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Jimmy Swaggart

Why Does He Say Those Things About Catholics?

by John Kurzwell

[Fr. Hardon Responds - What Swaggart Doesn't Know About the Church]

[More Hardon Answers to Swaggart]

Baton Rouge - based fundamentalist evangelist Jimmy Swaggart boasts that his is “the most watched” religious television programming in the world.

“Presently,” according to a press release from the Jimmy Swaggart Crusade, “he is seen weekly by more than 3,000,000 people in the U.S. alone…and his television program airs on 700 stations (and over 2,000 cable outlets) in more than 34 countries around the world.”

Swaggart heads the World Ministry Center in Baton Rouge, La. He has written more than 50 books and sold more than 15,000, 000 records of his own Gospel music.

Despite this huge audience, Swaggart attracted little notice from the nation’s major media until he was welcomed by President Ronald Reagan at the White House last year. A WNBC-TV editorial from New York City then compared Swaggart to Jesse Jackson supporter Louis Farrakhan (who called Judaism a “gutter religion”).

“Swaggart,” the editorialist said, “on the air, referred to (Roman Catholicism) as superstition and heathenism. Swaggart added that all Mother Teresa’s good works would not, ‘add one thing toward her salvation.’”

WNBC concluded that these words made Swaggart an anti-Catholic “bigot” whom Republicans should denounce as Democrats had Farrakhan. Ray Jenkins, writing in The Baltimore Sun, struck the same theme, noting Swaggart’s words about Mother Teresa. Jenkins called on President Reagan “to show as much courage as Jesse Jackson finally did in making a forthright repudiation of a major supporter.” The President did not comply.

Rev. Swaggart’s difficulties with Catholicism are both more serious and less frightful than the reaction of the media men would indicate. They involve disputes over doctrine: And some of these doctrines, which have been with the Church from the beginning, are too complex and important to be written off, as the editorialists did, to “bigotry.”

Swaggart raises basic questions about the Catholic faith that many Catholics find difficult to answer, primarily because the questions are usually unfamiliar to them and too often are considered, by both Swaggart and his critics, with an emotion charged superficiality that obscures rather than reveals the truth.

With the noise and confusion of the election behind us, Catholic Twin Circle has gone to Rev. Jimmy Swaggart and Father John A. Hardon, S.J., author of “The Catholic Catechism,” in an effort to clear things up as much as possible. Rev. Swaggart’s remarks appear at right. Our discussion with Father Hardon, addressing the specific criticisms of Catholic doctrine, follows it.

Catholic Twin Circle: Why did you support the re-election of Ronald Reagan?

Swaggart: We felt very strongly about this, not because of politics, but because of the moral issues involved. I’m not really concerned whether the person is a Democrat or a Republican or whatever, as long as his beliefs are in line with the Judeo-Christian concept. We felt that Mr. Reagan’s beliefs were much more in line than the liberalistic philosophy of some of the Democrats.

CTC: During the campaign, you were charged with being anti-Catholic. Would you have supported President Reagan if he’d been Catholic.

Swaggart: If Ronald Reagan had been a Roman Catholic. I’d have supported him right down the line. It was not a question of his religion, or the lack of it, or even of his party affiliation, but it was the issues. Let me say this, I’ve been labeled anti-Catholic, and I’m not anti-Catholic. Of course, my definition of anti-Catholicism may be different from yours. But mine is if President Reagan were a Catholic and I opposed him because he was a Catholic that would be anti-Catholicism to me. I don’t care if a man is a Catholic or a Jew or a Protestant or whatever. If his issues are right, I would certainly support him.

CTC: Well, there’s some confusion about your position on Catholics and Catholicism. For instance, Mr. Ray Jenkins, writing in the Baltimore Sun, quotes you as saying that “none of those things that Mother Teresa does will add one thing toward her salvation.” Is the quote accurate and, if so, what exactly did you mean?

Swaggart: It is accurate. But I wasn’t just talking about Mother Teresa. Nothing that anybody does will add anything to their salvation. It will add much to the development of their spiritual experience and growth. But no one can earn salvation. That’s the mistake Catholics make. Catholics believe you can be saved by good works, which I think is wrong. I think it’s unscriptural to believe that.

The Protestant position, as Martin Luther outlined it nearly 500 years ago, is different: It is that we are saved by faith; that we’re saved by trusting Jesus Christ, it is that the Church doesn’t have anything to do with salvation, that good works, as good and noble as they may be, have nothing to do with it. We’re saved by accepting Jesus Christ totally and completely.

