Is Catholic Answers Committed to Intellectual Honesty?

Catholic Answers ( is a hugely influential ministry. One of their functions is to provide people with pop-level arguments for Roman Catholicism. They repackage Roman Catholicism in a very appealing way.

One of the goals of Catholic Answers is to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is in continuity with the early church. So many of their articles include lists of quotes of early church fathers in an attempt to show that these early church fathers were teaching what Roman Catholics are teaching today.

But with large influence comes large responsibility. Apologetics is about convincing others of what one believes to be true. Unfortunately, one of the temptations that apologists often encounter is the temptation to make their case sound better than it actually is. As Christians, however, we are committed to the truth, no matter whether we like it or not.

So does Catholic Answers as a whole give in to the temptation of putting rhetoric before truth?

For a long time, I just assumed that Catholic Answers was biased but honest. It’s true that when they give lists of quotes from the church fathers, they basically never include ones that sound like they disagree with the Roman Catholic position. It’s true that this has the unfortunate effect of giving people the idea that the early church was gung ho Roman Catholic. It’s true that the quotes they leave out often are what provides the necessary perspective for properly understanding the ones that they quote.

However, I always assumed that they had good intentions. I figured that their motivation was basically, “We want to make sure our people have the relevant quotes, and we skip the others because they might mislead our people.” Since they’re convinced of their position, and since they write for a pop audience, you can see how they could see it that way. It’s not an approach that I would trust myself to take, but it seems honest, if not forthright.

However, as time has gone on, I’ve become aware of some more significant issues on Catholic Answers. I’ve found multiple cases in which their articles include errors such as misleading quotations and false claims, errors that could have been corrected if proper research had been done.

Now, these errors may be entirely in good faith. We all make mistakes, and I’m sure that my articles have some false statements in them.

However, the test of our honesty comes down to what we do when we find out that we have made mistakes. Do we fix them, or don’t we?

So in this article, I will list all the incorrect research that I know of that Catholic Answers is foregrounding. I make no charges of dishonesty. Because I want to be completely fair, I will contact Catholic Answers with each mistake and see whether they correct it. I will update this article when they do.

So this is Catholic Answers’ chance to prove their integrity to all of us. If they fix these errors, these mistakes can actually reflect well on them—because their response to the mistakes will show us that they are committed to a high standard of integrity. In that case, I will append this article, praising them for their integrity and intellectual honesty.

On the other hand, if Catholic Answers does not fix these errors, we will still be left wondering whether their primary objective is to convince people, no matter the intellectual cost.

Have you found a similar mistake on Catholic Answers? If so, please let me know so that I can list it here.

Doctored quotation from Irenaeus

One Catholic Answers article, which is anonymous, contains a quotation from Irenaeus (Against Heresies 4.26.2) in which two words have been changed from the original translation. The original translation, found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers set (Protestant) and on New Advent (a Catholic site), says,

“[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church,—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.”

In this article on Catholic Answers, the quote reads instead,

“[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.

This doctored quotation is also found on, which seems to be based on a book by Jimmy Akin. However, in the Kindle version of Akin’s book, this quotation is quoted correctly.

What has obviously happened is that someone took the word “certain” and the word “gift” and replaced them with synonyms. This is not a copyright infringement, since the translation is long out of copyright. And it might seem to the person who made the change to be entirely fine, since the words are synonyms of the original words.

However, note the difference that this change makes. The original translation, “the certain gift of truth,” makes a lot of sense, since the early church saw Christian doctrine as being solely what was handed down by the apostles. They believed that the apostles’ knowledge of the truth, and therefore their gift of the truth, was certain. Note that the context indicates a succession of teachings from the apostles. In Against Heresies, Irenaeus’s goal is to show why the Gnostic beliefs are false. His argument is basically that the apostles were infallible (see his quotes in this article), that the apostles’ writings (the New Testament) prove the Gnostics wrong, and additionally that the churches in his day had been founded by the apostles and had simply handed down their teachings—which contradicted the Gnostic teachings.

