A Standing Challenge to James White on the Early Fathers

And Reply to anti-Catholic Evangelical Jason Engwer

From Mark Bonocore (Emails dated June 1999)

In response to my challenge to James White (posted on Steve Ray's message boards), Jason Engwer (who I demolished on this subject last summer) takes it upon himself to write (in part) :

JE> Mark Bonocore has issued a challenge to James White that he's also issued to me and to other evangelicals. He asks us to name an "ancient Christian" who we consider orthodox. We can easily say "Paul", "Clement of Rome", or "Mathetes", but Mark will object to that. He'll claim, for example, that since people interpret Paul in different ways, we must therefore document that some POST-apostolic person interpreted Paul the same way we do. Of course, people ALSO disagree about how to interpret the writings of those post-apostolic men. So, since people disagree over what the church fathers taught, do we have to appeal to some even LATER source to interpret the church fathers for us? Isn't it absurd to keep appealing to some other source to interpret the apostles' writings for us when we can just read the documents ourselves? Unless, perhaps, Catholics just don't like what the apostolic documents say?

To this hopeless diversion, James White responded:

JW> Amen and amen. :-) All I ask is that Jason post that to the BBS upon which Mr. Bonocore likewise placed his "challenge." Thank you, Jason.

So, does this mean you refuse to answer my question, Mr. White? I find your condescending tone most amusing, yet it does not change the fact that I've asked a question you cannot answer. Like the good relativist that he is, Mr. Engwer has proven my point above ...Just as he did in our exchange on this topic last summer, where Mr. Engwer wrote:

JE> There is no "consistent result of reading the Bible" in the sense you're suggesting

To this, I responded:

:-) I see. Therefore, the Bible is all relative. Therefore, there is no one interpretation that's correct. Therefore, we can never know the full truth of what God intended to communicate to us. Therefore, Sola Scriptura ("Bible alone") CANNOT be a method for determining Christian orthodoxy. Therefore, we only have our OWN OPINIONS of what the Bible teaches, reducing Christianity to a pluralistic, intellectual exercise, as opposed to a unified, orthodox faith. I REALLY hope your fellow Evangelicals read this, Jason. :-) ...Because what you're teaching is not Christianity, and any Evangelical worth his salt will tell you that. You are saying that the Bible is unreliable ...that it does not contain a specific and comprehensive message from God. ...That it is not the Sacred Book of a particular Faith, but merely an interesting "toy" for intellectuals to play with. Now we see Jason's "true religion" coming to the fore. :-)

Jason Engwer went on to say:

JE> That's why there are so many disagreements in the world about what the Bible actually teaches.

And I responded:

I see. :-) So, what you're saying is that we can never really know ...OR that only you can know, since you're so much smarter than the rest of us. :-) Tell me, Jason. Do you really believe in a God Who would make such an incredible miscalculation???? ...A God Who would establish a Covenant with all mankind through His Son's precious Blood, and then put mankind in a situation where they could never agree as to what this God really requires of them????? :-) What happened to "Father, I pray that they may be one, even as You and I are One"??? What happened to Isaiah 55:11, which reads: 'So shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall ACCOMPLISH MY WILL, ACHIEVING THE GOAL for which I sent it.' So, does the Bible present us with a comprehensive message or not? And, if it does, can we know it or not? :-) Yet, you are clearly saying that we CANNOT know it. ...At least not objectively and collectively. Therefore, if we cannot all share an objective knowledge of what God desires to teach us in the Bible, then you cannot believe in a God Who desires us to be one, unified people (i.e., John 17:20-22, 1 Peter 2:9-10), but rather in a God who scatters us and Who does not desire for us all to know Him and His truth (1 Tim 2:4). Hummm. :-) No wonder you oppose the Papacy so strongly, Jason. You apparently detest Christian unity. :-) And, if you disagree, what do you have to give us in exchange??? The God I believe in unifies all people in love and in truth. Only satan scatters this way. :-) So, .....

1) EITHER the Divine plan contained in the Bible is objectively UNknowable, OR ...

2) It's only knowable to a select few -- intellectuals, like Jason himself, who claim to know Scripture so well that they can point out who is correct and who is in error. ;-)

If # 1 is the case, then Jason is not a Christian, but a liberal relativist.

If # 2 is correct, then Jason is a Gnostic, on par with every New Age guru on the West Coast. So, which is it, Jason? :-)

Mr. Engwer also asserted:

JE> Likewise, there are disagreements over political documents, laws, historical records, etc.

To which I responded:

:-) So the Bible -- the INSPIRED ***WORD OF GOD*** -- is no different than political documents, laws, historical records, and other such human means of communication???? :-) Are you listening to this, Evangelical brethren???? :-) I sure hope so. As for there being "disagreements over HISTORICAL RECORDS" .... Isn't that exactly what we are saying when it comes to the Church Fathers???? ...That YOU, Jason, are wrenching them out of context and distorting them??? :-) YET, you argue that they are clear and unambiguous. Ah! :-) So, the rules change when the shoe is on the other foot, I see. Usually, we Catholics have no right to interpret the Church Fathers in our (correct) way, according to Jason. :-) Yet, now he claims it's all relative ...like the Bible itself (according to him).

Engwer went on to say ....

JE> Humans are fallible, and they often disagree with one another.