Of course, after a person gets saved, we believe that good works are tremendously important. So in that sense, Mother Teresa’s works are very important. I wish there were a million more just like her, to be honest with you. And a lot of people don’t know this, but our ministry indirectly - and I emphasize the word “indirectly” - supports Mother Teresa in Calcutta. We support strongly, to the tune of several millions of dollars. Mark Buntain’s ministry in Calcutta, and he and Mother Teresa work very, very closely together. She sends him many of the young boys and young girls that she cannot take care of.

That radio commentator tried to make it sound as if I were trashing Mother Teresa. That’s ridiculous.

CTC: Perhaps the key to the disagreement about whether good works contribute to salvation is how we define “saved.”

Swaggart: We are saved by accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.

CTC: To a Catholic, to be saved fully, of course, means to be finally united with God in Heaven and our actions in this life are significant when they either contribute to or detract from our achieving that union.

Swaggart: I believe that’s wrong.

CTC: So do you mean that once a person has been saved, has accepted Jesus Christ, that his union with God after death is inevitable?

Swaggart: Oh yes.

CTC: Regardless of what he does?

Swaggart: No - not regardless of what he does. What he does will have an awful lot of bearing on what happens to him.

CTC: How so if acts make no difference?

Swaggart: Because a person is a free moral agent. If a person - not a Catholic - accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, but down the road somewhere he says “I don’t want to live for God anymore; I’ve had it and I’m leaving.” He’s a free moral agent and he has the right to do that. But if he does do that, he will die and go to Hell.

CTC: How is that different from saying that actions are important for salvation? If you can lose salvation by your actions or failure to act.

Swaggart: You lose salvation by your will. The will is the important matter, but it’s the direction that will is in. It has to be in the correct - the scriptural - direction. The Bible teaches that you get saved by accepting Jesus Christ. Works are tremendously important, but they don’t save you.

CTC: Not alone. Obviously, God’s grace is also necessary, but works.

Swaggart: They don’t even enter into salvation.

CTC: But you said that if I failed to do good works that I wouldn’t go to Heaven.

Swaggart: That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that if you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, you’ll be saved. You have the choice of accepting man’s tradition or the word of God.

CTC: Well, the Catholic Church does not consider its Tradition as being in conflict with the word of God since both come from Him. But as for the words of men, are you saying that, as a general rule, we should disregard them? For instance, you wrote (in The Evangelist, a magazine published by Jimmy Swaggart Ministries) that the Pope’s “words carry no more weight than those of anyone else.” Do you also say that about your own words? If so, why should anyone listen to them?

Swaggart: You’re coming from two different angles. I’m not saying the Pope’s words aren’t important. I’m arguing with the Catholic Tradition that teaches that if the Pope speaks - do you call it Ex Cathedra? That then he is speaking for God and whatever he says, no matter if it contradicts the Bible or not, is the same as God speaking. That’s what I’m arguing with. I’m saying the Pope’s words are no more important than anyone else’s, because he does not speak for God in that sense.

CTC: But the Catholic Church does not define papal infallibility as the pope speaking for God.

It’s the pope, not God, speaking, but he speaks with the assurance that God will not allow him to fall into error. That of course means he won’t contradict the Bible or any other element of God’s truth.

Swaggart: That’s not true at all. I can read to you right here - the confession of sins to a priest once a year was instituted by the Pope in the Lateran Council in 1215, A.D., but that’s contrary to the word of God. The Bible tells us to confess our sins directly to God, not to any priest. So that right there tells us that the Pope spoke in error. The Bible tells us that every single Christian on the face of the earth is a member of the royal priesthood - everybody is - you are, if you’re a Christian, if you’re saved.

CTC: So, plainly you don’t consider these to be disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture. You’ve concluded that the Catholic Church has abandoned God’s word in favor of its own.

Swaggart: There’s no such thing as a priest in the New Testament, other than Jesus Christ.

CTC: Well, who was Christ speaking to when he said “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained”?

Swaggart: Anybody, anybody. When you go to the Greek text, it’s in the present tense, which means if a person has already asked the Lord to forgive him his sins, then anyone - me, you, anybody has the right to tell him: “Your sins have already been forgiven.” If that person asking for forgiveness has not asked Jesus into his heart, well then we have the right to tell him. “Your sins are not forgiven, because you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.” In the Greek, it’s in the present, meaning a situation already done and accomplished. How much do you know Greek?

CTC: Not at all.

