Friday, April 25, 2008

Book Review: A Biblical Defense of Catholicism.

After reading and reviewing Dave Armstrong's less than stellar "Catholic Verses" (review below) I was pointed to this work by the same author, published by Sophia Press 2003.

What we are giving here (despite the pleading of the author that he is a mere layman) is a detailed, well written, non-technical defense of Roman Catholicism. Sounds familiar? Well probably, but Armstrong takes a braver approach, namely defending Catholicism not from a patristic-historical stance but he bases his arguments fromn Scripture (with the occasional citation of a father or council as the need arises). Apparently, this work is aimed for the educated layman or clergy since Armstrong does not deal with any of the best and modern secondary literature on the passages in question but does cite well known (mostly Protestant) general reference works (usually of the first half of the 20th century).

· Chapter 1 "Bible and Tradition". An excellent introductory treatment surrounding the foundational hermeneutical questions that distinguish the Protestant approach from the Roman Catholic (a very helpful chart of the patristic acceptance of the books of the New Testament in the early church is given).

· Chapter 2 "Justification". Armstrong gives us a solid introduction to the difficult question of justification from a Catholic perspective. He gives an analysis and critique of the Protestant formulation "sola fide" and continues to show from the Scriptures how the broader encompassing view of Catholicism is much closer to the evidence of Scripture.

· Chapter 3 "Development of Doctrine". Basing his argument on the philosophical foundation of John H Newman and the Catholic fathers Armstrong erects an unbreakable fortress of logic proving that the early Christians using the concepts found in Scripture and the Regula Fidei, hammered out Christian theology with the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.

· Chapter 4 "The Eucharist". Without a doubt Armstrong's presentation of the Eucharist is one of the clearest and most cogent treatments found in the popular literature.

· Chapter 5 "The Sacrifice of the Mass". Armstrong on the Mass is one of the weaker entries in this work. Many of the conclusions from Scripture seem rather stretched and convoluted and ultimately fail to convince (obviously what makes this doctrine shine is the testimony of the fathers).

· Chapter 6 "The Communion of the Saints". Again we are given a fresh and cogent defense of the Communion of the Saints from a non technical level. Armstrong is nimble around Scripture and proves many steps leading to innvocation but in my opinion fails to prove the final link in this chain, the actual innvocation of the saints.

· Chapter 7 "Purgatory". A well written presentation indeed in which Armstrong demolishes the awkward "third state" theologies of the Protestants and gives a strong defense of the Catholic interpretation of the third state, namely purgatory.

· Chapter 8 "Penance". A sober defense and clear demarcation of the Catholic conception of penance against Protestant complaints. What Armstrong convincingly demonstrates from Scripture is the embryonic stages of penance, the question is, does he prove without a doubt the later Roman Catholic formulation of penance?

· Chapter 9 "The Blessed Virgin Mary". An eye opening and educational presentation teaching what Catholics actually believe concerning Mary (and how some of the first reformers held high views of Mary). In the final analysis, Armstrong fails to convince on many points (some of the scientific exegesis of pericopes are very light and stretched beyond any credulity).

· Chapter 10 "The Papacy and Infallibility". Another informative treatment at the hands of Armstrong. He mounts a mammoth Scriptural defense of the primacy of Peter (50 Scriptural points to be exact) and convinces on many of the points.

· We are then given 6 short appendixes. Ap 1 on the so called "perspecuity of Scripture", the fantasy that Protestants have invented which holds that even the most uneducated field worker can correctly understand the deep theological tenets of Christianity (doctrines which took the best minds of Christendom no less than 500 years to hammer out). Armstrong then continues to demolish the Protestant misnomer that holds "unity in the essentials and flexibility in the secondary issues". There is no such thing as secondary issues Armstrong correctly notes, logically the house of theological cards stands or falls in its entirety, you cannot pick and choose ending up with a frankensteinian theology. In Ap 2 Armstrong gives us a short by penetrating critique on the schismatic nature of Protestantism, a nature we are warned about again and again by the testimony of the New Testament. Ap 3 mounts an impressive defense of the inspiration of the so-called Apocryphal books. Ap 4 is a short defense of the celibacy of priests under the Western Latin Roman rites ( I remain unconvinced over mandatory celibacy).

In the final analysis, what Dave Armstrong has given us in this his magnum opus is a clear and very informative presentation of the basis of Roman Catholicism from the Scriptures. Not all points are convincing but at the very least the reader will be challenged time and again from cogent arguments extracted from the Old and New Testaments.



Dave Armstrong said...

I appreciate the positive review. Thanks very much!

R. E. Aguirre. said...

You're welcome Dave, much deserved.