CV NEWS FEED // The Most Reverend John Baptist Purcell, second bishop of the Diocese of Cincinnati, was a man of many talents. Walking away from a debate was not one of them.
In 1837, during a meeting of the Ohio College of Teachers, the discussion turned to the teachings of Catholicism. Typical of the time, the discussion was fraught with misconceptions. Bishop Purcell, present at the meeting, spoke up, trying to make the Church’s positions clear.
Time, however, cut the discussion short, so one of the Protestant pastors in attendance offered Purcell the use of his church for a lecture on the topic. Purcell agreed and delivered what history tells us was a “masterly discourse.” It was so masterly, in fact, that the revivalist preacher Alexander Campbell challenged the bishop to a public debate.
The bishop, once again, found himself incapable of refusing, and on February 13, 1837, squared off against Campbell in a Baptist church to debate the following propositions:
1. The Catholic Church is…an apostasy from the Church of Christ.
2. The notion of Apostolic succession is without foundation in the Bible and reason.
3. She is not uniform in faith, but fallible and changeable as other sects in religion and philosophy.
4. She is the Babylon of St. John.
5. Purgatory, indulgences, confession, and transubstantiation are immoral in their tendencies, injurious to the well–being of society, political and religious.
6. The world is not indebted to the Church for the Bible.
7. If the Church is infallible and unchangeable, she is opposed to the spirit of the institutions of the United States, which means progress.
Cincinnati’s Protestant papers called the debate a draw, which in the lingua franca of the day meant Purcell drubbed Campbell soundly. Accordingly, in the years that followed, Purcell became known as one of the Church’s greatest apologists and was repeatedly called upon to expound upon Catholicism, in person and in print, all around the nation. Not surprisingly, he rarely declined.