Swaggart: (Laughter)

CTC: Of course, Christ didn’t speak Greek. He spoke Aramaic, so if your point is that we should consult originals, Greek translations don’t fit the bill. Perhaps the Greek is not exactly the same as Christ’s exact words either.

Swaggart: No, no, there were no changes. The Bible speaks the word of God. The King James version and other translations are translations, true enough. But when you go back to the originals, as far as we can go, they are the same. You see really what the Roman Church is saying is that they can establish any doctrine they want to in opposition to Scripture and in no way be bound by Scripture.

CTC: That’s exactly the opposite of what it says.

Swaggart: That’s not what the Council of Trent said in 1545.

CTC: Well, Father Hardon, in The Catholic Catechism, quotes the Second Vatican Council as follows: “.Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while Sacred Tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity. Both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.” So the idea that humans can change anything they want simply is not the Catholic position.

Swaggart: Well, O.K., let’s look at the facts then. The facts are that Catholics have a Pope, and in the New Testament there’s no such thing as a Pope. The Catholics have priests, and there’s no such thing as a priest in the New Testament, other than Jesus Christ. The Catholics have all kinds of things that are contrary to Scripture, so in evidence, and in matters of fact. Catholic Tradition has instituted many things that have nothing to do with Scripture. It’s not a matter of interpretation. It’s a matter of carrying out acts that have absolutely nothing to do with God’s Bible.

CTC: I think what irritates Catholics is that, rather than listing these specific points - about which we can disagree honestly and which we can discuss, as we have here - you sometimes portray the Catholic faith as teaching things it doesn’t teach - that the Catholic Church ignores and contradicts Scripture, for instance.

Swaggart: But I don’t say that. You see, let me tell you this, whenever I look at a bumper sticker of a car and it says “Try His Mother” - now you may say, and the Catholic priests may say that Mary is not a mediator, and they don’t believe that Mary is a mediator. They just believe that she helps and so forth. I understand all that. But that poor soul that is encouraged by the priest to pray to Mary - they think of Mary as a mediator. You can call it anything you want to call it, but still that’s what that poor Catholic thinks - I’ll go to His Mother, and she will relay my petition to Him.

CTC: If a Catholic thinks something that’s in contradiction to what is actually taught by the Church, then that’s not the Church’s fault, except perhaps in the sense that it’s conveying its message poorly.

Swaggart: (Laughter)

CTC: Is Catholic doctrine at fault if it’s misunderstood?

Swaggart: No, we’re not saying that at all. We’re saying that every Catholic in this world who prays to Mary does so because they are told that Mary will help them get their prayers through. Whether you want to say that Mary is a mediator or not - that’s your business - but that poor soul, that poor Catholic may not even understand what mediatorship means.

CTC: Well, I’m one of those poor Catholics, and I think we have a little better understanding than you give us credit for, at least of Catholic teaching - which is that Christ is the sole mediator between God and man and that all others, Father Hardon, says, “take their meaning and efficacy from Him.”

Swaggart: Well, I didn’t mean that in a derogatory sense.

CTC: But it sounds like it, and perhaps it’s a little difficult to understand, for Catholics, why you, who say you speak from love, take that sort of tone. I think it encourages people to stop thinking of your position as a serious one and instead to react emotionally, firing back an emotional reaction. The discussion, rather than being fruitful, ends up being vituperative, which does no one any good.

Swaggart: I’d be the first one to admit that I could say an awful lot of things in a better way. I’m fallible, just like you are. But we’re talking about something here that’s so serious that it means either the salvation or the loss of a person’s soul. I think it’s the 23rd chapter of Matthew where Jesus called the Pharisees snakes. He called them vipers. I’ve never preached that hard. Why did He do it? Not because He was mean. Jesus Christ is the epitome of love. But He thought that what the Pharisees’ teachings were doing was taking people to Hell and eternal souls would die lost forever and ever. That’s why the Son of God was as strong as He was.

Now if you look at what we’re discussing - the priest laying the host on the tongue - and telling the recipient who swallows this it’s going to turn into the body of Christ, that’s a monstrosity.

CTC: Well, he says it’s transformed into the body and blood of Christ at consecration.

Swaggart: But that’s a monstrosity, you see.

CTC: Why?

Swaggart: Because it doesn’t do that.

CTC: Well, how do you know?

Swaggart: I know because of what the Bible says. (Laughter)

CTC: We think that the Bible says something else. I think the problem is that you, who deny that anyone in this world has infallibility, take a tone as though you’re certain you’re infallible.

