If you have never read “Roman Catholicism” by Lorraine Boettner, you aren’t missing much. This book is widely discredited by all but the most ardent and ignorant anti-Catholics. In fact, “Roman Catholicism” is considered the “Bible of anti-Catholicism”. Dr. Boettner’s book should really be considered the Bible of blind, uninformed bigotry.
There are many, many problems with Lorraine Boettner’s book that we could discuss, but we will here stick to just one. We will discuss Dr. Boettner’s misunderstanding of how the Catholic Church comes to define Its Teachings. I selected this topic because it is a commonly misunderstood topic. Even Catholics are surprisingly ignorant of this process. I think a look at some examples will be the best way to approach this topic.
An awful lot of people don’t know that the Church did not officially define all seven sacraments we possess today until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. This has erroneously led many people to believe that the Catholic Church did not recognize seven sacraments until then. Others claim the Church did not recognize seven sacraments until the thirteenth century. This is mistaken.
A look at the ancient Church demonstrates that the Church did, indeed, recognize seven sacraments. In fact, all seven can be found in the Bible. The reason the Church waited until the sixteenth century to formally define the seven sacraments is because such was not seriously questioned until the Protestant Revolt.
That is just how the Church works. She does not address an issue until serious questions arise. Until then, the Catholic Church assumes either that the faithful know what the Church teaches, or that there is no need to speak on the issue, because there is no need.
Lorraine Boettner claims that the Catholic Church only recognized Sunday as the Sabbath in the fourth century. While it is true that the Church didn’t formally define Sunday as the Sabbath until the fourth century, it is not the case that the Church only recognized Sunday as the Sabbath until the fourth century. The recognition was just formally defined, and made binding on all the faithful, in the fourth century. In practice, Sunday had been recognized as the Sabbath since the Apostolic Age. Just look at the Acts of the Apostles!
Probably the most hotly debated and misunderstood definition comes from the First Vatican Council in 1870. Yes, I’m referring to the definition of papal infallibility. Many Catholics disregard this Teaching simply on the basis that it took the Church until the nineteenth century to define it. The reasoning runs that, if papal infallibility were true, the Church would have defined it much sooner.
Again, this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Church works. Although the authority of the pope has been questioned throughout history by various people, it did not come under wide criticism until the Protestant Revolt. Though this may have seemed to have been the opportune time to formally define this Teaching, the Church opted to wait. Why? Protestantism denied the authority of the Church in general, not just that of the papacy. So the Council of Trent saw fit to deny sola scriptura, and affirm the authority of the hierarchy.
It was only with the coming of the so-called “Enlightenment” and Modernism that the authority of the pope specifically came into question. It seems to make sense. Humans are ignorant and flawed. How could any man be so arrogant to claim to ever be infallible?
Well, a look at Scripture reveals the truth of papal infallibility. A look at history reveals the widespread acceptance and practice of it. The Church has always accepted papal infallibility. Sure, you can find individuals who disputed the practice and belief. There were even some well-educated theologians who disputed papal infallibility. The majority of the faithful, however, recognized it. Numerous popes practiced it. Even many bishops demonstrated their belief in it by their acceptance of infallible definitions made by various popes.
To argue that a Catholic Teaching isn’t true because it was not formally defined until relatively late in history is not to attack the Teaching itself. It’s to attack the timing of the definition. The timing has no bearing on the truth of a teaching; and I am not concerned here with proving the truthfulness of Church Teaching. The point of this post is to simply prove that, though the Church might wait several centuries to define a Teaching, that does not prove the Teaching false. For this, one must look to history and Sacred Scripture. This is exactly what the Catholic Church does!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity