Friday, September 05, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 03

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 03

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the third in what, Lord willing, will be a multi-part series.

Council of Trent (1545 to 1563) - Not Meaningfully Ecumenical

The Council of Trent is often viewed by its proponents as an ecumenical council. It does not deserve this distinction, for several reasons:

1) "The decrees were subscribed by two hundred and fifteen fathers of the council, consisting of four cardinal legates, two cardinals, three patriarchs, twenty-five archbishops, one hundred and sixty-seven bishops, seven abbots, seven generals of orders, and also by nineteen proxies for thirty-three absent prelates. The decrees were confirmed on 26 Jan., 1564, by Pius IV in the Bull "Benedictus Deus," and were accepted by Catholic countries, by some with reservations. " (source) Thus, the total number of bishops eventually signing onto the decrees may seem large, but was smaller than the number of bishops at Nicea (about 300 - some say as many as 318).

2) Obviously, the composition of the council varied over its nearly two decade existence. Nevertheless, Italian (the majority) and Spanish (the next largest group) bishops dominated the counsel. According to one report, the breakdown was:

187 Italian bishops
32 Spanish bishops
28 French bishops
2 German bishops

With only four nations represented, large segments of Christianity were clearly not represented at Trent.

3) Specifically, there was essentially no representation of the Reformed Churches at Trent. There were no Swiss, apparently a few Lutheran representatives during a middle portion of the council, and no English presbyters, though they were invited. Given the huge majority of Italian bishops, and the fact that matters were decided by vote, the Italians were able to control the decisions of the council.

4) Furthermore, Eastern Orthodoxy (and the Coptic churches, and the Ethiopic churches, etc.) was not represented. Thus, vast chunks of Christendom were not involved, and consequently - even to this day - the Eastern Orthodox do not regard Trent to be an ecumenical council.

In short, Trent was - in essence - a regional council of Italy. Its endorsement by the Bishop of Rome is no surprise, but ought not be deemed sufficient to convert it into an ecumenical council.

It must, however, be noted that Trent is considered by modern Catholicism to be an ecumenical council, despite these facts.


Long on Fallacies - Short on Rebuttal

Mr. Bellisario (editor of Catholic Champion) has provided a response (link) to my earlier article (link) exposing the errors in his video (link).

Logical Fallacies

a) Ad Hominem

MB describes me as "the man who is afraid to use his real name." This is about the only ad hominem that can be applied to an anonymous opponent. What makes this a clear ad hominem is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. There were also lots of personal attacks, accusations of dishonesty and the like. These, while unpleasant, are not so obviously ad hominem since hypothetically they could simply be an accurate description of the other side's presentation.

b) Straw Man

MB takes the position that: "Whether or not the "container" is called a tabernacle or not is irrelevant in Dr. White's video, since he tells us that there was no such existing container before the 12th century."

Dr. White actually said (at 4:12 in his video here): "As the New Catholic Encyclopedia notes, such items as the tabernacle, pyx, ciborium, etc. begin to appear only at the same time as the use of the term "transubstantiation." While the ancient church carried the host to the sick, the idea of reserving the host in a tabernacle for worship came about at this later time, as Schaff notes, 'The elevation and adoration of the host were practiced in the Latin church as early as the 12th century.'"

Thus, MB's comment is not true and provides a straw man. In fact, Dr. White's comment about "carried the host to the sick" was a nod to the fact that casings of the consecrated elements predate the development of transubstantiation. If MB wishes to make claims that Dr. White is wrong (recall that his claim was:
Now lets also call out James White on his video regarding the liturgy and Transubstantiation in which I posted responses to a few months back? I flat out called him on his erroneous conclusions he formed from his "12 century" arguments on the tabernacle, the host elevation etc. He loves to attack Catholics and mock them on his blog and his radio show, yet he cannot defend his own foolish arguments. Where is he and his arrogant response on this? We are waiting. In fact even some of his fans have expressed a perplexed attitude towards his refusal to acknowledge my video posts. We all know why don't we? When you can't defend your erroneous arguments, then you do not answer.

And he claimed this as well:
In the 3 part video I demonstrated where his historical arguments against the Eucharist, Transubstantiation, the elevation of the host and the tabernacle were completely false. I have yet to see him address these.

