The Birth Pangs of Our Salvation

When I was younger, I used to wonder why Jesus chose to die such a violent death. I mean, as horrible as John the Baptist's decapitation was, at least it was quick. Christ had to carry the instrument of His own Death, a heavy Cross, and then hang for three hours with nails tearing through His Flesh. On a list of "Nicest ways to die," Crucifixion isn't exactly a front-runner. Yet increasingly, I'm convinced that this suffering was vital for two reasons. First, it's an incredible sign of His Love. And second, it was Christ taking sin more seriously than we do: taking sin as seriously as we ought to.

The analogy which has helped make this clearer for me is childbirth. Mothers are about the only people with even a taste of what Jesus went through. Like Christ, many of the made a decision to submit to the sufferings, often extreme, required to bring new life into the world. And like Jesus, they opt for this out of incredible love- in the case of mothers, for children who they don't yet know; in the case of Christ, for people He knows all too well. So absolutely central to the suffering of Christ is His unspeakable Love for us. But there's more I think, and the analogy of childbirth helped me see it.

Go back to the original curse from Genesis 3. Adam and Eve (who, prior to Gen. 3:20, is still called "Woman") are being kicked out of the Garden of Eden for their disobedience, which they blame on the serpent. It is this sin which brings about original sin, and creates the necessity of Christ's coming into the world to redeem us. Here's the entire curse, Genesis 3:14-19,

So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
I've noted before that the curse to the serpent actually foreshadows the undoing of the sin of Adam. That is, when God says, "I will put enmity between you and the woman," it sounds as if He's just referring to Eve, but in fact, He's referring to Mary as well (as Christ's addressing His Mother as "Woman" and "Dear Woman" in John 19:25 and John 2:4 will later make clear). And Christ is, of course, the "Seed of the Woman." Normally, the "seed" is measured through the man (as a literal interpretation of the term would suggest), so the fact that with both Adam and Eve present, God tells the serpent to beware of the Woman's seed prefigures the Virgin Birth of Christ, who is unique as the only Child born without a human father. In Genesis 3:15, the grammar is ambiguous, as to whether it's "He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel," referring to Christ, or "She will crush your head, and you will strike Her heel," referring to Mary. Either way, the end result is essentially the same: Adam and Eve were born without original sin and blew it, bringing the pains of sin into the world. But a day is coming where a new Woman, Mary, will be preserved from original sin, and rather than disobey God, She'll honor Him with Her "Fiat," the "let it be done to Me according to Thy Will" from Luke 1:38. Resulting from this obedience, She'll conceive and give birth to the Christ Child, the sinless Messiah who St. Paul calls the "last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45). And as Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'" So reversing the curse of Adam, wherein the first Woman brought the first Adam a fruit from the tree, bringing the curse of sin into the world, the new Eve brought the new Adam to the tree to become sin and bear the curse for us.

So this part I was aware of, and it's heightened my awareness of the rest of the curse. For example, God warns that the ground "will produce thorns and thistles for you," which seems particularly relevant to Christ. Hebrews 6:8 metaphorically refers to the thorny ground as ground in danger of being cursed, and it is this cursed ground which produces the thorns which Christ bears on His head (Mark 15:17), the God-King bearing a physical sign of the condemnation of sign being borne upon His Sacred Head.

And in God's curse directed to Eve, He says "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. " There are two facts which are significant: first, that childbearing was going to have pain even in Eden. This relates, I think, to the incredible selfless and life-giving Love that mothers are called to show their new children. But the curse of sin made the suffering extreme and sometimes deadly. It is fitting then that Christ, wearing the crown of thorns, brings new life - Divine life - into the world through such a very violent death. For as St. John tells us in John 1:12-13, "to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." St. Paul says essentially the same in Romans 8:16-17 and 9:8, of course. Through Christ, we became children and heirs. And so Christ's death really is a form of painful childbirth, painful both because of His love and because of our sin.

In this manner, Jesus tied together all three curses: bearing the thorny crown, bringing forth new life in a painful childbirth, and crushing the head of Satan.

Two Contending Views on the Pope's Role in the Sex Abuse Scandal

It's Holy Week, so I'm purposely steering more towards the Passion of Christ than the sex abuse scandal (although I won't be surprised if it's addressed on Thursday by the pope). That said, the clamor over sex abuse has gotten louder and, if you can believe it, crazier. Let me cite you two views on the causes of the sex abuse cover-up discussing the role played by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now-Pope Benedict. Our first contender has this to say:
The sin-crazed “Rottweiler” was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn’t make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges.

Re-read this if you have to. Benedict's problem is that he's sin-crazed and consumed with sexual mores, and that this means he didn't take the time to care about sexual abuse. By this same logic, the reason we have a problem with crack cocaine in this country is that so many police department are "drug-obsessed" and consumed by a desire to eradicate drugs like heroin, powder cocaine, and steroids. If only Benedict had stopped worrying about sexual sins, he would have had plenty of time to deal with the sexual sins committed by priests! Our second contender takes another angle:
A culture of laxity had so infected bishops [in the 1960s] that their disciplinary muscles had severely atrophied. It was not as if they were vigilant rulers in all aspects, but perversely indulgent of sexual abuse. Indulgence was shown to abuses of all kinds. So latitudinarian had the clerical culture become that even modest attempts at doctrinal discipline were widely mocked — or do we forget that the progressive press, inside and outside the Church, calling Joseph Ratzinger "God's Rottweiler"?

Our second contender seems to be arguing that when bishops are either opposed to the enforcement of canon law (liberals like Mahony), or too spineless to do it (conservatives like Law), they don't enforce canon law. And since canon law is the most powerful tool that a bishop has over his priest, the unwillingness to enforce canonical discipline meant priests did whatever they wanted... and sometimes, that meant raping children while the bishops twiddled their thumbs in angst, or passed the offender to revolving-door rehab like St. Luke's Institute (which was run at the time by a sexually active homosexual priest), or worse yet, another diocese, where the predator priests struck again, and again, and again. Our second contender sees Ratzinger as one of the few bishops who had enough moral caliber and backbone to actually, routinely, enforce canonical discipline against those priests with deviant "sexual mores," to borrow our first contender's turn-of-phrase. And what's more, our second contender views folks like our first contender as antagonistic thugs who reduce a man doing God's work to the name of Rottweiler... all because he enforced the very canons which -- had they been enforced by the US bishops -- would have prevented thousands of instances of child molestation and rape.

You'll never guess which of our two contenders has a regular column in the New York Times. With logic that sound, how could she not?

How the Last Supper Begins the Lord's Passion

Earlier today, I tried to answer a couple questions some people have on the Eucharist: namely, "does It re-Sacrifice Christ?" and "what does it mean to say that the Eucharist is an Unbloody Sacrifice?" I tried to keep the post short, but I'm willing to go into more depth. Here, I wanted to discuss a few other connections between the Last Supper and the Passion of Christ. This post also answers another commonly-raised question: "What did Jesus mean when He said, 'It is finished' (John 19:30)?"

I. The Incredible Chronology of the Passion of Christ
First of all, I've already taken one stab at this a few months ago. It's not perfect, but it's worth reading if you're interested, especially because I'm going to not go into too much depth. In that post, I discussed the Passover imagery which is found throughout both the Last Supper, and the incredible timing. The major things you need to know about the chronology is that Jewish days are measured from sundown to sundown. Today, for example would be Preparation Day, is the Jews still celebrated it, and tonight through tomorrow afternoon is Passover. The Passover Lamb is normally slaughtered on the 14th day of Nisan (Preparation Day: Leviticus 23:5), and the Passover Meal is celebrated that evening, the beginning of 15 Nisan (Passover: Leviticus 23:6). However, when the Passover fell on the Sabbath, some traditional Jews -- namely, the Qumran community, the same community which preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls -- moved the observation of the feast to the day prior. In those cases, they would slay the lamb on the 13th, eat it on the 14th, and rest on the 15th. But here, there wasn't unanimity.

