Rome Sweet Home (Roman Catholicism)
In contrast to
Alexander Hislop's "The Two Babylons" (Pagan
Influence in Catholicism), the book "Rome
Sweet Home" is quite sympathetic to Roman Catholicism. "Rome Sweet
Home" is the first-person account by Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberly,
of their conversion from the Presbyterian church
to the Roman Catholic church.
As a young adult, Hahn "experienced a special outpouring of the
Holy Spirit." He developed strong "anti-Catholic convictions" because
of his strong belief that the Bible taught "sola fide," justification
by faith alone, whereas Roman Catholics believed that they were saved
by their works. He says on page 6, "Let's face it, anti-Catholicism can be
a very reasonable thing. If the wafer Catholics worship is not Christ (and I was convinced it was not), then
it is idolatrous and blasphemous to do what Catholics do in bowing
before and worshiping the Eucharist." He cited many "errors
and superstitions" in the Roman Catholic church,
including infant baptism, and he became convinced "that the covenant was the key for unlocking the whole Bible".
It is important to explain here the "sola" terminology used by Hahn.
Martin Luther taught a doctrine he coined as "sola fide" which is the
doctrine of justification by faith alone, and one he also coined "sola
scriptura" which is the doctrine that state that the Scriptures
are the Christian's sole authority, under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit, as opposed to extra-biblical divine authority of a pope, a
or tradition. It seems that when pressed to support Roman
Catholic doctrine from scripture, many feel the need to discredit Luther's
"sola" doctrines. From a Roman Catholic perspective,
Luther seems to be viewed as the person who divided and ruined the
Roman Catholic church,
so it becomes necessary to find a flaw in Luther's credibility.
Hahn's first revelation that the Roman Catholic church
might not be entirely wrong occurred when Kimberly convinced him that contraception was
wrong. Meanwhile, he routinely engaged in late-night discussions with
peers "debating hard doctrines..." After "acquiring some skills in
Greek and Hebrew", he became convinced that "with the Holy Spirit and
Sacred Scripture we could reinvent all the wheels, if need be." Hahn
says that he has been blessed "with very deep friendships with men and
women who were really serious about opening up their minds..."
Justification by Faith Alone
Hahn says, "... I discovered that nowhere did Saint Paul ever teach
that we were justified by faith alone. Sola fide was unscriptural!"
This seems to have been based on James 2:24, "You see that a person is
justified by what he does and not by faith alone." I submit that are several problems with this reasoning.
The first problem is the common misinterpretation of the passage in
James, and Roman Catholics are not alone in misunderstanding it. This
is referring to the verification of our justification
before men, not before God. Although God saves us by grace through
faith alone, the evidence of our salvation
before men is our conduct.
Also, one of the basic principles of hermeneutics (interpretation) is
that a doctrine cannot be based upon only a single scripture. The doctrine must be
substantiated by other passages in the Bible. Even if Hahn's
interpretation of James 2:24 was correct, it would be supported by
other proof texts. Even if it wasn't, the best case would be that this
doctrine wasn't addressed elsewhere in scripture. The worst case would be that it disagreed with
existing proof texts on this subject.
However, if there is one message that is clearly repeated throughout
the Bible, it is the doctrine of justification by faith
alone. Romans Chapters 3 through 5 and Galatians Chapters 2
through 5 are dedicated to this doctrine, and it is explicitly stated
in many more scriptures (Acts 16:31; Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22, 24, 25,
26, 27, 28; Romans 4:3,5,9, 11-13, 16-20, 24; Romans 5:1, 2, 21; Romans 9:30, 32; Romans
10:4, 9-14; Romans 11:20; Romans 15:13; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2
Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 2:16,20; Galatians 3:6-9, 14, 22, 24, 26;
Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9; 1
Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:10,
12; Hebrews 3:19; 1 John 5:1, 10-11, 13).
