Answering the rebuttals of a Catholic apologist, #9: “The Noble Bereans”

Today, we continue our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. The Catholic apologist continues his five-part section on Scripture and Tradition with this next chapter countering Protestants’ arguments against Catholicism’s “Sacred Traditions” by which Protestants refer to Acts 17:11 to argue that “The Noble Bereans” used Scripture alone to determine truth.


In Acts 17:11 we read:

“Now these (Berean) Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

Protestants argue that the Jews of Berea were commended in this verse for appealing to Scripture as their sole authority for matters of faith and practice. They didn’t just accept the say-so of the apostle Paul, but compared Paul’s teaching to divinely authorized Scripture. Protestants correctly point out that, in contrast, Roman Catholicism appeals to its man-made “sacred tradition” as a standard of authority; traditions that contradict and subordinate God’s Word.

This is a difficult verse for Broussard to overcome, but the Catholic apologist gives it his best shot.

Firstly, Broussard points out that the Bereans were referencing only the Old Testament Scriptures by necessity since the New Testament had not yet been compiled. He concludes, therefore, that the verse doesn’t arbitrarily rule out other authoritative sources of truth (e.g., the New Testament and Sacred Tradition).

In response, the Bereans were using the only standard of divine truth they had at the time, the Old Testament, to test Paul’s teaching. Throughout the Old and New Testament, believers are admonished to hold to God’s Word as our sole authority of faith and practice. See here. To claim that the verse doesn’t necessarily rule out other “sources of truth” is an attempt to countermand the clear and obvious interpretation.

Secondly, Broussard contends that the verse commends the Berean Jews for being “more noble” than the Thessalonican Jews only because they received the Paul’s teaching “with all eagerness” and NOT because they compared Paul’s teaching to Scripture “to see if these things were so.” He claims the Greek word for “noble,” ευγενης (eugenes), means “open-minded,” therefore the Bereans were being commended only for embracing Paul’s teaching/tradition, not for testing it against Scripture.

A Catholic apologist with a Greek lexicon and an argument to defend can be a dangerous commodity. Broussard assumes most of his readers do not have lexicons to check his assertions. The normal meaning of ευγενης is “of noble character” or “noble minded,” NOT “open-minded/credulous.” Broussard attempts to undermine the clear meaning of the verse by disassociating the cause (“examining the Scriptures daily”) from the result (“these…were more noble”). He has used similar lexical subterfuge on credulous readers in previous chapters and I assume we can expect to see more of this sleight-of-hand in upcoming chapters.

Lastly, Broussard points out that Paul’s apostolic teaching was identified as the Word of God in Acts 17:13, therefore, the oral apostolic teaching that was allegedly passed down as “Sacred Tradition” is also divinely authoritative.

Gospel Christians certainly believe that Paul and the other apostles taught the genuine Gospel of grace as they did their missionary work. However, there were times when even the apostles walked according to the flesh, such as the time Paul had to publicly rebuke Peter at Antioch because the latter had accommodated the heterodox legalism of the Judaizers from Jerusalem (Galatians 2:11-14). We can be confident from the self-attesting authority of God’s Word that all Scripture is divinely inspired and preserved for us for doctrine and edification. See 2 Peter 3:15-16. There is no such standard of divine authority and infallibility for Catholicism’s nebulous repository of orally transmitted “Sacred Tradition” other than the fallible Catholic clergy’s say-so. Recently canonized Catholic saint, John Henry Newman, openly admitted that Catholicism’s traditions and doctrines are ever-changing and developing. Untethered from the authority of Sacred Scripture, the Roman church has guilefully introduced theological novelties as “Sacred Tradition” that subordinate and subvert God’s Word.

Important: Once again, Broussard is employing underhanded deception in his arguments by not acknowledging the current crisis within Catholicism over pope Francis’ doctrine-bending reforms. If “Sacred Traditions” are divinely authorized as Broussard claims, then how can this current pope amend or abrogate some of them? That is a question that is compelling some conservative and traditionalist Catholics to brand Francis a heretic, which only further weakens Catholicism’s claims to divine authority for its “Sacred Tradition.”

