A Social Religion by Frank Sheed

I have been finishing reading Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed.  It has been a long chore because he is taking my mind to heights I did not realize we would ascend when first we set out.

The following is a section called “A Social Religion” which I found fascinating enough to post.  Why this section and not others probably more worthy?  Not a clue.  Perhaps because my old Protestant individualist thinking still holds sway in some areas and therefore this section impacted me particularly.  Whatever the reason, it seems a good reminder to Catholics in an individualistic religious culture.



Looking at man, almost the first thing we see about him is that he is not an isolated unit independent of others, but a social being bound to others both by needs which cannot be satisfied and by powers which must remain unused save in relation to other men.  It would be strange if God, having made man social, should ignore the fact in His own personal dealings with man.  To treat man as an isolated independent unit would be as monstrous in religion as it would be in any other department of human life.  It would be to treat man as what he is not.  But the one being who would not be likely to do that is God, who made man what he is, and made him so because that is what He wanted him to be.  A religion which should consist in an individual relation of each person directly to God would be no religion for man.  A social being requires a social religion.  Within that social religion the individual will have his own religious needs and experiences, but they will be within and not external to, or a substitute for, his approach to God and God’s approach to him in union with other men.

Individualist religious theories there have always been, even among Christians.  They have never been able to carry out the full logic of their individualist theory because their nature as men stood too solidly in their way.  Something in religion that have had to get from other men.  So the Bible Christian, despising the priesthood and minimizing the Church, has yet had to fall back upon the Bible, and the Bible, although it is given to us by God, is given through men, the men who under His inspiration wrote it.  A religion wherein the soul finds and maintains a relation with God with no dependence upon men is impossible, and what makes it impossible is the nature God gave man.  The only question then is whether religion shall do its very utmost to elude the social element in man’s nature, accepting only so much as it can by no possibility avoid; or whether it shall wholly accept and glory in the social element as something given by God, something therefore to be used to the uttermost in religion as in the rest of man’s life.  In giving man the religion of the Kingdom, God showed what His own answer is.

Christ did not leave His followers free at their discretion to form their own groups if it seemed good to them or to remain isolated if it seemed good to them.  He banded them into a society, a Church.

“He gave Himself for us, to ransom us from all our guilt, a people set apart for Himself.”

What the Jews had been, the Church now is.  We remember Moses’ words:

“This is the blood of the covenant.”

But now we have Christ’s words:

“This is My blood in the new covenant.”

There is a new covenant and a new people: not just millions of redeemed individuals: a people.  The brotherhood of every Christian with Christ involves the brotherhood of all Christians with one another.  His normal way of giving them His gifts of truth and life was to be through the society: in other words, the whole Christian life was not to be a solitary relation of each soul to Christ, but of each to all in Christ, this is what the Apostles’ Creed means by the Communion of Saints.  In solidarity with other men we fell in Adam and rose again with Christ; in the same solidarity we live the new life.

God can and does give this or that man what he individually needs.  But the great needs of the soul are not peculiar to the individual, but the same for all.  There is the need for the Life which Christ came that we might have more abundantly; and the need for Knowledge—knowledge of what God is and what man is, and of the goal of life and how we are to attain it.  It is through the society that God offers men the spiritual gifts by which these needs common to all are supplied.  The relation of Christians with one another is essential in their relation with Christ.  They are related to Him not one by one, but in virtue of their membership of His Kingdom.

–Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity; chapter 21 Dispensing the Gifts, section 1


What else does Irenaeus say?

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

It seems that most Christians who study the early church love Irenaeus. It’s probably because he battled the gnostic heresies so well in his 5-volume work Against Heresies in the 180s A.D. Since there are no more Valentinians or Marcionites (at least not purposefully) we can all look to him as a hero of the faith and cheer at most of what he wrote.