Swaggart: Oh, no. (Laughter) You see, we say if a man preaches or teaches or talks, God may tell that man to say certain things, and if it is God that told him it will be according to the Scripture, and it will be very readily understood. You’ve got eyes, you can read. I’ve got eyes, I can read.

CTC: But we disagree. These are writings that have been disagreed about from the beginning. And we’re both reading the same book.

Swaggart: But you see, you’re trying to discuss something - and I don’t mean this unkindly toward you - but you don’t know anything about the Bible. I have discussed the Bible with some of the brightest Catholic scholars in the nation - teachers in the finest universities in the nation. They don’t know anything about the Bible. They’ll tell you they don’t know anything about the Bible. I’m not saying none of them do, but I’m saying I haven’t met one yet who did. Perhaps some few do, a little bit. It’s not a question of interpretation, me believing one thing and them believing something else. Most Catholics don’t know anything about the Bible.

CTC: Well, I’m certain I - and most Catholics - would benefit from greater familiarity with the Bible. But that’s not the point. It’s that Catholics accept the teaching authority of the Church - that’s what our disagreement is about.

Swaggart: Do you realize that the only Scripture the Catholic Church has settled on officially - remember I said officially - as the word of God is the Scripture in St. John that you quoted, where it says “Whose sins you remit, etcetera.” Now, also, the Bible was labeled a forbidden book by the Catholic Church as far as laymen were concerned.

CTC: When?

Swaggart: That was in the Council of Toledo in 1229 A.D., a long time ago. And some things have changed since then. The position of the Catholic Church now is that, yes, the Bible is the Word of God, though they’ve only officially agreed on the one Scripture I mentioned a moment ago. Number two, the Catholic Church will tell Catholics, “You are not to interpret the Bible. The priest is to interpret it for you.” And that’s not right.

CTC: I think you’re mistaken in saying Catholics were forbidden from reading the Bible but the Church does say it possesses a certain authority to interpret Scripture. And it’s not up to the individual priest; it’s up to the Church as a whole. And, of course, the presumption is that it’s God speaking through His Church to the people.

Swaggart: Well, we don’t agree that the Catholic Church is God’s Church.

CTC: Right, obviously. But there’s a disagreement there that we can discuss without harshness or rancor. We can talk about it.

Swaggart: We’re talking about it right now. You know, some people think all I do is preach to Catholics, but for every one word I say about Catholics, I say a hundred about Protestants - poor Protestants, by the millions, by the tens of millions, belonging to churches, and they’re no different than Catholics, thinking that belonging to that church and being religious will save their soul. Same problem.

CTC: We’ll agree to disagree about all this for now. Is there anything you’d like to say that we’ve not already talked about?

Swaggart: Well, there’s an awful lot of things I’d like to say. I want the Catholic people to know I love them. And I know some of them believe that and some don’t. I am opposed to Catholic Tradition. I feel that it’s wrong and unscriptural, but that doesn’t mean I dislike priests or I dislike bishops or I dislike Catholics - or even that I dislike the Pope. I don’t think that at all. I don’t believe that way.

But it’s my business to preach the Gospel, not only to Catholics, but also to Protestants and I’m afraid I catch just as much flack from my Protestant friends as I do from my Catholic friends. I can understand anybody who’s a Catholic that would say about me, “he’s anti-Catholic.” I don’t really take exception to that because I understand their feelings. But in my heart, I don’t think I am anti-Catholic. I try to base my ministry and life on the Bible. That’s what I want Catholics to do - to base their teaching, and their lives, on the Bible, not on Church Traditions.

Fr. Hardon Responds

What Swaggart Doesn't Know About the Church

by John A. Hardon, S.J.

We asked Father John A. Hardon, S.J., author of some 20 books on Catholic and Protestant theology and Christianity in general, including “The Catholic Catechism” and several editions of “The Protestant Churches of America,” to comment on Rev. Swaggart’s charges. His remarks follow this introduction.

In this ecumenical age, it may seem counterproductive to focus on the specific differences dividing two groups of Christians. The first step toward reconciliation, however, is defining obstacles and finding ways to overcome them. It is, then, with the hope of clearing away confusion and misunderstanding, both about Swaggart’s message and about Catholicism, that this examination of their differences is published.

Swaggart’s combination of ignorance with self-righteousness is so off-putting that neither Catholics nor non-Catholics who disagree with him often bother to consider this points carefully. This is unfortunate, because it leaves him largely free, then, to propagate his criticisms of Catholicism with very little thoughtful, effective rebuttal. Calling him a “bigot” accomplishes little with those favorably disposed to listen to him, and many who do listen are Catholics.