We cannot begin to cover all the proof texts here, but it is necessary
to look at a few of them in order to show the clarity of the scriptures
concerning justification. Probably the most emphatic and
complete verse on justification is Galatians 2:16, "A man is not
justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too,
have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in
Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no
one will be justified." Furthermore, Romans 1:16 says that the gospel
is the power of God to everyone who "believes" (John 3:16, 1
Corinthians 1:21). In fact, the most common terms found in the scriptures
for differentiating Christians from non-Christians are "believers" and
"unbelievers," so justification by faith is even inherent by
definition. It should also be noted that this justification by
faith is in accord with the doctrine of grace (Romans 4:16, 5:2), in
that even our faith comes from God (Romans 12:3, Philippians 1:29,
Colossians 2:12, 2 Peter 1:1). God is the one who justifies (Romans
8:33, 1 Corinthians 6:11), and justification comes from His grace, not
from our works.
Clearly, the 56 verses in the 22 passages (mostly from Paul) cited
above establish the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in
contrast to Roman Catholic doctrine. Hahn's
claim that Paul didn't teach that we are justified by faith alone is a
failed attempt to (in his own words) "reinvent" a core doctrine of the
Scriptures. If Hahn's interpretation of James were true, it would be in
direct contradiction with these other 22 passages of inspired
scripture. Although Hahn is not the first to misinterpret James, to
take a solitary verse out of context in this way, in light of so many
other passages, seems to be a weak intellectual argument.
Another major problem with justification by works, as taught by the
Roman Catholic church,
concerns the qualification of just how good one's works would have to be. If I'm 95%
good, is that good enough? If I do 25% of it and God does 75%, is that OK? On the
contrary, the Bible teaches justification by faith alone, whereas one
must actually be as good as Jesus Christ, and he attains that standing
by being declared righteous by God's grace through faith (Ephesians
2:8-10). In fact, the Bible hold harsh warnings for anyone trying to
achieve justification through works: "Now when a man works, his wages
are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does
not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited
as righteousness" (Romans 4:4-5). Also, "And if by grace, then it is no
longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Romans
11:6). Roman Catholic doctrine becomes quite confusing when it tries to
teach salvation by grace as well as by works.
Defenders of Roman Catholicism often point to Mother Theresa as proof
that we are saved by our good works. They ask, "How could all her good works
not earn her salvation?"
The answer is in Galatians 1:16, because we're not justified by our good works. I don't
know whether Mother Theresa was saved or not, but if she was, it was
because of her faith in Christ, not because of her good works. Anyone
can do good works, although Mother Theresa did more than most. However,
by the doctrine of imputation, Mother Theresa, like the rest of us, was
stained by imputed sin
that could only be paid for by the death of (the perfect) Jesus Christ on the cross, and we can only claim our position in Him through faith.
Hahn started celebrating communion every week, and he became caught up
in the sacramental imagery as presented by Roman Catholicism. He talked
so much about sacraments, liturgy, typology, and Eucharist, that his wife coined a phrase for
him, "Luther in reverse", to which he responded with a quest to live up
to the task of searching for scriptural defense of every Roman Catholic custom.
Hahn next dealt with the Eucharist, in relation to John 6:53, which
says, "Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, unless you eat the
flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.'"
Hahn became convinced of transubstantiation; i.e., that Christ was not
speaking symbolically, and that the bread and wine of communion
miraculously changes into the actual flesh and blood of Christ. Although this is an
age-old controversy, I've often wondered why the Roman Catholic church,
if its position is correct, doesn't easily and definitively end this debate. If the bread
and wine were simply subjected to scientific examination, both before and after the
miracle of transubstantiation, this controversy could be quickly resolved.
The Infallible Pope
Hahn then attacked "sola scriptura" which claims that the Bible alone
is our authority, rather than the Pope, Church councils, or Tradition,
as the Roman Catholic church
teaches. His defense here comes from a misinterpretation of 1 Timothy 3:15 which
says, "If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct
themselves in God's household, which is the church
of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." However, Wycliffe
best explains this verse as speaking of the church
"in its sphere of testimony to the world. Christ, himself the truth, is the one foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3:11)."
