Why I’m not a Roman Catholic (MP3)

Why I’m not a Roman Catholic (MP3 audio file)

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler

Copyright 1994 – Norman Geisler – All rights reserved

45 minutes in length



Partial Transcript:

Why I’m not a Roman Catholic

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler

This is approaching October 31st, which is Reformation Sunday. The whole Catholic-Evangelical issue has been a controversy in the news recently with the publishing of the Colson-Neuhaus statement on Catholics and Evangelicals Together. This is the second of a two part series. The first I did in the previous hour; it was titled What Roman Catholics Believe. And this one is titled Why I’m not a Roman Catholic. I really should have been! I should have been because my father was and normally when your father is, you are too. In fact, almost all my relatives on both sides are Roman Catholic. I have over a hundred first cousins so that makes a lot of relatives. In fact I went to two Catholic schools—two Jesuit schools. I did my Master’s work at the University of Detroit and my doctoral work at Loyola University. My favorite philosopher and theologian of all time is a Roman Catholic theologian—Thomas Aquinas. I should have been a Roman Catholic. But I’m not. Why?

I like to divide my comments into two categories. There are many reasons why I never became a Roman Catholic to begin with. And there are many reasons why I continue to not to be one in the present.

There are a lot of evangelicals who have jumped camp and become Roman Catholics. Neuhaus is a recent example. He was a Lutheran who became Catholic. Peter Kreeft is another example. He from Calvin College became a Catholic. [Thomas] Howard from Gordon Seminary is another example. When I look at the reasons for which people are becoming Roman Catholic I find them inadequate. For example, let me tell you why my father left the Roman Catholic Church before I was ever born. He was reared German Catholic . . . very faithful and attending church . . . St. Clement’s Parish north of Detroit, Michigan. My father was very faithful in helping to build the church. . . a very devout catholic family. He fell in love with a Protestant and wanted to marry her. He went to his priest and the priest said, “You cannot do that. That is against the teaching of the Catholic Church.” Deeply in love with my mother, he decided to leave the Catholic Church because he didn’t feel that [this teaching] was right. Incidentally, history has proven my father right because the Catholic Church has changed its position since then. [Note: Norm did not mention here that the Priest tried to get his father to pay him a 500$ bribe to make it happen. Norm mentioned that in an interview at another time.]

I remember sitting on an airplane once and next to me was a gentleman who had a little card. It was Friday and we were eating steak. I looked mine; I looked at his. He was a Roman Catholic and he was eating steak. I said, “Now you’re a Roman Catholic so how can you eat that?” The card said for purposes of flights on airplanes he had a special dispensation that allowed him to eat meat on Friday rather than fish. I said to him, “You know there really is no difference whether you’re several feet above the ground or on the ground, is there?” And I tucked that away because just previous to that at the University of Detroit one of my top philosophy professors said, “I do not believe the Pope is infallible when he talks about dietary matters like whether we should eat fish on Friday or not.” And as we all know, the Roman Catholics changed on that. But I was taught that the Roman Catholic Church never changes. They changed on fish. They changed on mixed marriage. They changed on whether the mass should be in Latin or not. They changed on some of the issues that kept my father from being a Roman Catholic.

Secondly I saw nothing in the lives of my Roman Catholic relatives that was appealing to me. All of them lived an unsaved life just like I did. Oh they would go to confession on Saturday but they would swear and curse just like I did. Oh they would go to Mass on Sunday but on Saturday night when the family got together they would get drunk just like everyone else in the family got drunk.  I saw nothing in any life of any Catholic I knew—and I knew a lot of them because almost all my relatives and friends were Catholic—which made me want to become one. No change whatsoever.

At the same time, at age nine, since my parents did not take me to church a little Sunday school bus came and picked us up. The boy down the road had asked me to go to Vacation Bible School, I had said yes, and they said, “Why don’t you come back for the same thing on Sundays?” And then I began to see a difference. I began to see a belief system that made a difference in peoples’ lives. These people loved me. These people lived consistent lives. They practiced what they preached. These people prayed for me. These people picked me up in that little school bus 400 times before I became a Christian at age seventeen. I only remember two things: they loved me and they were happy. It made a difference in their life and they were concerned about me as a result. And at age seventeen I committed my life to Jesus Christ in this little Bible Church at ten mile and brown road north of Detroit, Michigan. And then I started to study the Bible. For the next five years I studied the Bible full time, day and night.