It appears that an apologist has altered the translation with words that make it sound like Irenaeus thought that church leaders receive a charism or grace that makes the church infallible, rather than what he seems to have actually meant—that church leaders in his day had received the gift of infallible apostolic teachings.

It’s okay to make changes in a quotation, as long as you are upfront about the changes you make, and you place your own words in brackets. This article does not conform to standard expectations for research, which pretty much anyone with a high-school education ought to be aware of.

Catholic Answers could easily fix this error by changing it back to the original translation or by putting their alteration in brackets and including a footnote with the text of the original translation.

Conversation with Catholic Answers, begun July 12, 2023

I notified Catholic Answers of this error (along with the next two) on July 12, 2023. I was impressed by their promptness when the director of publishing responded to me late on July 14. Below is his response to this point, along with my reply to his response (on July 17). I would like to post their complete response, but I want to ensure that I stay entirely legal, so I will merely quote from it.

Catholic Answers (7/14/2023):

. . . JND Kelly, whom our tract cites, uses the translation “the infallible charism of truth.” New Advent’s translation (Roberts and Rambaut) says “the certain gift of truth.” There is no “original translation” that was “changed” – they’re just two different translations. . . .

Lynn Martin (7/17/2023):

I see that J.N.D. Kelly does indeed cite that individual phrase in his book Early Christian Doctrines, p 37, where he renders these words “infallible charism.” However, what is odd to me is that the quotation on your site follows the Roberts and Rambaut translation word for word, with the sole exception of those two words.

I haven’t been able to find a complete translation by Kelly of this chapter of Against Heresies (as far as I can see, he didn’t translate Against Heresies; perhaps you can correct me), but it would surprise me to find that he hit on Rambaut’s exact phrasing, with the sole exception of those two words.

So I think it is safe to say that there was indeed an original translation (Roberts and Rambaut), and that someone changed this particular phrase to match J.N.D. Kelly’s rendering. Whenever such changes are made, it’s considered good practice (both inside and outside of academia) to note the changes that were made, even if Rambaut’s work has passed into the public domain by now.

If someone, such as Kelly himself, published an altered Rambaut translation without adding a note, he may not be the best person to cite. Or if it was a change made by the author of this article, then changing it back or putting the change in brackets with an explanatory note could solve this problem.

Catholic Answers (7/17/2023)

Ah, I see. I thought by “original” you were implying that there was some canonical Ur-translation of the text. Thanks for your patient clarification. . . . Our tract dates from the 1990s and I’m not able to consult with its original authors to sort out the translation(s), but on the face of it, yes, it seems highly likely that Kelly’s phrasing was spliced into Roberts & Rambaut’s translation. We will make appropriate revisions.

Lynn Martin (7/19/2023)

Glad we were able to clarify about the translation! Of course, I have no problem with people offering their own translations; however, changing other people’s translations without any clarifications seems problematic. Thank you for addressing the issue. I see that it is fixed on your site, and I very much appreciate that.

So this issue is now resolved. I’m impressed with Catholic Answers’ speedy reply, and I note that they have fixed the issue on their site. Though I may not agree with their reading of Irenaeus, they are now using the translations of Irenaeus appropriately. It is very unfortunate that this error waited approximately thirty years for correction, but I honor the current director of publishing for correcting this problem as soon as he was made aware of it.

Spurious quotation from Gregory the Wonder Worker, quoted as authentic

In this article by Steve Ray on Catholic Answers, you can find the following quotation:

Gregory the Wonder Worker (c. 213–c. 270) wrote: “Let us chant the melody that has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, ‘Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy sanctuary.’ For the Holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary” (Homily on the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary).

What you do not find in this article, however, is the fact that this quotation has long been considered spurious—it was likely not written by Gregory at all. The Ante-Nicene Fathers set, from which this translation originates, includes this homily in a section of “Dubious or Spurious Writings.” The reason scholars can be so sure that this is inauthentic appears to be that the feast day that this homily was written for wasn’t in effect for more than a century after Gregory’s time.

A Protestant has pointed out the likely inauthenticity of this work since 2008 (here and here). It sounds like he has notified the author of this article of this spurious quotation.

