to have no knowledge of any bishop being infallible or universal. If he believed that he possessed those titles why didn’t he say to the bishop of Constantinople, “You can’t be the infallible universal bishop because I am”?

The importance of the councils that I cite below is that if the pope is infallible when he makes pronouncements on faith and morals, then there should never be a case when he is anathematized (accursed and cut off from the Church) by an ecumenical council for heresy, as was Honorius. The Catholic Church says that Rome never accepted the anathemas. Even if that is true these councils show that the rest of the Church did not believe the Roman bishop to be infallible. The Catholic Church also says that these were opinions by Honorius and not official pronouncements. First of all, I am not aware of anyone who has been anathematized in an ecumenical council for an opinion. Secondly, it seems obvious that the rest of the Church had no idea of the Pope needing to sit upon the chair of Peter and make an official pronouncement in order to have his statements taken seriously. They seem to treat him as they treat all other bishops.

And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines. (Third Council of Constantinople, 680-681)
Further we declare that there are two wills and principles of action, in accordance with what is proper to each of the natures in Christ, in the way that the sixth synod, that at {6}Constantinople, proclaimed, when it also publicly rejected Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, Pyrrhus, Macarius, those uninterested in true holiness, and their likeminded followers. (Second Council of Nicaea, 787)

QDoesn’t the council in Acts 15 show Peter to be the authority over all of the Apostles? Doesn’t James chair it simply because he was the local bishop of Jerusalem?

AThe council found in Acts 15 was not simply a local one. It was the first ecumenical council of the Church upon which all the others were based. There is no way the pope today would not chair and make the final decision in an ecumenical council.

Consider the words of James below. He does not act as if Peter is in charge of the meeting. Notice how in verse 13 he calls all to listen to him, and then in verse 19 he says that he is giving the sentence. Does this sound like someone who is in obedience to Peter?

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God. (Acts 15:13,19)

St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on the book of Acts in no way lifts Peter up as the infallible head of the Church. In fact he says that it was James who was in high authority and therefore spoke last. Even if James did speak last, as the Roman Catholic Church says, because he was the local bishop of Jerusalem, why would St. John Chrysostom call him the one in high authority? Shouldn’t that title have been reserved for Peter?

This (James) was bishop, as they say, and therefore he speaks last, and herein is fulfilled that saying, In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

After Peter Paul speaks, and none silences him: James waits patiently, not starts up (for the next word). Great the orderliness (of the proceedings). No word speaks John here, no word the other Apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. And after that they had held their peace, James answered, etc. (v. 13.) (b) Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part.

QWhat is the Immaculate Conception, and do the Orthodox agree with it?

AAs far as the Immaculate Conception is concerned, the Catholic Church believes that we are born guilty of Adam’s sin. If Mary was born with this “original sin” then she would have passed sin and guilt down to Jesus. So the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was born without original sin as the Roman Catholic Church understands it.

Notice below that the scripture used to justify original sin is a mistranslation of Romans 5:12, which actually reads:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

The Orthodox view is that man is affected by Adam’s sin but not guilty of it. We are subjected to death, disease, hunger, thirst, and even a propensity to sin, but we are only guilty of our own sin not the sin of Adam. Since we do not believe that Adam passed down his sin and guilt to us, then we have no need for Mary to be immaculately conceived. Read the Decree Concerning Original Sin from the Council of Trent (1545-1563)

QHow do the Orthodox view Purgatory?

AI am not aware of any Church Fathers who spoke of the doctrine of purgatory. Since most of us are not totally pure when we die, the Church always believed that something happens after death to ready us to meet God. For instance, St. Nephon had a vision of a river of fire proceeding from the throne of God. All were required to walk through it. The saints came out the other side purified while the sinners never came out. As far as I know there were many such opinions and visions, but it was never defined into a doctrine until the Roman Catholic Church came up with her doctrine of purgatory.

The Catholic Church agrees that the doctrine of purgatory is not found, as such, in the early Church Fathers, but they believe in what they call the evolution of doctrine. They believe that the Apostles received the seed of doctrine, and it is now up to the Church to bring it to its fullness. They say that they do not create new doctrine in this evolutionary process, but in this case, as in others, we believe that they have done just that.

Below is a quote from Tertullian who died in the year 220 making the case that the Apostles were given the full revelation, being ignorant of nothing, and passed the fullness of the revelation on to us.

They usually tell us that the apostles did not know all things: (but herein) they are impelled by the same madness, whereby they turn round to the very opposite point, and declare that the apostles certainly knew all things, but did not deliver all things to all persons—in either case exposing Christ to blame for having sent forth apostles who had either too much ignorance, or too little simplicity. What man, then, of sound mind can possibly suppose that they were ignorant of anything, whom the Lord ordained to be masters (or teachers), keeping them, as He did, inseparable (from Himself) in their attendance, in their discipleship, in their society, to whom, when they were alone, He used to expound all things (Mark 4:34) which were obscure, telling them that to them it was given to know those mysteries, (Matthew 13:11) which it was not permitted the people to understand? Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the rock on which the church should be built, who also obtained the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with the power of loosing and binding in heaven and on earth? Was anything, again, concealed from John, the Lord’s most beloved disciple, who used to lean on His breast (John 21:20) to whom alone the Lord pointed Judas out as the traitor, whom He commended to Mary as a son in His own stead? (John 19:26) Of what could He have meant those to be ignorant, to whom He even exhibited His own glory with Moses and Elias, and the Father’s voice moreover, from heaven? (Matthew 17:1-8) Not as if He thus disapproved of all the rest, but because by three witnesses must every word be established. After the same fashion, too, (I suppose,) were they ignorant to whom, after His resurrection also, He vouchsafed, as they were journeying together, to expound all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27) No doubt He had once said, I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot hear them now; but even then He added, When He, the Spirit of truth, shall come, He will lead you into all truth. (John 16:12-13) He (thus) shows that there was nothing of which they were ignorant, to whom He had promised the future attainment of all truth by help of the Spirit of truth. And assuredly He fulfilled His promise, since it is proved in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Ghost did come down. Now they who reject that Scripture can neither belong to the Holy Spirit, seeing that they cannot acknowledge that the Holy Ghost has been sent as yet to the disciples, nor can they presume to claim to be a church themselves who positively have no means of proving when, and with what swaddling-clothes this body was established. Of so much importance is it to them not to have any proofs for the things which they maintain, lest along with them there be introduced damaging exposures of those things which they mendaciously devise.