The Catholic Thing
Rock Solid Print E-mail
By Michael Coren   
Saturday, 25 June 2011

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said: “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing.”

The same applies all over the world. If Catholics believed what they are condemned for believing, they might deserve to be written off. In truth, few Catholics know little of authentic Catholic belief, and the opponents even less.

Catholicism is Christianity. Protestants argue that they found the ship covered with barnacles and gave it a good scrubbing between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, revealing the original and authentic Christian faith. Wycliffe, Tyndale, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the rest believed themselves to have restored the Church to its Biblical, first-century form: no papacy, no Vatican, no saints and feast days, no veneration of the Virgin Mary, a reliance on the Bible alone, and a conviction that men and women are saved by faith alone.

There is no room here for an account of the Protestant Reformation, the rise of nationalism, the advent of the printing press, the emergence of capitalism, or a discussion of what Martin Luther in particular really wanted, but we can say with confidence that there are problems inherent to the Protestant approach. If the Bible is the only guide to salvation and life, why are there tens of thousands of competing Protestant denominations? And why are they mutually exclusive? Some argue for the baptism of babies, others for the baptism of adults; some ordain women, others don’t; some allow the consumption of alcohol; others don’t; some believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ, others that it is partly His body, others that it is deeply symbolic, others still that it is merely a gesture.

Some Protestant churches believe that only a specific early seventeenth-century translation of the Bible is acceptable, others think they’re wrong. Some allow divorce and even homosexuality, others not. And so on. Yet all claim the Bible as their inerrant, infallible guide.

But Scripture alone can’t solve these problems.

The ecclesial sense of life in Christ is the fundamental point of difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. To put it bluntly, knowledge of Jesus is available to all people, but only Christians in communion with the Church really know Christ. To live in Christ is to live in a Church, to live in THE Church, because that’s how Christ gives Himself to us.

        Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter (Pietro Perugino, c. 1481)

Jesus might be one’s personal Lord and Savior, but in Protestant perspective he often looks suspiciously like one’s own self. Catholics, of course, believe the Bible is the word of God, but also that Jesus left us a teaching office, the Magisterium. The pope and the teaching authority of the Church guard the truth of the Bible through the ages. Interpretation is not left to individuals but to those given the authority and the ability to interpret by Jesus Christ while He was on earth present here among us. 

In the New Testament the names Simon, Peter, or Cephas are mentioned almost 200 times, while the names of all of the other apostles combined fewer than 140. Peter is mentioned first in the list of apostles by Matthew, “to single him out as the most prominent one of the twelve.” Paul spent fifteen days with Peter as a preparation for his own journeys of conversion.

But the most important event for the Big Fisherman, and for us, was when Christ took him and the other apostles on a journey to, well, change his name.

The place chosen is known in modern Israel as Banias (in the Bible, Caesarea Philippi), and was remote, out of the way, and also supremely pertinent and important. It’s beautiful, with a natural forest, a waterfall, and luscious rock formations. It was also considered one of the religious wonders of the ancient world and a pilgrimage site for ancient pagans.

It had been used for animal and perhaps human sacrifice. Herod built a temple to Caesar Augustus on top of the huge rock that still dominates the area. At the base of the rock was a deep, dark hole considered to be bottomless and known as the “gates of hell.” It was before the pagan temple, before the gates of hell, before the place of sacrifice and ignorance that Christ, speaking in Aramaic, gives Simon the name Kepha or Rock (Petra in Greek) and in English; Peter.

The exchange is deeply moving. Jesus asks who people say He is. All sorts of ideas are circulating: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet – all very flattering but entirely wrong. Jesus is the Messiah, but none of them say this because, while they love and revere Him, they do not understand that the Messiah promised by God in the Old Testament is this man they can see and hear. Christ turns to Simon Peter: But what about you. Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter has heard all of the arguments, listened to the legalistic objections, and the explanations even from followers as to why He cannot be the chosen one: You are the Anointed One. You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the Living God! Then, from Jesus, You are greatly blessed, Simon, Jonah's son, for this was not revealed to you through human means. This was revealed to you personally by my Father in heaven.

Jesus continues, And so I now tell you that you are the Rock. On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it! And then, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And it’s still going on.