However, within Christian circles the main question is whether Irenaeus was more Catholic or Protestant.  Now it didn’t take me long to sense that he was more Roman Catholic than Protestant. Yet many Protestants claim him too and do their best to show his words to be in line with Reformation doctrines.

Probably the main quote they love is in 3, 1, 1. Irenaeus says,

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…. When, however, they [the heretics] are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and assert that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For they allege that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.”

Protestants use this passage of Irenaeus to prove that he believed in sola scriptura. I’m not so sure because he still goes on to approve of traditions passed down by the apostles through the bishops.

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, and which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. (3, 2, 2)

So he still believes in the traditions passed down straight from the apostles and in the next several chapters he shows how the heretics are not part of the apostolic succession and therefore cannot have a “secret” tradition from the apostles. Irenaeus does not condemn traditions of the apostles but rather shows how the heretics can’t have it because they do not have apostolic succession.

However, for the sake of argument, what if Irenaeus did actually believe in sola scriptura the same way Protestants do? If we trust him enough as a source to believe this passage we musn’t stop there, right? We must continue on and find out what else he said and take it seriously.

So what else did Irenaeus say?

What did Irenaeus consider Scripture?

septuagintIrenaeus quoted from the deuterocanonical books in the same way he quotes Scripture.

For example, in 4, 26, 3 Irenaeus quotes from Daniel 13 (which is not in Protestant Bibles) and in 5, 35, 1 quotes the entire chapter of Baruch 5.  Both times he did this alongside other Scripture without making any distinction.

Even other Protestants agree that Irenaeus considered the deuterocanonical books as Scripture.

Anglican J.N.D. Kelly said that in the first couple centuries “the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense” and gives multiple examples including Irenaeus who “refers to Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon and Baruch.” (Early Christian Doctrines ch. 3)

Protestant Evangelical F.F. Bruce also said, “Irenaeus is well able to distinguish ‘the writings of truth’ from ‘the multitude of apocryphal and spurious writings.’ The Old Testament writings are indispensable witnesses to the history of salvation; the Septuagint version was divinely inspired, the writings which we call the Apocrypha being evidently invested with the same authority as those translated from the Hebrew Bible.” (The Canon of Scripture ch. 13).

So Irenaeus considered the deuterocanonical books to be Scripture. Therefore, even if he did believe in sola scriptura, his Bible includes books that the Reformers removed. Protestants do not believe these books are inspired but Roman Catholics do.

What did Irenaeus say about the Eucharist?

eucharistAgain, giving directions to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits of His own, created things — not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful — He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, “This is My body.” And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout all the world, to Him who gives us as the means of subsistence the first-fruits of His own gifts in the New Testament, concerning which Malachi, among the twelve prophets, thus spoke beforehand: “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord Omnipotent, and I will not accept sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun, unto the going down [of the same], My name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the Gentiles, saith the Lord Omnipotent;” — indicating in the plainest manner, by these words, that the former people [the Jews] shall indeed cease to make offerings to God, but that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and that a pure one; and His name is glorified among the Gentiles. (4, 17, 5)

So Ireaneus saw the Eucharist as a sacrifice and a fulfilment of Malachi 1:10-11 which prophesied a “pure offering” that would one day be offered by all nations. That’s still Roman Catholic doctrine, not Protestant. (CCC 1330, 1350)

Inasmuch, then, as the Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God….And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, the things taken from His creation. (4, 18, 4)

So the only place we can offer this oblation is in the Church. Not just anyone can offer this sacrifice to God. That’s still Roman Catholic doctrine, not Protestant (CCC 1330, 1350). Protestants just don’t talk like this.

What did Irenaeus say about Mary?

Though he didn’t use the phrase, Irenaeus saw Mary as the New Eve. Just as Jesus is a type of Adam so Mary is a type of Eve. Adam and Eve disobeyed and brought destruction upon mankind but Jesus and Mary obeyed and brought salvation to mankind.

mary-and-jesusIn accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin….so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race…. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (3, 22, 4)

Protestants just don’t talk like this about anyone and certainly not about Mary. Meanwhile, Roman Catholics still see Mary as the New Eve and a Mediatrix.