Hahn also cites the various Councils at which the Canon
of scripture was established by selecting which books it would include, and he says,
"So whose decision was trustworthy and final, if the Church doesn't
teach with infallible authority?" However, if one doesn't believe that
God justifies by faith, how could he believe by faith that God provided
He intended for us? Hahn later asks, "How can we be sure
about the twenty-seven books of the New Testament themselves
being the infallible Word of God, since fallible Church councils and
Popes are the ones who made up the list?" The answer is the same one as
that for justification--we accept by faith that God has provided us with His true Word.
Hahn energetically continued his newfound love for Roman Catholicism by
buying the library of a deceased priest and reading Roman Catholic
theology books every night for up to seven hours. He says that he owned around fifteen
thousand books. He even cites a list of modern theologians he just discovered
and says, "It's incredible--even if they're wrong--it's a gold
mine!" As a result, he became even more impressed with liturgy and all
of the "prostrations, incense and icons, the smells and the bells...", and
later, "...Gregorian Chant and Latin in the liturgy". His description of his
enthusiasm suggests a possible emotional self-indoctrination and infatuation with
Roman Catholic theology.
"Nothing Less Than Diabolical"
Then Hahn makes this startling statement, "But if the Catholic Church was wrong, it was more than a little off, because no
denomination on earth made the kinds of outrageous claims that Rome
made for itself." He also notes that only Catholics claim to be the one
and only true church
founded by Jesus, to have as their head a Pope who was Christ's infallible vicar on earth, and to be run by leaders
claiming an unbroken line of succession going all the way back to Peter
(which he later bases upon Matthew 16:17-19). Then he says that he
agrees with Cardinal Newman, who said that "if the Catholic Church was
wrong, it was nothing less than diabolical." This tells us that if one
believes that the Roman Catholic church
is wrong on justification by faith, transubstantiation, or the infallibility of the Pope, then it
must follow that he believes that Catholicism is diabolical.
Hahn had some interesting encounters with several Roman Catholic
priests to whom he went for advice. He was disappointed when they "really
didn't want to talk about the church".
One even told him, "If you want someone to help you convert, you've come to the wrong person." He even
enrolled in a catholic university (Duquesne), and found that he was
sometimes the only student defending the Pope. Then he asked
his wife this telling question: "Why are Gerry and I the only ones to see these Catholic ideas in Scripture?"
The Rosary / Praying to the Sinless Mary
Then someone (he doesn't say who) mailed him a plastic Rosary, which
made him confront what he considered the toughest obstacle of
all: Mary. He locked himself in his office and prayed, "... Mary, if
you are even half of what the Catholic Church says, please take this specific
petition--which seems impossible--to the Lord for me through this
prayer." He then prayed his first Rosary. Three months later, he
deduced that Mary had answered his prayer. Furthermore, he calls the Rosary "an
incredible weapon, one that highlights the scandal of the Incarnation."
At this same time, Mrs. Hahn says that she was "concerned that the Rosary was
an example of vain repetition that had been clearly condemned by Jesus".
However, "If the prayers of a righteous man are very powerful, as James
5:16 says, how much more those who are perfected? If I could ask my mother
on earth to pray for me and know that God would hear her petitions, why
couldn't I ask the Mother of Jesus to pray for me?" Mrs. Hahn demonstrates a
reinvention of her own when she somehow uses Revelation 12:17 and John
19:26-27 to explain away all the Marian doctrines, completely ignoring
Matthew 12:49. Also, on several occasions, Hahn is quick to point out that
Roman Catholics don't worship Mary, they simply venerate her. However, they do believe she was sinless.
Turmoil in the Rome Home
The Hahns make some incredible statements concerning the effect of Mr.
Hahn's conversion on their family life. Mrs. Hahn
says, "... we were both starting not to trust each other. The
foundation of trust in our marriage was being shaken tremendously.."