All of this becomes very important, because John's Gospel tell us that Jesus died on both Preparation Day (John 19:14), and the day before the Sabbath (John 19:31). Which means that the Last Supper and the Crucifixion of Christ both occurred on 14 Nisan. Which is fascinating, because it was the reason why Jesus and His Disciples had already begun the Passover meal, while the Pharisees still considered it Preparation Day. Because in ironies of ironies, Jesus was showing more respect for the Sabbath, and celebrating the Passover a day early, as was the pious tradition -- the Pharisees were observing the letter of the law, even if it meant violating the Sabbath. From a Christian standpoint, it means that the Last Supper was instituted on Passover, and Jesus died on Preparation Day. So here's the chronology:

  • 13 Nisan (Wednesday night - Thursday afternoon): Jesus and His Disciples, along with the Qumran community, celebrate Preparation Day (Mark 14:1; Matthew 26:17).
  • 14 Nisan (Thursday night - Friday afternoon): Jesus and His Disciples celebrate the Passover -- and, of course, the Last Supper; the Pharisees celebrate Preparation Day. This is the day of the Lord's Passion.
  • 15 Nisan (Friday night - Saturday afternoon): the Sabbath. While the Pharisees celebrate the Passover, the Passover Lamb Himself respects the Sabbath by resting in the Tomb.
Now, by all right, we should find it surprising that Christ managed to eat His Last Supper on Passover, and die the following afternoon on Preparation Day, when Preparation Day is supposed to come before the Last Supper. To achieve this result, a number of factors had to come together quite remarkably: first, the Jews had to celebrate their calendar with sundown marking the new day (which, if you think about it, is one of the most counter-intuitive ways to set up a calendar); second, there had to be a great respect for the Sabbath; and third and finally, there had to a divergence in how to celebrate Passover when it fell on the Sabbath, because of a surprising schism within Judaism. This just couldn't have happened simply by chance. It's incredible.

Note also that this ties the Last Supper and Passover into a single day. So from the perspective of the Jewish calendar, Christ is still celebrating Passover as He's dying, while the Pharisees are still waiting for their paschal lamb. That's about to become very important.

II. The Four Cups of the Passover
Based on the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6-8, the Passover is celebrated with four cups of wine: Pharoah's butler's dream is considered a foreshadowing of this, since he says "cup of wine" four times (Genesis 40:11-13). Here's the order, as well as the promise each cup recalls, as best as I can determine (admittedly, I ended up finding this kids' site the most helpful for explaining what happened and when: you're just sort of expected to know)

  • First cup: The Cup of Sanctifiction. Recalls the promise, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians"
  • Second cup: The Cup of Wrath. Recalls the promise, "I will deliver you from their bondage"
  • Here, the Pharisees ate the lamb. The Qumran community did not, since they didn't acknowledge Herod's Temple as legitimate. They abstained from the lamb to signal their anticipation of a true Temple.
  • Third cup: The Cup of Blessing / Thanksgiving-- a prayer is said, and everyone drinks. Recalls the promise, "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
  • The youngest member opens the door to look for the Messiah, who they understood to be Elijah because of Malachi 4:5.
  • Psalms 113-118 are recited (Hallel)
  • Fourth cup: The Cup of Acceptance / Praise. Recalls the promise, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God."

Scott Hahn compared this with the New Testament account, and was surprised at what he found (don't get me wrong: Scott's not the first guy to discover this, but he's the one whose writings and teachings I learned it from, and he sort of stumbled into it). We know from 1 Corinthians 10:16 that the Eucharist was instituted at the third cup, because Paul explicitly calls the Eucharist "the Cup of Blessing (eulogia)" a term with a very precise meaning for a former Pharisee. As Pope Benedict noted, "Thanking and blessing God reached its culmination in the berakah, which in Greek is eulogia or eucaristia: praising God becomes a blessing for those who bless him." In other words, the Eucharist gets its name from the Third Cup. Yet immediately after the Institution of the Eucharist, Jesus says (Matthew 26:29-30), "'I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.' Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. "

So Jesus seems to announce that the Fourth Cup is going to be put on hold until He's drinking it anew in the Kingdom, they sing the Hallel Psalms, and then instead of opening the door and waiting for the Messiah, they open the door and the Messiah leads them out to the Garden. In Matthew 26:39, He prays, "Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." And again in v. 42, "Abba, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!" (See also Mark 10:38-39, where Jesus foretells either the Eucharistic Cup, or the Fourth Cup).

John 19 tells the climax of the story. At this point, Jesus has been on the Cross for three hours. John 19:28 tells us:

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst."

Note that. It's not just that He's thirsty. He's been thirsty for a long time. He carried a heavy Cross for hours in the Mediterranean sun, and then hung on it. And yet earlier, in Matthew 27:33-34, He was offered wine mixed with gall (an early painkiller, as I understand), and refused to drink it. So He's chosen now, because (a) everything He had to do was now finished, and (b) in order that the Scripture (John doesn't say which one) might be fulfilled. John 19:29-30,

There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

So what's finished? Not, as some Protestants claim, the work of salvation: Romans 4:25 says that Jesus "was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." The Resurrection hasn't happened yet, so that's not finished. No, what's finished is the long fore-shadowed Paschal Feast and Sacrifice. It's all one thing. The Passover both celebrates God's redemption of the Israelites from Egypt, and the coming Messiah, identified by the Israelites with Elijah. It both recalled a past event and prophesied a future one. So the Scriptures being fulfilled were all of the Passover Messianic Scriptures, particularly Exodus 6:6, and what's finished is the ultimate Passover. On this Passover unlike any other, Jesus lifted the Cup which recalled the promise, "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments." And then He got up and did it, stretching out His arms on the wood of the Cross. And it was there, on the Cross, where we were able to become His people, fulfilling His promise, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God."

This becomes clearer when you compare it with Matthew 27:45-50,

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him." And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

Psalm 22, which Jesus is reciting the opening line of, is written by David, not Elijah, so I always found this strange. But it turns out that the Israelites recognized this as a Messianic Psalm, just like the ones they'd were about to (or had just finished) singing, Psalms 113-118. And as I mentioned earlier, they tied Elijah to the Messiah because of Malachi 4:5, which declares, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes." So people were madly looking for Elijah to return from Heaven (see 2 Kings 2:11), taking the prophesy overly-literally. So in John 1:20-21, John the Baptist explains he's neither Christ nor Elijah. Likewise, people suspected that Christ might be Elijah (Matthew 16:14). And now, they're thinking Elijah might come and save Christ! Of course, John the Baptist is the figurative Elijah (Matthew 11:14), while the literal Elijah did show up at the Transfiguration to signal to Peter, James and John exactly who Jesus was (Matthew 17:3).

Remember that at the Passover, someone (usually the smallest kid) traditionally goes to the door and looks for the Messiah, Elijah. On this Passover, the Messiah which the new Elijah prophesied fulfilled what every Passover was waiting for. Sadly, for many of the people there, the day which Malachi 4:5 calls "that great and dreadful day of the Lord" is upon them, and they've missed their sign, in John's call to repentence, and his proclaimation that Jesus is the Christ (Matthew 17:12).

III. What This Means for the Eucharist and Hebrews 9
The Last Supper begins on Holy Thursday night, and doesn't end until Jesus drinks of the Fourth Cup and dies on the Cross. This, by the way, is why there is no Good Friday Mass: we have a "Good Friday Liturgy," using the Eucharist from the night before -- to signal that this is all one Mass and one Meal. Now consider this passage from Hebrews 9:16-22,

Now where there is a will, the death of the testator must be established. For a will takes effect only at death; it has no force while the testator is alive. Thus not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. When every commandment had been proclaimed by Moses to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves (and goats), together with water and crimson wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is 'the blood of the covenant which God has enjoined upon you.'" In the same way, he sprinkled also the tabernacle and all the vessels of worship with blood. According to the law almost everything is purified by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Given what we know from the above, this makes a lot of sense:
  • The Last Supper wasn't completed until Jesus actually shed His Blood on the Cross: that's when the New Covenant kicked in, we became His people, and He became Our God (although He was always the True God, of course).
  • This shedding of Blood was necessary for forgiveness of sins, and for the creation of the Covenant. This was true of even the first Covenant, and much more true of the New Covenant.
  • Check out Hebrews 9:20. The author is comparing the Old and New Covenant, and how both rely upon Blood. And the words he keys in on are Moses' words from Exodus 24:8, establishing the Old Covenant and Mosaic Law, ""This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his." Now compare that with Jesus' words in Matthew 26:27-28, establishing the New, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the Covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." If "even the first covenant" required real blood to be inaugurated, and these are the words which let us know that real blood was being used, the fact that the Eucharist requires Jesus' real Blood to create a Covenant is obvious.
  • This ties directly into the theme of Hebrews 9, which is that the New Covenant fulfills, and is superior to, the Old. In Hebrews 9:1-8, the comparison is made between the Ark and the Veil of the Covenant. Hebrews 9:9 refers to these things as "a symbol of the present time," which are then overshadowed by Christ's coming "as high priest of the good things that have come to be" (Hebrews 9:11). The Catholic understanding, where Christ uses His real Blood at the Institution of the Eucharist and New Covenant, is best summarized in Hebrews 9:13-14,
    "For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. "
    But if you believe that the New Covenant was instituted with just red wine or grape juice, this passage makes no sense. The Protestant understanding is that Moses used real blood, while Christ used only a symbol... which by the logic of Hebrews 9, has Christ pointing backwards to Moses, instead of Moses pointing forward to Christ.
  • Finally, the hyssop branch (Hebrews 9:19) is used at the Passover for the lamb (Exodus 12:22), and at the Passion, for the Lamb (John 19:29). So again, the Last Supper and Passion are one event, not two.

