Sunday, September 9, 2012

Is Catholicism a Monotheistic Religion?

The village chief sat before me and firmly—immovably—declared that he is a Christian, a faithful Roman Catholic, and leading and elder member of the local Roman Catholic parish, and a teacher with a lengthy pedigree of instructing catechumens in their parish for decades. And so, he told me, he is happy to hear us telling stories about Jesus to the people of the tribe, but he himself has no real need for the gospel.

It was an interesting conversation to have in that particular setting, seated as we were right beside the outdoor shrine containing his family's idol to which he had recently sacrificed a young goat. He's a liar, right? No doubt, but beyond that, he seems not to perceive any substantial tension between being a faithful Catholic and being a worshipper of idols and fetishes and animistic spirits.

I know that bad missiology can bring about horrible perversions of the truth, and I realize that this man came to his particular variety of polytheism contrary to the official wishes of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, and yet maybe this chief sees something about Roman Catholicism that many of us don't see…or don't want to see. Maybe he thinks Roman Catholicism is compatible with his polytheism because Roman Catholicism itself is actually polytheistic.

Consider the following:

  1. The Veneration of Saints: Since the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, AD 787), the official position of the Roman Catholic Church has supported and encouraged Christians to offer worship (Lat. "dulia") to the saints. The Roman Catholics set aside particular days that are the holy days of particular saints on which they are to be worshipped particularly. Saints are associated with professions, events, situations, and themes, and people are encouraged to pray to the particular saints on particular occasions or for particular needs. Furthermore, people and churches are encouraged to have graven images made of these saints so that people wishing to worship the saints can worship these sculpted images of them.

    And this is something other than polytheistic idolatry?

    If you think otherwise, I'd love to hear you explain to an African chief how it is OK for someone to bow down, pray, and offer incense to a fourth-century Roman soldier who gave away half of his cape and became a bishop, but it is not OK for someone to bow down, pray, and offer a sacrifice to an idol in a shrine that his grandfather built.

  2. The Veneration of Mary: Everything that Roman Catholics do for "saints" they also do for Mary…plus much more. It is common Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary's mother's conception of her was miraculously immaculate, that Mary did not sin, that Mary did not die but was bodily admitted into heaven, that Mary remained a virgin for all of her life, that Mary serves with Jesus Christ as co-Mediator, -Redeemer, and -Advocate on our behalf.

    All of this is common Roman Catholic belief. Much of this is the official position of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. None of it is in the Bible, and most of it is in explicit contradiction to things that the Bible has said.

    Yes, Roman Catholics say that Mary is less powerful than Jesus. But, then, Greeks said that Athena was less powerful than Zeus. The Greeks were polytheists nonetheless. How is it that Roman Catholics are not?

  3. The Veneration of The Elements of the Mass: It is not as common today as it once was, but the Protestant Reformers reacted against an idolatrous Roman Catholic view of the elements of the mass that expressed itself in people filing lawsuits for closer seats to the front so that they could see the elements better or opening holes in church walls in order to be able to see the consecrated bread. (If you're interested to read more about this, see Joseph A Jungmann's 1961 work, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development).

    Of course, this kind of idolatry regarding the Lord's Supper is nothing more than the natural and inevitable consequence of taking seriously the notion of transubstantiation. How is this worship of a loaf of bread and a cup of wine essentially different from the animism in African traditional religions?

'Tis an ill time for me to be writing this sort of thing. Because of our social and political landscape in the USA, Evangelical Protestants (including Southern Baptists) are friendlier toward Roman Catholics than we ever have been. Of all four people on major national electoral tickets this year, the one that Evangelicals support the most is a Roman Catholic. We don't hear much anti-Catholicism around these days, and I must admit that I myself have struggled to find just the right position on Roman Catholicism, considering the defection of high-profile Evangelicals like Francis Beckworth. Is Roman Catholicism a non-Christian cult or is it merely a false and apostate church?

Increasingly I'm coming to the conviction that Roman Catholicism not only isn't Christian, but that it's not even worthy to be grouped together with Judaism, Islam, and non-Catholic Christian as one of the major monotheistic religions.


Dave Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Miller said...

Not sure about the monotheism thing - you make interesting points - but I think that the only reason Catholicism is not link with Mormonism and JWs and other cults is because it has been around so long.

The more I study and am exposed to Catholicism, the more I am convinced it is not genuine Christianity - though because of God's amazing grace, some Catholics manage to find salvation in spite of the false teachings of their religion.

Christiane said...


it's always best to find out the answer to what Catholics believe here:

when I had questions and concerns about the faith of my grandmother who was Southern Baptist, I went to the correct sources for information and I found out.

