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A Debate Between Professor James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, 
and Brother John Mary, Representing the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

 Resolved: The Church of the Council of Nica is not the Roman Catholic Church


Rome Continues to Play Fast and Loose with History
Professor White’s 2500 Word Response

[Begin Word Count Here]

For many hundreds of years, Roman Catholics used the famous Donation of Constantine as evidence of Papal supremacy in even temporal and political affairs. Yet, as everyone knows, the Donation was a fraud. Rome has a rich history in changing and rewriting history to insert her own claims into the historical record. And why would any group have to change history, if, in fact, their claims are true?

This debate is on the question of the identity of the Church that existed in the days of Nica. I have already stated that the Church of 325 was just that: the Church of 325. It was not Roman Catholic for all the reasons already enumerated. It was not Eastern Orthodox, nor was it Protestant. My opponent attempts to provide at least some of the necessary elements of Roman Catholicism, but certainly not all. Let’s note a few items:

  1. Most of Brother John’s presentation is irrelevant to the thesis at hand. I am most disappointed by the rhetoric that fills the first half of his presentation, and will not violate the spirit and decorum of proper debate in responding to issues that are not even marginally relevant. I will trust the reader to do as any debate judge must do: dismiss any and all claims that are not substantiated by documentation, citation, or logical argument from previously established points.
  2. Even in the later sections where my opponent attempts to provide some serious argumentation, his assertions are almost universally undocumented. It is next to impossible to interact with assertions that have no citations, no documentation. On a simple debate level, almost no serious information has been provided by Brother John.
  3. Numerous assertions are made that, while relevant to my presentation, are utterly without merit. For example, my opponent says, "All of the Catholics attending the Nicene council had a belief in Purgatory." Yet, not a single word or citation from any of those attending Nica is provided in support. This kind of argumentation would disqualify my opponent immediately in any formal setting. In the same way, broad, sweeping (and generally untrue) assertions are made, such as, "Such saints as Popes Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Ambrose, and Chrysostom, all of whom, it can be proved, held Roman Catholic doctrine on the Papacy, the Mass, prayers to saints, the authority of Apostolic Tradition, the Papacy, etc., believed in the authority of the Council." Again, no citations are given, and such simply disqualifies my opponent on any logical or scholarly level.

So I have very little, in reality, to which I can respond from a professional perspective, since the majority of Brother John’s arguments have been presented in an invalid way, without scholarly citation or concern for documentation. Even those areas that I have chosen to address are, technically, beyond comment, since even the assertions concerning such things as the role of Hosius and the wording of the Sixth Canon of Nica were presented ipse dixit, without proper documentation.

Let us keep in mind throughout the debate the issue at hand: was it Roman Catholicism that forged the Nicene faith? Or does modern Roman Catholicism hold as doctrines beliefs that were not held by the Church of that day? If my opponent fails to establish the belief in all five of the areas of doctrine that I presented in my opening statement (and documented from valid sources), he loses this debate. And let us remember: finding some areas of agreement is not enough for my opponent. I can find all sorts of areas of agreement with Protestant belief in the early Church, and I provided some examples in my opening statement. If finding some agreements equals identity, then the early Church was Protestant. But obviously, that doesn’t follow. It is the unique and definitional beliefs that are important.

And, in passing, I would point out that my opponent is attacking a straw man when he asks me to find "Reformed Baptist" councils at the time of Nica. I have never claimed there were any. Apostolic succession is a matter of fidelity to the truth, not historical genealogy. It is more important to stand in the teaching of the Apostles than to trust in an alleged historical procession that casts truth out into the cold.