I went to Detroit Bible College (now William Tyndale College) and I studied the Bible. I studied the Bible for myself and I saw nothing in it that would make me want to become a Roman Catholic. In fact it was contrary to what I knew about Roman Catholicism and it resonated in my own heart and with what I believed to be true. I studied the Bible and saw no support for any unique Catholic doctrine. And then, after I was through, I decided I wanted to take another look—a closer look—[at the Catholic question].

I wanted to go right to the top and study it at a Roman Catholic institution. And so for the next five or six years I went almost full time to two Jesuit institutions. I studied Roman Catholicism from the sharpest philosophers and teachers that Roman Catholicism has—the Jesuits, the great defenders of the Papacy. I did my Master’s work in the University of Detroit. I wrote my Master’s thesis in a Catholic seminary—Maryknoll Fathers near Wheaton, Illinois, on a Catholic philosopher—Thomas Aquinas. I went on to do my doctoral work at a Roman Catholic university—Loyola University of Chicago, one of the best Catholic schools in the entire United States. In all of the exposure I had to Catholicism on the popular level with my relatives and on an intellectual level with the top, I never once was tempted to become a Roman Catholic because I never once saw any good reason why anyone should.

But that’s not really the reason that I am not a Roman Catholic; that’s just the reason I never became one even though I should have been. . . I never saw anything that changed someone’s life.  I never saw anything comparable to what I had that I learned in that little Bible Church north of Detroit and the Bible school I attended.

There are many reasons, however, why I remain a Protestant and why I don’t become a Roman Catholic.

One of these reasons involves looking at the reasons people give for becoming Roman Catholic—like Howard, Kreeft, and Neuhaus. I see several fallacies with their reasoning. One [reason] seems to be an aesthetical reason—having to do with beauty. It’s a beautiful institution. If you’re into pomp and circumstance, if you’re into ritual, it is hard to find a system that is more beautiful and ritualistic than the Roman Catholic system. I’ve seen many people attracted to Rome because of its beauty. But of course beauty is not a test for truth. There are very beautiful people who are unsaved. There are very ugly people who are Christians. Which one has the truth? There are some very ugly buildings—I’ve been in mud huts in the middle of the jungle with the Jivaro headhunters in South America where they take your head and shrink it to the size of a grapefruit—and I’ve worshiped with them in their mud huts, but you know I’ve seen the beauty of holiness there. You don’t judge truth by beauty. If you judge truth by beauty, you might be a Buddhist because Buddhism is a very beautiful religion. The gold statues of the Buddha, the pomp and circumstances, they rival if not excel the Roman Catholic Church in ritual and beauty. They’ve got monks. They have colored robes. It’s a beautiful religion. Many are attracted to Roman Catholicism for its beauty but they fail to realize that beauty is not a test for truth.

Other people are being attracted for historical reasons.  It’s an old institution that goes way back—they claim all the way back to the beginning, to the first bishop of Rome who they think was Peter. It is certainly an old institution. It has a history to it. But that’s not a good reason for becoming a Roman Catholic. After all, the Eastern Orthodox Church is just as old as the Roman Catholic Church; in fact it is older. . .

[Incomplete transcription. To be continued later. Reached minute 11:23 of 44:48.]



For more resources on Roman Catholicism, please visit http://normangeisler.com/rcc.

For more MP3s by Dr. Geisler, please visit http://NGIM.org.

Does Thomism Lead to Catholicism?

Does Thomism Lead to Catholicism?

By Norman L. Geisler

            Thomas Aquinas, the great philosopher and theologian, was a Roman Catholic.  And there are a growing number of non-Catholic scholars who have become Thomists.  And some of these have become Roman Catholic. Is there a logical connection?  Does Thomism lead to Catholicism? It is natural that one would want to examine this connection.

The Reason Some Non-Catholic Thomists become Roman Catholic

            There are a variety of reasons why non-Catholics become Roman Catholic.  Let’s examine some of them.  There is the appeal of antiquity, unity, continuity, beauty, fraternity (or paternity), intellectuality, and a desire for certainty (see Geisler, Is Rome the True Church? chap. 8).  Any one or more of these appeal to some evangelicals.  It is noteworthy that none of these or combination of them is a valid test for truth.

