Roman Catholicism


Key, Keys, What's the Difference?
An Apologist for "Catholic Apologetics International" Provides Some Interesting Responses to Objections to Roman Catholic Claims


by James White


Folks like to send me URLs.  I get many every day.  Recently I was informed of a debate between a Protestant and Roman Catholic on the Papacy.  When I read through the opening statement of the Catholic, I was struck by the fact that he was not only tremendously disrespectful to his opponent, but he seemed rather focused on me rather than upon his opponent.  So I dropped him a note and asked him some questions.  His reply provides a great example of how Roman Catholic apologists are handling their insuperable difficulties with history.   In particular, I found his attempt to find a historical basis for the use of Isaiah 22 1) brave, but 2) a good example of how sola ecclesia makes you see things that aren't there.

When reading his note I encountered his reference to his "good friend Art Sippo." I sent him a note that read:

Ah, I'm sorry to have wasted your time. I did not know you partook of that perspective. Again, my apologies for asking you questions that are meaningless to your viewpoint.

His response was quick:

Coward. :-)

So, below I reproduce sections of his rather lengthy response.  A number of his retorts are so commonly reproduced by others that they provide a useful example here.


Date Thu, 15 Apr 1999 210506 EDT

Subject Papacy Debate --Response, Pt 1


Dear James,

Now that Jason Engwer has posed his final question to me in our debate, I'm finally free to answer yours (see below). As for your tacit challenge to debate me publicly, I think you should know that I'm a staff apologist for Catholic Apologetics International under Bob Sungenis. Thus, if you wish to debate me, you will have to run it through him

JRW:  I had mentioned, in an IM in AOL, that we have been looking for people to debate in the East/Midwest area. 

 >I was looking over your opening remarks in your papacy debate with JTE, and wished to make a few comments and ask a few questions 1) Do you call yourself an anti-Protestant? If you do not, why do you call me an anti-Catholic? >>>>>

:-) Why do we call shoes "shoes"? We call a thing by what it is. As for myself, I suppose you could say I'm an "anti-Protestant" insofar that I believe Protestantism is an error and I oppose it. However, that does not mean I deny that Protestants are Christians. They are. That is to say, a Protestant who honestly seeks to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ possesses the bare essentials for salvation. Yet, unfortunately, Protestantism also possess a number of obstacles (e.g. sola Fide) which may, and often do, undermine a Protestant's true faith in Jesus (1 Corinth 13:2, James 2:17), transforming Christianity from a Covenant of holiness into a utilitarian religion, in which the importance of holiness is swept into a corner. For example, where's the Protestant Mother Teresa? Where's the Protestant Francis of Assisi? In 400 years, Protestantism has produced no one like this. It has produced good, virtuous, and moral people, yes. But, then again, so have the Mormons and the Muslims. However, Protestantism has not produced what we can only call saints. And, if you disagree, please name a Protestant who reflects the selflessness and love of the Lord to the degree of a Francis of Assisi or a Mother Teresa of Calcutta. "A tree is know by its fruit."

JRW:  I'm first glad that Mr. Bonocore is willing to be identified as an "anti-Protestant."  At least that makes his use of the term "anti-Catholic" of me consistent.

It would be easy to get into a spitting war over whose communion produces the most godly people.  But such an activity is without merit, since what would amount to godliness is so differently defined between us.  I think of a B.B. Warfield and his tremendous insight into the Trinity, coupled with his tender care of his invalid wife, and say, "Here is a man who opposed Rome vociferously, defended the great truth of sovereign and free justification, and yet showed a tender and compassionate heart, the true sign of godliness."  Given that Mr. Bonocore identifies the gospel itself (sola fide) as an "obstacle" that "undermines" "true faith in Jesus," obviously we are going to define what a "true saint" is quite differently.  For the Christian whose faith is determined by the Scriptures, not by men's traditions, every redeemed believer is a saint, robed in the perfect and pure righteousness of Jesus Christ. 

Indeed, I have to wonder: would a true saint wish to be held up as Mr. Bonocore did his heros?