Michael Coren is a television and radio host and journalist based in Toronto, Canada. His syndicated columns run each week in a dozen national newspapers, and his TV show is watched by almost a quarter of a million people each night. He is the author of thirteen books, including Why Catholics Are Right. He has received numerous awards for his broadcasting and writing and is a noted public speaker. His website is
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
written by Grump, June 25, 2011
Michael, this is an interesting piece that got me thinking as a lapsed Catholic still struggling with finding my way back. While it is true that Protestantism has splintered into "tens of thousands" of sects, each with its own set of beliefs and doctrines, it also is true that the Catholic Church is deeply divided and not monolithic.

Starting first with the Roman Church and Eastern Orthodox, which have different hierarchies, authority and claims of apostolic succession, then within each branch further divisions that cannot be fully discussed in this short of space but which are well known and documented.

On the Roman side, there are the Jesuits, who maintain a black pope to check the white pope; Opus Dei, and thousands of other orders, etc., each with its own rules, practices, rites and lines of authority.

Moreover, Rome's constant flirtation with other religions in the cause of ecumenism, spawned by Vatican II, has seen the sorry spectacle of at least one Pope kissing the Koran (John Paul II), and joint services with everyone from the Anglicans to Wiccans in an attempt to get everyone into one big tent.

Didn't Jesus say that the gate was narrow and few would enter? Didn't Paul say believers should not be yoked with unbelievers?

Did not Jesus tell his disciples preach the gospel to all, but once having done so, to shake the dust off their feet when it was not well received?

I wish the Catholic Church were as pure and unsullied as you would have us believe. However, does not the Church consists mostly of "cafeteria Catholics" who pick and choose which of Rome's doctrines they wish to follow and wish to ignore? Do not the vast majority of Catholics practice birth control, in direct defiance of papal teachings?

Do not many Charismatic Catholics adopt the ways of Pentecostals and Evangelical sects that speak in tongues and emphasize biblical teaching above all (sola scriptura)?

These great divides and varieties within the Church, then, are what keep me on the outside wondering whatever happened to the Catholic faith I was born into. There is virtually no resemblance to the mass I attended more than 50 years ago as a young boy to the mass today. I am well over 60 now and recently went to a Catholic church to see if I could get back my faith. Nothing was the same. I may as well have been in a Protestant church, where I could have heard the same sermon, drank the same wine and taken the same communion; dropped the same dollar in the collection plate (passed around three times), and shook hands with the people around me and listened to the same folk music.

The fact is, Mr. Coren, the Catholic Church has changed as much, if not more, over the past five decades, and rather than be "rock solid," as you say in your headline, it has crumbled into several pieces, none of which I recognize any more.
written by Joe, June 25, 2011
I think Archbishop Sheen's statement was true at a time when millions of Protestants held orthodox Christian views on the nature of God, of Jesus, and of society, that were basically and mostly the same as those of the Catholic Church. That started to break down with the Anglican Church's adoptation of artificial birth control, and has spiralled out of control since then. It might be true amongst Christians, but in society not so much.
I think an increasing number of people know what the Church believes, and hate that. The pro-abortion crowd is increasingly willing to admit that the unborn child is a human being, and so what? The pro-same-sex 'marriage' crowd is clever in distinguishing between permissible private biblical beliefs and 'public rationality' which does not allow the rational side of the Church's argument to be made, in order to create and maintain the facade that the Church is basically irrational.

The histrionics one can find almost everywhere, from Mr Hitchens on down, are based I think not on ignorance but on knowledge, and that most ancient enmity, hatred of God.
written by Louise, June 25, 2011
Dear Mr. Grump,

Buy yourself a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study it. You will find the answers to the paradoxes that you pose. (But maybe it's easier to muddle over all the paradoxes over and over again, than to put in some serious study.) The Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Catholic Church and, with that, the Church cannot err in Faith and Morals. Disciplines may vary and liturgies may vary, but the promise was made to Peter, and where Peter is, THERE is the Church--Because Jesus promised!

Protestants still like to call themselves Christians, but I expect that will change when the persecution starts in earnest. "Me? A Christian? Not me! I don't believe in the Real Presence. How can you accuse me of being a Christian.? You've got the wrong guy! I'm outta here!""
written by Kenneth, June 25, 2011
Well Louise, I would give you a thumbs up for your first paragraph and a thumbs down for the second. So I will not do either :)
written by Achilles, June 25, 2011
Grump, my heart breaks with every post I read from you, my heart breaks for you and me both. You have mistaken the 'image' of the Church for Mother Church herself which is unsulliable. It is a tall order to discern the difference today, I know first hand. May the Holy Spirit gift you understanding through grace. You continue in my prayers, I hope I remain in yours, Pax et bonum, Achilles
written by anton, June 25, 2011
Just to pick up on one of the points mentioned by Grump:

"Didn't Jesus say that the gate was narrow and few would enter? Didn't Paul say believers should not be yoked with unbelievers?"