I responded:

But God is not: Isaiah 55:11. So, who interprets the Bible correctly, Jason? ..And how can we know? :-)

Thus, a full year later, Jason Engwer has the bold-faced nerve to speak to us of "the Apostolic documents" -- documents which he himself maintains are open to interpretation. And thus my question is promoted all the more: What should be our OBJECTIVE STANDARD for interpreting these Apostolic documents, and thus arrive at Christian orthodoxy??? This has still not been answered for us.

So, Mr. White, ... If you wish to say "Amen, amen" to your relativist protege, Mr. Engwer, perhaps you will take me a little more seriously if I repeat last years' trick and demolish his assertions for you right now. Then, perhaps we may have your opinion on the matter. :-)

Once again, Mr. Engwer writes ....

JE> Mark Bonocore has issued a challenge to James White that he's also issued to me and to other evangelicals. He asks us to name an "ancient Christian" who we consider orthodox. We can easily say "Paul", "Clement of Rome", or "Mathetes", but Mark will object to that. He'll claim, for example, that since people interpret Paul in different ways, we must therefore document that some POST-apostolic person interpreted Paul the same way we do. Of course, people ALSO disagree about how to interpret the writings of those post-apostolic men.

Thus, Jason admits that both the Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers are open to someone's interpretation of them. Thus, my very question: What makes Mr. Engwer's or Mr. White's interpretation of Scripture any better than mine? What is to be the objective standard?

JE> So, since people disagree over what the church fathers taught, do we have to appeal to some even LATER source to interpret the church fathers for us? Isn't it absurd to keep appealing to some other source to interpret the apostles' writings for us when we can just read the documents ourselves?

Not at all. :-) As I pointed out in my exchange with Engwer last year, we are not native speakers of Koinic Greek, nor do we belong to the civilization which produced the New Testament documents. The Church Fathers did, however. Thus, that gives them a distinct advantage over us coming along 2000 years after the fact. Yet, Mr. Engwer seems to have difficulty digesting this reality -- the reality of Sacred Tradition. The Church Fathers belonged to city-churches which were established by the Apostles themselves; and these city-churches possessed customs and traditional understandings which were inherited directly from the Apostles, and which were part of the living experience of those city-churches (2 Thess 2:15). Thus, their understanding is, by nature, superior to ours. Thus, their understanding cannot be ignored when considering an objective standard for interpreting Scripture.

Last year, it was Mr. Engwer himself who compared the Sacred Scriptures to political documents like the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights (see above). So, do we still have these documents today? Yes, we do. Yet, notice how, when disagreements arise as to how to interpret them and apply them to our present experience, we must inevitably turn to things like the Federalist Papers and the private writings of our founding fathers in order to justify our INTERPRETATION of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. This is because we assume that the founding fathers understood this document better than we do -- since they were part of the 18th Century civilization that produced it. And such an assumption is valid indeed. When the liberals try to say that things like "a right to happiness" supports a woman's "right" to abortion, we are forced to demand an example of such an application in the original experience of those who gave us the Constitution. And, when this cannot be done (since it was alien to the Christian civilization which founded this country), we justly conclude that a "right to happiness" does not include a woman's ability to kill her child.

And it is no different with the deposit of Faith left to us by the Apostles. A clear example of this would be the issue of Baptismal Regeneration. When the Scriptures say that everyone must be Baptized, and we ask if this includes infants, we can turn to each and every one of the Apostolic city-churches and show that they did, indeed, Baptize infants and children (2 Thess 2:15). However, Mr. White and Mr. Engwer can give us absolutely no evidence of their symbolic style of Baptism being practiced or advocated in the early Church. That's because this was not the Apostolic understanding.

But, Jason continues ...

JE> Unless, perhaps, Catholics just don't like what the apostolic documents say?

Oh, we like what they say fine, Jason. And we interpret what they say with consistency. You Protestants, however, are heterodox, and base your interpretations on personal opinion and nothing more. And, if you object to this, please explain to me why both you and Martin Luther (both believers in Sola Scriptura) disagree when it comes to the nature of Baptism? You teach that it's symbolic, and Luther taught that it was regenerative. So, which does the Bible teach? What makes your interpretation of the Bible any better than Martin Luther's? What is your objective standard for interpreting the Bible? You've never given me an answer on this, Jason. I am, therefore, forced to conclude that you are a relativist, and that you don't care about orthodoxy, but only your own opinion. Yet, is Mr. White a relativist as well??????? That's what I'm waiting to hear. :-)

JE> If James White was to name somebody like Clement of Rome or Mathetes as an ancient Christian who he considers orthodox, the Catholic response would be either a) to try to point to contradictions between James White and the church father in question on SOME issues .....

Exactly. :-) That's precisely my point.

You see, unlike we Catholics who believe in a Faith based on Sacred Tradition and the development of doctrine founded upon that Tradition (John 14:26 & 16:13), you Evangelicals hold that all we have are the Scriptures -- static written records which comprise the completely-developed Faith as Christ intended it to be. Thus, the Faith possessed by Clement of Rome or the person called "Mathetes" (i.e., "The Disciple") must be in 100% accord with Evangelicalism. And, if it is not, then you cannot use these Fathers to support your interpretation of Scripture.

But, we've been through all this before, have we not, Jason? :-)

When it comes to Clement of Rome, for example, I've already shown that Clement of Rome believed in doctrines which you and Mr. White do not. Among these were (a) The Eucharist as Sacrifice, (b) Apostolic succession, and (c) salvation by both faith AND works.

On the first of these (a) in Chapter 40 of his epistle to the Corinthians, St. Clement wrote:

"Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the Divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices (or oblations, or offerings) and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on the Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity. Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices (or oblations)."