So if Christ's Last Supper and Passion are a single event in the eyes of a Christian, just as the slaying and eating of the Lamb constituted one Passover, and just as the slaying of the calves and goats and sprinkling of their blood was one sacrifice, not two, then Hebrews 9 makes perfect sense. Christ came and replaced animal blood with His real Blood as atonement for sins. He was uniquely able to offer Himself, because He is both High Priest and Victim, as Hebrews 9:11-12 makes clear (see also John 10:18). His Disciples ate His Flesh and drank His Blood at the Passover dinner to end all Passover dinners, and then He offered Himself up on the Preparation Day to end all Preparation Days: one single day, one single Sacrifice.

"Does the Eucharist Re-Sacrifice Christ?": The Remix

Today Joe responded to the claim that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass attempts to re-sacrifice Jesus and therefore demeans the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. I actually had a discussion about this a couple weeks ago with a person from a Dutch Reformed perspective. The angle I find most helpful is based in the concept of anamnesis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:
1362 The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial.
Anamnesis refers to a specific part of the Mass and to a theological concept. The part of the Mass that it describes is during the Eucharistic prayer following the Institution Narrative. The Catechism states:
1354 In the anamnesis that follows, the Church calls to mind the Passion, resurrection, and glorious return of Christ Jesus; she presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with him.
The theological concept at work unlocks what Catholics understand Jesus to mean when he says to "do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). The USCCB liturgical document "God's Mercy Endures Forever" explains:
Theologically, the Christian concept of anamnesis coincides with the Jewish understanding of zikkaron (memorial reenactment). Applied to the Passover celebration, zikkaron refers to the fact that God's saving deed is not only recalled but actually relived through the ritual meal. The synoptic gospels present Jesus as instituting the Eucharist during a Passover seder celebrated with his followers, giving to it a new and distinctly Christian "memory."
So when the Catholic Church refers to the Mass as a sacrifice, she means that is a participation in the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross through this unique understanding of remembering. Instead of just recalling that Jesus gave his life for our sins like I might try to recall that the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 1985, the Mass allows me to participate in the Cross of Christ. Applied to my baseball memory, it would be like being able to sit in the stands of the 1985 World Series each time I "remembered" instead of having to settle for poor quality video or someone else recounting the event for me. So just as the merits of the Cross can be applied to me outside of time (since I wasn't alive in 32 A.D.), the Mass allows me to participate in the Cross of Christ outside of time. In this way, the Mass is a "Holy Sacrifice" because it actually is our participation in the one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

It's important to point out how the Catholic notion of the Mass as a "re-presentation" of the one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is rooted in our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Catholic Answers has a good article that discusses this connection.

Does the Eucharist Re-Sacrifice Christ?

Tonight is Passover, so it seems like an appropriate time to address a common misunderstanding about the Eucharist. In one of CARM's arguments against Catholicism, they ask:
Roman Catholics are quick to say that the Eucharist is not a re-sacrifice of Christ. They want to make it clear that Christ was offered once for all and that the Mass is not a re-sacrifice but a "re-presentation" of the sacrifice. We certainly do not want to misrepresent Roman Catholic theology, but we must ask how it is possible for the Mass to not be a re-sacrifice of Christ when the Mass is called a divine sacrifice (CCC, 1068) that is done over and over again. We are told that "the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice"; (CCC, 1367); that it is an unbloody offering that is proptiatory, (CCC, 1367); that it can make reparation of sins, (CCC, 1414); and is to be considered a true and proper sacrifice (The Catholic Encyclopedia, topic: "Sacrifice of the Mass"). We must conclude that it is a sacrifice that occurs over and over again and since it is said to be a true and proper sacrifice that is propitiatory, then logically it must be a re-sacrifice of Christ. If it is not, then how can it be called a sacrifice of Christ? Also, how could it be propitiatory if it is not a sacrifice of Christ since it is Christ's offering on the cross that is itself propitiatory?

That's a legitimate question, and the stakes are important. If the Eucharist is a re-Sacrifice of Christ, It's illegitimate, because Christ was slain "once for all" (Heb. 7:26-27). The answer is foreshadowed in the Passover. The Passover consists of three distinct parts:
  • the slaying of the lamb (Exodus 12:5-6)
  • the covering of the doorposts in blood (Exodus 12:7)
  • the eating of the lamb (Exodus 12:8-10)

This foreshadowed Christ's Passion. The Slaying of the Lamb of God occurred once for all time at the Crucifixition. Covering ourselves in His Blood occurs most directly at Baptism, which is itself a one-time event. Yet the eating of the Lamb is something which we can do time and time again. Think about it: a Jew celebrating Passover could go for a second helping of the Lamb (and was in some cases required to, since it had to be eaten that day). But this second eating didn't mean a second sacrifice: they didn't have to re-kill or re-sacrifice (or even re-mark the doorposts) to consume the lamb. That's what it means when the Catechism says "the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice." That's also why the Eucharist is termed the "unbloody Sacrifice," because the bloodshed was in the slaying of the Lamb, not the eating.

The Eucharist is therefore a vital part of the finished work of the Cross: specifically, it's the application of that work. This sounds, at first, foreign to most Protestants, but I don't think it is. Many Protestants can point to the day -even the hour- and the exact circumstances in which they got saved. But it was a point in their lifetime. Nobody says, "I got saved in c. 32 A.D., when Jesus died on the Cross." Certainly, it's because of that past one-time event that they're able to get saved, but they got saved when they were justified by faith through Grace, and that Blood was applied to them. His Blood was shed in c. 32, but it was applied to their doorposts (figuratively speaking) when they turned their life over to Christ.

So Protestants, like Catholics recognize a distinction between the shedding of Blood and the application of that shed Blood. This is also how non-Calvinists (and even some Calvinists) can reject the notion of limited atonement: the idea that Christ only died for certain folks. We say in response that His Blood is sufficient to cover everyone, and that "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). His Blood is shed out of Love for "the world," but only saves those it's applied to, that is, "whoever believes in Him."

Later today, I plan to post on the "Four Cups" of the Passover, an idea which Scott Hahn has explored in depth quite well, which also deals with the connection between the Passover, Last Supper, and Passion of Christ.

What You Need to Know About De Delictis Gravioribus

In response to my last post, my dad asked:
Thanks for bringing this subject up in your blog. I have been reading news accounts from many sources and concur with your assessment of the situation. The only part of the "scandal" that I don't have enough information on is the directive that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for the Church about keeping sexual abuse cases "confidential". Do you know anything about this directive, or where I can read it? Can "confidential" translate into "enabling" this to continue? Without the context of this directive it seems the media could at least imply this (which they have).