Let’s review the five areas I presented in my opening statement. I said the Church of Nica did not:

  1. look to the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ, the head of the universal Church, the pastor of all Christians;
  2. believe in the Marian doctrines that set Rome apart, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Bodily Assumption;
  3. embrace such concepts as the thesaurus meritorum, purgatory, and indulgences;
  4. believe in the Roman concept of authority, replete with extra-biblical, revelatory or inspired "traditions" that add to the "deposit of faith" items and beliefs not found in Scripture:
  5. nor practice the necessary devotions to reserved, consecrated hosts that would substantiate the leap from a belief in "real presence" to the much later belief in "transubstantiation."

No effort was made on my opponent’s part to say that these doctrines are not, in fact, definitional of Roman Catholicism. So what effort was made on my opponent’s part to document these beliefs in the early Church? Let’s go in order.

  1. Brother John presents undocumented assertions concerning the role of Pope Sylvester. Modern historians agree that Pope Sylvester did not call the Council of Nica (see Schaff’s comments in his History of the Christian Church 3:335.) Basing his argument upon the order of signatures, rather than any statement made by any participant, Brother John asserts that the Spanish bishop Hosius was representing the Pope. Yet, he cannot provide any documentation of this outside the unfounded assertion concerning order of signatures. Roman primacy can find no better support than the order of signatures?
  2. Brother John then points to the assertion—found nearly four hundred years later!—from A.D. 680 that Sylvester called Nica. The fact that the earliest documentable evidence for this claim comes from the end of the seventh century is sufficient to dismiss the claim and to prove the correctness of my original assertion. Reliance upon such dubious material is the hallmark of Roman Catholic historical revisionism (see Salmon’s comments on this, Infallibility of the Church, p. 289).
  3. He asserts (again, without citations) that "Pope Julius ruled the Church 11 years after the Council" and that Julius claimed he had to acknowledge the Council for it to be valid. Yet, simple historical fact proves that Julius’ support of Nica was insufficient to establish it against the Arian resurgency that arose immediately after the Council, proving that the idea that the Church as a whole subserviated their beliefs to the Roman bishop is an anachronism of monumental proportions. The lapse of Liberius, bishop of Rome, that followed, likewise shows the anachronistic character of modern Roman claims regarding this period.

Hence, with reference to the first issue, Brother John fails completely to establish, from any credible sources at all, the concept of Papal supremacy at Nica. Instead, he assumes it, as all faithful Roman Catholics must.

Next, in regard to the Marian doctrines, all we find is a single line from Ephraem, noted by Kelly in these words, "Only in Syria, where Marian devotion was particularly fervid, do we find Ephraem delineating her as free from every stain, like her Son" (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 495). Yet Brother John not only takes this isolated quotation as being representative of all in attendance at Nica (an incredible leap!), but goes on to draw from one line the entire doctrine of the Immaculate Conception! Such misuse of historical materials is reprehensible, especially since even the most conservative Roman sources, such as Ludwig Ott, recognize the historical development of the doctrine (see Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp. 200-201). No citations are provided from any of the leading figures who left us volumes and volumes of works on the subject of theology, such as Athanasius. Why? Because the doctrine did not exist in the Church at the time.

With reference to purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits, we are provided with absolutely nothing outside of mere speculations and unfounded assertions. A passage that is manifestly unrelated to the topic (2 Timothy 1:18) is cited by Brother John, but other than this a-contextual use of a Bible passage, we are given no evidence that the Nicene Church did, in fact, believe in purgatory, the treasury of merit, and indulgences. Instead, we are offered only unfounded assertions, such as, "Since the Jews always believed in a place of purgation, as we Catholics believe in Purgatory, then where in the New Testament do we hear of Purgatory being abolished?" Such is not logical argumentation or debate, it is a classic example of begging the question.

Only one effort is made to establish any kind of Roman concept of "tradition," and that in reference to the use of homoousios by the Nicene Council. However, as I pointed out in an article on this subject ("What Really Happened at Nica?" in the Christian Research Journal, Summer, 1997):

Athanasius notes that the gathered bishops truly desired to express their faith in primarily Scriptural language, and they tried to do so. But every time they came up with a statement that was limited solely to biblical terms, the Arians would find a way of "reading" that in such a way as to allow for agreement.

