Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #47

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Something you have just got to see…it is an incredible video about the very short life of a little boy named Eliot. It’s called “99 Balloons” and it is about 5 or 6 minutes long – I guarantee it will touch your heart. Please click on this link to view it: http://youtube.com/watch?v=th6Njr-qkq0. If for some reason the link doesn’t work, just cut and paste the address into your web browser. And, make sure you have some tissues nearby.

One other thing, I’m going to be speaking at the “Defending the Faith” Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville this Summer…July 28th to be specific. If you can make the conference, I’d love to see you. And, if you can’t make the “Defending the Faith” Conference, please consider attending one of their other Summer conferences…they are all wonderful! For information on them, check out www.franciscanconferences.com.


Well, I was going to respond to Raymond Woodward in this issue, but after the last newsletter in which I went after some of the garbage on Joe Mizzi’s “Just for Catholics” website, and a number of you forwarding that issue to our good Dr. Mizzi, he issued a response to my newsletter. So, I hope you will be patient regarding the reply to Raymond Woodward for one more week, as I’d like to go ahead and respond to Dr. Mizzi’s “response.”


Dr. Mizzi:

Issue 46 of John Martignoni’s Newsletter is a concentrated personal attack to discredit me. The purpose of my response is not so much to justify myself (God knows my heart!) but to defend the truth of the Gospel for the sake of John’s readers.

Actually, my newsletter is simply pointing out how Joe discredits himself. It points out how he continually misrepresents Catholic teaching, even after being told by any number of Catholics that his “interpretations” of Catholic teaching are wrong and misleading – just like his interpretations of Scripture are often wrong and misleading. If person A is told that he is misrepresenting person B’s beliefs, and is given evidence of such, yet person A persists in putting forth those same misrepresentations of person B’s beliefs, then person A has discredited himself.

Joe says his response is to “defend the truth of the Gospel.” I have a question for Joe: By what authority do you claim to have the “truth of the Gospel?” Can you infallibly interpret the Bible? Yes or no? Why is your interpretation of the Gospel more valid than my interpretation, or any one else’s interpretation, for that matter?

Dr. Mizzi:

It would be impractical to give a comprehensive reply; suffice it if we consider some of the more important points.

In other words, he can’t answer some of the issues I address, so he ignores them. Just two examples: 1) He can’t answer my question about how many works a Sola Fide believer has to do to “know” that he truly has a “saving” faith and not a mere “intellectual” faith; 2) He can’t address the fact that he knows, if he has truly read the Catechism, that Catholics believe we can do nothing apart from Christ and that we believe Christ had to die on the cross for our sins; yet he continually misrepresents our beliefs in this area.

Dr. Mizzi:

1. Misrepresentation

I was accused of dishonestly misrepresenting Catholic teaching because I did not correct the person who wrote to me about purgatory. He had asked me: ‘Do you think that people who believe in purgatory might use this as an excuse to keep on sinning?’

Quite frankly, the answer to my inquirer’s question is ‘Yes’. Some Catholics I know do misuse the doctrine of purgatory (as well as the doctrine of venial sins) as an excuse for a lax moral life. That does not mean that the Roman Catholic Church teaches or encourages such behaviour! If I had said so, I would have been guilty of misrepresenting Catholic doctrine. But I said nothing of the sort. Even my inquirer seems to understand that such application is ‘an excuse’ for sinning.

Ironically, John commits this very same mistake. As Christians we believe that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. John wrongly concludes that Christians suppose that sin has no consequences for us. John puts words in my mouth: ‘In other words, live godly lives for Christ, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it, because your sin has no consequence.’ How utterly slanderous!

To be sure there are self-deceived ‘Christians’ who use the blessed biblical truth to wallow in sin. Their condemnation is just. But for those who genuinely know the mercy of God, we avoid sin like the plague and endeavor to obey his commandments not because we are threatened with eternal damnation but because we love our Saviour (John 15:14). Moreover our Father also disciplines his children for their disobedience (Hebrews 12:5ff). Of course there are consequences for sin.

I think Joe is trying to use some misdirection here…a little theological sleight of hand. It is quite obvious from the question asked about belief in Purgatory (see Issue #46) that his “inquirer” has a warped understanding of what Purgatory is, and Joe just plays right into it. Why didn’t he say on his website what he says here? Why didn’t he say that the Catholic Church does not “teach or encourage such behaviour?” Did he say anything remotely like that to his “inquirer”? Absolutely not. He even goes so far as to accuse the Catholic Church of the “downplaying of the seriousness of sin.” Very directly implying that the Catholic Church does indeed “teach and encourage such behaviour!” That is why I say he is being intellectually dishonest.