Scripture, the Eucharist, and Mary are three very big and contentious issues between Protestants and Catholics and yet it seems Irenaeus is far closer to Roman Catholicism than to Protestantism.

So what do we do?  It seems there are three options.

  1. Accept his quote about the Scripture being the “ground and pillar of our faith” as more truthful than his other doctrines and therefore the others can be safely ignored.
  2. Explain away many of his other doctrines to mean something other than what they actually sound like.
  3. Accept that he was just not a Protestant.


Robert Hugh Benson on the “simplicity” of the New Testament

When faced with the difficulties of properly interpreting Scripture, friends and family often fall back on a statement like, “Well the Gospel is simple and we’re given that straight. So as long as you have this, you’re good.”

This is the “fundamentalist” mindset; we accept the fundamentals of the faith and everything else is up for a debate. Even if the “basics” are all you need, what are those specifically? I wrote about this earlier here.

I just finished reading “Paradoxes of Catholicism” by Robert Hugh Benson and he had a section talking about this sort of thinking. (Emphasis is mine.)

RobertHughBensonNow much of it is so false that it needs no refutation. It is, for example, entirely false that New Testament theology is simple. It is far more true to say that, compared with the systematized theology of the Church, it is bewilderingly complex and puzzling, and how complex and puzzling it is, is indicated by the hundreds of creeds which Protestants have made out of it, each creed claiming, respectively, to be its one and only proper interpretation. Men have only come to think it “simple” in modern days by desperately eliminating from it every element on which all Protestants are not agreed. The residuum is indeed “simple.” Only it is not the New Testament theology! Dogmas such as that of the Blessed Trinity, of the Procession of the Holy Ghost, of the nature of grace and of sin–these, whether as held by orthodox or unorthodox, are at any rate not simple, and it is merely untrue to say that Christ made no statements on these points, however they may be understood. Further, it is merely untrue to say that Protestant theology is “simple”; it is every whit as elaborate as Catholic theology and considerably more complex in those points in which Protestant divines are not agreed. The controversies on Justification in which such men as Calvin and Luther, with their disciples, continually engaged are fully as complicated as any disputations on Grace between Jesuits and Dominicans.


Disclaimer – This blog post is just that: a blog post with my personal thoughts. I am not a Catholic apologist or theologian. What I say here is not official doctrine of the Catholic Church. I am still learning and am susceptible to error. Don’t take anything here as Gospel. Don’t be stupid. Do your own research and learn for yourself what the Church teaches.

Catholics: if my understanding of Catholic doctrine needs adjustment, please point out my error.

Are Protestant Apologists Ushering People into the Roman Catholic Church? Part II

This is a continuation of the discourse from the last post about a Protestant apologist named Charlie Campbell and how people like him are one of the reasons I’ll probably be entering the Roman Catholic Church soon.

Alongside bad history, Charlie Campbell, in his attempts to set up “ah-ha!” moments in our minds against the RCC, also employed questionable hermeneutics.

In the first place, Protestants can’t help themselves; they must prove themselves from the Bible, even when the best arguments are elsewhere. But using the Bible as “proof” gets sketchy since the Bible can be, and constantly is, interpreted in many different ways. G.K. Chesterton said,

“The Fundamentalist controversy itself destroys Fundamentalism. The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement; it cannot be the common ground of Christians when some take it allegorically and some literally.”

Any use of Scripture will be rife with alternate opinions and therefore I don’t believe any “ah-ha!” Scripture exists for any side of the debate. But allow me to show why I think Campbell’s opinions are questionable, at best.


Campbell started giving his own view of salvation. He said, “The Bible over and over again teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone and not the result of any effort or work of man.”