But most importantly, Mr. Bonocore is completely in error to think that holiness is "swept into a corner" when one accepts the biblical gospel over against Rome's system of sacraments.  I have to restrain myself from noting the long history of the opposite of holiness in the very highest levels of Rome's hierarchy, let alone the massive nominalism that marks the majority of Roman Catholicism to this day.   For what is more important is the fact of what underlies his statement: for the believing Catholic, they are objectively pleasing to God because they have been objectively changed and made holy.  To borrow the phrase of Karl Keating (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 168), "The soul becomes objectively pleasing to God and so merits heaven.  It merits heaven because now it is actually good."  This goes to the very heart of the gospel: are we saved by the righteousness of Christ, which is ours by faith, or are we saved because we are made objectively pleasing to God so that we can do good works in a state of grace and so merit heaven?  And that issue results in the vastly different reasons why we do "good works."  The Roman Catholic does good works in a state of grace: the biblical believer does good works by grace in love for God.  The changed nature naturally does good works, not to remain "saved," but out of love and a desire to glorify the grace that has changed him/her from a God-hater to a God-lover.   The difference is, indeed, striking.

Yet, do you believe that I'm a Christian, James? Or do you lump me in the same category as the JW's and the Mormons?? -)

JRW: Since I am asked this question all the time, I appreciate the opportunity of responding.

First, I do not "lump" Catholicism in the same category as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons.  Mr. Bonocore can't have listened very well to my debates, or read my books, to have missed that.  It is foolhardy to miss the fundamental difference between a system that affirms the Triune nature of God and the physical resurrection of Christ with systems that deny such things.

The question of the salvation of any individual Roman Catholic is a different issue.  Mr. Bonocore spoke of Protestants having the "bare essentials" of salvation, but quickly added that there are many obstacles (including, amazingly enough, the very gospel itself) before them.  I have been very consistent in saying that the gospel of Rome cannot save anymore than the "gospel" of the Judaizers in Galatia could save.  Hence, any person whose trust in is that gospel has been deceived, and is lost.  It is not because they are a Roman Catholic that they are lost, it is because they have not embraced the gospel that they are lost.  Paul testified that the Jews had a zeal for God, but they stumbled at the same point the Roman Catholic stumbles: the sufficiency of grace (not the necessity of grace).  To confess that requires the renunciation of all pride and all self-sufficiency, and that Rome refuses to do.

So, if Mr. Bonocore is trusting in the "gospel" of Rome that is marked by purgatory, indulgences, sacramental forgiveness, a propitiatory Mass, etc., then I can only invite him to the gospel that actually gives peace, true peace through a perfect Savior.

>I use the term "Roman Catholic apologist" of individuals such as yourself. Is there a logical and consistent reason why you refuse the courtesy of doing the same? >

Absolutely. For the same reason that I don't call a pro-abortion advocate "pro-choice."

Indeed, how can you call yourself a "Protestant apologist" when Protestants do not agree on doctrine? I know Protestants who believe in sola Fide, and Protestants who reject it. I know Protestants who believe in Baptismal regeneration, and Protestants who call Baptismal regeneration a "heresy." So, what exactly are you an "apologist" for? To quote my good friend, Dr. Art Sippo, you seem to be "an apologist for your own ego," not for any objective standard of Christian Faith.

JRW:  It seems that Mr. Bonocore has the following standard: unless there is perfect unanimity of opinion concerning every single doctrinal belief in a system by all who confess that system, then you cannot be an apologist for that system.   Now, obviously, I ask a simple question: is there unanimity of opinion on every doctrinal issue in Roman Catholicism?  The very question is laughable, I know.   You can get a tremendously wide variety of responses from Roman Catholics on all sorts of issues.  I know Catholics who believe in predestination, and others who do not.  We have been amazed to find numerous Roman Catholic priests who do not believe transubstantiation is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.  There are Roman Catholics who are supporting the push to have Mary defined as co-redemptrix, co-mediatrix, and advocate for the people of God, and we have found others who oppose it.  So, logically, it must follow, if Mr. Bonocore is consistent, he cannot be a "Roman Catholic apologist."  Yet, he claims to be.  Therefore, his argument is shown to be self-refuting.

As to Dr. Sippo's comments, I simply invite the reader to read Sippo's materials, and decide for yourself.

