Thursday, October 18, 2007

From Tradition To Truth

Amy/motherofmany has posted Richard Peter Bennett's conversion story at her blog.

Richard Peter Bennett is the editor of Far From Rome, Near To God, one of the books that I reviewed earlier. I thought I would take the time to address some of the points in his story that caught my eye.

We were a typical Irish Roman Catholic family. My father sometimes knelt down to pray at his bedside in a solemn manner. Most evenings we would kneel in the living room to say the Rosary together. No one ever missed Mass on Sundays unless he was seriously ill.

What a wonderful family to grow up in! Here, at the beginning of the story, we learn that his family modeled a life of prayer, and that making time to spend with God on Sunday was the highest priority for them.

By the time I was about five or six years of age, Jesus Christ was a very real person to me, but so also were Mary and the saints.

This seems like "having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" to me. It is going along with my theory that some feel we are saved by faith in Jesus AND in refuting Catholicism.

Did Jesus not have a mother? Were there not Christians who have gone before us? Why shouldn't they be real to us? They WERE real, and ARE real in Heaven, right now.

I began to find some comfort in direct personal prayer. I stopped saying the Breviary (the Roman Catholic Church's official prayer for clergy) and the Rosary and began to pray using parts of the Bible itself.

Yet, the Breviary IS parts of the Bible. It is mostly composed of the Psalms. The Rosary is also composed of parts of the Bible. The Lord's Prayer is found in Scripture, and half of the Hail Mary is found in Luke.

As was discussed in the comments section, some feel it doesn't count as the Bible unless you are physically holding a complete bound Bible in your hand. Yet, the Word existed in the Beginning, before the invention of the printing press.

I did not know my way through the Bible and the little I had learned over the years had taught me more to distrust it rather than to trust it. My training in philosophy and in the theology of Thomas Aquinas left me helpless, so that coming into the Bible now to find the Lord was like going into a huge dark woods without a map.

Anyone familiar with the theology of Thomas Aquinas probably had a good laugh at this statement. Because Aquinas knew nothing about Scripture, right? You can read Aquinas' Commentary on the Gospel of John online.

In the Prologue, he writes, "Since John not only taught how Christ Jesus, the Word of God, is God, raised above all things, and how all things were made through him, but also ."

As we were just discussing John 3:1-10, I looked that up as well.

Right off the bat, Aquinas starts off with "Above, the Evangelist showed Christ’s power in relation to changes affecting nature; here he shows it in relation to our reformation by grace, which is his principal subject. Reformation by grace comes about through spiritual generation and by the conferring of benefits on those regenerated."

Yup, Aquinas knows nothing about how the Bible tells us the plan of salvation.

Mr. Bennett writes earlier that "I memorized part of the teaching of Pope Pius XII in which he said, “...the salvation of many depends on the prayers and sacrifices of the mystical body of Christ offered for this intention.” This idea of gaining salvation through suffering and prayer is also the basic message of Fatima and Lourdes, and I sought to win my own salvation as well as the salvation of others by such suffering and prayer."

He counters this later with "Yet in studying Isaiah 53, I discovered that the Bible deals with the problem of sin by means of substitution. Christ died in my place. It was wrong for me to try to expidite or try to cooperate in paying the price of my sin."

Pope Pius XII, as referenced above, refers to Colossians 1:24 "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh and I complete what is lacking in Christ's affliction for the sake of his body, that is, the church"

I wonder how Mr. Bennett explains this verse under his new theology?

Although I asked forgiveness for my sins, I still did not realize that I was a sinner by the nature which we all inherit from Adam . . . The Catholic Church, however, had taught me that the depravity of man, which is called “original sin,” had been washed away by my infant baptism.

I guess Mr. Bennett has forgotten what he was taught about concupiscence. Concupiscence is how we long to do good, but keep being dragged down by our sinful nature. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
"Christ by His death redeemed mankind from sin and its bondage. In baptism the guilt of original sin is wiped out and the soul is cleansed and justified again by the infusion of sanctifying grace. But freedom from concupiscence is not restored to man, any more than immorality; abundant grace, however, is given him, by which he may obtain the victory over rebellious sense and deserve life everlasting."

First, I discovered that God's Word in the Bible is absolute and without error. I had been taught that the Word is relative and that its truthfulness in many areas was to be questioned.

Well, I certainly can't vouch for Catholic education in the 1960's. It is very possible he was taught this, and sadly, it is still being taught today in many Catholic Universities.

But St. Thomas Aquinas wouldn't have let him down here. In the very first answer to the very first question, you can find:

"It is written (2 Timothy 3:16): "All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice." Now Scripture, inspired of God, is no part of philosophical science, which has been built up by human reason. Therefore it is useful that besides philosophical science, there should be other knowledge, i.e. inspired of God.