Few evangelicals become Catholic because they became convinced by the study of Scripture that Rome is the true Church.  Hardly anyone reasons his way to Rome purely by an objective study of the evidence.  For example, one recent convert to Catholicism wrote, “My family is Catholic.  They wanted me to return, and the Bible says we should honor our parents!”   It is clear that none of these reasons is a good test for the truth of a religion for by the same logic one could argue for becoming a Hindu, Buddhist, or even an atheist, if their family belonged to that group.  Or, one could become Eastern Orthodox, if he was looking for a tradition older than his.

We have weighed the many reasons some evangelicals have become Catholic (in Is Rome the True Church?), and almost no one said it was because their study of Thomistic philosophy led them there.  As for the appeal of the intellectual tradition in Catholicism, I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from a Catholic (Jesuit) institution and have never once been tempted to become a Roman Catholic.  I have used my scholarly training in both traditions to compare them (see Geisler, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences). My co-author Ralph MacKenzie and I both have Catholicism in our background.  We have studied both sides carefully, and we see no reason to swim the Tiber.

One recent convert to Catholicism admits that it was not good reasoning that led him to Rome but faith.  He said, “The false disciples only follow Jesus when they agree with his teaching.  If I am very honest, the rationalism of my evangelical faith would have put me in the first camp (those who reject it because it is hard to understand) for I rejected the doctrine of the Real Presence based on theological arguments (It is a hard teaching), rather than placing my faith in Christ who taught it” (emphasis added).  Of course, once one places his faith in the Roman system (for whatever reason), the rest is all part of a package deal.

Whatever the reason is that people become Catholic, I have never seen anyone make the case that Roman Catholicism flows logically from Thomistic philosophy.  The reason for this is simple: there is no logical connection between them.  Aquinas himself said there is no logical connection between Thomism and Roman Catholicism.  Further, experience shows that there are many Thomists who are not Roman Catholic.

The Thomistic Distinction Between Faith and Reason

Aquinas believed that faith and reason were such distinct domains that even belief in God could not be an object of both faith and reason simultaneously.

The Formal Distinction between Faith and Reason

Although Aquinas did not actually separate faith and reason, he did distinguish them formally. He affirmed that we cannot both know and believe the same thing at the same time. For “whatever things we know with scientific [philosophical] knowledge properly so called we know by reducing them to first principles which are naturally present to the understanding. All scientific knowledge terminates in the sight of a thing which is present [whereas faith is always in something absent]. Hence, it is impossible to have faith and scientific [philosophical] knowledge about the same thing.” (See Aquinas, Should Old Aquinas be Forgotten, chap. 5).

The Object of Faith is Beyond Reason

For Aquinas, the object of faith is above the senses and understanding. “Consequently, the object of faith is that which is absent from our understanding.” As Augustine said, we believe that which is absent, but we see that which is present. So we cannot prove and believe the same thing.  For if we see it, we don’t believe it.  And if we believe it, then we don’t see it.  For “all science [philosophical knowledge] is derived from self-evident and therefore seen principles. . . . Now, . . . it is impossible that one and the same thing should be believed and seen by the same person.” This means “that a thing which is an object of vision or science for one, is believed by another” (ibid.). It does not mean that one and the same person can have both faith and proof of one and the same object. If one sees it rationally, then he does not believe it on the testimony of others. And if he believes it on the testimony of another, then he does not see (know) it for himself.

We Can Reason about Faith but not to Faith

Nonetheless, “this does not prevent the understanding of one who believes from having some discursive thought of comparison about those things which he believes.” Discursive thought, or reasoning from premises to conclusions, is not the cause of the assent of faith. Nonetheless, such reasoning “can accompany the assent of faith.” The reason they are parallel but one does not cause the other is that “faith involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will” (ibid.). That is, a person is free to dissent even though there may be convincing reasons to believe.

