It seems like any time I do an internet search for something concerning the Catholic faith my search results contain a sprinkling of anti-Catholic articles and videos. Maybe you, too, have had the same experience or even personally know someone who attacks the Catholic Faith. Unfortunately, when Catholics try to defend their faith, they are met with strong resistance and statements such as “that is not written in Scripture so I don’t believe it” or “that is just your church’s interpretation of Scripture” or “that is just tradition made up by your church”.
Before we go any further there is something that needs to be said about these arguments. They are all fallacies of logic. A fallacy is a deceptive or unsound argument that contains no factual basis. Specifically, each of these is an Argument from Incredulity Fallacy. This fallacy exists when a person finds something hard to believe or has already made up their mind against it. So, they simply make a negative statement about it. The negative statement, itself, contains no facts nor proof that the statement is even valid. For Example: If one says they do not believe something because it is not written in Scripture, where is their proof that all things not written in Scripture are false? This would be impossible, and thus illogical.
So, what proof can the Catholic Church offer to overcome these fallacies of logic to validate the Church and its faith? Let’s look to Saint Ignatius of Antioch for help.
Who was Saint Ignatius of Antioch?
Saint Ignatius of Antioch was born in Syria around the year 35. Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John and was personally chosen by the Apostle Peter to become the third Bishop of Antioch in the year 67. Ignatius served as bishop until his martyrdom around the year 107. His great contribution to our faith is from seven letters he wrote to various churches while being escorted to Rome for execution.
To put things into perspective, everything Ignatius knew and taught about the Christian faith came directly from two Apostles. The Gospels were written somewhere between the years 50-60. The New Testament did not exist at the time so there was nothing to read and interpret. Ignatius had to have embraced and taught the entire faith that Peter and John taught him. Otherwise, why would the Apostle Peter personally chose Ignatius to be the next Bishop of Antioch?
So, let’s explore the faith of Ignatius through his letters.
Should we believe only what is written in Scripture?
Ignatius wrote, “When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, it is written, they answered me, that remains to be proved.” (Philadelphians).
I started with this quote because it was the most interesting to me. It shows that the Sola Scriptura argument (meaning faith by scripture alone) is not new. This fallacy was used 2,000 years ago to deny Christianity, just as it is used today to deny the Catholic Church. A question I have is: Why do those who only believe what is written in the New Testament even believe the New Testament; since it is not also written in the Old Testament?
The Apostles wrote the Gospels for evangelization and not as complete instruction guides on the Christian faith. As well, the Epistles were focused messages to specific churches and not catechisms on Christian faith. We must consider the possibility the authors did not include all teachings in their writings. It is very possible that matters of faith written by Ignatius are actual teachings of the Apostle that were overlooked or not considered pertinent when writing the Gospels and Epistles.
When was the Catholic Church started?
Ignatius wrote “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrnaeans).
This is the first written occurrence of the term Catholic Church. Some argue the Catholic Church of today is not the same church started by Jesus and the Apostles. They believe that our Church is a Roman Catholic Church formed by Emperor Constantine around the year 313.
In reality, the term Roman Catholic Church was never used until the Protestant Reformation. The term came into use only to differentiate Catholics who were in full communion with the Pope in Rome (thus Roman Catholic) from Eastern (Orthodox) Catholics. There is no distinct Roman Catholic Church and the Church does not refer to itself as the Roman Catholic Church.
Is it a sin to miss Mass?
Ignatius wrote “Let no man deceive himself: if anyone be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God…He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself.” (Ephesians).
I’ve heard some people say “God is in my heart, so I don’t need to attend Mass.” Some also say the Church only recently invented a mortal sin, since the obligation to attend mass was not included in the Code of Canon Law until 1917.
Ignatius confirms it was always the Church’s belief that attending Mass was important and those willfully missing Mass “condemn themself” out of pride. That sounds pretty mortal. St. John Paul II explains why the obligation to attend Mass was not included in Canon Law until 1917 in Dies Domini, an Apostolic Letter he published in 1998. St. John Paul II wrote “Even if in the earliest times it was not judged necessary to be prescriptive, the Church has not ceased to confirm this obligation of conscience, which rises from the inner need felt so strongly by the Christians of the first centuries. It was only later, faced with the half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the Church had to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass.”. In 1917, the Church simply clarified the matter.
Is the Eucharist the true Body and Blood of Jesus?
Ignatius wrote “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” (Smyrnaeans) and “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Romans).
Jesus was very clear about the Eucharist, “very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53). Those who deny the true body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist say Jesus was speaking figuratively. This is a fallacy known as the Burden of Proof Fallacy. It occurs when a person claims something to be false because the person making the claim has not proven the claim to be true. The problem is the person denying the claim cannot prove the claim to be false. They put the entire burden of proof on the person making the claim.
The Apostle Peter was the first Bishop of Antioch. Ignatius, as a Christian living in Antioch, would have attended Masses celebrated by Peter. Would Ignatius, chosen by Peter to be Bishop of Antioch, teach or write anything as a matter of faith not taught by Peter?
Is it wrong to worship on Sunday instead of the Sabbath?
Ignatius wrote, “those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day.” (Magnesians).