For that matter, the national and international reading and television audiences Swaggart reaches regularly include many Catholics and other interested in Jesus Christ and His teaching who don’t know when and where Swaggart is wrong about the Church.

For their sakes, his systematic criticisms deserve systematic answers.

Catholic Twin Circle: In his interview with Catholic Twin Circle this week, Rev. Jimmy Swaggart traced his contention that Christians should rely solely on the Bible, on Sacred Scripture, and not on Church Tradition, to Martin Luther. Did Luther raise this specific point?

Father John Hardon: It did really begin with Luther, though it took nearly 100 years and a number of reformers before Sacred Tradition was removed as a co-equal and parallel source with the Scriptures. What Luther denied, fundamentally, is that Christ had given divine authority to any person on earth to teach, pass judgment on and direct the Christian faithful.

CTC: Did that include Luther himself? If so, how could Luther know what he taught was true?

Hardon: That’s a contradiction. Luther’s position leads his followers into a series of contradictions. When Luther, and Swaggart himself, in effect, deny that there is an authority on earth who is infallible, are they infallible?

The real problem, I think, with Swaggart, and the basis of all his criticism of the Catholic Church, is that he follows what you might call the Biblicist tradition in classic Protestantism, denying that there is any place for oral tradition as a source of divine revelation.

CTC: Is Swaggart’s belief generally accepted among Protestants?

Hardon: Well, as I have found in my many dialogues with Protestants - I have, by the way, taught at three Protestant seminaries, namely the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, the Seabury School of Theology and the Bethany School of Theology - most of the better informed of them no longer claim, as Swaggart does, that it is the Bible and the Bible alone that they look to for instruction. In dialoging with them, I ask them, how do you know that what you call the Bible is the Word of God? Well, they say, that’s what the Holy Spirit tells us. And I tell them, you’re wrong. There were 25 Gospels in circulation by the fourth century. It took the Catholic Church’s Tradition to separate the authentic Gospels from those that were not. In fact the Church had already decided by the second century that only four of the 25 Gospels were authentic - canonical and inspired. Unless there had been the Church’s authority, under the Pope, to decide that these were the four Gospels, Swaggart wouldn’t even have the New Testament to quote from.

CTC: It would appear that it is the general question of the role humans, saints, priests, the Pope and so forth play, if any, in man’s salvation that divides Swaggart and Catholicism.

Hardon: I would say that Swaggart has created his own form of Christianity and, I would add, his own form of Protestantism. And I would have to say that the fundamental error of Jimmy Swaggart is his erroneous understanding of who Christ is. And this is the cardinal error of Lutheran Protestantism.

CTC: Who, then, did Luther think Christ was?

Hardon: The Christ that Luther conceived was what we call a Nestorian Christ. The beliefs of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, were condemned by the Catholic Church at the Council of Ephesus, in 431. That Council defined that Mary is the Mother of God. Why? Because the child she gave birth to in Bethlehem was true God. Nestorius denied that. Nestorius claimed that there were two persons in Christ, no one, a divine person and a human person, and that Mary was mother only of the human person. This heresy of, you might say, the duel personality of Christ is at the root, - I have to say it - of Lutheran Protestantism and emphatically of Jimmy Swaggart’s form of Protestantism.

CTC: Would Nestorius agree that he denied that Christ is true God?

Hardon: Well, he might not. Nestorius, who was a very learned man, claimed that he didn’t deny Christ’s divinity. But there’s a difference between Christ being two persons, one divine, one human, that somehow are, you might say, near to each other, and being one person both God and man. Nestorius conceived the idea of the will of the man, Jesus united with the will of God. But, for him, Jesus, the human being was not God. Once you deny Jesus’ divinity, everything, and I mean everything else falls apart. This, for example, is why Swaggart is too adamant in denying that we may invoke Our Lady.

CTC: Why?

Hardon: Because, he says, she is not, as we believe, the Mother of God. So she doesn’t have any more influence than you or I with Him. But we believe differently: The dignity of Mary and therefore, presumably, the power that she has before her Son comes from the fact that the child she conceived and gave birth to, though having a human nature, nevertheless was God Himself.

CTC: Is it because of this intimate mingling between God and man and God’s use of a human person, Mary, for divine purposes - that the Catholic Church so stresses the human role in salvation?