Next up: Don’t Go Beyond What is Written

Throwback Thursday: An Early Catholic Rabbit’s Foot

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on October 15, 2015 and has been revised.


Although the use of sacramentals in the Roman Catholic church isn’t what it was back in the 1960s when I was going to Catholic grammar school, sacramentals are still quite popular. What’s a sacramental? According to the Baltimore Catechism, sacramentals are “anything set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin.” Sacramentals include blessed crucifixes, rosaries, scapulars, religious pictures, medals, holy water, liturgical candles, statues, and palm fronds.

Let’s now look at a once very popular sacramental that has fallen a bit out of favor; the Agnus Dei. The Agnus Dei (Latin for “Lamb of God”) is a piece of beeswax taken from a paschal candle blessed by the pope and used previously at the Basilica of St. Peter or in one of the papal chapels that has been embossed with an image of a lamb bearing a cross or pennant. It is usually encased in a small locket and worn around the neck (photo above). Catholic vendors claim that those who carry or venerate the blessed Agnus Dei are promised protection from “tempests, lighting, fire, water, malice of demons, adversity, pestilence, sickness, and sudden death.” It also allegedly protects “women bearing children that they may be preserved from all harm and are favored with a happy delivery.” See here.

Church tradition has the Agnus Dei sacramental making its first appearance in the 5th-century, making it one of the oldest of the church’s sacramental objects. But there’s actually no written record of the Agnus Dei until the 9th-century. Catholic apologists readily admit that the Agnus Dei was a “christianized” replacement for pagan charms and amulets “from which the ruder populace were weaned by the enjoyment of this Christian substitute blessed by prayer.”*

The Agnus Dei, like the church’s other sacramentals, is essentially a Catholic rabbit’s foot, allegedly warding off evil and eliciting good fortune.

Relatively few Catholics read the Bible, but if they did they would be surprised that there is absolutely no mention of Jesus or His followers ever using religious charms or talismans. Neither were amulets used by the faithful Israelites of the Old Testament. Rather, such objects were always linked to pagan sorcery. As early Christianity transitioned into the institutionalized, official state religion of the Roman Empire, it adapted many of the practices of the pagan religion which preceded it. Simple faith in Jesus Christ devolved into ritualism, legalism, and “christianized” superstition, all tightly controlled by an increasingly powerful clerical class.

Can any believer who knows God’s Word with any degree of intimacy possibly imagine Jesus Christ passing out “blessed” charms and amulets to His followers?

Thank you, Father, for freeing me from religious superstition and saving me by Your grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone!

Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone and ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church where the Gospel of grace is preached without compromise.

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.” – Deuteronomy 18: 9-12

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:23-24

*Agnus Dei article, Catholic Encyclopedia.

How’s your New Year’s weight-loss resolution doing? 🙄

We have a HUGE health problem in the United States. National health statistics reveal that 40% of American adults are obese and another 32% are overweight. Hospitals are full of patients who have serious health issues directly linked to obesity. It’s reported that prior to every new year, about 45% of adult Americans resolve to lose weight, meaning that one month ago, about 114 million Americans resolved that 2020 was going to be THE YEAR that they lost that excess weight and got back into shape. Was that your resolution, too? Last month, the staff at gyms and fitness centers all across the country worked extra hours to accommodate the long lines of eager and committed applicants. Well, we’re rapidly approaching the end of January and the VAST majority of those folks have already thrown in the towel. It happens every year.

Does that describe you? Feeling defeated? I’ve been there, too. But last Spring I put together a simple weight-loss/fitness plan for myself that worked and I didn’t need an expensive gym membership or complicated diet regimens. After losing 30 lbs. in 16 weeks, going from 214 lbs. down to 184 lbs., I’ve been able to keep the weight off for seven months and have even lost an additional 5 lbs., dipping down to 179 lbs. just recently. The last time I weighed 179 lbs. was 30 years ago!

Don’t wait until next December to start thinking again about losing weight and getting back into shape. I started my simple program in mid-March, 2019 and by July 2nd I had reached my goal.

Below are my three posts from last July that go into detail about how I successfully lost 30 lbs. in only 16 weeks. I hope they inspire and help someone else who wants to lose weight and get healthier.

