Book Critique of Return to ROME by Dr. Francis J. Beckwith
Return to ROME
By Francis J. Beckwith
5 – Wisdom of My Ancestors
Page 75: Her father, my brother Patrick, is seven years my junior. He
is a Knights of Columbus Catholic, who, with his wife, teaches Natural
Family Planning. He once actually wrote a letter to the Bishop of Las
Vegas asking that a priest be reprimanded for allowing non-Catholics
and divorced Catholics to receive communion at our nephew’s First Holy
Communion. On several occasions prior to my return to the Church,
Patrick would have The Coming Home Network (a group dedicated to
bringing ex-Catholics and Protestants into full communion with the
Church) send me a nice card with a drawing of the Vatican on the front
and an inscription that said something like, “You’re always welcome in
the Catholic Church.”
Note: In the Kingdom of God there are no second class Christians.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of
God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor
adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous,
nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom
of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were
sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by
the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Page 75: This encounter with my niece marked the first step in our
movement toward the Catholic Church. It seemed not to be such a big
deal at the time. After all, this was an eight-year-old child
unacquainted with the serious theological questions for whom someone in
my line of work requires answers. Although that may be true, beneath
Darby’s inquiry was a more fundamental question, one for which I should
have had an answer: “Can I give a convincing account as to why I should
permanently abandon the Church of my baptism?
Note: Why do Catholic apologists avoid discussing the heretic Pope Leo X?
Giovanni was elected Pope on 9 March 1513, and this was proclaimed two
days later. The absence of the French cardinals effectively reduced
the election to a contest between Giovanni (who had the support of the
younger and noble members of the College) and Raffaele Riario (who had
the support of the older group). On 15 March 1513, he was ordained
priest, and consecrated as bishop on 17 March. He was crowned Pope on
19 March 1513 at the age of 37. Early on in his rule he oversaw the
closing sessions of the Fifth Council of the Lateran, but failed
sufficiently to implement the reforms agreed. In 1517 he led a costly
war that succeeded in securing his nephew as duke of Urbino, but which
damaged the papal finances. He is probably best remembered for granting
indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica,
which practice was challenged by Martin Luther's 95 Theses. He seems
not to have taken seriously the array of demands for church reform that
would quickly grow into the Protestant Reformation. His Papal Bull of
1520, Exsurge Domine, simply condemned Luther on a number of areas and
made ongoing engagement difficult. He borrowed and spent heavily. A
significant patron of the arts, upon election Leo is alleged to have
said, "Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it". Wikipedia
Pages 76-77: After I delivered my paper, the audience asked questions.
The first question came from Laura Garcia, a BC philosophy professor
and a former Evangelical Protestant who converted to Catholicism while
in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. She asked, “Your
paper seems to imply the necessity of creeds in the first centuries of
the Church. But that assumes the necessity of a Magisterium that has
the authority to issue such creeds and declare them normative for all
Christians. So, why aren’t you a Catholic?” The question took me by
surprise. After a brief pause, I gave her an answer – if I remember
correctly – that first appealed to the chief doctrines of the
Reformation as being Spirit-led correctives that reached back into the
past to recover what the Roman Catholic Church had lost. By doing this,
I tried to account for the church’s continuity as being connected to
the Reformers and their descendants as well as to their orthodox
predecessors in the Catholic Church. In this way, I could defend the
Catholic creeds as Spirit-directed without conceding the present
authority of Rome on these matters. Ironically, I would later discover
that the Catholic theologian (and convert from Lutheranism) Louis
Bouyer offered a similar argument. He correctly attributes
Protestantism’s spiritual virtues to the Reformers’ recovery of, and
reliance on, aspects of the Catholic tradition. However, unlike what I
claimed at BC in 2006, Bouyer concluded that Luther and Calvin had
unfortunately assimilated philosophical ideas that were deleterious to
the Reformers’ noble intent for the proper restoration of the Church.
For this reason, the task of proper restoration fell to thoughtful
Catholic reformers that led to the Council of Trent and its successors.
Note: Why do philosophers rarely consult Scriptures as a primary source?
These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive
you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you,
and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing
teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and
just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. 1 John 2:26-27.
Page 77: Though I believed I had escaped as an unscathed Protestant,
the episode at BC piqued my interest in developing an understanding of
the creeds that would not compel me to consider returning to
Catholicism. I read several works including Truth and Tolerance (2004)
and Introduction to Christianity (1990) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
(Pope Bendict XVI as of April 2005). Out of curiosity I also picked up
David Currie’s 1996 book, Born Fundamentalist, Born-Again Catholic. I
was not entirely convinced by Currie’s case, but he did raise some
issues about the Early Church Fathers and the Catholic doctrines of the
Eucharist and Infant Baptism that led me many months later to more
scholarly sources that included J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian
Note: Does baptism or Jesus Christ save you?
Nicene Creed: we acknowledge One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
Note: Why do philosophers rarely consult Scriptures as a primary source?
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the
kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His
blood, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14.