Now, last year, Jason, you took issue with my assertion that St. Clement is speaking here of the Holy Eucharist as a Sacrifice. You said that there was no evidence of this (despite its clear comparison with 1 Corinthians 11), and claimed that Clement (supposedly a "Bible Christian" like yourself) was talking about some kind of "church services." Okay. :-) Well, then, if Clement was indeed a "Bible Christian" who received all his beliefs from the Scriptures (like yourself), please show me the chapters and verses where "the Master" (the Lord Jesus Christ) "commanded us to celebrate sacrifices (or oblations, or offerings) and services," and where He told us to do this "at fixed times and hours"; and where He "has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations." Where did Jesus do any of this in Scripture, Jason? Where did the Lord prescribe sacrifices (or oblations) and services to be celebrated at fixed times and hours by specifically-chosen persons and in specifically-chosen places???? If Clement is a "Bible Christian" like yourself, these commands of the Lord Jesus Christ for your so-called "church services" must all be recorded somewhere in the NT. So, where are they? Where in Scripture does Jesus give prescriptions of "church services" ?

As for (b) Apostolic succession, St. Clement also taught:

"The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will." (1 Clement)

So, Clement sets up a pattern of authoritative succession: God --> Jesus --> the Apostles. Then, in the very next line, he says:

"Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of FUTURE BELIEVERS.” (1 Clement)

So, what's Clement's point, Jason? :-) What is he teaching here. He sets up the pattern (i.e., God sent Jesus and Jesus sent the Apostles). He THEN says that the Apostles appointed men to be the bishops and deacons of FUTURE BELIEVERS. Well??? What does that presuppose??? :-) It presupposes that the APOSTLES were the bishops and deacons (i.e., servants) of the FIRST BELIEVERS. Therefore, the men whom they appointed SUCCEEDED to their ministries. This cannot be avoided. To say otherwise is to make Clement's teaching meaningless.

Yet, last year, Jason responded to this, saying ...

JE> Evangelicals don't deny that or object to that. So you haven't documented anything that evangelicals oppose.

I responded:

Excuse me? Evangelicals deny the authority of the Catholic bishops -- bishops who can trace their succession to the first bishops appointed by the Apostles. Therefore, you do not believe that Hebrews 13:17 refers to them. Even placing the Apostles aside, you do not believe in such a rightful succession -- a succession which gives the Catholic bishops rightful authority. However, Clement does:

"Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." ( 1 Clement 44:1-2)


“Ye therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue.” (1 Clement 57)

This is not exactly the spirit of the Protestant Reformation, is it? :-)

As to our third point (c) -- that Clement taught salvation through both faith & works, Jason asserted the following last year:

JE> In chapter 32, however, Clement contradicts Roman Catholic teaching by writing that people are saved through faith, apart from works.

Such a silly statement only shows that, despite his pretensions as a scholar, Jason never bothered to read all of St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians. For, just two chapters earlier, the saint writes ....

"Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, BEING JUSTIFIED BY OUR WORKS, and not our words." (1 Clement, Chapter 30, NPNF, Volume 9, page 238)

So, Jason misapplies Clement just as he misapplies Paul. Neither of them taught that we are justified by an inactive faith, but rather by a "faith WORKING through love" (Gal 5:6).

So, Clement of Rome was not a "Bible alone" Evangelical. Yet, like with Mathetes, the only reason Jason chooses to cite him is because we only have one example of his teaching (1 Clement to the Corinthians); and because that one letter does not present a comprehensive outline of Clement's entire creed. Thus, Mr. Engwer hopes to "fill in the gaps" with his own imagination, and paint a picture of Clement as a "Bible Christian." Yet, the mere fact that Clement teaches things which are not specfically taught in the Bible shows that he believed in both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Thus, he cannot belong to Mr. Engwer's, or Mr. White's, denomination.

JE> or (b) to argue that although James White may agree with everything the church father in question wrote

If this could be shown, then James White's position would be justified. Yet, he cannot do this, can he? :-) However, I'm still waiting for him to give it a try. ;-)

JE> there are some topics this church father didn't write about. For example, nowhere in the Epistle to Diognetus do we see the issue of the canonicity of the Apocrypha addressed. So if James White was to say that he considers the author of the Epistle to Diognetus to be orthodox, Mark Bonocore could object that James White can't prove that he was in agreement with the author of the Epistle to Diognetus on the issue of the Apocrypha's canonicity.

:-) Jason, .... I find it interesting that, with a selection of well over 700 Church Fathers to choose from, you (speaking for Mr. White) can only cite obscure, limited examples (such as 1 Clement, The Epistle of Mathetes, and now the Epistle of Diognetus), which gives you the required "wiggle room" to cook up the remote possibility of agreement. :-) Why exactly is that? Come now, Jason ... Show some bravery. What about the people who wrote comprehensively on the Faith? What about Irenaeus, or Justin Martyr, or Origen, or Tertullian, or Athanasius, or the Cappadocians, or Augustine, or Ambrose, or any of a hundred others? :-) Were any of them "Bible Christians"??? Did any of them agree 100% with your interpretation of the Faith presented in the Bible? This is what I wish to know from Mr. White. Indeed, both you and Mr. White have gone on record saying that even some of these major Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura (e.g. Basil, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, etc.). Therefore, if the Bible is a source of objective truth, and if all we need to do is read it, why did these other so-called "believers in Sola Scriptura" not arrive at the Evangelical faith which you adhere to today???

