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 church, 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.

The Sacraments

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.

Transubstantiation

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 the Canon 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.

Self-Indoctrination

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.

Romance

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.

The Mass

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."

Relics

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.

Summary

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