That was the thing that had me worried for a long time, because I was shocked by what I heard it was. Then I read it, and discovered it was nothing like what I'd read it was -- in fact, the document may have been one of the best things that the Vatican has done regarding sex abuse cases. The document is the 2001 De Delictis Gravioribus, and here's what you need to know:
  • DDG should be read as an updating and expanding of Crimen Sollicitationis, the 1962 document governing crimes arising from the confessional. and other grave crimes (including pedophilia and homosexuality commit by priests).
  • DDG deals primarily with crimes against canon law, not civil law. Some of the things mentioned, like pedophilia, are crimes against both, but that's not the focus of the document at all. Other than pedophilia, all of the things covered are abuses of sacraments: things like Eucharistic desecration, violating the confessional seal, etc.
  • Because an accusation that a priest abused the sacraments or a child is so severe, and because it's naturally hard for witnesses to openly accuse priests of something so heinous, the canonical trial is kept incredibly secretive. In part, the Church didn't want to have public trials in which Church members accused priests of violating the confessional seal or consecrating the Eucharist in order to throw it away (two of the crimes specifically addressed). That's not just a desire to avoid embarassment, it's also a respect, in many cases, for the confessional seal itself.
  • This secrecy covers only the trial process. So a person who found out about sex abuse (a victim, a parent, a priest, a bishop, etc.) who was also involved in the canonical trial to get the priest stripped of his public ministry can report on the crime itself to the police (and often times, is legally required to), but cannot reveal the canonical trial.
  • In case you're wondering, grand juries are often bound by similar secrecy for the same reason, as are trials involving sexual abuse of children.
  • Note the obvious: DDG came out in 2001. The abuse we're primarily talking about was covered up by bad bishops decades previously. There's no way that they misunderstood a document which hadn't been written yet.
  • Finally, here's the horrible irony. DDG was a reminder to bishops to take sex abuse cases seriously. Let's look at this seriously. Bishop Robert Lynch took over the Diocese of Palm Beach temporarily when the bishop there, Keith Symons, admitted to molesting five boys in three different parishes. Lynch's response to the scandal: "We almost have a hang-up with sex. We expect people to live up to such a high ideal of sexual conduct and we don't allow any failure." That's shocking stupidity and moral callousness. Not molesting kids is a "high ideal" that we shouldn't expect to reach all the time? On the other hand, Ratzinger is putting the same thing Lynch wrote off as a hang-up in the same category as Eucharistic desecration in a Vatican document on the worst crimes a priest can be accused of. And Ratzinger is the one who gets kicked around for his response?
Here's what Crimen Sollicitationis said regarding confidentiality:
Since, however, in dealing with these causes, more than usual care and concern must be shown that they be treated with the utmost confidentiality, and that, once decided and the decision executed, they are covered by permanent silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, 20 February 1867, No. 14), all those persons in any way associated with the tribunal, or knowledgeable of these matters by reason of their office, are bound to observe inviolably the strictest confidentiality, commonly known as the secret of the Holy Office, in all things and with all persons, under pain of incurring automatic excommunication, ipso facto and undeclared, reserved to the sole person of the Supreme Pontiff, excluding even the Sacred Penitentiary.
Here's what De Delictis Gravioribus said:
All tribunals of the Latin church and the Eastern Catholic churches are bound to observe the canons on delicts and penalties, and also on the penal process of both codes respectively, together with the special norms which are transmitted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for an individual case and which are to be executed entirely. Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret.

It's that single sentence which has lead people to claim that this document is about covering up the crime. Riiiight. Oh, and here's Ratzinger explaining why DDG was needed:
At approximately the same time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, through an ad hoc commission established, devoted itself to a diligent study of the canons on delicts both of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches in order to determine "more grave delicts both against morals and in the celebration of the sacraments" and in order to make special procedural norms "to declare or impose canonical sanctions," because the instruction Crimen Sollicitationis, issued by the supreme sacred Congregation of the Holy Office on March 16, 1962, in force until now, was to be reviewed when the new canonical codes were promulgated.

In other words, DDG was an attempt to update Crimen Sollicitationis for the revised Code of Canon Law... not to engineer a cover-up. Anyone who read the document would know this. Two final things. First, here's Fr. Lombardi summarizing the alleged confusion better than I've seen anyone else do:
In the ambit of canon law, the crime of the sexual abuse of minors has always been considered as one of the most serious of all, and canonical norms have constantly reaffirmed this, in particular the 2001 Letter 'De delictis gravioribus', sometimes improperly cited as the cause of a 'culture of silence'. Those who know and understand its contents, are aware that it was a decisive signal to remind the episcopate of the seriousness of the problem, as well as a real incentive to draw up operational guidelines to face it.

Exactly. It's part of the solution, not the problem. And finally, here's what one Catholic cleric had to say about relying on civil trials instead of canonical ones:
How can any one of you with a case against another dare to bring it to the
unjust for judgment instead of to the holy ones? Do you not know that the
holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you
unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge
angels? Then why not everyday matters? If, therefore, you have courts for
everyday matters, do you seat as judges people of no standing in the
church? I say this to shame you. Can it be that there is not one among you
wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? But rather brother
goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers? Now indeed
(then) it is, in any case, a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against
one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves
be cheated?

That's 1 Corinthians 6:1-7. Shall we accuse St. Paul of orchestrating a cover-up as well? After all, of all the documents we've looked at, 1 Corinthians is the only one which specifically advises against relying on civil courts!

Is This a Joke? Media Attacks Benedict for ... Something?

I'm not usually a fan of the way Catholics stories get reported on the media, but this one has been shocking. I'm going to go more in-depth on the sex abuse scandal as a whole soon, but I just have to say this: the press has been desperately manufacturing a story to suggest that Pope Benedict is somehow personally responsible for the sex abuse scandals. So far, they haven't found anything worthwhile, but it hasn't stopped them from some insane allegations.

The Cases
Here are the three almost-stories which the press has tried to attack the Vatican with:

  1. The Regensburger Domspatzen Boys’ Choir: There has been one sex abuse allegation arising from the German boy's choir that Pope Benedict's brother leads ("a school assistant who later became a priest"). Mind you, there's been no suggestion that the pope's brother (much less the pope himself) was aware of this abuse, if it occurred, much less was personally responsible: in fact, he's denied knowledge, while admitting that he sometimes hit disobedient boys. Given that the events in question were from decades ago, this revelation isn't exactly earth-shattering, much less international news. And I suppose it should go without saying that this isn't connected to the pope himself in any way.
  2. The Hullermann Case: While Pope Benedict was Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich, a priest named Fr. Hullermann was transferred into his diocese for treatment. Ratzinger's involvement extended to allowing him to stay at a Munich rectory. Later, his vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, put him back into parish work. Gruber didn't tell Ratzinger about this decision in person, and has taken total responsibility. However, Ratzinger was formally CC'd on the decision to move the priest. That doesn't mean that Ratzinger saw it personally: "An official of the Munich archdiocese pointed out to the Times that the memo was a routine one, written for the files, and 'unlikely to have landed on the archbishop's desk.' As many as 1,000 such memos are written every year with an official copy to the archbishop, another Church spokesman said." Munich's Archdiocesan spokesman said, "An archbishop doesn't read all the administrative acts. He just can't. That's why he has a vicar general. Gruber had 100 percent administrative control."
  3. The Murphy Case: Here, the pope actually was (sort of) involved, which means this is the closest they've gotten to a story yet. As Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith, the pope was mildly involved in 1996 in the handling of now-disgraced Archbishop Weakland's attempt to defrock notorious sexual predator Fr. Murphy, whose victims were deaf boys he was supposed to instruct. There's only one catch: Murphy's abuse all occurred between the 1950s and 1970s. By the time the Vatican was even notified of the situation, it had been twenty years since the last molestation, Fr. Murphy had repented, and was now an elderly disgraced priest, dying in solitude. He posed literally no threat to anyone, and expressed remorse at his previous (heinous) actions. So Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, ordered Murphy's canonical trial stopped. It also didn't help that the canonical statute of limitations had likely expired, because the Archdiocese of Milwaukee waited 40 years to notify the Vatican. So the Church did nothing formally, other than instruct that Murphy be kept out of public ministry, and to devote his remaining time to prayer and penance. He died four months later - with, of course, no further victims. From what the files currently show, it was Secretary of State Bertone who was calling the shots here, but Ratzinger was almost certainly "in the know." [Edit: Fr. Raymond de Souza explains what actually happened, complete with timeline, here - in short, this was an enormous failing on Abp. Weakland's part which he's now trying to blame on the pope].

So we have case #1, where the pope almost certainly had no idea of the situation; case #2, Hullermann, where apparently at worst, Ratzinger didn't know but should have made extra efforts to find out; and case #3, Murphy, where the decision was quite frankly the right one. Defrocking a penitent, already-disgraced dying man is just cruelty. It doesn't help any of the victims. It's just an obscene attempt at human vengence. I'm ashamed that it took the Archdiocese of Milwaukee 40 years to address this issue (a full twenty years after the point it would have protected a single child), but I'm pleased that the Vatican was merciful here.

It's worth mentioning, as John Allen does, that from about 2001 onwards, but particularly since becoming Pope, Benedict has done more to combat sex abuse in the Church than anybody.