Hardon: We have, as Catholics, a very exalted concept of God’s love, in which He wants us to share. The way we especially share in God’s love is by loving one another. We are supposed to love one another in doing material or physical good for other people - feeding the hungry, getting drink to the thirsty, and so on, as Christ tells us. We also believe that we are to help one another spiritually. Remember when Peter was in prison? The whole church was praying for him.

Jimmy Swaggart is critical of praying to Mary, always to Mary. But in the Hail Mary we say “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.” We don’t think Our Lady, or the saints, or the angels are somehow substitutes for God. We are asking them to intercede for us.

CTC: Does a problem arise because Protestants find the idea presumptuous that mere humans can somehow contribute to the divine work of salvation? Do some Protestants find it ridiculous to think that our small efforts could touch something so far beyond and above us?

Hardon: We have to distinguish between what Christ did on the Cross to save us and what we have to do in voluntary cooperation with God’s grace to make the merits that Christ gained effective. There’s only one Christ, only one mediator between God and man. The human race was saved on the Cross. But we have a free will. And, I would ask, what good is a free will unless we can use it? Now, we’re dealing with mystery, one which the reformers basically denied, and which Swaggart basically denies, even though his common sense sometimes comes to his rescue.

CTC: He says that every man is a “free moral agent.”

Hardon: Well, what Swaggart will deny is that his, yours and my free will can resist the grace that Christ, our mediator, won for us on the Cross. Once you deny that we can resist that grace, you are in the most fundamental sense the kind of Protestant that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli - put those three together - created. They created a Christianity in which real human freedom, true human freedom, is denied. This is as clear as day in the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. Calvin declares that from all eternity God foreordained some people for Heaven and other people for Hell. That’s the predestinarianism at the heart of classic Protestantism. I don’t think poor Jimmy Swaggart realizes all that he is saying.

CTC: Well, he said that, as a free moral agent, a man can accept Christ, and later reject Him, and still go to Hell.

Hardon: The position of Calvin that basic Protestantism has held since his time is that if a person rejects Christ, it’s because he just didn’t get the grace. The one who accepts Christ cannot help accepting Christ because he got the grace.

CTC: So where does that leave someone who first accepts and later rejects Christ?

Hardon: Well, he either never really accepted Christ in the first place or, in any case, he was not truly predestined to be save.

CTC: What does St. Paul mean when he talks about the early Christians being predestined?

Hardon: We have to be very careful to know what Protestantism, at its roots, means by predestination, and what we mean. There are two kinds of predestination. There is absolute predestination, in which God, irrespective of His forcing man’s cooperation with His grace, simply for His own greater glory, condemns some people to Hell while some people, from all eternity, are predestined for Heaven. We believe, not in absolute predestination, but in conditional predestination. Sure God, from all eternity, foresaw who was going to go to Heaven and who was going to go to Hell: He foresaw that some people would misuse their free will and resist His grace. So there is a mystery here. The mystery is why God allows those people even to come into existence.

But, we believe that God wants everybody to be saved. Some, though, will abuse their freedom. Those, then, are indeed not predestined for Heaven, but not because God didn’t give them grace, but because human beings did not freely cooperate with that grace.

CTC: Besides the question of human participation in our salvation, Rev. Swaggart also strongly objects to Catholic teaching and practices that he believes imply that Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary was somehow inadequate. For example, in his Letter to my Catholic Friends, he wrote, “The Catholic Church teaches that during the ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ the bread actually becomes the body of the Lord and the wine His blood. This is, therefore, a new sacrifice made every time the Mass is said . . . Christ was crucified once and for all, and it is barbaric to even insinuate that He has to be crucified again and again . . . All good Bible students know that there was no practice of the Mass in the days of the Apostles or of Christ. In the early Church there was a simple memorial supper, with no trappings and no priests.” How do you answer that?

Hardon: Well, first of all, for the first 1500 years - while there had been some Eucharistic errors - from the beginning of the Church’s history, it was recognized that through the words of consecration - called the “words of thanksgiving - what had been bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ. The expression “transubstantiation” was coined by the fourth Lateran Council, more than 300 years before the Reformation. However, the early Greek fathers already used the expression “meta ousiosis” to describe the change of ousia - substance, the being of something, and meta means a change - the being of what was bread now becomes the being, or the substance, of Christ’s body and blood.

CTC: Does that mean that Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary is repeated at Mass?