Now, MB claims:
TF tries to twist both of the author's writings that I posted to substantiate Dr. White's asinine claims that no such container existed before the 12 century, because quite simply Dr. White does not have the guts to defend his false position. Quite frankly it doesn't matter what the container was called before the 12th century. The fact of the matter is that the consecrated wine and bread, "The body and Blood of Christ" were stored in these ancient containers in the Churches by at least the 4th century.
In fact, MB is simply wrong. Dr. White was not arguing that the consecrated bread and wine were not stored before the 12th century, but instead was addressing the innovation of the "tabernacle" casing - a casing designed so that the people of the church could adore the consecrated bread and wine through a window - a window that was illuminated by a candle or lamp.

MB further claims:
Tf has once again proven that he just can't rationalize a logical argument. He instead persists with his sophistry that makes no sense whatsoever in regards to Dr. White's argument. Dr. White attempted to say that there was no such container in any of the Churches before the 12 century, which is complete idiocy. He did this in order to justify rejecting belief in transubstantiation before the 12th century.
Again, however, MB has simply mischaracterized Dr. White's argument. It is related to the transubstantiation issue, but not in the way that MB seems to imagine. MB seems to imagine that the argument is that before the 12th century the bread and wine was simply tossed in the gutter. That's not the argument. As noted above, the argument is that the tabernacle developed to permit worship, in the form of adoration, to be offered to the consecrated elements, while those elements were locked up in storage.

C) Non Sequitur, Red Herring, and Straw Man

MB continues with a logical fallacy hat trick:
As both authors I posted contend, at least by the 4th century there were containers called by various names that housed the consecrated elements. Therefore this makes Dr. White's claims inaccurate since even though the container was called several names, which I also spoke about in my video, it served the same purpose. Its purpose was to house the consecrated elements, which once again proves the Church believed that Christ was truly present after the consecration in the early Church.
This is a non sequitur, because "holy water" was also stored in fonts at some point in Catholicism's history, and yet it does not follow that because this consecrated water is housed, that it is because Christ is "truly present" in it.

This is a red herring, because the issue of the true (or "real") presence of Christ in the consecrated elements is not the issue: transubstantiation is. It's not really clear from Mr. Bellisario's comments whether he appreciates the genus/species relationship between real presence (a genus) and transubstantiation (a species).

This is a straw man because it seeks to prove the undisputed fact that there were containers earlier than the tabernacles. Dr. White's own comment about the elements being distributed to the sick is a reference to the fact that there were earlier containers.

Nothing that TF posted on this to "vindicate" White. Please read the full article and not just one part posted by this guy who refuses to believe anything of the true Gospel. For instance Turretin Fan completely ignores this part of the writing which he uses to defend Dr. White.

D) Straw Man Burnt Again

MB continues by quoting from the article he previously identified, in which it states: "Whatever may be true of the early centuries, it is certain that from the fourth century onward the practice of reserving the Holy Eucharist in churches became general. The form or shape of the receptacles in which it was enclosed, the location of these receptacles, and the names given to them, differed in the various epochs and in the various countries." These would be great arguments if someone wanted to argue that the "Holy Eucharist" had never been reserved in receptacles in churches. That, however, was not Dr. White's argument.

In addition to Logical Fallacies, there was some of what can only be described as unpleasantness in the post. Take this example:
So as you can see, TF and White's weak argument here is once again refuted. This guy just cannot get his head around a real argument, and constantly uses faulty logic in his writings. I have no use to converse with this man any further. Someone who will go to any lengths to defend someone without any regard for the full text given on the subject is not a rational man and I have no use to converse with any further. You can read his latest excuse for an argument on his blog (Thoughts of Francis Turretin). I know, this is not a prudent way to admonish someone right? Well I am sick and tired of these people spitting on the face of Christ and calling themselves Christian. I find it also completely reprehensible that this Turretin will not use his real name and he hides behind someone else's name rather than his own, for obvious fear that everyone will see what an ass he really is. I am truly trying to be charitable here folks. I had to rewrite this twice to tone it down a bit. But when you see this slippery, slimy, split tongued method of twisting words, contexts of arguments, etc, to try and vindicate someone who made obvious false claims, I just can't sit still for it.
It's not all that different from what he previously wrote:
I am really to the point now of disassociating with these guys. I will finish my debate with TF. But after that I no longer have any use for someone who will not face reality.