Arguments that the Sabbath should still be on Saturday include the fact that Jesus was a Jew and celebrated the Sabbath according to the Jewish law. The claim is also made that the Apostles would never have changed the Sabbath because they would have lost many Jewish converts. And there are those who state that Emperor Constantine changed the Sabbath to Sunday when he converted to Christianity. These arguments fall into the Misrepresenting the Facts Fallacy. This fallacy exists when a person makes up or misrepresents facts to support their argument. Finally, some argue the “Lord’s Day” is not written in Scripture. We already know about that fallacy. Ignatius confirms it was the Apostles who changed the Sabbath to Sunday. He also proves that “those who were brought up in the ancient order of things” (meaning converted Jews) were willing to conform to Sunday worship.
Is salvation by faith alone?
Ignatius wrote “For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.” (Ephesians) and “so that He [The Father] may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son.” (Magnesians).
Those who believe in Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone) often quote “man is justified by faith alone” (Romans 3:28) or “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith” (Galatians 2:16). Both of these attempts to support Sola Fide have inherent flaws.
Romans 3:28 cannot support Sola Fide because the original text of Scripture never contained the word “alone”. The word “alone” was added by Martin Luther when he created his translation of the Bible. When challenged about the translation he responded “tell your papist, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so.”. Those quoting this verse as proof of Sola Fide are actually quoting a misrepresentation of Scripture. Galatians 2:16 states we are justified through faith, but it does not say we are justified through faith “alone”. Ignatius begins by saying we must have faith, but continues by saying we also need works to prove our profession of faith is real.
Does the Church teach we are saved by works?
Ignatius wrote “Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be.” (Magnesians) and “For I trust that, through grace, you are prepared for every good work pertaining to God.” (Polycarp).
It is easy to understand how some believe Catholics teach salvation by works. Our faith does place value on prayers, intercessions, works, indulgences, etc. And some Catholics can go overboard. However, to state that the Catholic Church teaches salvation by works is simply another Misrepresenting the Facts Fallacy.
Ignatius confirms that, from the beginning, the Church taught we are saved by grace and there is no way anybody can earn their salvation through works. God’s grace lays out good works before us and faith helps us respond to God’s grace. The Catholic Church today still teaches that we are saved by grace, as proven by Chapter 3 of the Catholic Catechism titled “God’s Salvation: Law and Grace”. Specifically, paragraph 2025 states “We can have merit in God's sight only because of God's free plan to associate man with the work of His grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man's collaboration. Man's merit is due to God.”
Just for Catholics
Even within the Catholic Church there is not always unity concerning certain teachings and social issues. Here are some quotes from Ignatius for prayer and mediation concerning things just for Catholics.
Ignatius wrote, “Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it.” (Smyrnaeans). The Church permits priests to certify lay distributors. Although receiving the Eucharist only from a priest may be a personal preference, there should be no argument that receiving the Eucharist from a lay distributor makes the Eucharist invalid.
Ignatius wrote “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles.” (Smyrnaeans) and “obey your bishop in honor of Him who has willed us so to do” (Magnesians). We need to be careful, because we should not obey any particular bishop who is teaching against the Catholic Catechism. However, when the Church’s synod of bishops make a decision on something then we should embrace and follow it. Some Catholics prefer receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling, and some prefer Masses in Latin. However, as being approved by the bishops, no Catholic should discredit or condemn receiving the Eucharist in the hands while standing nor declare Masses must be said in Latin.
Ignatius wrote “by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together…and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing” (Ephesians). All Christians, and especially Catholics, are called to be one in the Spirit. We as Catholics are not perfectly joined together in the Holy Spirit when we disagree on abortion, same sex marriage and other social issues where there is a direct teaching by the Church.
I began with my favorite quote from Ignatius and end with another. “Neither endeavor anything that appear reasonable and proper to yourselves” (Ephesians). Think about something...Our enemy, the Devil, seeks to devour souls by separating us from God. Is there no better way to separate us from Him, Who is truth, than to place doubts and false teachings into our mind, as he did with Adam and Eve? Is something truth simply because it came into our mind and we sort of think it sounds good? If God’s people stopped applying self-interpretation to His Word, stopped applying false logic to achieve personal beliefs, and simply trusted and obeyed the Church…would there be 40,000 Protestant denominations and many variations of a la carte Catholics? If God’s people were truly united as one, could we have a more believable and powerful impact on the world?
The Apostles taught their faith to their disciples and handed down oral traditions for over 20 years before writing the Gospels and Epistles. Ignatius was a beneficiary of learning directly from the Apostles and so his letters reflect the faith of the Apostles. The letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch validate the Catholic Church and Catholic Doctrine. There is only one possible way the Catholic Church could be wrong; and that would be only if the entire Apostolic Church fell into apostacy immediately and universally after the death of the Apostles. Only if the disciples of the Apostles completely ignored the Apostle's teachings and made up their own faith.
Of course, there are some letters proven to be forgeries in the name of Ignatius. However, the seven original letters have all been authenticated by historians. All quotes in this article are only from the authenticated letters. During the Protestant Reformation John Calvin’s teachings were challenged, citing evidence from the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Calvin responded by rejecting all letters in the name of Ignatius as being counterfeit, simply because a few counterfeit letters were discovered. Sounds like another fallacy of logic, doesn’t it? I guess to those whose hearts are hardened, to those who just do not want to believe, no proof is possible.