The Media Frenzy
I don't have the stomach to handle all of the biased media accounts, but here's a taste:

  • Times (London) goes after the family: the caption on the photo of the pope's brother reads "Georg Ratzinger has admitted hearing of cases of ill-treatment during his time as director of the Regensburg choir." Sounds like sex abuse, the article's mostly about sex abuse, and yet the caption's intentionally vague "ill-treatment" isn't about sex abuse at all. In fact, the article notes that the brother denies any knowledge of pedophilia (and to my knowledge, no one is disagreeing ... just insinuating).
  • Times covers Hullerman: "NOT long after a portly, jovial priest in the German industrial city of Essen was accused of sexually abusing three boys in 1979, he was offered a new home in Munich by Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI." Offered a new home in Munich. Not "was housed at a rectory in Munich was undergoing mandatory treatment." It's as if Ratzinger went out and bought Hullerman a house so he'd infest his diocese. The remainder of the article
  • Times strikes again on Hullerman: The headline actually claims "Pope Benedict XVI 'knew child abuser allowed back to work.'" Try and find anywhere in the article where they prove that claim.
  • The New York Times' coverage of Murphy: the headline reads "Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys." Technically, this is true. But it's also pretty inflammatory given that if it's true that the statute of limitations was up, there weren't grounds to defrock him. Like saying "US court declines to punish child abuser" when in fact, the court couldn't.
  • AP addressed both cases under the headline "Glance at church abuse cases handled by pope." Yet neither case was "handled" by the pope in any reasonable sense of that term. Msgr. Gruber and Cardinal Bertone made the controversial decisions in these cases, not Pope Benedict. For a third case that they mention, they note as an aside, "As pope, Benedict is not directly involved in any stage of this case." So he's not exactly "handling" that case, either.
  • Bonnie Erbe of US News & World Report began her post on the subject as follows: "The pope's involvement in and even sanctioning of the priest pedophilia scandal continues to grow..." Think about that. A "reporter" is claiming that pope wasn't just involved with the scandal, but that he sanctioned it. He wanted the abuse to happen. And what's her evidence? The first two news reports I mentioned. It's a negative cycle: inaccurate news leading to even less accurate opinion.

None of the cases actually make the pope look very bad at all, and what's worse, if the media succeeds in undermining Benedict's papacy in the eyes of the public, they'll only succeed in wrecking one of the most powerful voices for those abused by predatory priests. It was Benedict, after all, who made a point to meet with sex abuse victims in the US during his visit to our country, a literally unprecedented move. And it's been Benedict who loudly decried the "filth" responsible for the abuse scandal. Perhaps most importantly, it's been Benedict who instituted a zero-tolerance policy for sex abuse to prevent repeat molesters. If you're looking for action, he's your man. If you're looking for finger-pointing and hand-wringing, look to virtually all of his episcopal critics.

A Funny Sidenote
As you can probably see, the media leaves its fact-checking at the door where Church scandal is involved. And sometimes, this turns out hilariously. In one of the most extreme attacks, ABC News suggests that Benedict should consider resigning as pope. Consider: he hasn't been shown to have done a single thing wrong, none of this was done while he was pope, he's implemented much-needed reforms to address the situation ... and the media wants him to resign in shame. In the article, the "reporters" recount the sex abuse crisis and say "Those would be devastating scenarios for most world leaders, but not for the pope." Of course they're devestating for the pope! What they really mean is, "It turns out that the pope can't be fired!" And they're pretty shocked. But as this next quote goes to show, they're also incredibly ignorant of Catholicism. Here goes:

"He is really accountable to no one, and that is the history," said former priest Richard Sipe, author of the 1990 book, "A Secret World" about the priesthood. "There have been a pope or two who have resigned, several hundred have been murdered, but it's a very stable organization from the top down. What other monarchy do you know that's lasted for 2,000 years?"

I had to re-read that quote a couple times to make sure I wasn't confused, and now it makes me laugh. "Several hundred" popes have been murdered? Benedict's only the 265th pope! If several hundred of his predecessors were murdered, that would make murder the cause of death for virtually every pope in history. It's like saying "several dozen" presidents have been murdered. As for murders... what the heck is he talking about? The closest thing I can think of is martyrdom, which several (not several hundred) sufferred. But no pope (barring weird John Paul I conspiracy theories) has ever been murdered by someone in the Church -- which is what this sort of quote seems to suggest (forced retirement?).

Almost makes me want to buy his book.

Two Types of Traditions

An online thread recently reminded me of the mass confusion which exists on the issue of tradition. A commenter was upset that Catholics had Tradition, finding it anti-Biblical. When asked about where the Bible came from, and why that wasn't a Tradition, (s)he declared that the Bible "is the word of God, and came from God," and was therefore, not a tradition. But the Bible is abundently clear that it considers itself Tradition.

To understand Tradition, you have to understand that it's simply anything passed down. As such, it can be good, bad, or neutral. The Bible distinguishes between two types of Tradition: Traditions from God, and traditions of men. The former Traditions are absolutely binding. The latter may help or hurt our spiritual journeys: they're good when they help, and bad when they hurt.

Traditions of Men
At two primary points in the Gospel (Matthew 15 and Mark 7, recounting the same event), Jesus condemns the Pharisees' excessive, man-made traditions, which prevented them from being even mildly charitable:
  • The Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 15:2-3, "'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!' Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?'" He explains precisely how they've violated Scripture through their man-made traditions, and concludes in Matthew 15:6, "Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition."
  • In Mark's parallel account (Mark 7:8-9), Jesus says to the Pharisees, "'You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.' And he said to them: 'You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!'" He goes on, in Mark 7:13-15 to say, "'Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.' Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him "unclean" by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'" Jesus draws the same conclusion in Matthew 15:10-20.
  • St. Paul likewise, warns in Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

Some Protestants use these verses to argue against the idea of all Tradition. They do no such thing. Each of these verses (as the bolding shows) specifies "human tradition" or "your tradition" as potentially problematic.

Traditions from God
In fact, St. Paul argues explicitly for Tradition when he writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." It's worth noting that the exact same word is used in every one of the passages I've mentioned so far. There are three important things to draw from 2 Thessalonians 2:15:

  1. Apostolic Tradition is binding.
  2. Scripture is Apostolic Tradition "by letter."
  3. Scripture isn't the only Apostolic Tradition.

The reason that Apostolic Tradition, including Scripture, is binding is because it comes from God. Paul refers to Scripture as "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16), so even though it's one of "the traditions [the Apostles] passed on to [us]," Apostolic Tradition doesn't originate from the Apostles, it originates from Christ. For that reason, and for that reason alone, it's binding. If, say, St. Peter happened to personally prefer one type of bread to another for the Eucharist, it's irrelevant. On the other hand, if Christ specified one type of bread (either explicitly or implicitly), we'd be smart to follow Him.

One final note on traditions of men: the ones which Jesus condemned were worthy of condemnation. The one Jesus hones in on is a tradition permitting people to not support their elderly parents if they gave the money to Temple instead. In other words, they were violating a Tradition handed down from God, and replacing it with a tradition handed down from their elders. In no case is that ever okay. But traditions handed down from your elders can be important (and in some cases, binding) helps for your spiritual journey. Likewise, Paul condemns "hollow and deceptive philosophy," not all philosophy. Good philosophy can help to give you a healthy moral outlook, to create a just state, and so on. So there's good, neutral, and bad traditions (and philosophies) of men, and good (and binding) Traditions of God, which we call Apostolic Tradition, because of who handed them on to us.

Good Friday Pre-Game

Yesterday (March 25th) was the Annunciation. The Annunciation is when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told Her that She was going to bear Christ Jesus. Because we don't know the actual date it occurred on, it's long been celebrated on March 25th because it coincides with Jesus' Passion, roughly. The Jews had a tradition that the great prophets died on either their birthday day or day of conception, because it signalled a complete life. So symbolically, March 25 is as good a date as any -- the date for Christmas was then set by moving the clock forward exactly nine months (granted, pregnancies aren't actually exactly nine months, but they're approximating here). On the old English calendar, this was called Lady Day (Old English for "Our Lady's Day"), and was the start of the New Year (January 1st, in contrast, was awkwardly called Circumcision Day, because it's the 8th day after Christmas, so the day Jesus would have been circumcised). The fact that Lady Day marked the New Year is significant, because it signaled that even way back then, people got it. Jesus came into the world when Mary conceived Him, not when He was born. His earthly life began on "Lady Day," so it made for a good "new beginning" every year. It's a good day to turn your life over, and in the modern context, a good day to pray for an end to abortion. (Update: Turns out, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a very good post on this!)