And not so different from the comments he provides immediately after suggesting that Pius XII's words against schismatics are relevant to the situation:
We saw the dishonesty of Turretin fan and his side-clown Gene Bridges when they both tried to tell us that the Catholic church endorsed the "withdrawal" method. Then we saw them both lie to everyone who has read the posts on the internet regarding the posts they put forth regarding the subject. He and Bridges were proven wrong over and over and yet they refused to admit it. You can go back and read the whole argument on the subject of contraception in which I put there own words to the test. Then they both denied the meanings of the words Bridges wrote earlier in a post which I presented as evidence. This guy will go to any lengths to vindicate his and Dr. White's heresy, and frankly it makes me sick.
(Here's a side challenge to MB: try to find a quotation from me stating that the Catholic church (by which one presume MB means the church of Rome and those in communion with her) endorsed the "withdrawal" method. I don't think his claim is grounded in fact, but I'm willing to be corrected if he can bring forward his quotation.)

But leaving aside that side-challenge, the theme we see from MB's post is a lot of logical fallacies followed by his indication that he really doesn't like yours truly. But his dislike is not limited to yours truly:
Now on to Dr. White. He loves to mock Catholics on his website. His latest attack has been mounted against Patrick Madrid. You can visit White's blog at his AOMIN page to witness this latest barrage of attacks. He recently called out Steve Ray to a debate as if he was some kind of unbeatable gunslinger in an old west movie. This guy truly thinks he is God's gift to "Christian" apologetics. Yet when I have proven that the premise of White's video was completely off base, he sends his minion Turretin (the one who can't even use his real name), to defend his bad argument. A quality bunch of guys you have there White. You endorse a guy who is afraid to use his real name. That says a lot about this group of White's doesn't it? Need I say more? It is real easy to shoot your mouth off online when you hide behind a false image isn't it?
Granted, there is a little something about me in there too, but it is clear that MB does not have a high opinion of Dr. White.


Dr. White's claim regarding the fact that tabernacles developed after the introduction of the term "transubstantiation" is vindicated. Despite Mr. Bellisario's evident wish that Dr. White had claimed something different, the truth for all to see is that Dr. White claimed (at 4:12 in his video here): "As the New Catholic Encyclopedia notes, such items as the tabernacle, pyx, ciborium, etc. begin to appear only at the same time as the use of the term "transubstantiation." While the ancient church carried the host to the sick, the idea of reserving the host in a tabernacle for worship came about at this later time, as Schaff notes, 'The elevation and adoration of the host were practiced in the Latin church as early as the 12th century.'"

I want to call on Mr. Bellisario to keep in mind the warnings of his own church's catechism, which reminds the reader:
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them. (footnotes omitted)
I would respectfully submit that Mr. Bellisario should be more careful to avoid rash and calumnious words, and better to consider arguments before responding to them.

When your Protestant opponent begins his argument by appealing to a standard reference work like the "New Catholic Encyclopedia," it is probably the part of wisdom not to assume that it is just the New Catholic Encyclopedia that says what he says. In this case, the historical fact that the creation of tabernacles for worship of the consecrated bread and wine arose followed the introduction of the concept of transubstantiation (not the concept of the real presence, but the concept of transubstantiation) cannot reasonably be denied any longer. I call on Mr. Bellisario to do what is right: acknowledge his mistake and apologize for his unkind and unjustified words.

Mr. Bellisario is brave enough to put a name (I assume it is his real name) to his work. Perhaps he will also be brave enough to admit that he made a mistake in interpreting Dr. White's words and argument in the video in question. To encourage him in that regard, as soon as he rectifies the matter by removing his video and posts that falsely assert error where there is none, I will likewise remove this post and its predecessor since it is not my purpose here to embarrass Mr. Bellisario, but simply to see the truth vindicated.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 02

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 02

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the second in what, Lord willing, will be a multi-part series.

Council of Trent (1545 to 1563) - Not Prior to the Reformation

Those who oppose Reformation theology sometimes act as though the Council of Trent, and its teachings against Sola Scriptura and against Justification by Faith Alone, were dogmatically defined teachings prior to those who are thought of as the first generation reformers. The inconvenient facts are that:

1) Luther died about the time the council of Trent started (it started December 1545, and he died February 18, 1546); and

2) Calvin died about the time the council of Trent ended (it ended December 4, 1563, and he died May 27, 1564).