I hope the link helps you. I can say that the ancient creeds of the Church have always affirmed the Holy Trinity as 'One God, in Three Persons'.

Your concern about the 'Real Presence' is one of the differences between my faith and yours, yes. Again, that link may help you to understand why Catholics believe in the Real Presence in communion.

I do not know any Catholics who worship the blessed mother or the saints. The link may help in that area, too. That is not taught in any Catholic school either, and I did teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grade in a Catholic school in Paterson, NJ, so I can vouch for that.

Hope this helps some.

Joe Blackmon said...


Thank you for faithfully and accurately reporting what Catholics believe. As far as whether they're a Christian church or not, for me, it's pretty simple. They worship another God, a different Jesus, and preach a different gospel.

Steve Martin said...

Catholics certainly have a distorted view of the gospel.

It is semi-Pelagian. A lot of God and a little bit of 'me'.

However, that equation usually gets turned around so that I now determine the outcome by what I do, or don't do.

To be honest and fair about it, many Protestant Christians operate with basically the same theology...'a lot of God and a little bit of 'me'.
That turns the gospel on it's head and places 'me' back at the center.

Luther was right when he called them (the radical Reformers and the Romans, "two wolves tied at the tail."


David Rogers said...


From my experience, there is an important element of truth in what you say here. However, since anti-Catholic rhetoric in the past has often been uncharitable and at times not very accurate, we must be careful to be precise in the language we use when broaching this subject.

As Christiane mentions, official Catholic doctrine is technically monotheistic and Trinitarian.

As far as the saints and Mary are concerned, the Catholic church does distinguish between "dulia," "hyper-dulia" (reserved for Mary), and "latria." As evangelicals, we must ask is this distinction biblically legitimate? I, personally, do not find any basis for it in Scripture. In practice, contrary to Christiane's affirmation, I have observed how many who have been raised in majority Catholic contexts give render more devotion, in terms of emphasis and emotion, to Mary, to various saints, and to images (both of Mary and saints). On my trip to India a few years ago, I was struck by the outward similarity I saw to Spain and other Catholic-dominated places in terms of their treatment of images, festivals, processions, shrines, etc., just changing local gods for local saints and "virgins."

I believe it is possible to trace through church history the incremental intrusion of syncretistic practices and doctrines into the "regula fidei" (rule of faith) of the early followers of Jesus.

I have been in Catholic cathedrals in the room where they keep a consecrated host (communion wafer) in an enclosed glass case, and a priest came up to me and said, "You know, this is the most sacred, most important place in this entire cathedral, don't you?"

I have also been in the Monastery of Guadalupe in Spain, where at the end of the tour, the monk giving the tour takes you up a narrow stairway to the attic where the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe can be viewed close-up, turns the image around on a sort of a lazy-Susan pedestal, and invites the people on the tour to line up, approach the image, and kiss its hand. It is hard for me, from a biblical perspective, to describe this as anything less than idolatrous.

Quite frankly, I am very concerned about what I consider to be a Trojan horse of social/moral/political cobelligerency that has served, in many cases, to blunt biblical discernment concerning, first of all, Catholic distinctives, and now more and more, Mormonism as well.

Bart Barber said...


That's the one great struggle in connection with all of this: There are those individuals who live within Catholicism who choose to interpret everything Catholicism says in the most Christian way possible and who are therefore able to live as believers. Beckwith, Chesterton, etc. I think we all know the category well. Whereas, with Mormonism, we can conclude that he who is a member of the LDS organization is ipso facto lost and condemned, I cannot draw that conclusion about someone who self-identifies as Catholic.

But I'm betting that Beckwith never prays to Mary, never offers incense to Jerome, etc.

Bart Barber said...


Which do you think is more likely, that I am unaware of the words dulia, hyperdulia, and latria, or that, being acquainted with them, I find them to amount to a distinction without a difference. Certainly there's not a shred of biblical evidence (not even in the Apocrypha) to support such an invention.

I realize that this is a delicate subject for you, and I take no delight in that. Nevertheless, I must assert that I have read the proceedings of the ecumenical councils (quite a task!) and have read the text of Lumen Gentium, for example. Those would be what we in the business call primary sources.

And so, my understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice is drawn entirely from Roman Catholics themselves and from the Magisterium. Where difference should be made between common Roman Catholic practice and the official proclamations of the Magisterium, I believe that I have done so.

For example, you'll find that Jungmann was a Jesuit. What I've written depends upon no extra-Roman sources.

Bart Barber said...


I suppose we could make this about Calvinism if we were determined to do so. Our world seems adept at making everything about Calvinism.

But I was trying to write about monotheism and polytheism. Catholic soteriology is probably connectable with that, but is, I think we must acknowledge, it's own different subject.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Joe.