Hardon: We believe, first of all, that the Eucharist is a sacrament three times over. It is a sacrament of Christ’s presence, of His sacrifice and of His communion. We believe that Christ will never die again. However, when Christ expired on the Cross, His body and blood, as we know, were separated, which in fact brought on Christ’s death. Now anticipating what He would do on Good Friday, Christ, at the Last Supper separately - and that’s an important adverb - separately consecrated bread and, then, wine. That separate consecration which we now reenact at Mass signifies - it indicates - that Christ is willing, He is ready, because He is a human being - there’s a human being on the altar - He’s willing to die for us, even as He actually died when He expired on Calvary.

Now, despite Rev. Swaggart’s criticism, we don’t claim the Mass adds to Christ’s merits on Calvary. That need never be repeated. But we believe that at the Last Supper, Christ told the Apostles “Do this in memory of Me.” In other words, they were to reenact what He had done. In every Mass therefore Christ is willing and ready to suffer and die. He cannot, though, because He is glorified. But the graces that Christ won for us on Calvary are - and different verbs are used - communicated, shared, conferred on us. And, in fact, Jimmy Swaggart profits from every Mass that I offer. So, Christ’s death on the Cross merited our salvation. Not only, but especially, through the Mass, Christ’s merits, the graces that He won for us on the Cross, are conferred on the human race.

CTC: Is the consecration a reenactment of Calvary?

Hardon: Yes. The double consecration is a reenactment of Calvary.

CTC: How can that be if Christ doesn’t die again?

Hardon: Christ can no longer die. However, He is willing and ready to die. The explanation I give my students in teaching Eucharistic Theology is this. I tell them I have blood relatives living behind the Iron Curtain. My parents were both born in Slovakia which, as you know, is under a Communist regime. Communism forbids the teaching of religion. Suppose a Catholic teacher in a grammar school in Slovakia were to teach religion to the children. He is reported to the authorities, taken to prison and condemned to death. The day before he is to die he is told to go back home and behave himself. Suppose he doesn’t, but continues teaching. Suppose this happens seven times and finally the seventh time the Communist judge condemns him to death and he’s executed. I ask my students, how many times did this Christian who taught Christ to his students make a sacrifice of his life to God? Seven times, right? Even though he died only once. Christ, therefore, who died physically, only once, mystically, as we say, is willing to die, ready to die, in every Mass.

But this is where we come in. This is where Jimmy Swaggart just wouldn’t know what we’re talking about. God wants us, as St. Paul says to contribute - not in the sense that we supplement Christ’s merits on the Cross - but that we contribute our bearing of the Cross in our sufferings and join them with the Mass. And though Christ’s sacrifice is unbloody ours can be quite bloody.

CTC: I’d like to address some of Rev. Swaggart’s objections to specific elements of Catholic faith. He says that there should be no priests because since Jesus came there has been only one priest, Christ, and others are not needed. He also says the Catholic idea of priesthood was rejected by St. Paul.

Hardon: First of all, our word “priests” is derived from the Greek presbyteros, which appears many times in the New Testament, either singular or as the plural presbyteroi, translated as “elders.” It could just as well be translated “priests.”

In addition, in the New Testament, we have ordination. St. Paul writes to his disciple Timothy, “I admonish you to stir up the grace of God that is in you by the imposition of my hands” - Second Timothy, 1:6. St. Paul himself had to be ordained. In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9, Verse 17, after St. Paul was blinded, he was sent to Ananias and, Verse 17: “So Ananias departed, and entered the house and laying his hands on him” - that is, on Saul - “he said, Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to thee on thy journey, that thou mayest recover thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” It was Ananias’s laying his hands on Saul that gave him the power of the priesthood.

CTC: Does it mean, then, that there is only one priest, Christ?

Hardon: That’s true. Christ is the one priest - the usual term is High Priest. The priest, therefore, that is ordained has first to be ordained by Christ. He receives powers, not to do what Christ did in the sense of dying on the Cross, but he receives, principally, two powers, one, to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, which Christ told the Apostles to do in His memory. The second great power is to forgive sins. So a priest other than Christ does not merit the salvation of the world. That Christ did. But Christ uses him so that He, Christ, through the Mass can confer the graces that He, Christ, won. And through the Sacrament of Penance, the human priest can communicate the graces that only Christ can give to forgive sins.

CTC: Why would God place priest or the Church between Himself and the individual soul?

Hardon: God could have redeemed the world without the incarnation, if He wanted to, by an act of His will. Instead He decided to become man - human body, human soul, human faculties. In other words, God decided to use human nature as a channel of divine grace, and He stayed on earth in His visible form only for some 30 years. He then gave it to others, specifically the Apostles and their successors, to carry on what He had started. Notice that “carrying on” is not a trivial verb. Christ had to merit the graces of our salvation by His death. A priest is merely a channel through whom Christ administers these graces. But if you say that priests stand between the people and God, that’s true. But in that sense, Christ Himself, as a human, was a means - a mediator that’s what the word “mediator” means - a means of channeling divine grace to people.