Page 78: Things had settled down by the fall of 2006. In late October,
I lectured at the University of Dallas for the annual meeting of the
Society of Catholic Social Scientists. I was asked to reply to a
plenary address by J. Budziszewski, a friend who had been received into
the Catholic Church three years earlier. J. is a professor of
philosophy and government at the University of Texas in Austin. The
morning after the lectures, my wife and I had breakfast with J. and his
wife, Sandra. It must have lasted three hours. Although both of us
asked J. and Sandra a lot of questions about Catholicism, it was
Frankie who initiated the conversation and seemed far more animated
than me in seeking answers.
Note: Should not philosopher Francis J. Beckwith be the head of his household?
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is
head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the
Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ,
so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Ephesians
Page 79: Our questions focused on several theological issues that
prevented us from becoming Catholic and seemed insurmountable: the
doctrine of justification, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the
teaching authority of the Church (including apostolic succession and
the primacy of the Pope), and Penance. The other issues that most
Protestants find to be stumbling blocks – the Marian doctrines and
Purgatory – were not a big deal to me. That was because I reasoned that
if the Catholic views on Church authority, justification, the communion
of the saints, and the sacraments were defensible, then these other
so-called “stumbling blocks” withered away, since the Catholic Church
would in fact be God’s authoritative instrument in the development of
Note: Mary was sinful since she admittedly needed a Savior.
And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47.
Note: Why do philosophers rarely consult Scriptures as a primary source?
Page 79: One may wonder where the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura
(or “scripture alone”) factored in all this. To be blunt, it didn’t,
primarily because over the years I could not find an understanding or
definition of sola scriptura convincing enough that did not have to be
so qualified that it seemed to be more a slogan than a standard.
Note: Why do Catholic apologists avoid using Scripture as a primary source?
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped
for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
Page 80: But as I slowly and unconsciously moved toward Catholicism in
the early 2000s, I began to even find the sola scriptura of the
Magisterial Reformation not entirely satisfactory. It seemed to me to
subtly and unconsciously incorporate into its theological framework all
the doctrines that sola scriptura, without a settled canon or
authoritative creedal tradition, could never have produced out of whole
cloth without the benefit of a Holy Spirit – directed ecclesiastical
infrastructure. It brought to mind what the philosopher Bertrand
Russell said of the advantages of “the method of ‘postulating’”: “they
are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.”
Note: The Holy Spirit directs individuals not organizations.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things
that I said to you.” John 14:26.
Page 80: Many of the contemporary Evangelical Protestants I read
offered understandings of sola scriptura that were based on less than
convincing biblical exegesis, or implicitly or explicitly relied on
extra-scriptural support to justify either the scope of the biblical
canon or essential doctrines that are not easily derived from scripture
without the necessary assistance of philosophical and theological
categories arrived at through the development of doctrine that arose
alongside, and in accordance with, the formation of the canon.
Note: Why did the Magisterium insert a fictional book into Catholic canon in 1546?
It is generally accepted that the Book of Judith is not historical. The
fictional nature "is evident from its blending of history and fiction,
beginning in the very first verse, and is too prevalent thereafter to
be considered as the result of mere historical mistakes." Thus, the
great villain is "Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians" (1:1),
yet the historical Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylonia. Other
details, such as fictional place names, the immense size of armies and
fortifications, and the dating of events, cannot be reconciled with the
historical record. Judith's village, Bethulia (literally "virginity")
is unknown and otherwise unattested to in any ancient writing.
Page 81: In any event, I had for some time accepted a weak form of sola
scriptura: any doctrine or practice inconsistent with scripture must be
rejected, though it does not follow that any doctrine or practice not
explicitly stated in scripture must suffer the same fate, for the
doctrine or practice may be essential to Christian orthodoxy. This
seemed to me to be the only defensible understanding of sola scriptura,
though it certainly left much to be desired.
Note: It appears that philosopher Beckwith has a weak definition of sola scriptura.
Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, "by Scripture alone") is the Protestant
Christian doctrine that the Bible is the supreme authority in all
matters of doctrine and practice. Sola scriptura does not deny that
other authorities govern Christian life and devotion, but sees them all
as subordinate to and corrected by the written word of God. Wikipedia
Page 82: While at the 2006 conference in DC, I visited a bookstore by
the hotel and purchased three small books authored by Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI): Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures
(2006), In the Beginning (1995), and Values in a Time of Upheaval
(2006). I bought them because I was working on a new book on politics
and Christianity and I wanted to glean from the Pope’s insights on
Christianity and culture. I read two of the three books on the flight
home to Texas.
Note: Christians will preach Jesus Christ as philosophers mock them.
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked
within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore
he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile
worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be
there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him.
And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Acts 17:16-18.
Pages 85-86: When I got around to reading the Church Fathers, the
Reformation doctrine of justification was just not there, as Geisler,
McKenzie, and McGrath candidly admit. To be sure, salvation by God’s
grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there as well.