Really now, ... Can you present NO ONE who spoke on the "orthodox faith" comprehensively in ancient times? ...Or must you hide behind obscure "snippets" like the Epistle of Mathates? :-) Was there no one to match Luther, or Calvin, or Knox in the early Church??? ...But, then again, you and Mr. White don't agree with their doctrines comprehensively either, do you? :-)

Jason writes:

JE> How do I know that Mark would respond this way? Because that's how he responded to me.

And then you refused to answer. :-)

JE> A number of months ago, Mark (and another Catholic) asked me to cite some ancient Christians who I consider to be orthodox. When I gave some examples, I was told that those examples weren't acceptable, for reasons such as those I've described above.

Right. Because we examined those ancient Christians and discovered that they believed differently than you on a number of issues. :-) Again, ... If the Bible is all we have as our rule of Faith, and if one must be a "Bible Christian" in order to be orthodox, then you have still not produced an ancient Christian who achieved the same result from reading the Bible as you, Jason. All the examples you gave me either presented ancient Christians who believed in extra-Scriptual Traditions, or who interpreted the Bible differently than you. So, a year later, I'm still waiting for you to show me an Evangelical Christian in the early Church

Really now, Jason .... If you can point to "orthodox Christians" today (e.g. James White, Bill Webster, Dave Hunt, etc.), you should be able to do the same in the early Church. Therefore, please name an ancient Christian who exhibits your Evangelical faith without question. This should not be difficult to do if your position is sound. ;-)

JE> To illustrate the absurdity of Mark Bonocore's challenge, I issue the following challenge to him. Name an ancient Christian who held all of the following beliefs: 1.) That the bishop of Rome is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals 2.) That there are no less and no more than seven sacraments, and that anybody who believes otherwise is anathema.3.) That Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven 4.) That Mary was immaculately conceived. 5.) That all sins are to be confessed privately to a priest. Etc.

:-) It's a year later, and you still don't get it, do you, Jason? :-) There's a difference between you and I. I, as a Catholic believe in the development of doctrine -- that, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church can and does come to deeper appreciations of facets in the Deposit of Faith left to us by the Apostles. Jesus promised as much in John 16:13. You, however, believe that the Faith is static -- frozen solidly in the pages of a recorded document. ...And that this recorded document is all we have. Well, if that's the case, then it necessarily follows that you MUST be able to show that your interpretation of this document is consistent and repeatable for anyone (in whatever age) who reads the Biblical record. Yet, you admit that you cannot show this. Thus, you have no objective standard for your interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. Thus, how can you say that your interpretation is any better than mine?? You can't. Not with objective certainty. Thus, you follow a religion based on personal opinion -- the very thing condemned in 2 Peter 1:20-21 & 2:1-3. You do not share "one Faith" (Ephesians 4:1-6) with the Christians who came before you. You do not share unity with them. ...And nor do you care. You are most certainly a relativist.

JE> I could also list some other Catholic doctrines, but I think we all get the point.

No, we do not. :-) ...And, evidently, neither do you. Once again, we Catholics believe in development of doctrine. Therefore, the mere fact that St. Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception in the 13th Century does not mean that he was not an orthodox Catholic. Rather, the question of the Immaculate Conception of Mary had not yet been settled. St. Thomas did believe that Mary was sinless (as did the ancients); and that this sinlessness began at the moment of her birth (the most popular position in Aquinas' day). He merely opposed the idea that she was sinless from conception. And, since the question was not yet decided, Aquinas was free to hold a theological opinion on this matter, since the Immaculate Conception itself was merely a theological opinion at this time.

The same can be said for the Hypostatic Union of Christ. Before the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., it was quite possible for an orthodox Christian to believe that Jesus was not both fully-God and fully-man (the Hypostatic Union), but to hold the notion that the Lord was some kind of half-God /half man hybred. Yet, once the Church examined the question and infallibly declared the Hypostatic Union to be a dogma of the Church, one could no longer deny the Hypostatic Union and remain an orthodox Christian.

And the same can be said of circumcision. Before the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D., it was quite possible to be an orthodox Christian and believe that circumcision was necessary for Gentile converts. Yet, after that council, one could no longer believe this and remain orthodox.

Thus, we Catholics believe that doctrine can develop. We believe in a Church with a teaching authority -- a Church with a Christ-given power to "bind and loosen" involving matters of the Faith. We believe that the Holy Spirit can and does lead us to identify aspects of the Faith which we did not consider before ...just as Jesus promised in John 16:13.

You and Mr. White, however, do not hold to this view, Jason. Rather, you claim that the Bible is all that we have; and that it contains an objective, comprehensive message (i.e., the Evangelical Protestant faith) which is available to anyone who reads it. Thus, I am able to require you to show that your view (i.e., a Bible-alone rule of Faith) is consistent and repeatable. ...In essense, I require you to show me that your system works. :-) And, if it does, you should be able to present at least one ancient Christian who achieved the same comprehensive result from reading the Bible as you do today (i.e., the Evangelical Protestant faith). So, can you do this or not?

JE> No Catholic can name an ancient Christian who held all of those beliefs. There is no ancient Christian who believed everything that Catholics believe today.

Okay. :-) Let's assume that you're right. It still doesn't help your case. For your position to be true, you must be able to show that a Sola Scriptura reading of the Bible is consistent and repeatable, and that this has occurred throughout history. Otherwise, you must concede that you're a relativist, and that your faith is merely based upon subjective opinion.

