Saturday, May 03, 2008


“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be cleaned; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Psalm 50:9) (#1)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

May the Heavenly Father bless this work, and by it, for His honor, achieve much good for the salvation of souls. ~Father Henrich Theiler


During the months of December 2007, and January and February 2008, an internet debate occurred between Nick Hardesty, a.k.a. PhatCatholic, and the articulate and ever anonymous Turretinfan which may be found in its entirety here. These two gentlemen debated the efficacy of sacramentals used by the Catholic Church, specifically the efficacy of Holy Water. Mr. Hardesty argued in favor of the following resolution:

RESOLVED: That the application of Holy Water is an effective means for stopping demonic forces.

Turretinfan defended the negative of the proposition. He basically made three arguments:

1. The notion of Holy Water is not biblical. Rather, Holy Water is nothing more than a superstitious medieval invention.

2. Demons were exorcized in the NT through authority, not by repulsion.

3. Holy Water is only effective against demons if it contains miraculous properties; however, since special miracles described in the NT ceased at the end of the Apostolic Age (a viewpoint he claims was shared by St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine), Holy Water is not, in fact, holy at all.

Given the extreme limitations imposed by the format used to debate the above proposition, I believe Mr. Hardesty ably defended the Catholic position that Holy Water is effective for stopping demonic forces. However, it became clear that Turretinfan and Mr. Bridges, who appears to be an officious inter-meddler that decided to interject his views during the course of the debate, have no real understanding of what Holy Water is or the manner in which the Catholic Church teaches it could possibly be effective against demonic forces. In fact, the arguments presented by Turretinfan (and Mr. Bridges for that matter), demonstrate that they think Catholics use Holy Water as some sort of superstitious, magical talisman or lucky charm to ward off demons in the same manner a camper uses OFF ™ to repel mosquitoes or a RPG gamer uses Holy Water to destroy un-dead monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. To be blunt, Turretinfan’s view of Holy Water is not an accurate one.

Upon reading the entire debate, I believed that confronting and refuting this caricature of sacramentals, particularly the sacramental of Holy Water, as portrayed by Turretinfan was more important than trying to set up a debate over the so-called corban rule with him/her. It is one thing to debate the efficacy of sacramentals used by Catholics as a part of their devotional life; it is quite another to mislead others to believe that Catholics practice superstition or magic by using such sacramentals (albeit, I do not believe that such was intentional). Thus, I will attempt to set before the reader a primer of sorts explaining what sacramentals are as taught by the Catholic Church and how the Church actually uses Holy Water to stop demonic forces. Thereafter, I will make the case that Protestants themselves use sacramentals in their devotional life in exactly the same manner that Catholics do. It is my fervent hope that this primer will clear up some very major misunderstandings about the Catholic use of sacramentals and encourage the pious and proper use of sacramentals as a means to secure the many blessings and favors that God graciously bestows upon each one of us.

Due to the length of this apology on Holy Water, it will be broken down into several segments as follows:

II. What Are Sacramentals?

III. Can One Find Support for the Use of Sacramentals, such as Holy Water, in the Scriptures?

IV. Did the Early Church Make Use of Holy Water and Other Sacramentals Prior to the Middle Ages?

V. Do Wonders Ever Cease?-An Argument that the Early Church Fathers (#2) Did Not Teach Cessation-ism, including St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine.

VI. An Exercise in Semantics (Hint: Protestants Use Sacramentals, Too!)


Endnote #1: All Bible passages are taken from the The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version (Ignatius Edition) unless specifically noted otherwise. See, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, Revised Standard Version: Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Old and New Testaments Revised A.D. 1881-1885 and A.D. 1901, ... and Revised A.D. 1952. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.

Endnote #2: I ascribe to the view set forth by Fr. Adrian Fortesque as to who is a Early Church Father (ECF). First, he has to be an author whose works are still extant. Second, he must be considered a Catholic. Thus, a heretic like Tertullian, is not an ECF, although some of his writings may be quoted from as they were written during a time before he became a heretic. Third, an ECF is a person of eminent holiness as well as learned. Since Origen is not a saint recognized by the Catholic Church, he is not technically an ECF, although I have read a number of scholars and apologists who have made the case for Origen’s orthodoxy. Finally, an ECF is someone who wrote before the Eighth Century AD (with the possible exception of St. Bernard of Clairvaux who many scholars recognize as the last ECF). See, Fortesque, Adrian. The Greek Fathers: Their Lives and Writings. London, Eng.: The Catholic Truth Society, 1908; reprinted by Ignatius Press: San Fransisco, 2007, Preface, pages xvii-xix.