On the subject of the liturgical year, the Holiest Season of the year starts next week. That's right, this Sunday is already Palm Sunday (I'm amazed at how fast Lent went), Holy Week's next week, and Thursday night to Sunday night are Triduum, the most sacred time of the liturgical year. If you're not familiar, Triduum is three days based on the Jewish calendar, so the day begins at sunset:
  1. Thursday Night to Friday Night: This includes Maundy Thursday (the beginning of Christ's Passion: the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of feet, the institution of the priesthood, the first three cups of the Passover meal, the Agony in the Garden) and Good Friday (Christ's death on the Cross, including His famous "seven words")
  2. Friday Night to Saturday Night: Holy Saturday. Christ is in the tomb, preaching to the souls in hell (note, at this time, there's a hell of sufferring and a hell of waiting, since even the faithful departed couldn't enter Heaven until Christ paid the price for their sins). To those on Earth, it seems that the Messiah is gone.
  3. Saturday night to Sunday Night: Easter! Easter Vigil is simply the most amazing Mass of the year. Normal weekday Masses have two readings (a reading from either the Old Testament or a New Testament epistle, and a Gospel reading), normal Sunday Masses have three (OT reading, NT epistle, and Gospel). Easter Vigil has SEVEN, plus numerous responsorial Psalms. Easter Vigil is where new Catholics are confirmed and (if need be) baptized, so the Vigil is set up to tell the story of salvation history from Genesis forwards, all through the Old Testament, up to the Resurrection of Christ. If you were to try and understand Catholic teaching from a single Mass, this would be the one.
As a preview for Good Friday next week, here's an excellent homily delivered by Pope John Paul I when he was Patriarch of Venice in 1974, four years before his election to the papacy and his death. This is apparently the entire homily:
During the reading of John’s deeply compassionate account, I have contemplated him together with you: full of sorrows, nailed in his hands and suspended; nailed in his feet and immobilized. There I was, facing him: I who cannot bear obstacles, I who shrug off every annoyance, I who am drowning in ease. And yet I profess to be his disciple. I have a beautiful crucifix hanging on the wall of my study; another crucifix at the end of the rosary that I carry in my pocket; I make the sign of the Cross I don’t know how many times a day; every day I celebrate the Mass, the sacrifice of the Cross represented on the altar. In spite of all this, I am so afraid of crosses.

Reflecting on crosses, I have made a distinction. There are some that do not make us tremble. For example: the pain that is heavy, but which you have the strength to bear. Competition, which exhausts you and leaves you breathless, which makes you thirsty and wears you out, but at the same time, stimulates you to overcome your opponent and reach the finish line in glory. These are very small crosses.

The cross is a beam fastened to a crossbeam. It is, therefore, the road blocked in front of me. I thought I would be able to go on and someone stops me, unjustly blocking all of my hopes. I cherished legitimate desires and I see them destroyed from beginning to end. I wanted to keep my feet on the ground and I find myself separated from the earth, lifted up and nailed where I really didn’t want to be. And without any glory; the same people who sympathize with me outwardly for propriety’s sake, deep down are laughing at me. This really is a cross, this wounds the depths of the heart, it twists the soul, and makes this cry rise spontaneously to the lips: This I really didn’t want, Lord! Let this cup pass from me, Lord! Transeat, Lord!

Jesus too experienced this; in the garden he felt prostrated, annihilated, sorrowful unto death. He too, said: “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me.” Afterward, however, he accepted it heroically. Afterward, he said: “let not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

My brothers and sisters! Let us also try to say our Fiat and carry our daily cross. To us too, as to Christ, a little bit of strength will come from the Father. On our painful journey, there will also be some Simon of Cyrene to help us; a mother to suffer along with us and console us.

In any case, every cross is a passing thing; it is the road, not the goal. And no crosses without heaven in view. St. Peter wrote: “Rejoice in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly” (1 Peter 4:13).
Happy Lent!

The Double Standard

I was reading another review of John Armstrong's book, from a different perspective. The reviewer is an Evangelically-inclined "ordained" Anglican named David, who says of the book, "I have to be honest with you, I really wanted to like this book. Really wanted to. Honestly." Remember, this book is about mission-ecumenism, which the reviewer presumably knew, and yet his entire post is about how he just can't stomach considering the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as Christian. He really wanted the book to be just about Evangelicals churches accepting each other as Christian institutions, rather than non-Evangelical churches. And certainly not the Orthodox or Catholic Church. He says:
Now, of course, this is not to say that there are not Christians within both the Roman Catholic church and Orthodoxy - I am utterly convinced that there are - but Armstrong is talking about the institutions themselves. It has long been an evangelical understanding that that is simply not true.

As support, he then quotes Article 19 of the Anglican 39 Articles of Faith for the proposition that: "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith." Now let's assume that this is right, for the sake of argument. Is his position really that any church which has erred is simply not Christian? This is his position... as an ordained Anglican? The Anglican church decided at the Eighth Lambeth Conference in 1948 against women's ordination as "against tradition and order," and the Anglican church decided at the Twelfth Lambeth Conference in 1988 that each province had the ability to ordain women if they wanted to, and the other provinces had to accept their decision. It seems to me that this puts the blog's author, David, in the weird position of arguing either that (a) the Anglican church was right to deny and to permit women's ordination; (b) that the Anglican church erred, and therefore, he's ordained in a non-Christian church; or (c) that Protestants and Catholics get held to different standards by Protestants. It's okay for two Protestant denominations to fiercely disagree and still acknowledge each other as Christians, but to extend this to Catholics would ... something.

I asked him about this (see comments), and he claims that the distinction is that Catholics violate "a fundamental issue of the gospel," which is all he claims that Article XIX really covers. And further, he claims that the " difference with Rome is that it has redefined the Gospel," and "on a matter of salvation." This distinction seems incredibly squishy, even arbitrary. First, a lot of the problems the Anglican church has are because they've violated some pretty clear parts of the Gospel on issues of women's ordination and homosexuality. Second, the issue I think he's getting to (justification) is sort of a non-starter. The Catholic view isn't Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. It's probably even closer to the Reformed position than the Arminian position is. Yet in his post, David explicitly accepts those who hold Arminian view of justification. I'm not saying that there's no reasonable grounds on which someone can get to the Reformed view of justification. I'm saying that there's no grounds which I can see upon which both Calvinist and Arminian views on justification are considered "Christian," while the Catholic view is not only "non-Christian," but a distortion of the Gospel which discredits every ancient Church from being considered Christian. So it's not clear to me that the Anglican church doesn't violate a fundamental issue of the Gospel (fundamental to who?), and it's not clear to me why the Arminian and Reformed positions are both okay, while the Catholic one is not.

Protestantism's Eastern Blindspot

That's the title of an excellent post by Orthocath, an ex-Eastern Catholic (now Eastern Orthodox) blogger. His point is that Protestants frequently claim things like Catholic Eucharistic theology are Medieval inventions ... completely ignoring that the Eastern Orthodox hold virtually identical views, despite the Great Schism of 1054. And to those Protestants who would suggest that the Great Apostasy simply had happened by 1054, Orthocath raises the stakes by bringing up the Coptic Church in Egypt, which has been in schism from the Church since 451 A.D. Yet look at how similar their liturgy looks:

If you don't want to watch the whole thing, just skip to about 2:15 in, with a vested priest kissing and praying over the bread. If you DO want to watch the whole thing, Orthocath explains where you can find the rest. Orthocath concludes:
The Coptic Church demonstrates that a liturgical and sacramental theology permeated the Christian Church 600 years before the East-West Schism. At the very least, we can say that at the time of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), a Protestant theological approach is light years away. Did it exist before then? Were there Christians in the Early Church who looked like the Evangelicals of today? If so, they left no mark in either the Ancient Churches nor in the writings of the Church Fathers in East or West.
Well said.

(h/t Mark Shea for pointing out this post)

Book Review: Your Church is Too Small, by John Armstrong

I'm a delinquent part of the Zondervan Blog Tour for John Armstrong's new book Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church. I signed up for an advanced copy in exchange for which I was supposed to review the book last week. Unfortunately, I hadn't finished the book last week, and didn't feel ready to respond. So my apologies to John and the folks at Zondervan.

John Armstrong, some of you may have guessed, is the same John Armstrong whose blog graces my blogroll. He's a former Evangelical-Reformed pastor and church planter, founder of ACT3, and is currently an adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School, amongst other things. His blog is consistently interesting, dealing routinely with ecumenical issues. His book was no exception: there were many parts with which I was very pleased, and while I frequently disagreed with his conclusions, I'm elated that there are Evangelicals asking the questions he's asking, and grappling with subjects like Church, Tradition, and so forth in a serious, humble, and non-adversarial way. It's hard to mistake the love which radiates through John's writings. In all honesty, I was a bit concerned about criticizing his book, because I consider him in very many ways my superior. But nevertheless, I asked for this, and I'm going to do it.