JE> What's wrong with Mark Bonocore's challenge? Why is it misguided? There are a number of reasons:

:-) Oh, this should be good.

JE> 1.) We don't need post-apostolic men to agree with our beliefs in order for those beliefs to be valid.

Sure you do. :-) ...IF you wish to show that your interpretation of the Bible is objective and repeatable. If no post-Apostolic person interpreted the Scriptures as you did until modern times, then you have no way of proving that your interpretation is correct or any better than my interpretation.

JE> Worshipping at the high places was popular during the Old Testament era, even under some of Israel's best kings (1 Kings 15:14). Yet, God had clearly condemned the practice. Just because something is popular, even popular among the church fathers, that doesn't make it correct. Catholics would agree with this principle on issues such as the Immaculate Conception, where so many church fathers contradicted what the RCC teaches today.

What's the OT have to do with anything, Jason? :-) Yes. There were abuses, and many Israelites worshipped the Baals, etc. Yet, we know of ancient Israelites who did not do this, and we can name them (Elijah, Elisa, etc.) You, however, cannot do this in defense of your own, Evangelical faith. Why not? :-)

JE> 2.) Some of the church fathers didn't write much.

:-) I see. So, only those who "didn't write much" were Evangelicals? How convenient. Maybe those who believed that Mary was Immaculate "didn't write much" either. ;-) Yet, I can STILL name one: St. Ephraem the Syrian, who wrote:

"Thou, and Thy Mother are alone in this. You are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in Thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in Thy Mother." (Poem to Christ, 350 AD)


"My Lady Most Holy, All-Pure, All-Immaculate, All-Stainless, All-Undefiled, All-Incorrupt, All-Inviolate ...Spotless Robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment ...Flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone Most Immaculate." (Ibid).

Now name a Church Father who "didn't write much," but who taught Sola Scriptura and whose teachings are void of any extra-Scriptural Sacred Tradition. :-)

JE> Obviously, evangelicals can't prove that a church father would agree with them on every issue if there are dozens of issues that the church father in question never even wrote about.

Then, name a Church Father who covered all these issues, Jason. Was there no one among that theologically-fertile period of the 4th & 5th Centuries who spoke up for the Evangelical faith??? :-) Come, come, now, ... You and Mr. White claim that men like Athanasius, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa subscribed to Sola Scriptura. Therefore, if Sola Scriptua really works, why do these men profess a Faith that is different from yours???? :-) For goodness sake, how can that be, Jason??? Doesn't Sola Scriptua do the trick in and of itself??? :-) I mean, isn't that my problem, according to you? ...That I've been corrupted by all those extra-Scriptural Traditions?

Yet, you & Mr. White argue that some 4th & 5th Century Fathers taught Sola Scriptura. Therefore, even if Athanasius and the others didn't practice what they preached (which is what I assume you conclude), you must, at least, be able to give me SOMEONE from that incredibly active time who was "orthodox," like you. I mean, were there no "orthodox Christians" at Nicaea? Were there none at Chalcedon? Gee, ... I thought the Bible teaches that Christians must publicly proclaim the Gospel. So, why were all the "Bible Christians" so silent, Jason? :-) After all, you'd think that we'd have volume after volume of "orthodox" commentaries from this time ...at least enough to match Protestant heroes like Luther and Calvin, so as to counter the errors of those nasty "proto-Catholics." So, where are they???? :-) How is it possible that they do not exist?

JE> So it would be absurd to ask James White to document a church father agreeing with him on every article of the 1689 Baptist Confession, for example, if that church father didn't even address most of the issues covered by the Confession.

Okay. :-) Then name a Church Father who taught the modern Baptist position on Baptism. Name one. :-) I can name a great many who taught Baptismal Regeneration (the Catholic belief). So, where was the voice of "orthodoxy"? :-)

JE> Just as James White can't document that the author of the Epistle to Diognetus would agree with him on sola scriptura, you can't document that he would agree with you on sola Roma.

:-) (a) We do not believe in "sola Roma." If anything, we believe in "sola Catholica." ;-)

(b) I find it really, really funny that Jason keeps citing such obscure and non-commital documents like the Epistle of Diognetus. ;-) Now, I wonder why that is. Tee hee.

Again, .... I am not asking Mr. White to prove a case from silence. That's absurd. Rather, I am asking him to deal with the evidence we have, and to present from that at least one person who subscribes to his comprehensive faith -- a comprehensive faith which White claims is the natural result of reading the Scriptures.


(1) If Sola Scriptura was the recognized rule of faith for ancient Christians, and ...

(2) If these Scriptures are an objective source of truth (i.e. "Evangelical Christianity"), then ...

Then it should be quite easy for Mr. White to point to a Church Father who exhibits the same "orthodox faith" as he himself expresses today.

Yet, are you seriously telling me that Mr. White cannot present ONE PERSON who achieved the same result from reading the Bible as he does??? Not one??? :-) Why can Mr. White do this with people living today and not with anyone from the ancient Church???? If Mr. White can point to you or to Bill Webster and say: "He is my fellow Evangelical. He is my co-religious," why can't he do that for one of the Church Fathers, Jason? :-)

...Unless, of course, there isn't anyone in the ancient Church who is a co-religious of Mr. White. :-) Yet, if his position is correct (i.e. that Bible alone is the rule of faith and some ancient Christians subscribed to this), then he MUST be able to point to someone. If he cannot, then it necessarily follows that (a) either no one believed in Sola Scriptura or (b) that Sola Scriptura doesn't work -- that it does not achieve consistent and repeatable results (i.e. a comprehensive orthodox Faith).