  1. My weight-loss experience – Part 1: After wiping the egg off my face, trying again
  2. My weight-loss experience – Part 2: Walking for exercise: You CAN do it!
  3. My weight-loss experience – Part 3: Making dieting a fun adventure

Yup, fitness and good health are worthy pursuits, but let’s also keep first things first:

“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:8

Truth from Arkansas! Sunday sermon series, #16

Yup, it’s Two-fer-Tuesday, which means two new sermons from the brethren down in Arkansas.

First, we have have Pastor Roger Copeland at Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching about the miracle of Jesus’ birth. We’re purposely several weeks behind Northern Hill’s sermon uploads to YouTube, so this sermon has a belated Christmas theme.

Next, Pastor Cody Andrews at Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Star City preaches about something many believers talk about, but may have a hard time putting into practice; waiting on the Lord and His will and not jumping ahead according to our own feeble will.

Pastor Roger Copeland – Miracle of the Manger


Pastor Cody Andrews – Waiting on the Lord

The “untimely” death of Kobe Bryant

I don’t usually publish two posts in one day, but yesterday’s news prompted me to put together some brief thoughts this morning.

As I’m sure most of you have heard, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California yesterday. Our non-believing oldest son called me yesterday afternoon to give me the breaking news.

41-year-old, Kobe Bryant was a living sports legend. He was such a gifted athlete that he was drafted into the National Basketball Association right out of high school. In his twenty-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he led the team to five championships and accumulated multiple individual honors. Kobe is widely recognized as one of the NBA’s top-ten greatest players of all time. While he was blessed with extraordinary athletic talent, he was appreciated by teammates, opponents, and fans alike for his “take no prisoners,” razor-focused, “Black Mamba” persona, to be the best in the game.

The world worships its sports heroes and the sudden death of Bryant shocked people across the globe. The extensive television coverage of Kobe’s untimely death and the mournful adulation of his fans was a phenomenon by itself.

If Kobe had died when he was seventy-five or eighty-five, it would not have been such a HUGE deal, but his early, accidental death is a shocking reminder that we are all mortal. God’s Word, the Bible, says this is a fallen world and that we are all sinners. The wages of sin is death, both physical and spiritual. But God the Father loves us so much He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross. Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose from the grave, defeating sin and death, and now offers the free gift of eternal life to all those who repent (turn from sinful rebellion against God) and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone.

Kobe accomplished much in his short life, but he was also caught in some embarrassing indiscretions as most public figures are in this era of unyielding scrutiny. Did Kobe ever accept Jesus Christ as his Savior?

Some people achieve great fame because of talent and/or ambition. Most people in this world receive no notoriety. Rich and famous or poor and obscure, we must all stand before God someday. Will you be standing before God covered in the imputed, perfect righteousness of the Savior, Jesus Christ, or will you be standing before God covered in your sins and tainted self-righteousness? Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior now! Don’t wait! Early yesterday morning, Kobe probably didn’t have a care in the world, yet his life was over in seconds.

I will be mentioning Kobe’s untimely death in conversation with our unbelieving sons who love sports, but can’t be bothered with spiritual matters.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” – Proverbs 27:1

“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Corinthians 6:2

Robin flies the coop as quickly as he arrived

At the conclusion of last month’s issue, the Legion was planning on sending two teams to investigate why Ultra Boy’s father and Mordru the Merciless both desired Aquaman’s trident, while Superboy was eagerly anticipating bringing Damian Wayne aka Robin to the 31st century. Let’s now pick up the action in…

Legion of Super-Heroes #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Pencillers: Ryan Sook and Travis Moore, Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger and Travis Moore, Colors: Jordie Bellaire
DC Comics, January 2020