Bart Barber said...


Toning down rhetoric is not my strong suit.

But I do not want to be irresponsibly or inaccurately harsh toward Roman Catholicism. I think Dave Miller's observation is an accurate one, and I guess that's the string on which I'm pulling a bit.

If a new group emerged from a Protestant church with all of these features, what would we call it? I think we'd call it polytheism.

Christiane said...


I think that this prayer from our liturgy can help give an example of our way of worshiping God. It is the 'Gloria' which is very ancient in the Church:

" Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen. "

As for a recognition of the saints, I can give one example personally:
I myself have a personal devotion to Therese of Lisieux, but I don't worship her, no. I don't give her 'glory', no. It's not the same. It could never be.

I do recognize and appreciate that she loved Our Lord above all things, and lived for Him in great faith.

She would have been appalled if anyone had tried to 'worship' her. She lived her life pointing to Christ, not to herself. She has been known to help draw many to a deeper faith in Christ by her example of love for Him . . . her 'little way' of trusting in Him and resting in Him totally.

This child-like woman was named one of the Doctors of the Church. She stands as someone who has contributed understanding to the Church alongside such men as Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Ambrose, Chrysostom.

We worship the Creator, but
not the created.

We learn from those whose lives have been given over to Our Lord as examples of those who persevered until the end in faith, for which we call them 'blessed'. They help us to realize what is possible in Christ.

Bart Barber said...


The question is not whether Roman Catholics worship the Lord, but whether they worship Him alone. The standard Roman Catholic answers are simply not satisfactory. It was the ruling of the Second Council of Nicea that, considering for example a statue of Martin of Tours, one could and should bow before it, venerate it, kiss it, offer incense to it, and pray to it…but not worship it. Of course, it is quite difficult to see how one is not worshipping that which is receiving such attention at a house of worship. We must conclude with John Calvin (whose Catholic education was more extensive than yours)…

"The distinction of what is called δυλια and λατρια was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity. For it is plain that the worship which Papists pay to saints differs in no respect from the worship of God: for this worship is paid without distinction; only when they are pressed they have recourse to the evasion, that what belongs to God is kept unimpaired, because they leave him λατρια. But since the question relates not to the word, but the thing, how can they be allowed to sport at will with a matter of the highest moment? But not to insist on this, the utmost they will obtain by their distinction is, that they give worship to God, and service to the others. For λατρεία in Greek has the same meaning as worship in Latin; whereas δουλειά properly means service, though the words are sometimes used in Scripture indiscriminately. But granting that the distinction is invariably preserved, the thing to be inquired into is the meaning of each. Δουλειά unquestionably means service, and λατρεία worship. But no man doubts that to serve is something higher than to worship. For it were often a hard thing to serve him whom you would not refuse to reverence. It is, therefore, an unjust division to assign the greater to the saints and leave the less to God. But several of the ancient fathers observed this distinction. What if they did, when all men see that it is not only improper, but utterly frivolous?"

Christiane said...


the 'liturgies' of the Catholic Church and of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which are very old in Christianity, are your best sources of information about Catholic ways of praying

I have always thought it best to examine the liturgies of all of the first centers of Christianity that formed as Christianity spread out from Jerusalem . . .

note in them what is similar . . . likely these ways of praying originated in Jerusalem among the first Christians.

BTW, the Canon of the Bible was selected based on what books were read during the liturgies over time in the various centers of Christianity consistently . . . so the Church was very careful in considering what it had been received from the Apostles and what was handed down through the ages.

As far as primitive peoples coming into Catholicism and still retaining some of their original beliefs, I know this may happen, but the Church does clearly state what it believes in the Creeds and in the formal Vatican Catechism.

I wish I could help you further, but I think the best path to find out for certain about Catholic ways of praying is to examine the liturgy.

I don't know about people worshiping idols, no, so I can't help you there.
And I can tell you that from the first century, Christians did honor the fallen martyrs' faith by building Churches over the place where their blood soaked into the ground. If their bodies could be retrieved, their bones were buried beneath the altar of the Church. This practice pre-dates the writing this part of sacred Scripture, which records something referring to it:

" When He broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar 8 the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God."
(Rev. 6:9)

Malcolm Yarnell said...

As you note, Dr. Barber, the line between official religion and popular religion is fluid. On the one hand, one can see conceptually how Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) might make a distinction between reverence and worship, though you and I personally find such a distinction difficult to maintain. Moreover, the Marian dogmas and practices, even in official sacerdotal circles, are really troubling to this theologian. On the other hand, we might tremble should a Roman Catholic theologian respond by evaluating some Baptists in their practices. Let it be clear that, ultimately, a human being is saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, and access to the Word that mediates such faith is available even in the Roman church, as Luther recognized.

