Today, we continue our series examining and responding to Catholic apologist and philosopher, Peter Kreeft’s book, “Forty Reasons I Am A Catholic” (2018). Thanks for joining me.
Claim #8: I am a Catholic because of cathedrals
In this short, one-and-a-half-page chapter, Kreeft asks the reader to consider cathedrals as a “proof” for Roman Catholicism. He suggests that the sheer magnificence and grandeur of cathedrals attest to the divine authenticity of Roman Catholicism. He states, “They (cathedrals) are the closest material approximation to Heaven that we have ever seen on earth” (p. 31). The magnificence of cathedrals is appropriate, he states, because they are “houses not for man but for God, for Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who is really present there in the Eucharist.”
Readers of this particular installment would benefit from a little background. Six years ago, I watched a video of Peter Kreeft explain his “conversion” to Roman Catholicism (see here). When he was a boy, the Kreeft family of Paterson, New Jersey took the 20-mile trip into New York City to sightsee and whilst there, the family toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue. Young Kreeft was absolutely enthralled by the grandeur of the edifice, especially in comparison to the humble Dutch Reformed church he attended with his family back in Paterson. An interest in Catholicism was kindled and Kreeft eventually “converted” to RC-ism during his college years.
My reaction to cathedrals is quite different compared to that of wide-eyed Kreeft. Certainly, cathedrals are impressive structures. The most famous cathedral in the world, Notre Dame (“Our Lady”), in Paris, France was built over a span of ninety-seven years (1163-1260). The resources needed to build such a structure prior to modern construction methods boggles the mind. It’s extremely difficult to determine the cost of medieval European cathedrals in today’s dollars, but I have seen estimates ranging from $600M to $1.6B. The medieval craftsman and peasants who toiled decade after decade on the European cathedrals were led to believe that their labors would merit their salvation. Likewise, monarchs, the nobility, and even the humble farmer were told their financial contributions would help secure a place in Heaven.
As we’ve discussed in previous chapters, Roman Catholicism is a religion of the material/physical/natural, a “faith” of the sensory/tangible. In Catholicism, salvation is dispensed via physical water (baptismal regeneration). Bread wafers and wine are transformed into Jesus Christ and physically consumed. Sins are forgiven by the audible declaration of a priest. A wide array of physical sacramentals – holy water, statues, palm fronds, candles, incense, scapulars, crucifixes, rosary beads, etc. – are employed to fortify religious fervor. Cathedrals are the pinnacle manifestations of this very physical religion.
In the New Testament, we find that Christianity is not a religion of the physical, but of the spiritual.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:63
The simple yet sublime Good News! of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that was preached by Jesus Christ and the apostles is the antithesis of the worldly grandeur, pomp, and ceremony represented by cathedrals.
Can a genuine believer imagine the Lord, Jesus Christ, or even the apostle Paul approving of the base, worldly grandeur of cathedrals and of the empty rituals performed inside? Jesus had nowhere to lay his head during His earthly ministry (Luke 9:58). In contrast, Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops relished the magnificent worldly splendor of their cathedrals.
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:21-24
Yes, true worship focuses on the spiritual, not the physical. Jesus Christ was not impressed by grandiose religious structures. Such structures were snares in the path to true spiritual faith.
“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:1-2
Kreeft and other Catholics believe their cathedrals and churches are actually God’s house, with God the Son allegedly residing in altar tabernacle boxes in the form of consecrated bread wafers.
23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:23-27
Rather than being proofs of Roman Catholicism’s divine authenticity, cathedrals are proofs of RC-ism’s worldly and anti-spiritual nature. Mr. Kreeft, I am NOT a Catholic because of cathedrals and what they represent.
Postscript: Sadly, some evangelicals, like Joni Eareckson Tada, have also been overwhelmed by the worldly splendor of Catholic cathedrals (see here). The genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone has NEVER been preached in a Roman Catholic cathedral.
Next week: Claim #9: I am a Catholic because the Catholic church is not Christ’s organization but his organism, his body