5 Stars


The story begins with Superboy transporting Robin to to 31st-century Metropolis in the misguided hope that the Boy Wonder can help with the Legion’s investigation into all of the intrigue involving Aquaman’s trident. A contingent of Legionnaires – Cosmic Boy, Colossal Boy, Shadow Lass, and Mon El – arrive on the planet Rimbor and attempt to find out why Crav Nah, the powerful leader of the planet and also Ultra Boy’s father, desires the trident. The meeting quickly turns into a violent confrontation and Mon El subdues Crav. In the meantime, another Legion contingent – Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Chameleon Boy, and Triplicate Girl – travels to Planet Gotham, where Mordru is being held prisoner, to try to ascertain why the wizard wants the trident, but without success. They are summoned back to Legion headquarters where Crav has been transported. The angry Rimborian warlord had freed himself from his bonds and was making short work of the entire Legion until Superboy KOs him. The Legion deems that Robin must be returned to the 21st century immediately and that the very confused and disgruntled Superboy MUST sit through the orientation the Legion had originally prepared for him back in LSH #1. The story ends with Crav in a Legion holding cell and disturbing news that Aquaman’s trident has been stolen from one of the team’s secure vaults.


Bendis is doing a nice job with this story line although it was a little disappointing to see Superboy go to all the trouble of transporting Robin to the future for zero effect. It’s interesting from my Silver Age perspective to see these old characters actually act human, like frazzled Cosmic Boy’s lack of confidence as the Legion’s leader and Superboy’s frustration with being out-of-the-loop. I’m looking forward to seeing how Bendis is going to resolve the Legion’s first “intergalactic incident” involving the arrest of Crav. U.P. Madame President Brande is already quite annoyed with the Legion and this is only going to increase tensions. I’m also looking forward to a formal introduction to the new Legion via Superboy’s orientation. As an answer to a question I had last month, it appears Planet Gotham is one of the planet pods of the artificial New Earth.

Postscript: In a conversation with a group of other Legionnaires, Chameleon Boy intimates that Damian Wayne/Robin could possibly grow up to be a very dastardly, Hitler-like character. That’s entirely predictable seeing he’s the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul.

Welcome to the Weekend Roundup! – News & Views – 1/25/20

Welcome to our roundup of this week’s news!

The term, “born again,” has become trivialized and has lost its Biblical meaning in American society. Twenty-eight percent of American Catholics now claim to be “born again,” although they unabashedly believe in salvation by merit as their church teaches.

We’re seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the United States and Europe. Pope Francis condemns the hatred, but the Roman Catholic church had a very long history of fomenting anti-Semitism. An upcoming Throwback Thursday installment will address this irony.

What “good news” does a Catholic evangelizer have to share? That a person must constantly avail themselves of the sacraments and obey the Ten Commandments perfectly (impossible!) in order to hopefully merit Heaven? That’s not good news, folks! That’s very bad news because no one is able to merit their salvation. Jesus Christ is the answer, not the Catholic religious treadmill. Some deluded souls are attracted to the pomp and ritualism of the RCC, but that doesn’t save.

Buffalo Catholic bishop and abuse-enabler, Richard Malone, was finally forced to resign last month, but the nearby Buffalo diocese is headed for bankruptcy due to the mounting claims filed there by survivors of priest abuse. The Rochester diocese filed for bankruptcy in September. It’s ironic that the bishop assigned to investigate Malone’s wrongdoings, Nicholas Di Marzio, is now being investigated himself by the Vatican for sexual abuse.

The German Catholic bishops are some of the most liberal/progressive in the RCC. Conservative Catholics are worried that the “German synodal process” that’s underway, spearheaded by the bishops and progressive laity, will introduce reforms that are too liberal even for pope Francis.

Many branches of Lutheranism veered into Bible-denying modernism/liberal apostasy generations ago and have no compunctions about linking up with Rome.

Doomsday eschatologist, Jack Van Impe, was once a very popular figure in independent fundamental Baptist circles. He ended up embracing Rome. I’m currently drafting a separate post about Van Impe.

While this article refers to a church in the apostate United Methodist denomination, there’s mounting discrimination against senior members at non-denominational hipster mega churches where skin-tight skinny jeans (on men no less) with holes in the knees and $100 swag haircuts are de rigueur.

Our humble city of Rochester N.Y., the former “Imaging Capital of the World,” doesn’t have much to boast about these days with the demise of Kodak and Xerox, but we do get more snow than any other city in the U.S. due to our unique location near Lake Erie and on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Answering the rebuttals of a Catholic apologist, #8: “Scripture Makes the Man of God Complete”

Today, we continue our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. The Catholic apologist continues his five-part section on Scripture and Tradition with this next chapter countering Protestants’ arguments against Catholicism’s “Sacred Traditions” by which Protestants argue that, “Scripture Makes the Man of God Complete.”