One day she told her husband, "I would never consider suicide, but I
have begged God today to give me an illness that would kill me so that
I can die and have all the questions laid to rest. Then you could find a nice little
Catholic girl and get on with this life." She said that on that day she
"felt the joy of the Lord depart. Except for a few brief times, it did
not return for almost five years..." She ends that particular chapter
of the book with, "I'm so confused?"
She says, "I was devastated... I had a very deep sense of betrayal... I
was dying inside... Scott was vowing himself to a Church that would
separate us for a while and perhaps even permanently." To her,
communion became their "symbol of disunity. And the rejoicing of the people was like a
dagger in my heart, for their joy was my unspeakable sorrow." She calls her
first Mass "the worst night of my life... it was excruciating to see
the delight of all for him when our marriage was in the midst of the
greatest challenge we had ever had." Mr. Hahn cited "the pain and desolation,"
but he says it couldn't compare to his ecstasy of conversion." Mrs. Hahn said, "The
loneliness between us was excruciating... The Bible was my only
consolation. But I began to be concerned about even picking up the Scriptures, because
Scott kept telling me that the Bible said something different from what I
thought... Scott was stuck with me because he did not believe in divorce." Mr. Hahn
said, "... if it had been me five years ago, I would have urged divorce in
the same situation." Mrs. Hahn noted that she had two miscarriages during this
difficult time. She said that she felt like she had to choose whether she would
be separated from her immediate family or her extended family. At no point
did Mr. Hahn question whether his new indoctrination and infatuation with
Roman Catholicism was worth the five years of marriage and family life which it destroyed.
I was intrigued by Hahn's statements on pages 86-87 where he says of
his conversion, "It was capturing my imagination as well as my
intellect," and that it "was becoming, supernaturally, a romance tale." Again, his enthusiasm seems to be based upon his emotions.
Hahn said, "Then one day, I made a fatal blunder--I decided that it was
time for me to go to Mass on my own." At the Mass, he whispered, "I
don't want to hold anything back." Of that Mass experience he said, "Within a
week or two I was hooked... Each day after Mass, I spent a half hour to an hour
praying the Rosary," then praying to God. "... Am I just caught up in
some intellectual escapade?" When his friend Gerry told him that he was
going to join the Roman Catholic church,
Hahn said, "'You can't beat me to the Eucharist!' It hardly seemed fair."
Mrs. Hahn Finally Surrenders
After a year or so, Mrs. Hahn became particularly influenced by "the beauty of the baptismal liturgy," making an interesting
statement: "... very few, if any, of my Catholic students really understood their Faith, even the basics." Unfortunately,
the same can probably be said of most denominations.
After about five years of agony in her marriage, Mrs. Hahn decided to be confirmed
in the Roman Catholic church,
agreeing with her husband that "the Catholic church
is not just another denomination--it is either true or diabolical."
Mrs. Hahn had some trouble with crucifixes, and statues and pictures of
Jesus, Mary, and the saints, believing that they constituted "the
making of graven images and bowing down before them." However, a
priest explained these away as being like family photos that simply remind us of our loved ones.
Only Mr. Hahn knows for sure if his conversion experience was simply
the emotional infatuation of an educated but over-zealous Bible student
on a quest to reinvent Christianity; or, if he became bored with
Biblical Christianity and went on a one-man crusade to search for
something more. For nearly five years, he indoctrinated himself daily
by attending Mass, saying the Rosary and praying to Mary for one hour,
and reading his fifteen thousand books on Roman Catholic doctrine for up to seven hours
each day. Who can say whether or not his time would have been better spent in
nurturing his marriage? It's no wonder that he began believing what he
was reading, and who he was praying to. If one is exposed to enough
indoctrination, whether it is true or false, he will believe
and respond to it. In Hahn's own words, if he is wrong, then Roman Catholicism is "idolatrous
and blasphemous," "more than a little off," "nothing less than diabolical," and "either true or diabolical."
Owen Weber 2009