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 Issues | Roman Error | Roots of Catholic Error

The Roots of Catholic Error

by Dennis Peterson

Introduction - Trade Description and the Churches.

Trade names sometimes stick, for instance, no matter who may be the manufacturer of a vacuum cleaner, it is still used to ‘Hoover’ the sitting room. In addition, so many deceptions have been used in marketing that the law demands that packaging exhibits an accurate description of the contents and where they were made.  Oh that this could be extended to ecclesiology!

Demonstrating the accuracy of the adage, that ‘history is written by the victors’, the origins of Catholicism have been quietly and conveniently forgotten by the writers of popular Church histories, so that the label ‘Anglo-Catholic’ obscures the true nature of the contents and where they were made.

Countless Anglicans have been misled and the Gospel of salvation fatally obscured by the popular expressions of Anglo-Catholicism. Thus the vast majority of Anglican lay people believe to some degree that the alleged Prayer of Consecration or Eucharistic Prayer ‘does’ something to the bread and wine, that because of that prayer Christ is somehow present in or under the bread and wine.. The bread thus prayed over is commonly called the sacrament. It is not the bread that is the sacrament any more than water is the sacrament in baptism. The sacrament is the action performed with them, i.e. pouring or eating and drinking.

The fruits of Anglo-Catholicism have been frequently criticised and condemned from Scripture over the last one hundred and fifty years, but still it flourishes. A fresh approach might be to highlight the little known fact that its roots are thoroughly dishonest and to lay the axe to those roots.

Jerome’s Mistranslation of the Bible and its cause of later errors.

It is made devastatingly clear in by A.J.Tait (1) that Catholic Tradition which has dominated modern Anglicanism, springs from serious and dishonest mistranslations in Jerome’s Vulgate. Tait very thoroughly examines Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible and shows that his erroneous renderings in Hebrews were: ‘in no small measure responsible for the development of the mediaeval conception of a continual propitiatory offering, whether by Christ Himself in the heavenly sanctuary, or by Christ through His priests at the altars on earth.’. (2)

In brief, concerning references in Hebrews to Christ’s offering for sin, Jerome translated the Greek aorist that expresses a single event, usually in the past, by the continuous present. Since the Vulgate was the only version of the New Testament available to the West for over a thousand years, its errors took deep root. Thus it was believed that Christ is in this age continuously offering His sacrifice in heaven. That erroneous belief was promoted by such influential writers as Bicknell on the Articles and Dix on the liturgy, and was expressed liturgically in the A.S.B and currently in the Communion services in Common Worship.

The victors’ history!
Having discovered the immense effect on Church doctrine of Jerome’s mistranslations, I searched for some discussion of Jerome and the Vulgate in popular Church histories. Almost all the books I could access completely ignored Jerome. The one that paid him any attention only mentioned his influence on monasticism. Yet it can be shown that Catholic Tradition is the fruit of eleven hundred years of dependence on the errors of Jerome’s Vulgate. The ignorance of this scenario is almost universal; one colleague was of the opinion that Catholic Tradition was the ‘the wisdom of the ages.’ I am afraid that sadly this is far from the case.

The eclipse of Greek by Latin as the lingua franca of the West in the 4th century had made the New Testament increasingly inaccessible. Pope Damasus asked his secretary Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin and it was published in AD 382. It has been authoritatively described as ‘perfunctory’ and ‘capricious’ with many ‘eccentricities’.(3)

J.N.D. Kelly in his biography of Jerome says, ‘…he does not hesitate to twist or suppress facts,’ and writes of his ‘theological prejudice.’(4) Jerome was a prime mover towards the worship of Mary winning a debate on her perpetual virginity not so much by logic as by insults and travesties of his opponent’s points. A consequence was that celibacy became the Christian ideal making marriage merely a remedy against sin and for the propagation of children. ‘Jerome’s treatment enormously helped to shape both the Mariology of the Latin church and the Christian sexual ethic that was to dominate western civilisation until the renaissance at least.’(5) Concerning his translation of the New Testament, Kelly comments: ‘On occasion, however, one has to admit that his choice of a reading was not governed by any scientific principle at all; it appealed to him, for example, because it was to his taste doctrinally.’ (6)

In over twenty places he translated the word ‘metanoia’ as ‘do penance’ instead of ‘repent’ but his errors in Hebrews were responsible for changing the Gospel message in the Holy Communion.

For example:
Hebrews 10: 12, ‘But when this priest (i.e. Christ) had offered (aorist) for all time one sacrifice for sins he sat down on the right hand of God,

became in the Vulgate,

But this man offering (continuous present) one sacrifice for sins, for ever sitteth etc.’ (Douay-Rheims version)

Similarly in Hebrews 1:3, Jerome changed the aorist to the continuous present, so that Christ is continuously ‘making purgation of our sins.’

The Greek New Testament was soon lost to the West, so for eleven hundred years (a vast stretch of time roughly equal to the period from Alfred the Great to the present day), the only New Testament available was in the Vulgate.