Now the topic of salvation gets a little foggy because it involves defining what is meant by the words “faith”, “grace”, and “works.” But I’m guessing Campbell hasn’t put that much thought into that so I’ll just offer a few other Scriptures that suggest other than what Campbell boldly declares.

He might have missed when the Bible says baptism saves (Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21). Or maybe he missed when the Bible says works and effort saves (James 2:24, John 15:4, Phil. 2:12, 1 Cor. 9:27, Rom. 2:6-8). Or maybe when Jesus said unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood there is no life in us (John 6:53).

After this statement Campbell uses verses talking about faith and ignored any part of Scripture suggesting something other than what his theology allows. Actually dealing with those issues would make the topic of salvation more complex than he is willing to admit and it softens the blow of his “ah-ha!” (Actually, he probably doesn’t even know such passages exist.)

Sinless-ness of Mary:

Talking about Mary’s sinless-ness, Campbell used Romans 3:10; “There is no one righteous, not even one.” But that verse is poetry quoting Psalms 14:3. Why take it literally? Biblical books written as history, and therefore should be taken more literally than poetry, called Joseph a “righteous man” (Matthew 1:19), said Zechariah and Elizabeth were both “righteous in the sight of God” (Luke 1:5-6), and called Simeon “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25). Hebrews 7:2 called Melchizedek the “king of righteousness.” So maybe there’s a bit more to “righteousness” than people like Campbell insinuate. Romans 3:10 is certainly not an “ah-ha!” verse against Mary’s sinless-ness.

Campbell also appealed to Luke 2:22-24 saying, “You don’t go and give sacrifices in the Temple if you’re not a sinner.” But Mary was simply fulfilling the Law that required a purification process for women who gave birth, which included offering two doves if a lamb could not be afforded (Leviticus 12).

Campbell quoted Luke 1:47 where Mary said, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” As if Catholics don’t believe Mary needed a savior? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son’” (para. 492) and “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (para.493).

RCC teaching is that Mary needed a savior too, therefore this argument against the RCC is moot. Her Immaculate Conception was a free gift with no merit on her part. She is redeemed “by reason of the merits of her Son.” Her salvation anticipated Christ’s sacrifice, but His sacrifice was still needed. (Scott Hahn explains the Catholic view of Mary in Scripture with this and other talks on Mary).

Now Campbell and others can disagree with Catholic interpretations of Scripture, but it still comes down to a matter of opinion. The “ah-ha!” reasons don’t exist, as if Scripture is so “clear” on beliefs we already hold and couldn’t possibly be seen in a different light.


Considering that I just posted about loving attitudes, perhaps my words have been too harsh in these last two posts about Charlie Campbell. “Crises of faith” are very emotional times. When I look for answers from people who make this stuff their living and still find their answers completely inadequate, frustrations naturally grow. Like others, Charlie Campbell clearly didn’t study the history of the church, and not even his hermeneutics have any conclusive content.

So what is this Faith that leaves critics no recourse but to use falsehoods as facts and odd argumentation as game-changers? For those of us who don’t want false-front defenses, should we not conclude that the Faith they reject in such bizarre ways might actually be right? If illegitimate arguments are necessary to reject the RCC, does it not suggest the RCC is actually legitimate?

Now I agree with Campbell that Irenaeus is a trustworthy source, which is exactly why I am probably entering into the Roman Catholic Church soon. Protestants (especially American Evangelicals) should beware which early church fathers they claim are reliable sources because it will open a whole can of worms they probably don’t want to deal with. I know it did for me. It’s also what made John Henry Newman convert after saying, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

The people who accept DVD’s like this one are those who are comfortable in their Protestantism, want reasons to stay out of Catholicism, but who have no intention of looking into the reasons themselves. And yet Catholics are the crazy ones for “blindly” following men.

What is this Faith that cannot be proven wrong and too often seems right? What are people like me supposed to do?