So, which is it, Mr. White?

JE> Catholics may respond by saying that even in what little we have from those earliest church fathers, there are some contradictions of evangelical belief. But so what? There are some contradictions of Roman Catholic belief as well.

But we don't hold to Sola Scriptura or to a static position on the Faith. :-) You do. Thus, if there is anything -- ANYTHING AT ALL -- in a Father's writings which contradicts the tenets of modern Evangelicalism, you must conclude (a) either this Father did not believe in Sola Scriptura or (b) he did not interpret the Bible as you do today. Thus, he's not an Evangelical.

We Catholics, however, do not require the Fathers to conform to 100% of modern Catholicism, since we believe that doctrine develops under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who leads the Church deeper and deeper into Truth (so as to see all facets of Truth). Yet, if a Father does not have what you see as "the truth" from the get-go, he's automatically disqualified as Evangelically "orthodox." So, please honor the requirements of your own position, just as we honor the requirements of ours.

JE> For example, men like Papias and the author of the Epistle of Barnabas were premillennialists. Catholics aren't premillennialists.

The question had not yet been decided in the days of Papias and the author of the Pseudo-Barnabas. Again, we Catholics believe in development of doctrine.

Papias also held to extra-Scriptural teachings of the Lord Jesus, such as the following one quoted by Eusebius:

As the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord taught in regard to those times, and said: "The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, 'I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.' In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man." Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him. And he added, saying, "Now these things are credible to believers. And Judas the traitor," says he, "not believing, and asking, 'How shall such growths be accomplished by the Lord?' the Lord said, 'They shall see who shall come to them.' These, then, are the times mentioned by the prophet Isaiah: 'And the wolf shall lie, down with the lamb,' etc. (Isa. xi. 6 ff.)." (Papias in Eusebius H.E.)

Do you believe that Jesus said this? Papias did. :-)

Papias also taught that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic, writing:

"Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could." (Papias in Eusebius)

Yet James White (in the Boston College debate) denied this, maintaining that Matthew was originally written in Greek.

Papias also taught that Judas was killed by a chariot, as opposed to hanging himself, as the Scriptures teach:

"Judas walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out." (Ibid)

Do you believe this?

Papias also taught that James the Just, "brother of the Lord" was not the child of Joseph and Mary, but the son of Mary's sister:

"(1.) Mary the mother of the Lord; (2.) Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph; (3.) Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother of John the evangelist and James; (4.) Mary Magdalene. These four are found in the Gospel. James and Judas and Joseph were sons of an aunt of the Lord's. James also and John were sons of another aunt of the Lord's. Mary, mother of James the Less and Joseph, wife of Alphaeus was the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord, whom John names of Cleophas, either from her father or from the family of the clan, or for some other reason. Mary Salome is called Salome either from her husband or her village. Some affirm that she is the same as Mary of Cleophas, because she had two husbands." (Ibid)

So, don't you Evangelicals generally hold that "the Bible teaches" that Joseph and Mary had other children besides Jesus??? :-) Well, Papias disagrees. Thus, Papias was not your co-religious either. He was not a "Bible Christian," but believed in extra-Scriptural Traditions.

JE> The RCC has historically been amillennial, and the recent Catechism (676) even condemns premillennialism.

We also condemn the authenticity of extra-Scriptural teachings of the Lord. Yet, you agree with us there, don't you? :-)

JE> So if Catholics disagree with these church fathers on some issues, why is it unacceptable for evangelicals to do the same?

Because you hold that the Bible alone is the rule of faith, and that the Christian Faith is something static and recorded totally and comprehensively in this written document. Thus, for an ancient Christian to be your co-religious, he must not express faith in anything that you would not express faith in. If the Bible alone is the source of your common faith, then you should be in total agreement ....IF the Bible is truly an objective source of truth, and IF you are interpreting it correctly, that is. :-)

JE> 3.) If Catholics can disagree with a church father on a number of issues, yet consider him orthodox anyway, why can't evangelicals do that?

Because we believe in the development of doctrine. You do not. Take the Council of Chalcedon and its definition of the Hypostatic Union of Christ as an example. If St. Irenaeus (200 years earlier) stated something which disagrees with Chalcedon, that is no big deal, since we believe that the question of Jesus' two natures was not fully explored and defined by the Church until Chalcedon concluded the matter in 451. You, however, cannot accept this, since ...if the entire orthodox Christian Faith is recorded statically in the Bible ... then you must maintain that Christ's Hypostatic Union (His being both fully-God and fully-man) is taught clearly and unambiguously in Scripture itself, and that this was always recognized by orthodox Christians.

Therefore, you must apply this same principle to all the tenets of your faith. Given your Sola Scriptura position, you must be able to show that your comprehensive reading of the Bible was shared by someone else in ancient times (who achieved the same results as you). ..Or rather you must concede that your interpretation of Scripture is totally subjective and non-repeatable throughout history. We don't need to show this. But you do. :-) ...Or else Sola Scriptura doesn't work as an objective rule of faith.

JE> For example, Catholics consider Augustine to be orthodox. Yet, Augustine either didn't mention or contradicted a number of Catholic doctrines.

I answered this in regard to Thomas Aquinas above. It's a non-issue, Jason. Now, why don't you answer my question? :-)

JE> Regarding Augustine's view of church government, the historian Philip Schaff points out that even though Augustine held a high view of Peter and of the Roman church, he didn't believe in a papacy.