Consequently, for over a millennium the Churches believed uncritically that in heaven, Christ is continuously offering for our sins. It is easy to see how, as Tait shows, this deeply influenced thinking about Holy Communion, moving people to integrate it with Christ’s alleged heavenly offering, involving the idea that the bread and wine become Christ.

There is no doubt about Jerome’s capabilities as a linguist, and so the inevitable conclusion is that he deliberately twisted Scripture to express his personal opinions.

Anglo-Catholicism perpetuates earlier errors.

The truth at last!
When Erasmus published the Greek New Testament in 1516 together with an accurate translation into Latin, his work was met with horror. He was accused of blasphemy and the Archbishop of York said that the Erasmus translation had over three thousand ‘dangerous differences’ from the Vulgate adding, ‘If we don’t stop this leak it will sink the ship.’(7)

The problem Anglican Catholics face is the one that the Council of Trent found unsolvable: how to reconcile the original Scripture and the Vulgate-based Tradition. The Roman Catholics cut the knot by rejecting Scripture as a source of authority in favour of that Tradition. This problem for Anglican Catholics applies particularly to the Epistle to the Hebrews where Jerome’s errors are the root of the Catholic Tradition of Eucharistic theology.

In spite of the fact that the death of Christ is referred to as a finished work some twenty-two times in the Epistle, (1: 3 & 13; 2: 9, 10 &14; 3:11; 4: 1, 3 & 9; 5: 9; 7: 27; 8: 12, 14, 25 & 28; 10: 2, 10, 12, 14 & 18 and 12: 2), tortuous attempts are made to show that it was not a finished work.

Many references could be given from the rest of the New Testament teaching that the work of Christ was finished at Calvary, but high on the list must be Mark 10: 45. For the Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many. A ransom, or redemption, was secured by the price being paid once, after which the subject in jeopardy was permanently freed.

…the cross of Christ emptied of its power. 1 Cor. 1: 17.
In Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy, the Work of Christ on Calvary’s Cross is relegated to being the mere preliminary to the provision of the Eucharist. Thus Dix said: concerning ‘…the atonement and reconciliation achieved by the sacrifice of Christ. It is important to observe that they are all here predicated not of the passion as an event in the past but of the present offering of the eucharist.’(8) Similarly Bicknell quotes Swete: “…the whole period of time from the Ascension to the Return is one age-long Day of Atonement,” and continues, ‘So our Lord, by His presence within the veil, is now making atonement for us.’(9)

The extremely serious issue that arises with Jerome based Tradition, is that it strikes at the very heart of the New Covenant, the experience of being saved and at the core of the Eucharist. Applying the prophecy of Jer. 31: 31 - 34 concerning the New Covenant, the writer to the Hebrews says:

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And when these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice (but the Greek is prosphora: offering) for sin. Heb. 10: 15- 18, N.I.V

In the earliest account of the Last Supper, 1 Cor. 11: 25, the Lord said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’ Without possibility of question, Christ was applying Jeremiah 31: 31 - 34 to the Last Supper and its proclamation of His death. The parallel passages in the Synoptics, although the word ‘new’ is not in the best MMS, can only refer to the prophecy of Jeremiah. What other covenant could possible be in mind?

Clinging to the Vulgate-based Tradition, Dix and Bicknell seem to denigrate the Lord’s greatest work by teaching that sins are perpetually being remembered, that Calvary is not complete and we can only be sure of forgiveness up to the last time we received Communion

Continual offering, by definition not complete, was the character and failing of the Old Testament offerings, for they ‘…can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly …make perfect those who draw near to worship.’ Heb. 10: 1.

The fruit of Christ’s sacrifice as a finished work, is that as Christ sat down at the right hand of God, so also the forgiven sinner is saved and enters the ‘rest’ of Hebrews ch.4, fulfilling Christ’s invitation, ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’. Matt. 11: 28. Is the experience of being saved through complete and eternal forgiveness, which is clearly and graciously proclaimed in the New Testament message of Christ’s death, a common experience of those under Catholic Tradition? I have been told more than once that it is presumptuous to say one is saved.

Article XIX places as a mark of the visible Church of Christ the preaching of the ‘pure Word of God,’ thus excluding the adulteration of Scripture by mixing it with Jeromist Tradition. The Church of England Prayer Book of 1552 expressed the New Testament teaching on the Communion, closely returning to the example and commands of the Lord and His apostles. Thus the words of Christ concerning the bread and wine in the 1552 Book are rehearsed simply in a prayer before Communion.

Following Archbishop Laud’s Jeromist views, the 1662 revision misleadingly entitled that prayer, ‘The Prayer of Consecration’, ignoring Hooker’s demonstration of the fact that the Lord who commanded ‘Do this,’ gave the disciples unconsecrated bread and wine! The words, ‘This is my body…’ were said after the distribution; the words, ‘This is my blood…,’ were said after the wine had been drunk.(10) Current liturgy emphasises the supposed role of ‘Consecration’ by separating that prayer from eating and drinking, inserting the Lord’s Prayer, anthems and the Prayer of Humble Access. That isolation from the eating and drinking marks the ‘Consecration’ as an end in itself instead of being the words of administration as Christ used them, and as the 1552 Prayer Book provided.