As we discussed last week, Catholics believe that their “Sacred Traditions” are as authoritative as the Bible. Evangelical Protestants believe only the Bible is authoritative; the principle of Sola Scriptura. Broussard states that Protestants use 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to defend their position;

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 

Broussard counters by arguing that the passage by itself doesn’t necessarily discount tradition. He agrees with the passage that, yes, Scripture is “profitable,” but not altogether sufficient. He devalues the word, “complete,” in this passage by using an analogy of a stamp collector seeking one specific stamp to “complete” her personal collection, although it’s understood that millions of unique stamps have been issued that are outside of her particular collection. Broussard then points out that Paul is necessarily referring to the Old Testament in his letter to Timothy because the New Testament had not been compiled when the epistle was written. He posits that Protestants are confounded in their own argument of Biblical exclusivity because they rightly accept the New Testament as authoritative in addition to the Old Testament Scripture that Paul is referring to.

God’s Word attests of itself that it is “God breathed” and divinely authoritative. Nowhere in the Bible do we find anything vindicating specious traditions as “God breathed” and equal to Scripture. As we discussed last week, the Pharisees had elevated their traditions (later to be collected as the Talmud) above Scripture, a practice which Jesus had condemned. Roman Catholicism has done the same with its “Sacred Tradition.” To Broussard’s point that Paul in the passage was referring only to the Old Testament, I would argue that the Holy Spirit, the divine Author of all Scripture, certainly had the entire Bible “in mind” when He inspired Paul to write this passage. The Bible attests of itself that Paul’s letters were inspired (2 Peter 3:15-16). Therefore, Timothy could be complete and equipped with the Old Testament Scripture he had available at the time, and the Lord has provided us in our era with the entire canon of Scripture so that we are able to be even more thoroughly equipped in doctrine. Praise God!

By untethering itself from the sole authority of Scripture, the Roman Catholic church has systematically introduced teachings and practices under the umbrella of “Sacred Tradition” that either defy or subordinate God’s Word. We’re all aware that most of the major cults appeal to an extra-Biblical source as an authority equal to Scripture (e.g., the Book of Mormon, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the writings of Ellen White, etc.), and Catholicism has done the same with its “Sacred Tradition.”

As with his previous section on Church Hierarchy and Authority, Broussard has as yet made no mention of how pope Francis and his allied progressive prelates are reforming various “Sacred Traditions” in defiance of the teachings of previous popes and prelates to the dismay and disdain of conservative and traditionalist Catholics. By demonstrating that Catholicism’s “Sacred Traditions” are not inviolable, Francis undermine’s Broussard’s and other Catholic apologists’ arguments that they are authoritative. Broussard unscrupulously conceals the current crisis within the RCC over Francis’ papacy to his readers.

Should Catholic tradition have equal or greater authority than the Bible? – Got Questions

Next up: “The Noble Bereans”

Throwback Thursday: No Meat On Friday Nonsense

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is only a month away, so for this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment I thought it would be appropriate to revisit this post that was originally published back on August 2, 2015 and has been revised.


Back when I was a young tyke growing up in the early-1960s, the Catholic church prohibited eating meat on Fridays throughout the entire calendar year. The obligatory abstinence had something to do with Jesus dying on a Friday and the restriction on eating the meat of warm-blooded animals was supposedly a commemoration of His sacrifice. Disobeying the church and eating meat on Friday was a “mortal” sin that would stain your soul and send you to eternal damnation, no excuses. Even just one bite of a cheeseburger meant an eternity of perpetual torment! We “good” Catholics were scandalized when we heard about a Catholic neighbor who defied the church and barbequed hot dogs on the grill on a Friday. My Dad often picked up a big batch of very tasty fried whitefish and french fries at Karl’s Fish Store at 1314 Culver Road (see photo below) on Fridays so it wasn’t like we felt any kind of deprivation. I actually preferred the store-bought fried fish to Mom’s meat dishes the rest of the week.