In Christ,

Joe Blackmon said...

the 'liturgies' of the Catholic Church and of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which are very old in Christianity, are your best sources of information about Catholic ways of praying

And of course, Bart, having a doctorate, would have no clue about any of this. You're such a big help, L's. (insert eye roll here)

Be peaceful, dear one. LOL

Bart Barber said...

Dr. Yarnell,

Your note about the analysis of Southern Baptist practices is a point well taken.

Dr. James Willingham said...

crisoAmen! Brother! I am thankful for your comments ala Rome. They have many sly ways of covering up their shortcomings. A lady once told me she was touring a cathedral in a major American city, when she saw some woman in a body hug of a statue of one of the saints back in an alcove. It reminded me of those who crawled on their knees in the processions in Central America, following an image, leaving blood on the stones. It reminded me of the saints of a nearby parish that threatened the saints of my church in Missouri for the latter's opposition to a state school bus bill with physical violence (no less). It reminded me of a dear friend's father who was tortured in an Iron Maiden (one of the inventions of the Inquisition). It reminded me of the nightmares from taking notes on the inquisition and its dealings with the Waldensians and others. It reminded of the Spring of 2003 and how forty years to the date that I had begun that original research, God brought me a Waldensian to hear me preach (just a special blessing from God)(I still get all choked up and cry when I think about it).

Dr. James Willingham said...

I wrote this once. I appreciate your remarks. Rome's Rituals and historic hypocrisies are all that outfit has to offer us. Reading your comments reminded me of how the saints of a near by parish threatened the saints of my church in Mo. in the 60s, because the latter opposed a state school bus bill that would have hauled the children of the catholics to their school, free of charge. It reminded me of a dear friend whose father had been subjected to torture in an Iron Maiden (one of the inventions of the Inquisition) early in the 20th century in another nation. It reminded me of how I began my research into the history of the inquisition and had nightmares about their dealings with the Waldensians and others in 1963. It reminded me how some forty years later in 2003 God sent a Waldensian to hear me preach (one of those strange things God just does to say nothing is wasted).

Christiane said...


after much looking, I did find something that I think can clarify the issue better for you,
or at least, I hope it will help some.

Robert Barron is widely recognized as one of the top theologians of our Church in the United States.
His explanation is one of the better ones I found.

Jonathan Melton said...

Yes, that is the most abominable thing that SBs as a Convention have ever done: when, in the 1990s, they opened DIALOGUE with Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism is not only pagan as you described, but was directly responsible for millions of Baptist martyrs during the Dark Ages. It gives me pause as to whether I consider whether even SBs who believe in the fundamentals and practice right on the church still have candlesticks or are, as you said, apostate churches.

SBs once, like all Baptists, were Landmark in orientation, meaning they were strictly separate from other only nominally "Christian" religions. First, the accept the theory that the church is universal and invisible, and then begin practicing open communion and finally many are accepting alien immersions.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in the Catholic Church and went to Catholic schools until college. There was a fairly heavy enphisis on Mary, but not much at all on the saints.
Saying my "Hail Marys" was just so many words repeated over and over. During those years when the nuns had the greatest influence over my ideas I never remember directing a personal thought or prayer to Mary, and asking a saint to intercede for me just never seemed necessary, but I do remember praying to God. Statues in church must have meant something to some people (after all they paid to light candles), but I never remember any kid paying the least attention to them.
Catholisism is very much a top down organization, and the church hierarchy defines the beliefs in a more consistant and oprganised way than is possible with less centrally organised groups, but there is a wide divergence between what the central authorities say and what a lot of Catholics believe or do (both for good and for bad).
If the Southern Baptists are in dialogue with Roman Catholics they might find more acceptance from practitioners than they might expect.

Yasmena said...

As a former Catholic (for 30+) years, a catechist and sacristan, I would only like to add to Christiane's message, that what the Vatican protests, and what priests teach and most Catholics believe, are quite different things. I am not sure yet why this is so: I am focused right now on discovering the truths of Christianity. But, to add, many Catholic children (and older) believe without correction that statues, especially of the Virgin Mary, have powers in themselves. We were taught to pray to Mary and the other saints, often to intercede for us with God, as Mary and the saints seem to be regarded as more approachable; a favorite saint can be your best buddy, also without correction; many Catholics cannot distinguish between "pray to" and "worship and "venerate" any more than they can distinguish between a statue with powers and idolatry, though I'm sure a Vatican webpage or representative can so protest. After the sexual abuse scandal in Boston, where I as one Catholic did not do everything possible to avoid learning the facts, one thought came first to my tortured mind: What was my church? "Beautiful words signifying nothing."