Meanwhile other Reformers, like Ulrich Zwingli (1484 - 1531), died even before Trent was assembled.

And, of course, this list excludes those Reformers who themselves pose an inconvenient truth by predating Luther - such as Huss (c. 1372 - 1415) and Wycliffe (c. 1325 - 1384).


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 01

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth - Part 01

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the first in what, Lord willing, will be a multi-part series.

Council of Elvira (306)

This fourth century Spanish council, attended by around 20 bishops and about the same number of "priests," ultimately issued eighty-one canons (sometimes it is claimed that only the first 21 of these canons were original, and that the others were added later). Canon XXVI forbade paintings in churches. While this shows that painting began to be introduced into churches quite early (otherwise, no canon prohibiting such behavior would be necessary), it also shows early resistance to such idolatry.

It is also significant because iconodules (those who believe the use of images of God in worship to be acceptable) tend to point to an eighth century council in support of their position. It is an inconvenient fact, however, that the eight century council upon which they rely was a departure from earlier conciliar decisions.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tabernacles before 12th Century?

Mr. Bellisario, in a video posted to YouTube, has noted Dr. White's comment that even a Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that the practice of having a "tabernacle" for the consecrated host emerged in the 12th century. Mr. Bellisario states, "I noticed James White getting all his information from the Catholic Encyclopedia and using that as a proof text that no tabernacles existed before the 12th century. I don't know what other sources he's using but, in any effect, he's wrong, I'll just put it plainly." (errors in original)

Mr. Bellisario quotes from an Archbishop discussing the tower and dove arrangement that existed in a few ancient churches.

What Mr. Bellisario overlooks is that the tower and dove are not the tabernacle. They had a similar function, to hold the elements, but they do not represent the tabernacle of modern Catholicism.

In fact, according to Maurice Hassett, "Our present form of tabernacle dates from the end of the sixteenth century." And the very Archbishop from whom MB quotes admits, "One must wait for the 16th century to find the tabernacle fixed on the greater altar and, later still, to see it placed in the middle of the table, the last phase of historical development of the altar." (loose translation of the Italian original)

Furthermore, one can see the development of the tabernacle in the Archbishop's own paper. As the Archbishop noted, during the Gothic period there were a couple of places that the bread could be found. The tower and dove (which were suspended above the altar) might be veiled, but the consecrated host could be found in the armarium more conveniently at hand.

Sometimes you reposed custody under the altar, as indicated by the Statutes Synod of Liege, 1287: "Corpus Domini in honesto loco, sub altari vel in armariolo sub clave custodiant." Usually, however, custody is kept in a cabinet or kiosk, dug into the wall, right or left of the altar.

The Archbishop goes on to explain how these armaria came to have doors with elegant fittings and paintings (particularly in the more glorious churches). The door was provided with essentially a window that allowed the faithful to worship the transubstantiated sacrament from outside, and a lamp was provided in front of the window to show where the sacrament was kept.

Over time, these armaria developed from a simple closet to more elaborate designs. Thus, the Archbishop reports that in the 14th century there emerged "edicole del Sacramento," which seem to eventually have served as the predecessors for the modern tabernacles (though, at first, these edicoles were found exclusively in northern Europe).

The Catholic Encyclopedia (which Bellisario thinks to be such an insignificant source) mentions, "The Fourth Lateran Council and many provincial and diocesan synods held in the Middle Ages require only that the Host be kept in a secure, well-fastened receptacle. At the most they demand that it be put in a clean, conspicuous place. Only a few synods designate the spot more closely, as the Synods of Cologne (1281) and of Münster (1279) which commanded that it was to be kept above the altar and protected by locking with a key."

But, of course, one need not rely on Catholic encyclopedias alone:

Steven Schloeder, in his book, "Architecture in Communion," writes that "Toward the end of the twelfth century the tabernacle began to be used and slowly gained prominence until it was universally legislated in the nineteenth century." (p. 96)

William Thomas Cavanaugh, in his book, "The Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament," writes that "As was said before, the use of the tabernacle began to spread rapidly on the promulgation of the following decree of Pope Innocent III in the Fourth Lateran Council." (p. 61) The Fourth Lateran Council is normally dated to 1215.