However, all of this changed in 1966 (Sorry, Karl!) when pope Paul VI, in his PAENITEMINI document, left it up to the national bishops to determine abstinence policy in their particular country. The U.S. bishops ruled on November 18, 1966 that Catholics were able to eat meat on Fridays except during Lent.

Most Catholics are unaware that the Canon Laws prohibiting meat on Fridays throughout the year are still on the books (see Canons 1250-1252) with the provision that the national bishops are able to “determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety” (Canon 1253).

So the MONUMENTAL question is, What about all the U.S. Catholics who died before 1966 who had disobeyed the church and ate meat on non-Lenten Fridays without ever confessing this “sin?” Are they still in Hell or did the pope give them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in 1966 in light of the new policy? Skeptical Catholics should definitely smell a rat with this one.

In contrast, the Bible is pretty clear on this abstention-from-meat business:

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” – 1 Timothy 4:1-5.

So eating meat on Friday is definitely NOT a sin according to the Bible, but the rule to abstain from meat is a man-made commandment subject to whimsical alterations (with *unexplainable complexities) as we saw in 1966. Are we to believe the Bible or the Catholic church?

“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” – Matthew 15:9

Regrettably, Catholics are taught they must merit their salvation by jumping through legalistic religious hoops such as refraining from meat on Lenten Fridays. Praise the Lord for His Word and for His salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE!

*Postscript 1: Let’s suppose that in 1967 an American Catholic traveled to a foreign country where he knew the national Catholic bishops dictated the abstention from meat on non-Lenten Fridays was still in effect. If the American traveler ate a cheeseburger in that country on a non-Lenten Friday did he commit a soul-damning “mortal” sin? Oy vey!!! Just give me Jesus!

Postscript 2: We’ll soon be rolling out our annual posts on the inanities of Lenten dietary restrictions including “Is it OK to eat Chicken in a Biskit crackers on Fridays during Lent?” and “Lent is no match for Super Rodent!” Also, there may be a new post this Lenten season called “Muskrat Love.”

The retail space to the right, above the arrow, was once Karl’s Fish Store. Meat-abstaining Catholics in our neighborhood used to dutifully queue up in front of the building and along the sidewalk every Friday afternoon throughout the year to buy Karl’s fried whitefish, french fries, and coleslaw.

Kazan Redux: Elia Kazan’s first film: “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”

Today, we begin our series re-reviewing all of director Elia Kazan’s nineteen films. We begin with Kazan’s excellent debut, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” In preparation for this post, I watched the movie once again and my wife happened to walk in at the tail end. She asked to see it and I gladly sat through it for a second time. The cast is stellar and twelve-year-old Peggy Ann Garner’s performance is not to be missed. For some strange reason, this film regrettably is not available on DVD or Amazon streaming. My review below was originally posted back on December 9, 2016 and has been slightly revised.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn, Joan Blondell, and Peggy Ann Garner
Twentieth Century Fox, 1945, 128 minutes

5 Stars

Elia Kazan’s growing reputation as a Broadway theatrical director came to the attention of Hollywood movie studio mogul, Darryl. F. Zanuck, who tapped the 35-year-old to direct “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which was based on Betty Smith’s popular 1943 novel.


Twelve-year-old, Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner), and her younger brother, Neeley (Ted Donaldson), live in a Brooklyn tenement in 1900. Their mother, Katie (Dorothy McGuire), struggles to keep the family afloat as their father, Johnny (James Dunn), an alcoholic, squanders his sparse paychecks at the corner saloon. Johnny still dreams of being a famous singer, but only finds irregular employment as a singing waiter. Despite his shortcomings, he and Francie have a loving bond. In addition to having to deal with her alcoholic husband, Katie tries to shield her children from the influence of her free-spirited sister, Sissy (Joan Blondell). Officer McShane (Lloyd Nolan), the neighborhood flatfoot, assists the Nolans on a several occasions and takes a private shine to Katie.

Katie loves Johnny, but has become hardened and embittered by his failures. She finally confronts him and brings his pipe dreams crashing to the ground. When Francie, a bright girl, desires to attend a better public school in a nicer neighborhood, Johnny makes the arrangements by notifying school officials she has moved in with relatives. It is the one thing Johnny can do for his daughter, even if it is dishonest.