>2) Why did you focus on me in your presentation? Jason is his own person, and as his tremendous opening statement indicates, he is his own researcher and thinker. >

-) Jason is anything but "tremendous." He's a parrot, James. I've debated with him over the last year or so, and he doesn't have an original thought in his head. ...Just a lot of free time on his hands. He should devote it to prayer.

>3) I've asked Gerry Matatics and others this question, and never gotten an answer can you name anyone in the first 1000 years of church history who presented the argument you do from Isaiah 22? >

Sure. What about St. John Cassian (c. 362-435), who writes:

"O Peter, Prince of Apostles, it is just that you should teach us, since you were yourself taught by the Lord; and also that you should open to us the gate of which you have received the Key (singular). Keep out all those who are undermining the heavenly House; turn away those who are trying to enter through false caverns and unlawful gates since it is certain that no one can enter in at the gate of the Kingdom except the one unto whom the Key (singular), placed by you in the churches, shall open it." (John Cassian, Book III, Chap 12, Against the Nestorians on the Incarnation)

Compare this to Isaiah 22, which reads:

"On that day I shall summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. ...I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open."

Cassian is clearly drawing from Isaiah 22, and applying it to Matt 16. I believe the reason we don't see Isaiah 22 used more extensively is that it's rooted in a sense of Jewish national identity. And, since most of the fathers were Gentiles, it's not surprising that they see the Keys of Matt 16 referring to authority in a more generic sense (which is equally valid). However, we do see the Kingly, Davidic aspect of the Keys alluded to more often in the Semetic-speaking branches of the Church. For example, Aphraates the Sage (c. 330 A.D.), one of the oldest fathers of the Syrian Church, says ...

"David handed over the Kingdom to Solomon and was gathered to his people; and Jesus handed over the Keys to Simon and ascended and returned to Him Who sent Him." (Aphraates, xxi, 13).

Also, St. Ephraem the Syrian (c. 350) writes ...

"Then Peter deservedly received the Vicariate of Christ over His people." (Ephraem, Sermon de Martyrio. SS. App. Petri et Pauli).

>4) Can you explain why Jesus says "keys" while Isaiah says "key"? >

Sure. -)

Firstly, it is well known that Matthew (unlike Mark or Luke) has a preference for the plural (e.g. Matt 4:3; 8:26; 12:46; 15:36). Also, in Matt 16, we are dealing with a Heaven-earth relationship, rather than a mere earthly kingdom (as in Isaiah 22). Thus, Peter holds two keys one Heavenly and one earthly, since his Master is a two-fold King both the earthly successor to David and the eternal King of Heaven. Another possibility is that the "keys" (plural) in Matt 16 refer to Christ's juxtaposition of the "Kingdom of Heaven" vs. the "gates of hell." We also see this in St. Ephraem the Syrian, who writes

"Thee, O Simon Peter, will I proclaim the blessed, who holds the Keys which the Spirit made. A great and ineffable word that he binds and loosens those in Heaven and those under the earth ..." (Ephraem, Asseman. Bibl. Orient. t. i. p. 95) in Colin Lindsay, Evidence for the Papacy, (London Longmans, 1870), 31.

>Can you cite any biblical evidence that the key of the house of David is, in fact, identical with the keys of the kingdom of heaven? Can you cite any patristic interpretation in support of your position? >

With pleasure, James. -)

I recall that, in your Boston College debate against Sungenis and Butler, you claimed that Matt 16 is merely about the identity of Jesus. You said that any references to the Church or to a Pope, etc. were distractions from the intended purpose of the passage. Well, that's a pretty two-dimensional exegesis, if you ask me.  Matt 16 is not merely about the identity of Jesus. Rather, it is about who the people say that Jesus is. In Matt 16:13, Jesus asks "Who do the people say that I am?" These are the people of Israel, who do not know that He is their King. Jesus then asks His disciples (His "royal entourage," if you will) "Who do you say that I am?" And, in reply, Peter speaks up and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah the promised successor to David -- the King of Israel!

Thus, Jesus makes Peter the prime minister of that remnant of Israel which will believe in Him the Church. Here, we must note that the Greek word for "Church" ("Ekklesia") means "those who are called out." Thus, "the Church" will comprise those members of Israel who will accept Jesus as their Messiah/King. This will be Jesus' House of David. And, within that House, Peter holds the prime minister's Keys (e.g. Isaiah 22).