And to be sure, a believer’s “works” apart from God’s grace was
decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how
saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Sunday,” to
quote a famous Gospel song. Rather, saving faith, entirely the
consequence of God’s grace, begins with one’s initial conversion, which
incorporates one into the family of God. But at that point the journey
is just beginning. For one then exercises one’s faith, itself a gift of
God’s grace, in acts of charity, the spiritual disciplines, and prayer
as well as in the partaking of the sacraments – all this in order to
commune with God to receive his unmerited grace to conform one into the
image of Christ. According to this view, justification refers not only
to the Christian’s initial entrance into the family of God at baptism –
which is administered for the remission of sins – but to the intrinsic
work of both the infusion of that grace at baptism and all the
subsequent graces that work in concert to transform the Christian from
the inside out. It is in and through this ongoing transformation that
one is made justified, in the same sense of being made righteous or
rightly-ordered, and thus gifted to share in the divine life of Christ.
Consequently, justification and sanctification are not different
events, one extrinsic and the other intrinsic, as the Reformers taught.
Rather, “sanctification” is the ongoing intrinsic work of justifying,
or making rightly-ordered the Christian by means of God’s grace, the
same grace that intrinsically changed the believer at the moment of her
initial “justification” (i.e., at baptism) into an adopted child of the
Father. For the Church Fathers, as it seems to me obvious from
scripture, justification is not only a matter of you getting heaven
into you. This, it turns out, is the view of justification taught in
the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seemed to me that the chief
distinction between Catholic and Church Fathers’ view on the other,
rests on whether Christ’s grace is infused or merely imputed at the
moment one becomes a Christian at baptism and/or conversion.
Note: Baptismal regeneration is heresy and is not the Christian Gospel.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not
with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no
effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are
perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it
is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to
nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is
the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish
the wisdom of this world? 1 Corinthians 1:18-20.
Note: May God have mercy on Dr. Francis J. Beckwith.
Pages 91-92: My study of the Fathers led me to reexamine the Canons of
the Council of Orange (AD 529), which, with papal sanction, rejected as
heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Having its origin in the
Catholic monk Pelagius (ca. 354-ca. 420/440), the first heresy affirms
that human beings do not inherit Adam’s sin (and thus denies the
doctrine of original sin) and by their free will may achieve salvation
without God’s grace. On the other hand, semi-Pelagianism maintains that
a human being, though weakened by orginial sin, may make the initial
act of will toward achieving salvation prior to receiving the necessary
assistance of God’s grace. The Council of Orange, in contrast, argued
that Adam’s original sin is inherited by his progeny and can be removed
only by the sacrament of Baptism. By the means of Baptism God’s
unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the
Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely
the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates,
for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible,
so as to let him do it. Even though Protestant thinkers sometimes
portray the Council of Orange’s canons as a sort of paleo-Reformed
document, it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that,
ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is
because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is
not necessary for justification.
Note: People were saved and received the Holy Spirit before baptism.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God
shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works
righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the
children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of
all— that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and
began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God
anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who
went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,
for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did
both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by
hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him
openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God,
even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And
He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He
who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him
all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in
Him will receive remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking
these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
Note: The Catholic Church replaced heresy with heresy at the Council of Orange.
Page 92: Of course, some Church Fathers disagreed with each other on a
variety of matters, and some of them in fact defended positions that
were later declared heretical by Church Councils. But it is interesting
to note that on the question of the correctness of the doctrines and
practices over which contemporary Evangelical Protestants and Catholics
generally divide – the Real Presense of the Eucharist, apostolic
succession, prayers for and to the dead, penance, infusion of grace,
etc. – one does not find in the Fathers warring camps with one risking
an ecumenical council’s judgment of heresy, as in the Arian and
Note: Saint Paul did not believe in the Real Presence as he used the word “bread.”
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that
the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is
My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the
same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the
new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in
remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this
cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 1 Corinthians
Note: The Catholic Church promotes the material over the spiritual aspect of the New Covenant.
Pages 92-93: But what is not in dispute is that none of the Fathers
either denies apostolic succession or unequivocally affirms Free Church
understanding of church government. I mention this because I had
thought for some time that if I could, for example, show that Church
Father X asserted the primacy of Rome and Church Father Y did not do
so, then the case for apostolic succession is weakened and I have yet
another reason not to move Romeward. But, when I ceased reading the
Fathers anachronistically, what I began to notice was the far more
important fact that Church Fathers X and Y agreed that without
apostolic succession there is no church, and that no Father implies or
affirms that apostolic succession is a non-Christian view. Thus, one of
the great ironies of my journey is that I would sometimes inadvertently
draw conclusions that made the general case for Catholicism far more
plausible in my mind than the particular Protestant doctrine for which
I was arguing.
Note: Saint Paul did not believe in the infallibility of Pope Peter.
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face,
because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he
would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and
separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the
rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even
Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. Galatians 2:11-13.
Note: Dr. Francis J. Beckwith should not rely on the fallible Church Fathers.
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