Catholic Answers could easily fix this error be removing the quotation or pointing out that this is by Pseudo-Gregory, rather than Gregory himself, and by updating the approximate date of the quotation to where it belongs—several centuries later.

I notified Catholic Answers of this error on July 12, 2023. More information about this conversation is above. Catholic Answers responded, saying that they would look into this issue. It is still unresolved. I mentioned it a couple of times in conversation, but have not heard an answer on it.

Incorrect claim about the criticisms of infant baptism

In this Catholic Answers article, the following claim is made:

“As we will see, there is no doubt that the early Church practiced infant baptism; and no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation.”

This statement is simply false. At least two Christians voiced objections to the practice of infant baptism. First, Tertullian spoke out against the baptism of young children (there’s no clear evidence to show that infants were commonly baptized in his day, but of course his objections to baptizing young children apply to infants as well):

And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. For why is it necessary—if (baptism itself) is not so necessary—that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger? Who both themselves, by reason of mortality, may fail to fulfil their promises, and may be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition, in those for whom they stood? The Lord does indeed say, “forbid them not to come unto me.” Let them “come,” then, while they are growing up; let them “come” while they are learning, while they are learning where to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ.

Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the “remission of sins?” More caution will be exercised in worldly matters: so that one who is not trusted with earthly substance is trusted with divine! Let them know how to “ask” for salvation, that you may seem (at least) to have given “to him that asks.” … If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation. (On Baptism 18)

This is not an obscure passage by Tertullian. It is frequently brought up in discussions of infant baptism. Furthermore, Catholic Answers seems to have no difficulty in quoting from this very work by Tertullian when it lines up with their beliefs (here and here). So it’s hard to see how they have remained unaware of this passage, but now that they are familiar with it, I hope that they will correct their statement.

Another Christian who objected to infant baptism is Gregory of Nazianzus:

Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified than that they should depart unsealed and uninitiated. . . . But in respect of others I give my advice to wait till the end of the third year, or a little more or less, when they may be able to listen and to answer something about the Sacrament; that, even though they do not perfectly understand it, yet at any rate they may know the outlines; and then to sanctify them in soul and body with the great sacrament of our consecration. For this is how the matter stands; at that time they begin to be responsible for their lives, when reason is matured, and they learn the mystery of life (for of sins of ignorance owing to their tender years they have no account to give), and it is far more profitable on all accounts to be fortified by the Font, because of the sudden assaults of danger that befall us, stronger than our helpers. (Oration 40.17, 40.28)

Again, this is not an obscure passage by Gregory. Again, it is frequently brought up in discussions of infant baptism. Again, Catholic Answers has no difficulty quoting from parts of this very work that sound like they agree with the Roman Catholic position (even in this same article and here). Again, it’s hard to see how they have remained unaware of this passage, but now that they are familiar with it, I hope that they will correct their statement. Since Gregory was against infant baptism, they will also need to remove the quotations from this work that they use in support of infant baptism (Gregory supported emergency infant baptisms and the baptism of children starting around age four, which is why those quotes sound like they could be compatible with infant baptism).

Catholic Answers could easily fix this error by removing the statement that “no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation” or changing it in some way as to make it less misleading. They can also remove the quotes by Gregory in this article, or note that he primarily supported baptism of infants in emergencies.

I notified Catholic Answers of this error on July 12, 2023. More information about this conversation is above. The conversation regarding this error went as follows:

Catholic Answers (7/14/2023):

. . . neither of those writers rejects infant baptism in principle; both in fact take it for granted as something that was happening. They just offer pastoral arguments for waiting. . . . So I think the tract is correct in pointing out the lack of early Church evidence against infant baptism in the way that Protestants who support credo-baptism (and only credo-baptism) would need to find. That said, perhaps we can add a line pointing out the existence of such minority pastoral opinions.

Lynn Martin (7/17/2023):

I note that your article on infant baptism says,

“As we will see, there is no doubt that the early Church practiced infant baptism; and no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation.”