When Katie becomes pregnant, she moves the family upstairs to a cheaper, less-desirable apartment to save money. Johnny is so distraught he sits down at a piano left behind by the previous tenant and sings a tearful rendition of “Annie Laurie,” acknowledging the broken promises of his marriage.

The Nolans enjoy a few festive moments on Christmas Eve before Katie informs Johnny that Francie must drop out of school and go to work to help support the family. Crushed by the thought of Francie having to give up her dreams, Johnny walks out into the frigid winter night in search of steadier work.

After Johnny goes missing for a week, the family is informed he died of pneumonia after working as part of a subway tunnel digging crew. Although he was a drunk and a failure, the neighborhood deeply misses the affable Johnny, much to Katie’s amazement. The neighborhood saloon keeper offers the Nolan children part-time jobs, enabling Francie to stay in school. While in labor, Katie reaches out to Francie and makes amends for her past coldness. Francie and Neeley graduate from grammar school and Officer McShane proposes to Katie, offering the security and stability Johnny was never able to provide the family.


“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a thoroughly enjoyable film and a remarkable directorial debut for Kazan who stated that he relied heavily on renowned cinematographer, Leon Shamroy. The cast is top-notch. Peggy Ann Garner is a complete delight in her Oscar-winning portrayal. Jimmy Dunn was also awarded a well-deserved Oscar. Dunn was a washed-up alcoholic in real life and was basically playing himself in the role. Kazan did Dunn a favor by offering him the part, but demanded he abstain from booze during the shooting. Dunn’s “Annie Laurie” scene is extraordinary. Dorothy McGuire gives a fine performance in her third film role as the tough-as-nails matriarch although Kazan later complained the convent-raised actress was too refined for the part. McGuire also had a reputation for being a bit of a diva on the set, as Peggy Ann Garner reflected on much later; “Kazan had a marvelous quality. He even knew how to handle Dorothy McGuire, and there was a certain way you had to handle that lady.” Joan Blondell is an audience pleaser as the coquettish Sissy, who nags her sister to cut Johnny some slack. Even young Ted Donaldson is enjoyable as the grumpy Neeley. The settings and the performances are thoroughly realistic and evoke the rough and tumble environment of 1900 Brooklyn with its immigrant enclaves. Writers Tess Slesinger’s and Frank Davis’s script also received an Oscar nomination. Although Kazan later dismissed “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” as sentimental corn pone, the young director did a wonderful job telling a heart-warming story, which appealed to war-time audiences and was the studio’s third-highest grossing film of the year.

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” amazingly is not available in the USA as an individual DVD but it is included as one of the fifteen films in the “Elia Kazan Collection” box set (2010). An interesting commentary is provided with analysis from Richard Schickel, Kazan, Ted Donaldson, and Norman Lloyd. Special features also include “The Making of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” documentary along with “An Appreciation of Dorothy McGuire.”

Additional thoughts from a believer’s perspective:

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” pays homage to human determination and perseverance despite adverse circumstances, symbolized by the Ailanthus tree determinedly growing through the cracks of the Nolan’s tenement courtyard. But attitude and ambition don’t always guarantee worldly success. The Irish/Austrian-American Nolans seem to have a certain amount of religion in their lives; there’s nightly perfunctory Bible reading (an unusual practice for a Catholic family), Francie’s prayers for her father, and a pious Catholic ceremony at Johnny’s grave side with a priest offering prayers for a merciful judgement. But Jesus Christ is not present in the hearts of these characters. When her teacher recites Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” a distraught Francie questions out loud if her father’s fervent love (beauty) compensates for his egregious faults (truth). The teacher is befuddled by the question, leaving the viewers to decide the answer for themselves. The film insinuates that Francie will grow up to be a successful writer. But then what? In God’s great plan, worldly success is as short-lived and as unfulfilling as Johnny’s tragic life. The Nolans, director Kazan, screenwriters Slesinger and Davis, and author, Betty Smith, are all searching for truth and beauty outside of life in Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that we find everlasting happiness, beauty, and truth.

Next up: Kazan’s sophomore stumble, “The Sea of Grass” (1947)