I. The Crux of the Book
In Your Church is Too Small (YCITS), John argues for something he calls mission-ecumenism in this book: it's a call for the Church to unite, to evangelize, and to learn to love and trust even those we disagree with. In Chapter 18, he gives examples of communities and organizations which fulfill this model. The most fascinating of these examples is almost certainly the Taizé Community, whose founder, "Brother Roger," believed in a very similar goal for the Church to John's own (p. 186). It's a Christian community, essentially monastic in nature, with Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox members living in unity. Fascinating stuff. Brother Roger himself received Communion, declaring no differences in his Eucharistic theology than the Catholic Church's (it's worth mentioning that then-Cardinal Ratzinger's decision to permit him to receive has been often criticized by traditional Catholic; I've abstained from taking a side, for lack of information). John also argues that "the road to the future must run through the past" (17).

Some of the finer parts are when John argues that "True Christian faith is not found in personal religious feelings but in the historical and incarnational reality of a confessing church. Therefore, if we refuse to come to groups with our past, our future will not be distinctively Christian" (18).
John also focuses heavily in YCITS on John 17:20-23, and quotes it in its entirety twice (29 and 41). He refers to it as “The Lord’s Prayer” because “it is a prayer that only our Lord could offer to the Father, not one we can pray as he did. It is also the longest and most comprehensive recorded prayer of Jesus” (42). And, John notes, it’s explicitly intended for both His immediate Disciples as well as all of us who will believe in Him in ages to come. He quotes John Calvin (!) for the proposition that "Whoever tears asunder the Church of God, disunites himself from Christ, who is the head, and who would have all his members to be united together" (26).

In furtherance of this missional-ecumenical goal, John takes on conservative Evangelicals who think of ecumenism as a bad word, and how they've attempted to get around John 17:20-23 by arguing that since "the invisible church, consisting of all true Christians cannot be divided, so it must be the invisible unity of the church that Jesus is praying for here"(42-43). This analysis can’t be the full story, since as John reasonably notes, praying that people will possess something which they already do possess is senseless. Jesus’ prayer is explicitly for believers now and in the future, so everyone He’s covering is already spiritually and invisibly united in some sense for this prayer to even apply to them. So what else is there? John argues that Jesus is praying instead for “relational unity” (43). So he's for a visible Church which is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, and which is rooted in, and informed by, Tradition (although not to the exclusion of Scripture). There is, in other words, much that I find incredibly promising in his vision.

But that said, there's much which was, frankly, disappointing. John's asking a lot of questions which scream "Catholic Church" as their answer, and yet he remains as he was, and that's liable to be a decision hard to understand as a Catholic. Yet I find that when he did address specific Catholic objections to his position, his responses just weren't up to par from what I've come to expect of him. These are the areas where I feel like room for reconsideration, reflection and prayer may be fruitful, because what John doesn't evince is any spirit of hostility towards Catholicism.

II. How to Achieve This Unity?
John quotes the evangelical Biblical scholar Ben Witherington for a critical claim:
There is always a tension in the church between unity among believers and truth as it is understood and held by believers. Protestantism has tended to uphold Truth, with a capital T, while intoning unity with a lowercase u, with the end result that Protestant churches and denominations have proved endlessly divisive and factious. On the other hand, Catholicism and Orthodoxy have held up Unity with a capital U, and at least from a Protestant viewpoint this has been at the expense of Truth. In other words, no part of the church has adequately gotten the balance between truth and unity right, it would seem.
(45, quoting Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel). John rightly asks, “Why couldn’t we choose to embrace both Truth and Unity?” (45). I'm more struck, however, at how topsy-turvy Witherington's entire analysis is. In my own experience, Protestant denominations readily concede that they have no monopoly on Truth, and that other valid Christian denominations (however narrowly they might draw up that list) may affirm some truths which their own denomination denies or ignores. This is the "ecclesial Deism" notion which we've talked about here before. At its extreme fringe, there are Catholics who believe that no non-Catholics are saved. I've yet to meet a Baptist who believed that of non-Baptists. And all orthodox Catholics believe that the Church subsists in the Catholic Church. No Baptist believes this about their Church. In my own experience and observation, I've seen American Protestantism suffering greatly with incomplete truth and deep divisions preventing unity: the same individual willing to admit that another denomination might have some truth his denomination doesn't have is frequently unwilling to fellowship with that other denomination anyways. And even Witherington's concession that "Catholicism and Orthodoxy have held up Unity with a capital U, and at least from a Protestant viewpoint this has been at the expense of Truth" betrays the whole argument. If the Protestant viewpoint is wrong, Catholics and/or Orthodox demonstrate that one can have Truth and Unity simultaneously: there's no either-or about it. In fact, the two are obviously related. When Europe experienced the fewest heresies, She experienced the most religious unity. So Catholicism's claim is simple enough: to the extent everyone believes as She has always believed, they will enjoy the company of a massive and ancient Church. It's Unity through Truth, or Truth through Unity, depending on how you look at it. But it's certainly not Unity at the expense of Truth, a charge I'm frankly baffled by (the usual Protestant charge against the Church is that She's too restrictive with alternate dogmas, not too permissive).

John identifies three ways in which “cooperational unity,” rooted in our shared love of Christ, might work: unanimity, uniformity, and union. John says that unanimity “assumes we should reach agreement in everything” (54). Uniformity, as John deals with it here, refers primarily to a “common liturgical practice,” with everyone praying in the same manner (56). Finally, union involves the bringing of “all of us into one visible, united church” (56-57). All three of these are important concepts, and I’m impressed with John’s keenness in noting the importance of a shared liturgical practice for the fullest of Christian unity, although I think there’s much which can be said on this topic.

Unanimity is the first, and most important of the three, since from it flow the other two. John correctly identifies it as the Catholic position, “given their belief about the magisterium and the papacy” (54). Since he’s tied it with the Magisterium and the papacy, I’m assuming that the “agreement in everything” he’s referring to is on faith and morals (or else, the reference to Magisterial teaching is inappropriate). He contrasts this position with that of liberal Protestants who “have tended to move in the opposite direction and see agreement on any significant doctrinal formulation as nonessential” (55). So the unanimity we’re talking about is on doctrinal issues.

Yet John surprisingly argues against this uniformity, and through appeal to Hans Küng, who argues that to judge unity “by externals (canon law, ecclesiastical language, church administration, etc.) is to misunderstand it completely” (55, quoting Küng, The Church, 353-54). As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t even responsive to the Catholic position. The Eastern Catholic churches are in full communion with the Western (Latin Rite) Catholic churches, all under the spiritual authority of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict. My friend J.P. is Marionite, for example. His church has a different Code of Canon Law than mine; his church has a different ecclesiastical language (Syriac-Aramaic) than mine (Latin, along with the vernacular); and we have different church administration. His patriarch is Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeïr, my patriarch is Pope Benedict (who is Patriarch of the West as well as earthly head of the universal Church). So Catholics obviously and demonstrably don’t believe that to have unanimity on all issues of faith, you need identical canon law, ecclesiastical language, or church administration. A common canon law, ecclesiastical language, and church administration has virtually nothing to do with a shared faith, which is what this section relates to.

Küng’s quote is one of his characteristic red herrings about what the Church teaches, and it’s a pity that John limits his treatment of the Catholic view of unanimity so lightly. After all, what is the possible problem with everyone believing the same doctrines about God and His Church? Are we concerned that God will allow all of us to go astray? The Catholic position is nothing less than a full-throated “Yes, Sir!” to Christ’s call to “complete unity” (John 17:23).

The second issue which John addresses is uniformity, “in faith and practice” (55). I’m a bit confused on this, since uniformity in faith seems to be unanimity – what does it mean to have a non-unanimous, uniform belief in something? In practice, John’s treatment is limited to liturgical uniformity. He says that there “is much to recommend this approach” (55). Yet not even a full page prior, he approvingly quoted Küng’s dismissal of just such liturgical commonalities (like ecclesiastical language). So while I find this a bit baffling, I’m inclined to agree with John on the benefits of having a common liturgical practice, while acknowledging the real danger that having an overly-uniform liturgy can be stifling to evangelism. This is a truth which the Catholic Church has learned (repeatedly) the hard way. Liturgy points profoundly towards God, but we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit, and to allow people and cultures to use their particular gifts in the manner most pleasing to God. Francis Cardinal Arinze, himself from Nigeria, has argued this same point quite beautifully on the concrete issue of dancing in the Liturgy. On this issue, I think John's spot-on.