The only explanations of the Communion in the New Testament are that it proclaims the Lord’s death to us (1 Cor. 11: 26, there using the downward prefix kata) and that it expresses the unity of the congregation redeemed by the death of Christ. (1 Cor. 10: 16).

Anglo-Catholics seem to take it for granted that John 6 is Eucharistic, e.g. ‘Turning our attention to other passages in the New Testament which have to do with the Eucharist, we find the most important in St. John vi.’ (11).

John 6 and the passages on Communion each use the metaphor of eating and drinking to illustrate our dependence upon the death of Christ for eternal life, but whilst the Communion preaches the death of Christ with the option for it to be accepted or rejected, John 6 develops the eternal results of true committal by faith to the death of Christ. Thus the passages are parallel but not interchangeable. If they were and John 6: 54, (Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day), is Eucharistic, then the only way to be saved would be to eat the bread and drink the wine of Communion.

I was brought up in the tradition where Confirmation candidates are told wonderful things about the Eucharist, but when they at last receive the Wafer—nothing happens! Many are disillusioned thinking either that they are not good enough for it to ‘take’, or else there is ‘nothing in it.’

The vast majority of lay people, sincerely look to eating the Wafer as the ground of their standing with God and the means of receiving spiritual help, and that because it has been ‘Consecrated’. Focusing their hopes and trust on the ‘consecrated’ Wafer, the death of Christ that is ‘the Gospel by which you are saved’, fades into the background and in practice is made irrelevant.

I resolved to know nothing among you…save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 1Cor. 2: 2.
In the New Testament the death of Christ is the only source through which forgiveness and life are to be received. (1 Peter 3: 24; John 1: 29; 3: 16 etc). In the New Testament the Eucharist is mentioned three times in the Synoptics and twice in 1 Corinthians; the death of Christ is mentioned at least ninety times and the Gospel (that Christ died for our sins. 1Cor. 15: 1-3) over one hundred times. If the claims now made for the Eucharist were valid, one would expect the New Testament to be packed with references to it, and the letters to the Galatians and to the Romans would never have been written for they proclaim salvation by repentance and faith alone in the death of Christ, without any reference at all to the Communion.

Conclusion

If Church historians had looked objectively at Jerome and the Vulgate, Catholic Tradition would surely have been completely rejected and Eucharistic liturgy would point away from the ‘elements’ to the death of Christ as the only source of grace, as revealed in 1 Corinthians 11: 26.

The massive momentum of Jeromism has particular seriousness since the Christian ministry is preparing people for eternity, thus we ought to take seriously the Scripture, ‘We who teach will be judged more strictly.’ James 3:1. Jeromism is ‘another Gospel’ whose preachers are in danger of eternal condemnation, Galatians 1: 8-9.

The ignorance of the corrupt origins of Catholicism is almost universal. Hardworking clerics with a strong sense of integrity sincerely believe that their Anglo-Catholic theology is a legitimate ‘development’ (à la Newman?) of the teaching of the New Testament.

The enormity of the situation is breathtaking! Ninety per cent of the bishops who have ruled the Church of England during the last century and more, have implemented a theology based on the quite dishonest translation of a 4th century cleric of dubious reputation. They have corrupted the Gospel, changed the face of the Church of England and its liturgy and presided over a century of decline.

We have a responsibility to all in the Church of England to use a term that accurately describes the contents of the package! Used alongside ‘Roman Catholic’, the term ‘Anglo-Catholic’ implies a claim to be Anglican, but the title ‘Catholic’ marks its adherents as unashamedly ministering doctrines peculiar to Rome. The Anglican churches are based on the supremacy of Scripture but the Roman churches are based on the supremacy of Jerome’s Vulgate.

Would it not serve the cause of honesty, enlightenment and the glory of Christ in his Gospel, if we replaced the term ‘Anglo-Catholic’ by the more accurate name, ‘Jeromist’? Repeated use of this term might open people’s eyes to the fact that Anglo-Catholicism should not imply the label, ‘Made from Scripture’, but ‘Made from the Vulgate’, and the fiction that Anglo-Catholicism is a legitimate feature of the Church of England may be more vividly exposed, hopefully resulting in many clergy and laity being liberated from its Gospel denying tenets.

Dennis Peterson.

2006

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Footnotes

1 The Heavenly Session of Our Lord, A.J. Tait, Robert Scott, 1912.

2 Work cited p.109.

3 Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges, St. Mark,Cambridge, p liii & index under Vulgate.

4 Jerome, J.N.D. Kelly, Duckworth, p64

5 Work cited, p 106.

6 Work cited p 87.

The English Church and the Reformation, Longman Green & Co. p 26.

8  The Shape of the Liturgy, Dix, Dacre Press, p 243

9  A theological Introduction to the thirty-Nine Articles, Bicknell, Longman Green & Todd, p 144.

10  Ecclesiastical Polity, Bk. V, ch. lxvii, 6.

11.   Liturgy and Worship, SP.C.K.1950.

 

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