I answer that, It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation."

I returned to Vancouver, B.C. and in a large parish Church, before about 400 people, I preached the same message. Bible in hand, I proclaimed that “the absolute and final authority in all matters of faith and morals is the Bible, God's own Word.” Three days later, the archbishop of Vancouver, B.C., James Carney, called me to his office. I was then officially silenced and forbidden to preach in his archdiocese.

It is best to remember that we do not know all of the particulars of this situation. It is true that this would not be Catholic teaching, but it would be unusual for a priest to receive such a severe punishment for one sermon. I have heard priests question official doctrine in homilies on more than one occasion, and none of them has been silenced, to my knowledge. Silencing is generally reserved for occasions after the priest has been addressed on an issue numerous times, and still persists in teaching error. I believe the term "obstinate refusal" is usually used.

One day, a woman challenged me (the only Christian ever to challenge me in all my 22 years as a priest), “You Roman Catholics have a form of godliness, but you deny its power.” Those words bothered me for some time because the lights, banners, folk music, guitars, and drums were dear to me.

I don't have any fisking to do here. I just highlighted this because I know many of my fellow Catholics will have a chuckle at Mr. Bennett's idea of high Mass. We're always complaining about how we can't get rid of those felt banners and folk Masses, from a certain generation of priests. For many of us, guitars and drums are not a form of godliness!

In the New Testament there is no hint of a hierarchy

Really? No bishops/overseers? No elders? In Acts 15, when they have a council in Jerusalem, they put it to a democratic vote, or did they put the question to "apostles and priests"?

But by God's grace I saw that it was not through the Roman Church nor by any kind of works that one is saved

As we say over and over, the Catholic Church does not preach that we are saved by works. We actually condemned it as a heresy at the Council of Carthage in 418.

Our basic fault as Catholics is that we believe that somehow we can of ourselves respond to the help God gives us to be right in His sight. This presupposition that many of us have carried for years is aptly defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) #2021, “Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons....”

Read that very carefully. I want to know how that is different from "saved by God's grace, through MY FAITH in Jesus Christ." Hasn't he been saying that he was saved when he personally accepted Jesus Christ as his savior?

What he is trying to do here, is paint us with the semi-Pelagian brush. Semi-Pelagianism basically says that God gives us a little help, and then we save ourselves. But the Catholic Church as condemned that, too. Council of Orange in 529.

The most difficult repentance for us dyed-in-the-wool Catholics is changing our mind from thoughts of “meriting,” “earning,” “being good enough,” simply to accepting with empty hands the gift of righteousness in Christ Jesus.

I think he should speak for himself there. I have, on occasion, heard Catholics use "good" in the sense of "I try to live a good life, go to church, read my Bible, etc." I have never heard a Catholic use "merit" or "earning" in any sort of sentence in the sense that he means here. Unless you count back in high school, when several students who happened to be Catholic discussed "earning a National Merit Scholarship."

As I said in my previous review, I think that this testimony is heavily influenced by Mr. Bennett's years as a "non-Catholic." I found his testimony better than most at not mis-stating Catholic doctrine, but I have seen him do that in some of his other publications. I think this entire genre would be more truthful if they used phrasing such as "I see now, that I was trying to earn my salvation" instead of "I was taught that I had to earn my salvation."

Surely it is possible to disagree with Catholic doctrine without lying about what Catholic doctrine really states. That's something that Candy should take to heart.


unknown anon said...


Because we don't read the Bible as literalists, we don't accept it as Truth.

We read it with our hearts open to the truth, but recognize that much of it is presented in a "literary" way....parables, allegories, metaphors, etc.

Because we recognize that some of the forms of the presentation of the Truth are not "literal," that does not mean that they are not accurate.

Some people are so intent upon blaming their own hearts of stone on others, that they don't see the mason they have set up in their souls.

Elena said...

Amy is the new Candy- all the hateful Catholic posts without the great housekeeping helps. Distilled bigotry!

Very good, well reasoned article Kelly. I'm printing out to ponder more thoroughly as the day goes on. Thanks.

aine said...

Karl Keating at said:
"Like some other ex-priests I know, Bennett brings to mind the young fellow who, having jilted his girlfriend, now takes every opportunity to talk her down."

Kelly said...

Very good, well reasoned article Kelly. I'm printing out to ponder more thoroughly as the day goes on. Thanks.

Thank you for the compliment. I just happened to have, oh, three hours to spend last night writing this up.

I had a graduate level Aquinas class, myself, so I couldn't let those Aquinas comments go. :)

Faithful Catholic said...


Another excellent post!