Well yes that is what Jesus said and applying it to Catholicism, just because one calls oneself a Catholic doesn't necessarily make one so, and if someone picks and chooses what to adhere to and goes against the Magesterium, well that puts one outside of the Catholic is no longer a Catholic and should stop calling oneself a Catholic. The gate is narrow indeed Mr. Grump, but not for pure faithful true Catholics.
Look, Christ promised Peter that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church. The church will always be protected despite bad so called Catholics that unwittingly try to destroy it with disobedience or division within.

You may choose to swim in the shallow waters of Protestant, I choose the deep waters of Theology that only the Catholic church can provide, and stand upon the solid Rock of St. Peter chosen by our Lord and Saviour. There is no greater foundation, steady and sure, and always placing trust in the promise of Christ.
written by Graham Combs, June 25, 2011
Louise reminds me of something I've thought for some time. That the great First Amendment Experiment is winding down. The Church has thrived in the English-speaking world -- even England -- where religious liberty has been at its most vigorous and meaningful. The Anglosphere's greatest contribution to civic life. But that liberty is now coming to an end. Protestants, emergent churches, "love wins" theology, the American Catholic Council etc. engage in pre-emptive accomodation of the post-modern, 21st century civil rights culture. We now face a gauntlet of Rights obstructing birth, education, work, art, music, literature, science, philosophy, religious practice. The question remains whether bishops en banc will continue to lead Catholics in opposition to the radicalized establishment -- without benefit of the First Amendment. Michael Coren makes a logical and coherent argument for the Papacy's unique status and legitimacy to insure just that.
written by Louise, June 25, 2011
"A man will call himself a Christian though he denies the
unity of the Christian Church; he will call himself a Christian though he
denies the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; he will
cheerfully call himself a Christian though he denies the Incarnation."

This was written in 1938, when I was but five years old. Later the writer declares that "doctrinal Protestantism is dead"--in 1938, and earlier he speaks of the assault on Catholic philosophy to it intended destruction.

Carried to its logical conclusion, doesn't it suggest that the time will come when men will disassociate themselves from the very label "Christian" because to be called so will cost a man dearly? Look at China today, or Egypt, Lybia, or any Muslim state. Although Delta Airlines is being strongly rebuked by Americans for giving in to Saudi demands not to carry Jews to Jeddah, the original report also said that the Saudi ban included Christians wearing crosses or carrying Bibles. If an American airline will give in to that demand while attempting to deny culpability or responsibility, where does it end? That is only the beginning.

When belief in the Real Presence could cost a man his head as it did the early martyrs, will the man who holds that the Eucharist is only an analogy or a symbol eagerly claim the name "Christian" as his own? Not likely.

Thank you for the smily, Kenneth. It made me happy to see it.
written by Grump, June 26, 2011
To Louise, Achilles et al...Thanks for your thoughtful comments and prayers. I just finished two books -- both essentially the same story but from different vantage points -- "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand and "Devil at My Heels," by Louis Zamperini.

Zamperini is a World War II hero who survived unspeakable horrors in the Pacific at the hands of the Japanese and became a Christian after the war by listening to a Billy Graham sermon. Both books were profoundly inspiring and I strongly recommend them especially to cynics and doubters like me. Although Graham wasn't/isn't Catholic, he was responsible for converting Zamperini and leading him to Christ.

Point being that Protestants, considered by the RCC to be "our separated brethren," can call themselves Christians as well despite Louise's assertions.

Meanwhile, this prodigal son wanders about trying to find the truth and hoping his heaveny father will call him home some day. If I'm able to utter final words on my deathbed they will be "Jesus, have mercy on me."
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 26, 2011

A Roman magistrate, during the ten great persecutions, would have been supremly indifferent to anyone's actual beliefs. The only question that concerned him was whether a person belonged to a visible organization, known everywhere as "the Catholic Church," consisting of those in communion with the see of Rome and no others. This, in Roman eyes, was a "collegium illicitum," an illegal association, the equivalent in Roman eyes of the Communist Party or the Mafia.