Development of Doctrine

In Protestant arguments against Catholicism, one of the main issues brought up is the “invention” of doctrines later on (i.e. “Catholics invented transubstantiation in 1215.”) This line of argumentation seems to stem from the doctrine of sola scriptura and the belief that God wrote down everything He wanted us to know at the beginning and for all time (even though that’s not explicitly taught in the Bible either).

But the issue goes a bit deeper than that and I think an example from politics will help bring clarity.

Two hundred years ago, people didn’t advocate a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman. Everyone “knew” what marriage was so there was no need to define it in a specific law. Homosexuality and same-sex marriages were not on anyone’s mind.

Today we now have people advocating laws specifically defining what marriage is. There has been a “development” that needs to be addressed. When we all agreed and there was no argument, there was no need to create any laws. It was only because people started disagreeing about the issue that laws must then be definitively declared.

So it seems with Christian doctrine.

For example, the Trinity was taught even though not explicitly defined in writing. There is not an explicit teaching in the Bible, either. And those passages where the doctrine can be extrapolated still do not define it the way the Nicene Creed does. But the doctrine was being taught, even though it was not dogmatically defined. (I believe the first time the word “Trinity” is used in writing is by Theophilus of Antioch in the late-100s, who mentioned it in passing as if everyone already knew it.)

It was not until the early 300s that the doctrine came under attack by the Arians (followers of Arius) who claimed Jesus was a created being. Arius found Scriptural confirmation in passages such as John 14:28 where Jesus says “the Father is greater than I” and Colossians 1:15 where Paul calls Jesus “the first-born of all creation.”

Once the doctrine came under doubt, and people started following Arius, the doctrine of the Trinity had to be defined explicitly and for all time. So that’s what the Church did at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Church did not “invent” the doctrine; they specifically defined a doctrine that was always believed and passed down from the Apostles.


The same seems true for “transubstantiation.” (Ironically, and also a problem for Protestants, this doctrine has better explicit Biblical support than the Trinity, such as John 6:41-58 and I Corinthians 10:16-17. It also seems to have more blatant support from the pre-Nicene Church than the Trinity.)

Ignatius of Anticoch, from Wikipedia

Ignatius of Anticoch, from Wikipedia

Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of John the Beloved and was possibly martyred before John. In 106 he wrote a couple of guidelines to spot heretics.

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. (Letter to the Smyrnaeans)

Justin Martyr in the 150s wrote:

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr, from Wikpedia

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (The First Apology, chapter 66)

Irenaeus of Lyon, in the 180s wrote against the gnostics who believed that flesh is evil and only the spiritual is good. Irenaeus wrote this:

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.” And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which flesh is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? (Against Heresies, Volume 5, chapter 2)

Athanasius wrote in the 300s:

You shall see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine and placing them on a table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Sermon to the Newly Baptized; quoted from “Crossing the Tiber” by Stephen Ray)

Even if one rejects the doctrine, it seems fairly obvious that transubstantiation was not “invented” in 1215. It had extremely early acceptance. Due to later disagreements and bad theologies (probably the Albigensians), it was specifically defined in an official council, just like the Trinity was at Nicaea.

When you think about historical context, even the first major break in Christendom in 1054 wasn’t even over transubstantiation. That schism even happened long before this doctrine became seriously questioned. So who is “inventing” doctrines; those who accept transubstantiation or those who reject it?

Hopefully, the political analogy and the history lesson will help clarify the idea of development of doctrine. It’s not that things were invented, but rather clarified and set down as official.

(Needless to say, there needs to be an authoritative Church in place to do this and make official pronouncements that are binding on all. The Catholic Church claims to be this entity.)


Disclaimer – This blog post is just that: a blog post with my personal thoughts. I am not a Catholic apologist or theologian. What I say here is not official doctrine of the Catholic Church. I am still learning and am susceptible to error. Don’t take anything here as Gospel. Don’t be stupid. Do your own research and learn for yourself what the Church teaches.

Catholics: if my understanding of Catholic doctrine needs adjustment, please point out my error.