Gerald Ellard likewise writes, in Christian Life and Worship, "The Tabernacle Introduced. Nothing has been said in the foregoing paragraphs about what is now regarded as the central feature of the altar, the tabernacle. The altars then had no tabernacles. The whole realm of non-sacrificial worship of the Eucharist was beginning to manifest itself only in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Moreover, even after this type of devotion developed and was spread rapidly (as a consequence of the establishment of the feast and public procession of Corpus Christi in the thirteenth century), there was still no need of a tabernacle at the altar, because the new devotion was non-sacrificial." (pp. 115-16, emphases in original) (it's worth noting that Ellard views the suspended doves as a form of tabernacle)

So, in conclusion, Dr. White is vindicated against Mr. Bellisario's criticisms. While consecrated bread and wine were stored prior to the introduction of the tabernacle into Catholicism, the tabernacle was a development, as attested by Mauro Archbishop Piacenza, the very Archbishop that Mr. Bellisario relies on in his video. Here is a link to an English version of the essay (UPDATE: here is a link to an English version of Piacenza's article).

Mr. Bellisario's category error is in confusing the genus of casings of the Eucharist with the species of the tabernacle (a particular kind of casing that did not arise until after the innovation of the doctrine of transubstantiation). Unlike the veiled tower and dove (through which, it seems, the consecrated bread and wine would not be visible) the tabernacle provided a display of the bread and wine so that these elements could be worshiped (while still securely locked up). I hope this post will serve to encourage him to rethink his video (link to video) and particularly to apply more thoroughly the principle he lays out at the beginning, namely "I try to be charitable when I do these things ...."

Finally, for the reader's convenience, I have embedded below the video to which Mr. Bellisario was responding:


UPDATE: Prior to publishing this, I happened to stop by Mr. Bellisario's blog and noted that he has republished an article by Francis J. Schaefer, which confirms the same thing: (link to MB's republication). As that article states:

As a permanent substitute for all of these receptacles we have the tabernacle, as we see it today; i. e. the small case or cabinet of rectangular or of round shape, placed right above the center of the altar. The name of tabernacle given to it, as well as the object designated by the name, has come into general use in comparatively recent times. The word tabernacle has been used since the middle ages; but its occurrence is not very frequent. It is found in the Constitutiones Synodicae of Odo, Bishop of Paris in the twelfth century; in the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum of William Durandus, a learned canonist of the thirteenth century; and in a decree of a council held in the city of Alix, southern France, in 1585, where detailed regulations are laid down for the construction and maintainance of the tabernacle. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) decreed that the Blessed Sacrament be reserved in the churches (Sess. XIII., Cap. VI., Can. VII.); but in designating the receptacle for it, it has recourse not to the word tabernacle, but to the word Sacrarium. Since then, however, the word tabernacle has been used regularly in ecclesiastical legislation, e.g. in the decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, 29 November, 1574) and 10 February, 1579, and also in the decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, 21 August, 1863, and 6 February, 1875. The liturgical books, such as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum and the Roman Ritual, which give directions regarding reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, also make use of this expression. (emphasis added)
(alternate source)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cory Tucholski vs. Matthew Bellisario

I was interested to note that Cory Tucholski has provided a response to Mr. Bellisario with respect to the issue of Mary and her innovated and blasphemous title of co-redemptrix (link). Interestingly, I myself plan to provide a rseponse to Mr. Bellisario on another topic tomorrow (stay tuned). Meanwhile, I'm engaging in a long term debate with Mr. Bellisario over at my debate blog (link to debate blog).


Experimental Religion

Experimental religion is an easily misunderstood concept. It does not mean that we learn religion in a laboratory. Instead, it means that Christianity is a lived religion.

Sherman Isbell has a pair of excellent addresses on this topic from the 2008 Free Church Conference.

Both are available from, which - for some features - requires registration.

(Part 1)

(Part 2)


Monday, September 01, 2008

Parody of I will Survive - Humor Alert

This is humor. Don't draw theological conclusions that may be unintended from what amounts, in some instances, to forcing words to fit the rough meter of the song. Parody.

To the tune of Gloria Gaynor's, "I will Survive."