Also, why didn’t he respond to his “inquirer” that any Catholic who knows the Church’s actual teaching on Purgatory would not use Purgatory as an “excuse” for sinning? Why didn’t he say something like, “I know of Catholics who abuse this doctrine, just like I know of Protestants who abuse the doctrine of sola fide to ‘wallow in their sin?’” Did you see anything like that in his answer? Of course not. Because, again, he is not interested in presenting the Catholic Faith as it is legitimately taught and believed, he is interested in presenting the cases, that he claims to know of, of Catholics who do not actually follow authentic Catholic doctrine, and then presenting these cases as resulting from following authentic Catholic doctrine. That is why I say he is intellectually dishonest. Do you see him taking the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide to task because people use it, as he admits in his response to my newsletter, as an excuse to sin? No, but he takes the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory to task because he claims to know of people who abuse it as an excuse to sin. That is why I call him a hypocrite.

Again, if he wants to argue that Purgatory is not an authentic Christian teaching, that’s one thing. But, to take the supposed example of Catholics who do not follow authentic Catholic teaching, and then hold them up as the consequence of authentic Catholic teaching, is fraud. He is advancing an agenda, and, in his eyes, the means justify the end. Even if the means are intellectually dishonest.

Lastly, Joe says that my take on the doctrine of Sola Fide in regard to sin having no consequences is “utterly slanderous.” But, notice what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t give any of the consequences of sin under the dogma of sola fide. What happens to you, Joe, if you sin? Do you lose your salvation? Do you lose your house? Do you lose your Mercedes? Does your dog die? What happens? What are the consequences of sin? In the Bible, it says that adulterers, thieves, murderers, sodomites, etc. all go to Hell. Do they go to Hell in Sola Fide theology, Joe? I don’t think so.

Dr. Mizzi:

Let the reader consider who is misrepresenting whom.

Amen to that!

Dr. Mizzi:
2. Intellectual Dishonesty

I was also accused of intellectual dishonesty because I wrote that a Catholic ‘has to make up for his sins by prayers and religion.’ Not so, says John: Catholics do not believe they have to ‘make up for [their] sins by prayers and religion.’ He further advises us to pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see for ourselves. Let’s do just that; let’s read the Catechism:

‘Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin; he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance’.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1459).

A Catholic must perform ‘penance’ (paragraph 1434 informs us that ‘fasting, prayer, and almsgiving’ are the three main forms) to ‘make amends’ and ‘make satisfaction’ for his sins. That is official Catholic teaching.

Well, let’s first put Joe’s comments in context, and then we’ll put the words of the Catechism in context. And let’s see if what Joe says here and what he says on his website don’t add up to intellectual dishonesty.

First, let’s put Joe’s comments about Catholics having to “make up for [their] sins by prayer and religion” in context. Here is the full sentence those words were contained in:

“Since a Catholic has to earn salvation by his works, and since he has to make up for his sins by prayers and religion, it is understandable that he never feels secure of heaven.”

The context of his quote is that Catholics have to “earn salvation” by our works. And, as always, do you see what Joe leaves out of the equation? He leaves Christ out of the equation. He always leaves Christ out of Catholic teaching on salvation. All over his website he leaves the very clear impression that Catholics, in and of themselves, by their own works and prayers, apart from Christ, have to save themselves. Nowhere, that I know of, does he even try to present the teachings of the Church as I gave them to him in our debate (see the “Debate” page on my website), and as are clearly presented in the teachings of the Council of Trent and the Catechism. Nowhere does he present the Catholic teaching that it is only as members of the Body of Christ that our works and our prayers and our “religion” are worth anything. Nowhere does he present the Catholic teaching that we, in and of ourselves, can do nothing to “earn” salvation. So, the context of Joe’s comments is, again, that Catholics, sans Christ, have to “make up” for their sins by prayers and religion. To which I say, “Not so.”

To bolster his argument, he points to a portion of paragraph 1459 of the Catechism. Here’s what the portion he quotes says:

‘Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin; he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance’.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1459).

Now, let’s look at the context of this quote from the Catechism. Here is the full context of paragraph 1459:

“Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g. return stolen goods, restore the reputations of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.”

Let me stop right there. The context is that our penances will do something towards remedying the “disorders sin has caused.” The context is not that our penances cause our sins to be forgiven…that they “make up” for our sins. (Did Joe bother to quote the part from this paragraph that says “Absolution takes away sin?” Of course not.) Absolution takes away sin, but does not remedy the disorders sin has caused. In other words, Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the priest, takes away the Catholic’s sins by the power of His death and resurrection, but the consequences of sin still affect us. But, please note, as the Catechism states in paragraph 1851, “the sacrifice of Christ…becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.” So it is the sacrifice of Christ which is the “source” for the forgiveness of our sins. Joe leads those who come to his website to believe, quite deliberately, that our own prayers and religion are the source for the forgiveness of our sins.