Mgr Ronald Knox once remarked that he had changed none of his beliefs, when he was received into the Church; what changed was his grounds for holding them. Before, he had held them as theological opinions, now he held them on the authority of the Chrurch that imposes them as a condition of membership.
written by Louise, June 26, 2011
"If I'm able to utter final words on my deathbed they will be "Jesus, have mercy on me.""

Why wait?

My assertions are based on sound reasoning (see quotation from Belloc, above), and, as I said, I believe that the time will come when our "separated brethren" will eschew the label "Christian" to save their necks.

Not long after Pope Benedict took the Chair of Peter, he made it known that he wanted Catholics to refer to Protestant churches ( i.e., those founded by Wesley, Knox, Calvin, Henry VIII, Luther, et al). as "ecclesial communities" and to use the word "church" only for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Christ.

There would be a lot more clear thinking if we used our words with precision and clarity.

written by Louise, June 26, 2011
Dear Michael,

I think that if Monsignor Knox were living today, he would not make that statement. What he said was perhaps true for his time, but I don't think he had the perspicacity to understand what his contemporary Belloc did, that, even then, doctrinal Protestantism was dead. It just took 60 years for it to fall over, and that first fall happened just up the street in New Hampshire with Mr. Robinson.

Even 50 years ago, when we were Episcopalians, our parish was very "catholic" in practice, liturgy, beliefs. At least the priest was. Can't say the same for most of the parishioners. Even 40 years ago, the Episcopal parish that we attended in another state had dramatic liturgies, ornate vestments, confession of sorts, and even celebrated all the Holy Days, while the pastor, his wife, and many in the congregation were supporting abortion rights in the passage of Roe v. Wade and women's ordination.

Belloc has a wonderful phrase: "reading history backward". Knox (whom I also like very much but for different reasons) must be read in his time. Since my time was not so very different from his and Belloc's time, I can relate to both. But Belloc saw and understood what was to come. I don't think that Knox did.
written by Louise, June 26, 2011
Mr. grumP

"this prodigal son wanders about"


You know, when you die, you only get to choose among two places. That place where you will get to enjoy a long relaxing sleep isn't one of them. Where did you get the idea that you can select a made-to-order afterlife? It's not gonna happen. Face it. "Non-smoking" or "Smoking only". That's is. Pullman cars exists only in this life. :)
written by Grump, June 26, 2011
Because I remain unpersuaded, Louise. Remember, to whom much has been given much is expected. I have been given very little; therefore, I do not expect much of myself.
I still say God plays favorites. I am not one of his.
Enjoy paradise. I don't think I'll make it. Nor do I want to go there if there are no dogs.
written by Louise, June 26, 2011
Well, Mr. Grump, it is your choice. Belief if a choice. One can choose to believe or one can choose not to believe, but we can't blame anyone or anything else for our choice.

You don't want to go to heaven if there are no dogs. Big deal! I, myself, wonder how I could possibly be happy in heaven if my sons are not there. These are deep mysteries and I have no certainty about them at all. We all have our share of pain, disappointment, self-pity (justified and unjustified), and about whether God plays favorites, well, I'm not prepared to deny what appears to be so obvious. But that has nothing to do with choosing to believe and choosing to love. Some people are just not happy unless they are miserable. And that, too, is a choice.
written by Grump, June 27, 2011
Well, Louise, some of us merely exist as a warning to others. I'll leave my choice to the end and probably play Pascal's Wager. What do I have to lose, right?
written by Louise, June 27, 2011
"What do I have to lose, right?"

What you have to lose depends on how you meet your end. Will you have a long time to think about it or will it come like a thief in the night? And don't forget that lifelong habits might just interfere with your decision. You might automatically, out of habit, say "No, thanks, I'm not ready to make a decision", when the question was "It's now or never, OK?" And how can you be certain that you will hear the question? It might be drowned out in the simultaneous clap of thunder that accompanied the lightning or in the crushing of steel and the breaking of glass. Our pastor often say, "Aim for heaven. If you just aim for purgatory, you might miss."

Anyone who counts on Pascal's wager to get him to heaven hasn't lived long enough to learn the truth of that wonderful adage: "Eat dessert first. Life is too uncertain."

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