First I was afraid
I was Petrified
Kept thinking I could never live
without an infallible guide
But I spent so many nights
thinking how you exegeted wrong
I grew wise
I learned how Scripture applies
and so you claim
You dispense grace
I checked my blog to find you there
with that egg upon your face
I should have changed my rule of faith
I should have made you leave the keys
If I had known for just one second
you'd be back to bother me

Go on now go walk out the door
just turn around now
'cause you're not welcome anymore
weren't you the one who tried to burn Wyclif's Bible
you think I'd crumble
you think I'd lay down and die
Oh no, not I
I will survive
as long as i know how to read
I know I will stay alive
I've got all my life to live
I've got the Word of God that's giv'n
and I'll survive
I will survive

It took all the strength God gave
not to fall in heresy
kept trying hard to mend
the pieces of your bad theology
and I spent oh so many nights
pondering the magisterium
I used to cry
Now I hold my Bible high
and you see me
somebody new
I'm not that chained up little layman
still venerating you
and so you felt like dropping in
and just expect me to fear thee
now I'm saving all my loving
for the God who's loving me

I've embedded the original (?) Gloria Gaynor song below via YouTube:


Edwards on the Trinity

I enjoyed reading Paul Helm's recent blog article at Helm's Deep on Edwards on the Trinity (link). Prof. Helm defends Edwards from various charges of Heterodoxy in the course of the article. Naturally, as one of the standards for Reformed orthodoxy, Helm and Edwards' critic both refer to Turretin (with Helm placing Turretin in context). The title of the Blog, though reminiscent of Tolkien, is quite appropriate, since Helm's work plumbs great depths.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

More Effective Rosary Use

On the same Catholic Answers Live episode (May 8, 2008), in which Steve Ray seemingly endorsed 18th Century superstitions (see my previous discussion), Mr. Ray discussed another Rosary-related topic.

A caller (Willie in Fredericksburg, TX) asked:

I tell somebody I'm going to say a rosary for them, and then I do, and in the process I might have told somebody else, and so I end up with two, three, four people - I'm just wondering, is that diluting it some way? Or is better to say individual - well its probably better - but is it diluting it some by combining several people?

Steve Ray responded:

I think that's a good question, but I don't think you have any fear of that, because if you are praying the rosary with sincere intent to pray it for several people instead of just one, the weakness would not be with you, but the weakness would be with God. And God isn't weak. He can make sure that that prayer that you pray is responded to for each of those individuals, because God is perfectly capable of hearing your prayer and reaching out his wonderful fingers to touch 4, 5, 6, or 10 people just as well as one. And as long as its your intent to pray for them, and you say, "Lord, this person has a real need here, and this person there, and this person there, and this person there, and I only have a half an hour to pray Lord, but I really really want you to help every one of those people I'm going to pray for, so when I pray, would you please make up for any of my weakness of mind, and my weakness of memory, and you take care of them for me." I guarantee by my little experience with God, and by knowing who He is and what He wants to do. He actually wants to help those people more than you want Him to help those people. So I think you add as many people as you want, and you pray for them, and then you watch God work in their life.

Let's assume for a second that Steve Ray actually understands Catholicism, and further let's assume that his statements are accurate. After all, he was introduced in the show as "one of the leading proponents of the faith" and he himself stated "if I don't know something, I'm going to be honest and right up front and let you know that."

If Steve Ray is right, isn't it somewhat limited to pray as Steve proposes? Wouldn't the following be a still more generous prayer?

Lord, I only have one half hour to pray, but I really really want you to help every one of the people on Earth who has a need, and each person in Purgatory who is suffering the temporal punishment of their sins. So, when I pray, would you please make up for my finite mind and my finite knowledge of all their particular problems, and their particular names, and take care of them for me.

In fact, if God would like to help all those people, wouldn't God being willing to accept an omnibus request of that sort? I hope that most readers sense intuitively that a rosary prefaced in such a manner would not be used by God for billions of times more good than the same rosary prefaced by "So that Joe, my neighbor, will get a job."

What's wrong with Steve's answer is that he doesn't see the problem in the man's question. Prayers, including collections of prayers, like the rosary, do not have merit. I've seen this problem in other contexts, normally in the context or people talking about requesting the prayers of "Saints."

This problem usually becomes visible to us, Reformed folks, when we see Catholicism interacting with this verse:

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

What James writes is true, of course. The problem that we see is not people taking James at his word, but instead drawing inappropriate conclusions from what James says.

The inappropriate conclusion is that prayers have intrinsic power on God, as it were.