This was followed by an endnote that read,

Someone might well say that this demonstrates the insufficiency of Scripture to function as the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church; i.e., that it denies sola scriptura. But sola scriptura does not claim the Bible is sufficient to answer every perversion of its own revealed truths. Peter knew well that there would be those who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, and it is good to note that God has not deemed it proper to transport all heretics off the planet at the first moment they utter their heresy. Struggling with false teaching has, in God’s sovereign plan, been a part of the maturing of His people.

It would seem to me that the issue of the deity of Christ and Arianism would be the perfect place for the Roman apologist to be able to prove the existence of his inspired oral tradition. Surely someone like Athanasius should have been appealing to such an "oral tradition" over and over again in his defense of Nica. Yet, of course, this isn’t the case (see the discussion in "Sola Scriptura and the Early Church" in Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, pp. 42-52).

As to the worship of reserved hosts, the closest we come is the assertion that canon 18 of the Council of Nica speaks of the "Eucharistic sacrifice." The phrase, however, does not appear in any of the standard English translations to which I have access, and since we are, as normal, not given any reference citations, it is impossible to deal with the assertion. The same holds true with the assertion that the canon uses the term "sacrifice." Canon 18 is actually about deacons not administering the Eucharist to presbyters. Again, if this is the best the Roman apologist can muster, what does this say about the actual state of affairs?

The value of this debate has been seriously diminished by my opponents failure to present his material in a scholarly fashion. I cannot help but to point out that Rome has a long history of using fraudulent and untrustworthy sources of information when it comes to historical claims. Even here, Brother John has given us an example. He goes so far as to cite a later Latin interpolation of the sixth canon of the Council of Nica that inserted the phrase, "Rome has the primacy." I wish to conclude by asking the reader to consider what this means. Why would a person have to cite a later interpolation (the insertion is clearly not original, and no modern scholars, Roman or otherwise, defend it as original) to make their point? Why? Because Canon Six is so devastating to Roman claims. Note what it says:

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.

The most obvious reading of the canon is that Rome’s privileges are limited (just as the 28th Canon of Chalcedon would say more than a century later). Later devotees of Roman authority would find this disagreeable, hence, they had to change the reading, just as later centuries would make up the myth that Pope Sylvester had called the Council of Nica in the first place. Obviously, if history is on one’s side, you don’t have to expend energy to re-write it. The long, long list of historical revisions undertaken by Roman apologists over the centuries proves one point beyond question: Rome did not have the position in the past that she claims for herself now.

Hence, in conclusion, we see that Brother John has failed to present meaningful counter-argumentation to my opening statement. What argumentation he has provided has been undocumented and unverifiable. His facts are disjointed, and he has failed to deal with the simple fact that finding similarities does not prove identity, anymore than my being able to find similarities in early sources with my own Protestant beliefs makes the Fathers Protestants. I can agree, wholeheartedly, with many things spoken by Athanasius or Augustine or Chrysostom or Cyril of Jerusalem. For example, Augustine said (Epistolam Johannis tractus, 2):

For when He offered Himself to them to touch, this did not suffice Him unless He also confirmed the heart of the believers from the Scriptures, for He foresaw that the time would come when we would not have anything to touch but would have something to read.

And Cyril of Jerusalem said:

In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures (Catechetical Lectures, 4:17).

But I do not err, as Brother John errs, in thinking this makes Augustine or Cyril a Protestant. In the same way, my opponent has erred in thinking the Church of Nica was Roman Catholic, when it was not.

[End Word Count. Total = 2471]

Submitted June 3, 1997

ADDENDUM: Please note. I will not be able to participate further in this debate until July 15th, 1997 at the earliest. I have responsibilities to my publisher that will preclude further participation until after that date. It is my intention to complete the debate, but to do so in an orderly, proper manner.

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