23 July 2007

The revised response

What follows is my revised letter to the editor responding to the letter posted here earlier. I am grateful for your comments and suggestions.


Mr. Michael Antrim posits several erroneous claims in his letter, “Salvation found in Scriptures,” published in the 20 July 2007 issue of the Effingham Daily News. Many of his questions are, no doubt, rhetorical. Nevertheless, they do have answers and these I will endeavor to provide. If these prove unsatisfactory, he would do well to consult Catholic Answers at www.catholic.com/library/ or to consult the Catechism [the Teaching] of the Catholic Church. There he will find at least, on average, eight Scriptural references per page (and in the Catholic Mass 90% of the Scriptures are proclaimed, recited and sung).

Before rushing to rash conclusions about what somebody or some group says in particular or in general, the wise person always reads first what the other says and then responds, rather than relying on hearsay or somebody else’s account.

Mr. Antrim asks, “Will someone please tell me what book, chapter and verse of Scripture requires that the church, that Christ established, have ‘apostolic succession’ as a means of salvation?” Very well. He need look no further than II Timothy 2:2: “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Notice that Saint Paul does not tell Saint Timothy to hand on what he has read, but rather what he has heard. If these sayings were unimportant there would be no need to hand them on. Here, then, is a Scriptural basis for the Apostolic succession. The Apostle does not tell Timothy to tell everybody but only some so that Paul’s own teaching may continue after him. These passages might also be consulted: I Corinthians 11:2; II Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6.

The Apostolic succession is necessary for salvation in that Christ has given it to the Church and he does not give useless or needless gifts.

From early historical evidence – which is documented outside of the Scriptures because the Scriptures concern the life of Christ Jesus and the Apostles – we learn for certain that as Christ entrusted his ministry to the Apostles, they entrusted their ministry to specific men who succeeded them. The Apostles handed on through the laying on of hands (I Timothy 1:6) the authority Christ gave them to continue his mission until he comes in glory. These chosen men in turn handed on the authority given to them by the Apostles through the laying on of hands to other chosen men. This is the Apostolic succession as intended by Christ.

Mr. Antrim asks, “Where is the ordination of priests or the primacy of the Pope?” If Mr. Antrim is looking for the rite of ordination of priests in the Scriptures, he will not find it. Then again, he will also not find the rite of baptism described, yet we know baptisms were held. What he will find, however, are numerous references to the New Covenant priests (often called presbyters to maintain a distinction from the Jewish priesthood; the New Covenant priesthood has three ranks: bishop, priest and deacon). Some of the references are found in these passages: Acts 6:1-6; II Corinthians 3:6, 6:4 and 11:23; Ephesians 3:7; I Timothy 5:17 and 19-22; II Timothy 4:5; Titus 1:5; James 5:14-15 and I Peter 5:1. There are many others besides and a good knowledge of Greek – the original language in which the texts were written - together with a good knowledge of Old Testament terminology will be most useful if not essential.

As for the second part of this question, Saint Peter, as the first Bishop of Rome and the one upon whom Christ established his Church, is the first Pope and there is a large body of evidence demonstrating Peter’s primacy among the Twelve. Peter is always listed first when the names of the Apostles are listed (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13); the Apostles are sometimes called "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32). It was Peter who spoke on behalf of the Apostles (Matt. 18:21; Mark 8:29; Luke 12:41; John 6:68-69), and he who is present in the most dramatic passages (Matt. 14:28-32; Matt. 17:24-27; Mark 10:23-28). It was Peter who first preached to the crowds in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40), and through him that the first healing in the Church was worked (Acts 3:6-7). Peter’s faith will strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:32) and Christ Jesus gives his flock to Peter (John 21:17). An angel announced the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7), and Christ, risen from the dead, appears to Peter first (Luke 24:34). Peter presided at the election of Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and he received the first converts (Acts 2:41). Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23). He presided over the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and proclaimed the first dogmatic decision of the Church (Acts 15:7-11). It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48). From these passages it is clear that Peter holds the primacy within the Apostles, and because the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is the successor to the ministry of Peter, he retains the primacy of Saint Peter among the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops.

Mr. Antrim asks, “So how can you know if you are a member of that ‘one true church’? Hold it up to the Scriptures. You cannot be born into the church. You can only be born again.” Mr. Antrim is quite mistaken to say that you cannot be born into the church; you can only become a member of the Church if you are “born of water and spirit” (John 3:5) and this baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15; John 3:5; I Peter 3:21; and Romans 6:3-4). This is why Jesus commanded the Apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Here, again, is another reference to the Apostolic succession. Jesus does not say to teach what the Apostles have read, but what he has taught them.

On a side note, Mr. Antrim claims that the Scriptures (by which he largely means the writings of the New Testament) “had already been declared at the time of Paul.” He then references I Corinthians 15:11: “Whether then it was I or they [the Apostles], so we preach and so you believed.” As you can see, this passage does not match his argument (this is the case with many of his references). Paul says they believed what was preached, what was said, and not what was written. Because of their personal contact and involvement in the ministry and Paschal Mystery of Christ Jesus, the Apostles preached the Gospel; they did not read it.

In point of fact, the writings of Paul and the Gospels were not recognized as part of the Scriptures at the time they were written. None of the New Testament writers – with the exception of Saint John with the Revelation – set out to write Scripture or claimed divine inspiration for their writings. It was the Church who discerned the inspired texts and collected them together and established them as Scripture and handed them on as such to succeeding generations.

It is clear that not all of the Churches read all of Paul’s letters or all of the four Gospels in their liturgies in the first decades of the Church. Paul wrote to particular Churches who copied his letters – because they liked them, learned from them and were inspired by them – and sent them to other Churches, but not to all. The same is true of the four Gospels. There were other letters (we even know of at least one other letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians, though we do not have it [see I Corinthians 5:9]) and other gospels read during the liturgies of the early Churches, but for various reasons not all of these were included in the canon (the measuring rod) of Scripture when it was finalized by the Church in the fourth century when the matter was disputed (the Catholic Church does not define a teaching until it is contested, and even so only defines doctrine to correct heresy). To what were the accepted books and letters compared? To the tradition of the Apostles as maintained in the Church and handed on through the Apostolic succession, all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Mr. Antrim demonstrates a false understanding of history when he claims, “Paul warned sternly, before any Pope or Catholic church ever existed, not to accept any other doctrine.” Saint Peter is the first Pope and the Catholic (the universal) Church is founded upon him by Christ, as we have seen. As for the Pope “declaring” Apostolic succession, we have already seen how Saint Paul commands Timothy to keep the succession and how doctrines are not defined until confronted by heresy (if there is no heresy there is no reason to define a teaching). Even if no “Apostolic documents existed” at this time, it does not at all imply that the notion of the Apostolic succession was not present in the mind of Christ and in the minds of the Apostles and disciples; it implies, rather, that Apostolic succession was accepted by all and was not contested. Christ Jesus was raised from the dead, after all, some twenty years before Paul wrote his first letter and some thirty years before the Gospels were written, and Christians accepted the Resurrection straight away based on the oral testimony of the Apostles and witnesses of the Risen Lord; they had no writings at the time testifying to the Resurrection because they had not yet been written.

Mr. Antrim asks, “So how can we know what the true church is and how to have true salvation?” One might well follow the words of Christ Jesus who said to Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter [petros/rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).

Mr. Antrim asks, “What do we need the Pope or the Pope’s doctrine for?” For starters, Christ Jesus gave the Pope to the Church through Saint Peter (see John 21:15-17). What better need have we for the Pope? At the same time, the Pope’s doctrine is not his own but is the teaching of the Church, who speaks on behalf of Christ. We need the Pope to strengthen the brethren (Luke 32:22) and maintain the integrity of the faith, to be the visible sign of our unity in the Body of Christ. Indeed, all people will find salvation in the “Pope’s doctrine” for his doctrine is the doctrine of Christ and not his own as Mr. Antrim would see if he would read what the Pope himself has written or listen to what he says.

In the future, Mr. Antrim – and others – might do well to follow the suggestion I gave in my letter to the editor, wrongly titled by the Effingham Daily News “Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” published 19 July 2007, and read the actual documents of the Church for her teaching. Trusting the secular media for an accurate and correct presentation of the teachings of the Catholic Church is quite foolish and will only lead to lies, falsehood and misrepresentation as has been demonstrated numerous times in the past few months alone.

The Scriptural references put forth by Mr. Antrim no more “oppose the Pope’s doctrine and would expose the Pope’s doctrine as an untruth,” as he suggests, any more than prove Mr. Antrim’s own claims; indeed, in many cases the passages he cites contradict Mr. Antrim’s positions. It is true that the Scriptures do refute what Mr. Antrim thinks the Pope teaches; but then again, contrary to the media’s portrayal, that it is not at all what the Pope teaches.

The Rev. Daren J. Zehnle, S.T.B., M.Div.


  1. Put a stamp on it and send it (if you haven`t already done so). Good response.