As for patristic support, look again to Cassian & Aphraates above. Yet, can you provide any patristic evidence saying that Matt 16:19 does not refer to Isaiah 22?

Interestingly enough, the Messianic Jew, David H. Stein --who actually attended classes at Fuller Theological Seminary (as opposed to taking their correspondance course, like some others we know ;-) provides abundant evidence that King Hezekiah (the King of Isaiah 22) was seen as a prefigurement of the Messiah by 1st Century Jews [David Stein, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, 1992].

See what you miss when you skip class? ;-)


And, with reference to Mr. Bonocore's cheap shots: he seems to be following his mentor here, Mr. Sungenis, who likewise seems confused on the issue.   Fuller Theological Seminary offers no correspondence courses.  Fuller does, however, have extension seminaries in a number of places, including Phoenix.  If Mr. Bonocore was familiar with seminary study, he would know that.  I completed my M.A. through Fuller at its Phoenix extension campus.  Fuller makes no distinction between classes taken in extension and those taken on campus, for they fly professors in, either from the main campus or from other places, to teach.  You would think that these folks would get the idea that if they are going to take such cheap shots at people, they might wish to do enough homework to get their facts straight.  It's rather embarrassing to make such basic errors in the midst of insulting someone else.

> 7) You wrote Now, while it is true that, in Matt 18:18, Jesus bestows a similar authority to "bind and loosen" upon all of the Apostles collectively, it is to Peter alone that Christ entrusts "the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." So, what are these Keys? What are they suppose to signify?" When, specifically, did Christ bestow the keys ALONE to Peter? The Greek verb in Matthew 16 is future in tense. Hence, if this does not take place in Matthew 18:18, when does it? And, can you cite patristic foundation for saying the keys differ in authority and meaning from the power of binding and loosing? >>>>>

 :-) First of all, the way you pose the question is shamefully deceptive, and based on an incorrect understanding of the Greek. In comparing Matt 16:19 and 18:18, the "bind/loose" statements are each arranged in two couplets. The first verb in the couplet is an active aorist and the second is a perfect passive participle which is best translated into English as a passive future perfect. Thus, the verses literally say "Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in Heaven." The obvious meaning of the Matt 16:19 &18:18 statements is that whatever the Apostles (and their successors) bind upon the faithful (i.e., faith or morals) will not be their own teaching but what has already been bound upon the Church by God in eternity. So, I am overwhelmed by your misuse of the Greek.

JRW:  In case the reader missed how I "misused" the Greek, join the club.  I asked about the future tense of dwsw, "I will give."   Mr. Bonocore failed to respond to the question, but, he didn't fail to take another unfounded cheap shot! 

Monarchical Episcopate in Rome? 

Yet, if you doubt that there was a singular bishop of Rome at this time, James, please explain Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter III, where he writes

" also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Ephesians Chap III).

I'd say that Rome was part of the "utmost bounds of the earth," wouldn't you? Indeed, for Ignatius, the term "bishop" always refers to the monarchical shepherd of a church. Thus, how do you explain this comment in Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians? -)

Mr. Bonocore Asks A Question:

You are obviously someone who is vastly familiar with the writings of the Church fathers. Indeed, you have claimed that some of these fathers (e.g. St. Athanasius) subscribed to sola Scriptura and considered it to be their rule of faith. Therefore, can you please name a Church father who is "orthodox" in your eyes. ...That is to say, can you please name a Church father (or any ancient Christian) who shares the same faith as you (i.e., Reformed Baptist / Evangelical Christianity). After all, if there were fathers who drew their faith from Scripture alone, and if you interpret the Scriptures correctly, then it serves to reason that they would arrive at the same faith as you (i.e., Reformed Baptist / Evangelical Christianity). Your associate Mr. Engwer has already admitted that there were no ancient Evangelicals. Rather, he claims, "The Church fathers taught a mixture of truth and errror." Yet, if some of these fathers held to sola Scriptura (as you do), and if the Bible is indeed a source of objective truth, then at least one of them must mirror the faith which you hold today. ...If you are interpreting the Bible correctly, that is. -) Therefore, can you name such a father, James? -) Thank you.