In your reply to my email, you construe the author’s statement more charitably as “pointing out the lack of early Church evidence against infant baptism in the way that Protestants who support credo-baptism (and only credo-baptism) would need to find.” Whether your own statement is correct is of course not historically certain, but it is at least historically defensible; while it’s hard to see how the original statement in the article can be defended historically.

I wonder whether the average reader—or any reader, for that matter—would understand “no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced” to be consistent with the existence of texts from two or more Christians which offer reasons not to baptize infants. I also see that, in his oration, Gregory indicates that other unnamed Christians are offering arguments against baptism early in one’s life, which of course creates a problem for the author’s statement as well.

Perhaps this issue could be solved by updating the article to say something more on the lines of what you’ve said in your email.

Catholic Answers (7/17/2023):

Regarding the infant baptism question, we’d be happy to add a qualifier to the text, though I think the distinctions I made still hold. “No Christian objections to the practice” means something in our context. It does not mean “No one ever recommended waiting a couple of years to baptize” (Gregory) or “No one ever had the eccentric idea even for believing adults to put off baptism in order to hedge against mortal sin” (Tertullian). Neither does it mean that literally not a single early Christian ever mused doubtfully on the practice of infant baptism (which would be impossible to prove). It means that the early Christian witness on the permissibility of infant baptism, in principle, is unanimous. There is no “can’t” or “mustn’t” in these passages from Gregory and Tertullian, in stark contrast with the adherents to “believer’s baptism” who arose after the Reformation.

Lynn Martin (7/19/2023):

In re the infant baptism question, I fail to see how “no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced” is consistent, even when read in a colloquial way, with (a) two prominent Christians recommending to wait until after infancy to baptize children, and offering reasons for their recommendation, or (b) the fact that Gregory’s oration indicates that there were lay Christians who had objections to infant baptism.

I agree that none of the arguments that we see seems to deny either that infant baptism was efficacious or that it was permissible. However, an argument does not need to deny either of them in order to be an objection, unless you define “objection” more narrowly than it is defined colloquially and by most dictionaries.

Of course, you are under no obligation to run your organization according to my scruples. However, the issue that I see is this: (1) Might readers who are previously unfamiliar with the topic be surprised, after reading the statement in your article, to find out what Tertullian and Gregory wrote? 2) Might readers who are familiar with the topic consider the statement in your article to lack important nuances? Either one could leave a less-than-favorable impression of your organization for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Catholic Answers replied, notifying me of the change that they made to this article. Happily, it no longer contains the glaring error that was present before. The director wrote, “I hope that you find our revision to be an improvement,” so I made a further reply. The issue that it still contains is no worse than many other issues in the Catholic Answers publications, but I thought I would mention it while on the subject.

I appreciate your willingness to make changes. I think as the statement in your article now stands, it is at least defensible.

Still, I would point out that, while the statement “although a handful of early Christian writers floated the idea of delaying baptism for children (or even adults!)” is technically true, it gives an impression contrary to what I understand to be the consensus view of historians, that delaying baptism was not merely a floated idea, but a common practice up to the fifth century. But I recognize that, as an apologetics ministry, your goal is to present your case in the most favorable light, so editing this is probably not a priority on your part.

Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly), they didn’t seem to see this inaccuracy as an issue.

I am impressed that they were willing to change the article, however, due to the conversation, I was left with the impression that Catholic Answers is very much imbued with a “soldier mindset,” since their replies seemed to imply that the original statement was defensible. Of course, the original statement is obviously misleading, if not outright false.

2 thoughts on “Is Catholic Answers Committed to Intellectual Honesty?”

  1. Good for you! As Catholic convert who was previously Anabaptist, I think it is great that you are “pushing” Catholic Answers on stuff like this. I don’t want to throw them under the bus (I know there are some good people there), but they do sometimes take a superficial approach in their articles and arguments and can make the quality over quantity ratio too low.

    1. Thanks, Landon! In Christianity, the truth comes first, and convincing people comes second. I think it’s easy for apologists to forget that. May this be a little reminder!

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