CTC: Well, the Rev. Swaggart might say that we’re all members of Christ’s priesthood if we’ve been saved and that there should be no particular group set apart as priests.

Hardon: We as Catholics distinguish between two forms of the priesthood. There is the priesthood of the faithful. We would agree with Swaggart that every baptized person has received some share in Christ’s priestly powers. Then also there is the ordained, ministerial priesthood, such as I unworthy as I am, received. The essence of the priesthood in all religions, is offering sacrifice. All of us are to offer ourselves as sacrifices to God. That’s our priestly function - our crosses, our trials, our sufferings, and so on - and unite them with Christ’s on Calvary. And notice that we do that uniting through the exercise of our free wills, which Swaggart should logically deny.

But the difference is that the sacraments, other than Baptism and Matrimony, must, and the word is must, be administered by someone who has received Sacred Orders. And that goes back to the first century. This is where Tradition is so important. That’s why Jimmy Swaggart, as long as he’s on his own biblical ground, won’t cross the Rubicon of admitting Tradition. And you can’t really talk to him.

But remember, as I said earlier, Jimmy has no right to appeal to the Bible. He’d have nothing to appeal to except for Tradition which went on for years before the Bible was completed. For example, John’s Gospel was not written before the year 90. There was no Gospel of St. John. Where did the people go? Tradition. Christ taught certain things to the Apostles. They passed on the oral teachings of Christ. Christ wrote nothing.

That’s what it is. Revelation passed down, which is not put down in inspired written form is Tradition.

More Hardon Answers to Swaggart

Father Hardon on Rev. Swaggart’s denial that Christ meant to name Peter as head of His Church on earth:

“Jimmy writes that in the passage”…thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church…” the Greek word for Peter is ‘Petros,’ meaning only a chip or splinter of a rock, while the Greek word for rock is ‘Petras,’ meaning a mass or mountain or rock. He contends that Jesus was referring to Himself when He said ‘Petras’ - rock - and that He meant only to tell Peter - ‘Petros’ - that he would be a ‘chip’ or ‘splinter’ in the foundation of the Church.

“But of course Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek. At their first meeting, Jesus told Simon - “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas - meaning rock. Cephas is the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek Peter. But there’s only one meaning that Cephas has in the Aramaic. It does not mean stone; it means rock.

“It is interesting to note that Paul nearly always referred to him as Cephas, and seldom as Peter. This indicates, the Scripture scholars claim, that in early New Testament manuscripts the word Cephas was used and only gradually did the Greek usage for Peter supplant the Aramaic.

“What made this name that Christ gave so distinctive was that neither Peter nor Cephas was ever used as a man’s name before. There could be no question about the recognition of Peter’s leadership. By using it, Christ evidently wished to indicate the function that Peter was to serve, which as a matter of fact we know he did from the very beginning, right after Christ’s Ascension. He was the one who told the others to elect somebody to replace Judas.”

Father Hardon on Swaggart’s suggestion that Catholics learn about Sacred Scripture exclusively by turning to the original “Greek text” of the Bible:

“My Greek New Testament lists 1,006 Greek manuscripts of the Bible, whether Old or New Testament. So, when Jimmy Swaggart talks about appealing to the ‘original’ Greek manuscripts, I’d ask, which manuscript are you looking at?

“When Luther broke with the Catholic Church in the 16th Century, one of the first things that he and others did was to translate the Bible into the vernacular - German, French, Latin whatever - and then tell the Catholics (and not a few Catholics were taken in) that ‘this is from the original language.’

“The best example of that abuse was the famous Beza Codex, an annotated Latin translation of the New Testament by Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s chief assistant and successor as leader of Reformed Protestantism. The Codex includes extensive notes providing Calvinist interpretations of the New Testament text. Reformers used it to translate the New Testament into German, French and English. The Beza Codex denies Mary’s virginity and specifically identifies Joseph as the natural father of Jesus.

“So when Jimmy is talking about following the Greek, he probably doesn’t even realize that there are at least 1,006 variant Greek manuscripts. It all depends on which one you choose. That’s why you need an authority such as the Church to decide that.”

Catholic Twin Circle
Vol. 27 - #15, April 14, 1985, pp. 3-15

Copyright © 1997 by Inter Mirifica

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