Oh, pleeeeease! :-) What do you call this:

"This act, Lord Brother, we thought right to intimate to your holy charity, in order that to the statutes of our littleness might be added the authority of the Apostolic See for the preservation of the safety of many and the correction of the perversity of some.” (St. Augustine to the Pope on Pelagianism, Ep. 175)


“For we do not pour back our little stream for the purpose of replenishing your great fountain, but in the great temptation of these times, we wish it to be approved by you whether our stream, though small, flows from the same head of water as your abundant river, and to be consoled by your answer in common participation of the same grace.” (St. Augustine to the Pope, Ep. 177)

JE> Catholics may object that Philip Schaff is a Protestant historian, and that Robert Eno, though a Catholic, isn't conservative enough.

Eno is a modernist and a heretic. Cased closed. Now, can we please stay on topic, Jason? :-)

I guess not, since Jason also writes:

JE> So let me give another example of Augustine disagreeing with Roman Catholic teaching, from a source I think the Catholics on this mailing list would trust. Envoy is a conservative Catholic magazine run by conservative Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid. Steve Ray, Tim Staples, and other conservative Catholic apologists have contributed to Envoy. An article in the September/October 1998 issue comments: "Despite Augustine's tremendous influence, several of his opinions never gained acceptability in the Church. Among them, we can list the following theories: that God would condemn unbaptized infants to hell, simply because of the inheritance of original sin; that God would justly condemn adults who had never had the chance to be presented with the Gospel, again, due solely to original sin's hold on them; that some people would suffer eternal damnation for no other reason than God's lack of interest in saving them! As we reflect on these Augustinian positions, we must recall the fact that just because someone is a saint or even a doctor of the Church does not make his entire body of teaching acceptable; only the Church's Magisterium can decide what is and is not consonant with Her understanding of the truth of Christ.

Again, Jason .... We believe in development of doctrine. You do not. What arose as theological opinions in the writings of St. Augustine were eventually examined by the Church in council and either accepted or rejected. That's the way it works (see Acts 15). It is THE CHURCH which 1 Timothy 3:15 says is "the pillar and foundation of truth," Jason ...not any singular theologian, no matter how saintly he is.

Yet your religion does not work that way, does it? You are stuck with a static written record, which presumedly possesses a static interpretation, no? :-) Thus, if the Scriptures say that there is only salvation through acceptance of Christ, any pious God-fearing Jew, or ignorant savage in Africa, must be damned, right? Is that what you believe? And, if not, how do you justify believing otherwise? Can non-Christians be saved? If so, where does the Bible teach that?

JE> Now, if Catholics can disagree with Augustine on these issues and others, yet cite him as an orthodox Roman Catholic, WHY WOULD EVANGELICALS HAVE TO AGREE WITH A CHURCH FATHER ON EVERY ISSUE IN ORDER TO CONSIDER THAT CHURCH FATHER ORTHODOX?

Because you believe in a static and immutable written record of faith (the Bible alone). Thus, for your interpretation of the Bible (i.e. Evangelicalism) to be valid, you MUST show that this interpretation is objectively consistent and repeatable throughout history. If you, as a Sola Scriptura Christian, say that the Bible teaches X; yet if an ancient Christian like Athanasius (who you claim also subscribed to Sola Scriptura) said that the Bible teaches Y, then either one of you are wrong or the Bible is a relativist document with no singular interpretation that is clear to all. Thus, yours is a subjective faith; and you cannot say that your interpretation of the Bible is any better than mine. Case closed.

JE> Obviously, Catholics like Mark Bonocore are being inconsistent.

Oh? :-) Think again.

JE> They're willing to dismiss their own disagreements with the church fathers, yet they condemn evangelicals for THEIR disagreements with the church fathers.

But you are not free to disagree with the Church Fathers unless you can show that your interpretation is better than theirs. And, since you have no objective standard for doing this, you are reduced to a relativist. :-) Again, what makes your interpretation better than theirs? When we Catholics condemn an error in a Church Father's writings we do so because we claim to possess an infallible Magisterium with the authority to determine Christian truth. And, once this is done, that becomes the immutable position of the Church (e.g. Acts 15). Yet, do you claim infallibility, Jason? Does Mr. White? :-) Well, if not, then what makes your opinions any better than that of the Church Fathers?

What is your objective standard for determining Christian orthodoxy? Ours is the Magisterium and the consistent Tradition of the universal Church. You, however, (given your position) must be able to show that your interpretation of Scripture is the only possible interpretation; and that true and enlightened Christians always recognized this in the Scriptures themselves -- Scriptures which present this clearly, objectively, and unambiguously. Otherwise, you can kiss your "Bible alone" credo goodbye. ;-)

JE> If Mark Bonocore doesn't have to agree with Augustine on every issue, why does James White have to document that HE agrees with a church father on every issue?

Because ...

(a) If an ancient Church Father subscribed to Sola Scriptura (as Mr. White claims St. Athanasius did), and ...

(b) If the Bible is an objective source of truth for anyone who reads it, ...

Then, it necessarily follows that St. Athanasius would arrive at the same comprehensive faith as James White (i.e. Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism).

So, why didn't he??? :-) Since we Catholics do not claim that the Bible alone is enough to arrive at the orthodox Apostolic Faith in all its fullness, we are not required to show 100% agreement with any Church Father in regard to the state of Catholicism in 1999. You, however (if your position is correct) MUST be able to show 100% agreement. Otherwise, you forfeit your right to say that the "Bible alone" is enough. Rather, you must admit that your Evangelical faith is based on more than the "Bible alone," but also on your personal opinions in regard to Biblical interpretation. Thus, it all comes down to your interpretation vs. ours. And so, what makes your interpretation any better than ours? What is your objective standard for proving that your interpretation is correct? It cannot be the Bible, so it must be something outside the Bible. So, what is it?