Reason Cannot Produce Faith

Reason accompanies but does not cause faith. “Faith is called a consent without inquiry in so far as the consent of faith, or assent, is not caused by an investigation of the understanding.” Commenting on Ephesians 2:8-9, Aquinas contends that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason. . . . So, reason cannot lead someone to faith” (ibid., emphasis added).  At best, reason is the preamble to faith in God and in Christ.  So, the Christian Faith as such does not follow logically from philosophy—even Thomistic philosophy.  The best philosophy can do is to prepare the way for faith, but it does not logically lead to faith, let alone to a particular faith like the Roman Catholic Faith.

Faith Goes Beyond Reason

A philosophical argument contains no premises borrowed from faith.  It stands on its own two philosophical “feet.”  Further, according to Aquinas, unique doctrines of the Christian Faith (such as the Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ) are not the result of human reason.  No rational process, no matter how sophisticated, can attain to these unique Christian doctrines.  They are not contrary to reason (since there is no contradiction in them), but they go beyond reason.  Given this difference between what can be known by reason and what can be known only by faith, it is obvious that Thomistic philosophy does not lead logically to Roman Catholicism.

Thomists Who were Not Roman Catholic

Not only is there no logical connection between Thomism and Catholicism, but historically there is no actual connection for many Thomistic philosophers have not been Roman Catholic.  Eric Mascal was an Anglican Thomist.  David Johnson is a Lutheran Thomist.  John Gerstner, R. C. Sproul, and Arvin Vos are Reformed Thomists.  Win Corduan and myself are Evangelical Thomists.  Thomas Howe, and Richard Howe are Baptistic Thomists.  Joseph Holden is a Calvary Chapel Thomist.  Mortimer Adler saw no contradiction in being a Jewish Thomist for many years (before he became a Catholic), and so on.  There are many more.

It is true that a number of evangelical Thomists have become Roman Catholic (e.g., Thomas Howard, Jay Budziszewski, and Frank Beckwith).  However, none of them did so because the philosophical principles of Thomism drove them there. The truth is that there is no logical connection between them. Thomistic philosophy as such does not logically or philosophically lead to Roman Catholicism, any more than it leads to being a Presbyterian or a Baptist.  So, if a Thomist becomes a Roman Catholic, it is not because of any philosophical necessity arising out of Thomism.

This is not to say that some evangelicals who do not have a very deep liturgical, aesthetic or intellectual history are not attracted to Catholicism.  Some are, but some are also attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglicanism.  But many remain content with their evangelical faith—and that for good reasons. Converted Catholic Chris Castaldo expressed this in his book Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic when he rejoiced in the sense of liberation from ritual and guilt he never had in Romanism. Tens of thousands of former Catholics who have become evangelical were attracted by the personal, Bible-based experiences evangelicalism provided with the simple Gospel message and a personal relation with Christ they obtained through it.

I have a strong background in Catholicism, having been trained in two Jesuit institutions with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Loyola University. However, there are several basic reasons that I have not been attracted to Catholicism.  First, I am satisfied with being an evangelical doctrinally, experientially, and philosophically. Second, I have not seen any convincing reasons biblically or otherwise to tempt me to become Roman Catholic. Third, my systematic study of Catholicism has convinced me that it is based on unbiblical and unreasonable grounds. Fourth, I have never had the tendency to confuse lace and grace, or to connect ritual and reality very closely.  Finally, there are some Catholic doctrines and practices that I find unbiblical and even distasteful such as, purgatory, praying for the dead, indulgences, venerating images, praying to Mary, venerating Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary, worshipping the consecrated host, and the infallibility of the Pope—to mention a few.

The Protestant Dimensions in Thomas Aquinas

Even though there is no logical connection between Thomistic philosophy and Catholicism, I have found many philosophical and even theological similarities between evangelicalism and Thomistic philosophy that make it attractive to me as an evangelical.

Aquinas was a pre-Trentian Catholic, part of what may be called the “Old Catholic Church” with which Episcopalians would be happy on most counts.  As such, Aquinas was not committed to the immaculate conception of Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary, the infallibility of the Pope and a number of other Roman Catholic idiosyncracies.  Further, Aquinas was committed to sola Scripture, exposition of Scripture, and other characteristic doctrine of Protestanism (see Geisler, Aquinas, ibid., chap. 4).  His basic Bibliology (minus the Apocrypha), Prolegomena, Apologetics, Theology Proper, and Christology are compatible with evangelicalism.