Thus, the improperly adduced formula works out to something like A*B = C

where A = the effort in prayer;
  B = the level of righteousness of the person praying; and
  C = the effectiveness of the prayer.

And even A could be then broken down into categories of length of the prayer, sincerity of the prayer, inconvenience suffered in praying, etc. etc.

This is all a mistaken notion. It is the error into which the heathen fell:

Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

And we even see an Old Testament example:

1 Kings 18:26-28
26And they [the prophets of Baal]] took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. 27And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. 28And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

I don't think that there should be any doubt about the sincerity, length, or inconvenience of their prayers. They offered Baal not only the bullock, but their own bodies (leaping on the alter themselves, so that when he answered with fire, they would themselves be consumed - and cutting themselves to spill their own blood and prove their devotion). Obviously one problem was the god to whom they prayed: they prayed to a god that did not exist.

But Elijah did not just pray to a different god, Elijah prayed differently. After building an altar and dousing it in water he simply prayed: "LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again." (1 Kings 18:36-37)

No long prayer from morning till noon - no shouting - no cutting himself - none of these things marked Elijah's prayer. Why not?

Because, while God is pleased to answer prayer, God cannot be moved. God is the uncaused cause. God is pleased to give good things to those who ask him, but He gives those things freely. Much speaking doesn't impress God. Saying the same from prayer one time, ten times, or a hundred times doesn't impress God.

Recall also Jesus warned against the scribes describing them as those:
Mark 12:40 Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
Luke 20:47 Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.

Be careful not to over-react. The point is not that long prayers are necessarily only for show ... instead the point is that even those wicked people who take houses from widows can make long prayers. Long prayers are not, in themselves, meaningful. They match the world's expectations of religion, but they are not what God sees.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

Matthew 6:5-6
5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

What is James saying, he's making clear the same concept that Proverbs describes:

Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.

And the Psalms say:

Psalm 34:17 The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 69:33 For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.

So then, the primary problem underling both Willie's undoubtedly sincere question and Mr. Ray's sincere answer is that prayer is not something that has power in itself. The power of prayer cannot be "diluted" because prayers do not have intrinsic power or certainly cannot, by its strength, move God.

(I should mention in passing that there is another problem with Mr. Ray's answer - namely that God doesn't have to wait around for people to pray, in order to help them. God does whatever he pleases to do.)

How then should a Christian pray?

God delights in answering prayers, so pray for what is on your heart. Jesus provides what we call "The Lord's prayer," and what used to be called the "Pater Noster." This template for prayer provides us with a way in which we should pray:

"Our Father which art in heaven,"

We pray to God and to Him alone.

"Hallowed be thy name,"

We reverence God in our prayers, not invoking his name lightly or trivially. We place his glory before all else.

"Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"

We pray for things that we know to be agreeable to God's will, including the promotion of His kingdom by the salvation of men. We qualify all our requests with acknowledgment that his will has the preeminence.

"Give us this day, our daily bread"

We pray for those things that are necessary and convenient for ourselves. Notice that Jesus mentions daily bread, not either weekly crumbs or daily feasts.

(Proverbs 30:8 Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:)

"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"

We pray that God will forgive our sins, and we forgive those who sin against us.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"

We further pray that God will sanctify us, enabling us to avoid sin.

"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever."

We again acknowledge that all things are under the rule of God, controlled by the power of God, and directed to the glory of God, both in this life, and in that which is to come.


We pray the prayer sincerely, assenting to the words that come either from our own mouth, or - if we add our amen to another's prayer - to the words of that other person.

That is the form of prayer that is honoring and acceptable to God. A prayer that is not simply reciting rote what the beads say comes next, but a prayer that expresses our true desires to God.

In conclusion, allow me to leave you with an example. If you are parent, consider what request from your child you would prefer to hear: a request made clearly and tailored specifically to the item the child wants, "Father, may I play baseball with my friends?" or rote recitation of some formula? Surely you'd rather simply hear his request than the rote recitation or the combination of the two.

Hopefully, this example, and the Scriptural evidence above should help you see that praying the Rosary - even if the Rosary were limited to prayers to God - is not the proper practice of Biblical Christianity. It's not what God has asked from us, and it is not how God wants us to pray. Our prayers do not have merit, but instead are like incense that we offer before God.

Thus, we sing:

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.