Why don't Sola Scriptura Christians (e.g. you, Martin Luther and, according to White, St. Athanasius) achieve the same results from reading the Bible??? And, since this is obviously the case, how can you continue to promote the "Bible alone" as the rule of faith? How many "faiths" does the Bible present to us? How do you know you are reading the Bible correctly? ...Especially when you cannot find one person who achieved the same results as you in the ancient Church. :-) I don't know how I can point out your problem any more clearly, Jason.

Jason writes:

JE> Now, from my previous discussions with Mark, I suspect he might respond by demanding that I document the church fathers agreeing with me on a specific issue of HIS choosing. For example, if I document the church fathers agreeing with me on premillennialism, Mark will just change the subject by demanding that I document agreement on some OTHER issue.

Not at all. :-) You evidently conveniently forgot what I required of you last year. As we've seen with Papias, you may very well present someone in the ancient Church who subscribed to SOME of the tenets of modern premillennialism. :-) Yet, this same person will not agree with your Evangelical faith on other things.

Thus, given your Sola Scriptura position, you must conclude that he got premillennialism right from reading the Bible, but that he failed to correctly interpret the Bible in regard to other things ...or that he believed some things that are not found in the Bible, but only in Tradition. Thus, you are not free to say that someone like Papias is an Evangelical. You are not free to say that he shared your faith, which (you claim) is rooted in a correct reading of the Bible ALONE. Thus, if you believe someone like Papias read the Bible correctly in some ways, but incorrectly in others, how do you know that you're doing any better than him??? How do you know that you're not reading things incorrectly too? ...Or that the things which you think are right are really wrong, and that Papias was right about them? How do you know you're not BOTH wrong about premillennialism? You don't. :-) You have no objective standard. That's what I'm pointing out to you, Jason. All you have is your own opinion. ...And you're gambling your immortal soul on that.

JE> Alright, I'll do that, as long as you let me make the same demand on you, Mark.

You can't make the same demand on me, Jason, since I do not subscribe to the same premise as you and James White. :-)

JE> What if I demand that you specifically document a church father teaching the Assumption of Mary during the first few centuries of Christianity?

Well, ... I would quote St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who, in 403 A.D. diplomatically wrote:

“Say she died a natural death. In that case she fell asleep in glory, and departed in purity and received the crown of her virginity. Or say she was slain with the sword according to Simeon’s prophecy. There her glory is with the martyrs, and she through WHOM THE DIVINE LIGHT SHONE UPON THE WORLD IS IN THE PLACE OF BLISS WITH HER SACRED BODY. Or say she left this world without dying for God can do what He wills. Then she was simply transferred to eternal glory.” (Adversus Haereses, 403 AD)

Here, Epiphanius, a Palestinian native, is speaking to Greeks in Cyprus and, while he does not force the Assumption upon them as a doctrinal requirement (since, at the time, Marian theology was viewed as a "side line" of the Faith), he does make reference to his own, Palestinian Tradition. :-)

Yet, that's beside the point. Even if there were Fathers who directly opposed the Assumption (which there are not), it would still not affect the way we Catholics approach the Faith, which is not static, but Traditional and developmental. You, however, are forced to limit yourselves to the Bible alone. Thus, anyone you cite must be in 100% agreement with your interpretation of Scripture. ....Otherwise, your interpretation is called into question. After all, you're the one saying that the Bible is clear and unambiguous in and of itself; and that we Catholics need only rid ourselves of our "corrupting Traditions." Yet, if you claim that some ancient Christian (e.g. Athanasius) subscribed to Sola Scriptura, then he must agree with you 100%, or you call the objectivity and repeatabilty of your interpretation into question. If the Bible is clear, then any Sola Scriptura advocate should achieve the same result as you from reading it. Thus, name such a person in the ancient Church.

JE> Any way you approach it, Mark Bonocore's challenge rings hollow.

Think again. :-) My challenge is perfectly sound. Now, what about your interpretation of the Bible? :-) If that's as sound, it should be repeatable for whomever reads the Scriptures from a Sola Scriptura vantage point. So, where did St. Athanasius go wrong? ;-) And how do you know that he went wrong and not you???

JE> "To be deep into history is to cease being Protestant." - John Henry Newman -- "To be deep into history is to cease having to rely on Cardinal Newman's development of doctrine arguments." - me

Fine. :-) Then prove it to the rest of us. Show how your Evangelical interpretation of Scripture is objective, repeatable, and HISTORICAL. :-) Name someone from the ancient Church who was clearly an Evangelical.

And I again put the question to you, Mr. White. You said "amen" to Jason. Now that I've overturned his nonsense, please put your money where your mouth is and prove that your position is as sound as my challenge to it. :-) ...If you can. Pointing to us Catholics is not enough this time. If Sola Scriptura is true, then it must be repeatable, achieving consistent results. Thus, if you're not a relativist, please prove that to me by producing an ancient Christian who is your co-religious. If you truly stand behind the principles you promote, you will not ignore my challenge. And, indeed, if your Evangelical faith is true, then my challenge is far from unreasonable. Thank you.

Mark J. Bonocore

For more see Summary of the Challenge to James White

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