Continuing with Paragraph 1459: “Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’”

So, the context of what Joe quoted is not that we “make up” for our sins by our “prayers and religion”…by our penances…but that we right the disorders that sin has caused in our lives and the lives of others by our penances…by our “prayers and religion.” In other words, our sins are not forgiven because of our actions, our sins have already been forgiven, by Jesus Christ because of Jesus Christ. Our penances help to right the wrongs, in essence, of our sins. Help us to repair the damage done by our sins. Help us to fight against sin in the future. Help to configure us to Christ. But, only as we are already members of His Body. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Now, let’s get some more context from Paragraph 1460: “The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good…such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, ‘provided we suffer with Him’ [Romans 8:17].”

Christ “alone” expiated our sins once for all. Do you think you will ever see that line on Joe’s website as being a part of Catholic teaching? Ain’t no way!

It goes on to say: “The satisfaction we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of ‘Him who strengthens’ us [Phil 4:13]. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ [1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17; Gal 6:14]…in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth ‘fruits that befit repentance’ [Luke 3:8].” These fruits have their efficacy from Him, by Him they are offered to the Father, and through Him they are accepted by the Father.”

Which is exactly what I have said to Joe over and over again. We can do nothing “as if just by ourselves.” Catholics do not believe we can, of and by ourselves, say any prayers or do any work that has an impact on our salvation. We believe it is Christ alone, as clearly taught in the Catechism which Joe professes to have read from cover to cover, Who expiated our sins once for all. It’s right there in black and white. Yet, Joe refuses to acknowledge it and he refuses to mention it on his website.

Dr. Mizzi:
Let the reader judge whether or not I correctly represented Catholicism on this matter, and who is being intellectually dishonest.

A big AMEN AMEN to that!!!

Dr. Mizzi:

3. Biblical Proof of Mortal/Venial Sins

John Martignoni quotes 1 John 5:16-17 as proof of the Catholic doctrine of ‘mortal’ and ‘venial’ sins. The Duoay Bible renders the passage thus:

‘He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him, who sinneth not to death. There is a sin unto death: for that I say not that any man ask. All iniquity is sin. And there is a sin unto death.’

John Martignoni assumes that ‘sin unto death’ is the ‘mortal sin’ of Catholic theology. But let me ask: If you see a fellow Catholic commit a mortal sin, would it be right to pray for him? Well of course it would be. But what does the apostle instruct in the case of ‘sin unto death’? ‘For that I say not that any man ask.’ In other words, Do not pray for the person who commits ‘sin unto death’.

By looking at the context, at least this fact is clear: the apostle is NOT referring to the concept of mortal sin.

This is recognized in a note in the Duoay Bible: ‘It is hard to determine what St. John here calls a sin which is not to death, and a sin which is unto death. The difference can not be the same as betwixt sins that are called venial and mortal…’ (http://www.drbo.org/chapter/69005.htm)

John Martignoni twists scripture to accommodate Catholic doctrine, and in so doing, he leads his readers astray.

I find it quite interesting that Joe goes to a “note” from the Douay-Rheims Bible (the old English version of the Latin Vulgate), to buttress his case in this situation. First point to make on this is that surely Joe knows that the notes in the Douay-Rheims are not doctrinal teachings but the theological opinions of the man writing the notes and that neither I, nor any other Catholic, is bound to this man’s opinion?! Secondly, once again, Joe only gives you part of the story. In that same note, the author recognizes that there is disagreement as to the meaning of this verse and that some do indeed believe St. John is referring to dying in a state of mortal sin. But the author says, “Whatever exposition [meaning] we follow on this verse…” In other words, he recognized himself that his opinion is not necessarily the final matter on this issue.

Next, one has to ask why Joe went to the notes of the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible for his support. Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church not say anything about this matter? Well, it actually does. Paragraph 1854 says: “Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture…” The distinction between mortal and venial sin that is already evident in Scripture…hmmm. Where is it already evident in Scripture? Well, paragraph 1854 tells us by citing guess which verses of the Bible? 1 John 5:16-17. Once again, Joe is trying to not let anyone know what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

Now, regarding Joe’s interpretation of this verse. It can’t be mortal sin vs. venial sin, because we should pray for those in mortal sin, shouldn’t we? Of course we should. So, in Joe’s opinion, that means it can’t be mortal sin referred to here. What he doesn’t give you, is a different interpretation of that same verse that shows up where? In that very same note from the Douay-Rheims bible that Joe quotes. Here’s what that note says: “Nor yet does St. John say that such a sin (sin unto death) is never remitted or can not be remitted, but only has these words: “…for that I say not that any man ask” the remission; that is, though we must pray for all sinners whatsoever, yet men can not pray for such sinners with such a confidence of obtaining always their petitions, as St. John said before, [in] verse 14.”