As a matter of fact, I find Aquinas’s philosophy to be a helpful prolegomena for evangelical theology.  After all, Aquinas defended metaphysical realism, the correspondence view of truth, proposition revelation, classical apologetics, and classical theism—all of which are helpful to defending the evangelical positions.  Indeed, one has to search hard, if not in vain, to find an evangelical philosopher who can match Aquinas in these areas.

But what we know of as “Roman” Catholicism today, with its belief in works being necessary for salvation, the veneration of and prayers to Mary, the worship of the consecrated host, buying indulgences, Purgatory, adding apocryphal books (in supports praying for the dead) to the inspired Scripture, and bowing to the infallibility of the Pope, simply cannot compete with the simplicity of the evangelical Gospel: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). And, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has [right now] eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has [already] passed from death unto life” (Jn. 5:24).

So, my attraction to Thomism is somewhat like my attraction to C.S. Lewis.  There are many things I like about Lewis’s views, e.g., his apologetics, his belief in absolute truth and morals, his classical theism, his defense of New Testament miracles, his affirmation of the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation of Christ, his belief in the resurrection of Christ, eternal punishment (Hell). However, there are also some of Lewis’s beliefs which I do not accept, e.g. his denial of some Old Testament miracles, his belief that the OT contains myths and errors, and his belief in evolution, and in Purgatory.  But none of these hinder my acceptance of the many positive values I find in Lewis.  But in spite of my acceptance of all these positive features in Lewis, I have never been tempted to become an Anglican (as he was).

Likewise, many protestant identify closely with the writings of St. Augustine, but would not think of throwing out his philosophy entirely because he claimed to be a Catholic, accepted books of the Apocrypha, believed in baptismal regeneration, and other Catholic teachings.

So, in spite of the many positive aspects of Aquinas’s beliefs, I have never been thereby tempted to become an Anglican—or even an Episcopalian.  One can profit by the positive philosophical views of Lewis without buying into negative religious views. Why throw the baby of truth out with the bath water of error in the name is Aquinas or Lewis?


Turn about is Fair Play

While we are losing a few intellectual egg-heads out the top of evangelicalism to Rome, we are gaining tens of thousands of converts to evangelicalism out of the bottom from Catholicism.  The trade-off highly favors evangelicalism. There are literally tens of thousands of Catholics in South America who have become evangelical.  Some countries (like Brazil) are nearly a third Catholic now.  Also, tens of thousands of these Catholic converts end up in one of the large evangelical churches where they are singing God-centered praise music and being taught the Word of God.  This is something that Rome with all its layers of tradition has lost.  Once they find that works are not a necessary condition for salvation (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-6) but that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, they make great evangelical Christians.  They realize that we can’t work for grace but that we do work from grace.  Once they learn that we can have eternal life now (John 5:24) by faith and do not have to work for it or wait until they die, they are exuberant.

I for one welcome the Thomistic renewal in evangelicalism.  In a world of experientialism, a shot of Thomistic “rationalism” is more than welcome.  Likewise, Thomism is a good antidote for the New Age mysticism that has penetrated some of evangelicalism.  In addition, the Angelic Doctor’s emphasis on objective truth and propositional revelation is a sure cure for Barthian existentialism that has infiltrated the evangelical view of Scripture.  As  Reformed Thomist John Gerstner put it, “God wants to reach the heart, but he does not want to bypass the head on the way to the heart.”  Thomism can definitely help in this department.  Last but not least, Thomistic metaphysics is the only solid answer to the drift into Open Theism and process views of God.   Of course, Rome is not home soteriologically (salvation) or ecclesiologically (church), but Thomism does embrace important truths in Prolegomena, Apologetics, Theology Proper, and Metaphysics which evangelicals desperately need today.  In brief, there is too much good in Aquinas’s views to be singing “Should Old Aquinas be Forgotten!”


Dr. Geisler is the author of Should Old Aquinas Be Forgotten? Many Say Yes but the Author Says No. (Bastion Books:2013), What Augustine Says (Bastion Books:2013), Is the Pope Infallible: A Look at the Evidence (Bastion Books:2012), Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim (Crossway Books:2008), and Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Baker Academic:1995). For additional resources by Dr. Geisler on Roman Catholicism, please visit http://normangeisler.com/rcc/