In other words, by this interpretation, in verses 14-15, St. John says that we can have confidence that we have obtained the petitions that we ask of Him in prayer. However, if someone has committed a grave sin…a sin unto death…a mortal sin…in which they are obstinate, such as blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and refuse to repent…we cannot have the same confidence that a petition on behalf of this person will be granted. That is why he is saying in verse 16 “I do not say that one is to pray for that [sin unto death.]” We should always pray that the sinner repent from his sin, no matter what the sin is, but we cannot have the same confidence that our petition for the forgiveness of someone’s sins will be answered in situations of sin unto death, as we can have in other situations where the sin is not unto death. Why didn’t Joe mention that interpretation? He must have read it, right?

Dr. Mizzi:

4. Logical Fallacy

Contrary to what John states, it is not true that Christians say that we do not merit anything. Perhaps he forgot that in our debate I had stated that we expect to be rewarded for our deeds. However, the crux of the matter is not whether we can merit rewards, but whether we can merit our justification.

John argues that by their good works and acts of faith, Catholics merit justification because they are members in the Body of Christ.

Here John commits a logical fallacy called ‘equivocation’. He mixes up the term ‘body’ which in Scripture is used with more than one meaning – the physical body of Jesus (Colossians 1:22) and his mystical body, the church (Colossians 1:24)

All Christians are member of the mystical body of Christ. But John fails to show from the Bible that we are justified by the good works of the members of Christ body.

On the contrary the Bible attributes the believers’ right relation with God to the bloody sacrifice of the physical body of Christ. ‘And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.’

The mystical body is the fruit of the sacrifice of the body of Jesus’ flesh on the cross. Contrary to John Martignoni, the apostle Paul makes a clear distinction between the mystical body of Christ (‘the church’) and his physical body (‘the body of his flesh’).

Once again Joe falsely represents Catholic teaching. I do not argue that we, as Catholics, “merit justification because [we] are members of the Body of Christ.” I argue, as the Council of Trent states, that we can merit increases in justification. Our works, our “prayers and religion,” our penances do not merit anything unless we are already in a state of justification…unless we are already united to the Body of Christ. If we are not united to the Body of Christ, we are not in a state of justification. If we are not united to the Body of Christ…through the completely gratuitous gift of God we receive through Baptism…then our works mean nothing. So, how can Joe say we “merit salvation”…that we merit our justification… when we can’t merit anything if we’re not already justified?!

However, that is not to say works are not necessary since we are already justified. Our works are necessary for us to “abide” in Christ. As it says in John 15:1-6, if we don’t bear good fruit (through our works), we don’t abide in Christ. If we don’t abide in Christ, we are not saved. So, again, works do not “earn salvation,” but they are necessary to abide in Christ and thus be saved. Very biblical.

I was very surprised to see that he admitted that Christians can “merit.” In our debate he said that “Christians” (in other words, not Catholics) hope to receive rewards for their good works, but I don’t recall him saying that Christians can “merit” these rewards. Do you think he’ll ever post that on his website? Of course not. Please, Joe, do explain what you mean by Christians meriting from their good works? How does a Christian’s work “merit” anything, Joe? Does that mean you’ve “earned” your rewards. And, what are the rewards? Please elaborate on this…I think you’ve come one step closer to accepting Catholic teaching.

Regarding his comments on the Body of Christ and “equivocation,” I couldn’t really make sense out of what he was saying, so I’m not even going to try. Besides, it’s getting on in the day and I’m late for dinner.

Dr. Mizzi:


I wrote: A typical Catholic feels that he is not good enough to go directly to heaven, but he is not bad enough to go to hell either.

Apparently John rejects that statement because, he says, I cannot speak for the typical Catholic. But you are a typical Catholic. What do you think?

If you die right now (God forbid!), do you feel that:

(1) You will go directly to heaven?

(2) You will go to hell?

I suggest that you write to John Martignoni and ask him to carry out a simple survey among his Catholic readers. Tell him to ask those two questions and publish the responses of his website. Should be interesting.

Joe Mizzi

Two questions for Joe on this: 1) Who judges whether or not someone goes to Heaven or Hell, that person or God? 2) Who knows the mind of God?

Joe’s little salvation test here is not found anywhere in the Bible that I’m aware of. In fact, it is based on premises contrary to Scripture. Oh, and one more question: Should we trust our salvation to what we “feel”? That sounds pretty Mormonish to me.

In Conclusion

Again, if anyone would like to forward this newsletter to the good doctor, please feel free to do so.

I hope all of you have a great week!

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Apologetics for the Masses