Finally, there’s the question of union. John correctly (and frankly, bravely) identifies “the “goal of Jesus’ prayer” in John 17:20-23 as “to bring all of us into one visible, united church” (56). Again, it is hard for me to understand how we can all be in one visible, united Church, without having some shared Church administration and governance. John then notes that even when both parties believe that union is essential to unity, that’s not the end of the story: the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church share this belief, but have not yet repaired their rift. A lesser form of union, John notes, is found in ministerial relationships across denominational divides. Then John says, “Most scholars agree that very little in the New Testament resembles anything like a central church that represented all Christian churches” (57). This statement seems open to misinterpretation. A Christian living in Jerusalem who moved to Corinth wouldn’t wonder which church to join. There were no competing denominations. The thing dividing the early Church was geography, not ecclesiology. In its infancy, very little administrative structure was needed to ensure doctrinal unity: the Apostles and St. Paul were alive and travelling to ensure order in every church. This is important, and often overlooked, fact. Every church was answerable to these men.

Yet there was still one city’s church, from the earliest days, which “represented all Christian churches.” St. Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies (Book 3, Chapter 3, section 2) written between 175-185 A.D, refers tothat tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.” So during the New Testament age, Peter and Paul were founding and organizing the church in Rome. And St. Irenaeus says further that the faith of the Church at Rome “comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” So in the second century, we hear Irenaeus claiming Roman primacy as not just a tradition already ancient, but a tradition founded by Peter and Paul.

Obviously, it looked different in the first century than it does today. The Church has exploded in size, communication and transportation are dramatically improved, and new threats to the Church have popped up. We wouldn’t expect Western Union to look the same way today that it looked in the 1850s as a small business. But finally, if John is right, and he is, that Jesus’ goal in John 17:20-23 is to see us all in one visible, united Church, this requires some sort of central governing body. There’s simply no way to have two billion Christians united in anything more than name unless the shepherds are united, and if each shepherd answers only to himself (or if each denominational body answers only to itself), schism and dissension will happen. It has happened every time it’s been tried, and Protestantism has been trying it for centuries. So Jesus’ goal requires some entity: a person, a church, a governing board, something – which can serve as a final determination on divisive issues which threaten the unity of the Church. As it happens, the early Church witness is pretty clear what that entity was: the College of Bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome, who possessed some sort of primacy and unique authority.

III. On the Use of Catholic Dissidents, and the Marks of the Church
One of the too-easy dismissals which John falls into is one I've found to be true of the vast majority of Protestant writers: he assumes that if he can find a self-described Catholic who opposes the Church teaching on a certain issue, the Church is wrong, or the issue is still up in the air. Any Catholic can tell you that this isn't the case, of course, and I'm sure that if he thought about it directly, John would agree. Lots of self-described Christians denied the Divinity of Christ: some still do. The presence of heretics doesn't disprove orthodoxy, or throw it into chaos. Yet I was appalled to find John favorably citing to “Hans Küng, a Catholic theologian who has often criticized his own church” (54). Küng is not a Catholic theologian. He was stripped of his ability to call himself such on December 18, 1979, in response to his frankly non-Catholic views on virtually all important issues dividing Catholics from both Protestants and non-Christians. John also cites Fr. Raymond E. Brown favorably (59), and cites rather extensively to Luke Timothy Johnson (see, e.g., 70-72, 135); he cites to Fr. Richard McBrien (115), to disgraced Archbishop Rembert Weakland, identifying him only as “a Catholic archbishop” in the text (117) and John W. O’Malley. This is not an exhaustive list, but it's an illustrative one. With rare exception, the citations to these dissenting Catholics are to "disprove" the Catholic view on an issue in question.

For example, in his chapter on the Four Marks of the Church (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic), John arrives at "Apostolic." Now, the early Church had a very specific meaning for what the Apostolic Church was. It was the Church founded by the Apostles. It was emphatically not whichever candidate felt it best upheld the principles articulated by the Apostle. In fact, the addition of this Mark of the Church between the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed was to make it abundantly clear how one could tell the authentic Church from impostors. This concept is, of course, problematic to Protestantism, whose denominations are clearly not Apostolic in the sense the Early Church Fathers used the term. That's a serious problem worthy of a serious answer. But instead, John just quotes Luke Timothy Johnson as follows:
The church in every age must be measured by the standard of the apostolic age as witnessed not by the later tradition but by direct appeal to the writings of the New Testament. Placing the contemporary church against the one depicted in the Acts of the Apostles makes clear how much the prophetic witness of the church has been compromised by its many strategies of adaptation and survival over the centuries. This is the sense of the word employed by reformers like Martin Luther, who combated the excrescences of medieval Catholicism by appealing to the teaching and practice of the New Testament. Where in the New Testament do we find pope or cardinals? Where do we find mandatory celibacy? Where do we find indulgences, or even purgatory? Where do we find the office of the Inquisition? These are powerful questions. Equally needed is the prophetic call to a simpler and more radical “New Testament” lifestyle by Christians.
(70, quoting Johnson, The Creed, p. 274). So Luke Timothy Johnson claims that instead of understanding Apostolic to mean what it originally meant, we should use the term to mean sola Scriptura, which it never meant (and which inexplicably reduces the Apostolic teachings to simply the writings). So if a new Church can show that it is more similar to (its own understandings of) the Apostolic Church, it gets to take the title Apostolic.

There are a lot of problems with this, not least of which is that Luke Timothy Johnson doesn't believe a word of it. It's just a way to attack the Church. In advocating for same-sex marriage, he says openly, "I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straight-forward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good." So use some sort of sola Scriptura when it helps, discard it when it doesn't. If Johnson weren't a self-described Catholic, it's hard to see John quoting him at such length, since he's obviously wrong about the meaning of Apostolic. And shouldn't the Creed mean what the men who, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, understood it to mean? Or at least, not something diametrically opposed?

Don't get me wrong: I am quite confident that the Church's teachings on issues of faith and morals, including Petrine primacy, Roman primacy, celibacy, indulgences, purgatory can be traced with certainty to the Apostolic era. But the idea behind saying, in the section of the Creed dealing with the Holy Spirit, that we believe in (the same Credo used for our belief in the three persons of the Trinity) "One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church" is that there already is such a Church. We weren't waiting around for 1500 years for Martin Luther to make the Church more Holy and Apostolic by making it less One and Catholic. On the Catholicity of the Church, John quotes Luke Timothy Johnson being equally idiotic by claiming that the term Roman Catholic "is oxymoronic," and that while "the Roman Catholic tradition (the reader will remember it is my own) may believe the Roman tradition is all-encompassing, but that is simply mistaken." (70, quoting Johnson, The Creed, p. 268-69). Of course, the term is not oxymoronic. Pope Benedict, in his capacity as a private theologian, demonstrates the necessity of both halves of this dynamic in his 1961 essay "Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica," a copy of which can be found in God's Word. That essay also clearly shows the recourse to Apostolic succession, rather than private interpretation of Scripture, in the early Church. Or, if you don't want to look there, go to page 99 of YCITS, where John quotes Cyril of Jerusalem:
The church is thus called "catholic" because it is spread throughout the entire inhabited world, from one end to the other, and because it teaches in its totality and without elaving anything out every doctrine people need to know relating to things visible and invisible , whether in heaven and earth...
So nota bene: the historic use of Catholic wasn't "contains everybody," a concept closer to Unitarianism; it's "contains every vital doctrine," which is the precise thing you'd expect to be tied to a specific, identifiable body. Of course, Cyril also notes that the Church is Catholic because it is global and relevant to all stratas of society, but again, this is true of the Roman Catholic Church today and throughout Her history.

IV. The Heart of The Problem?
It seems to me that the heart of the problem is this: the Catholic Church views Herself as the source and summit of earthly ecumenicism, while John seems to view Her as one of innumerable competing denominations, with no particularly special claim. When the Church talks ecumenism, She's looking for how She can adapt to the needs and concerns of others, without violating those Truths specially entrusted to Her. When John talks ecumenism, it seems almost as though he expects the Church to simply stop claiming to be something unique and special so that no one feels threatened by Her. An example illustrates this this. On page 134, he begins, "Denominations are clearly not found in the Bible, and it is time everyone admits this fact." At this point, my highlighter was out: this is a point I've long argued. There may be a number of home churches in Rome, and a separate diocese in Jerusalem, but they're theologically on the same page - John comes pretty close to saying the same thing himself on pages 108-109. But then he continues: "Perhaps the only biblical analogue that comes close to our current situation is in Paul’s discussion about worldliness in the church at Corinth. One could compare Paul’s language to our modern context and hear people saying, ‘I belong to John Calvin. I belong to John Wesley. I belong to Benedict XVI’" (134).

Of course, one of these things is not like the others. John Calvin started Calvinism, John Wesley started Methodism, and Benedict XVI started... the journal Communio, I suppose. Obviously, he didn’t start Catholicism. So if we were going to make this parallel complete, who would fill in for Benedict XVI? Who “founded” Catholicism? Not Benedict, not John Paul II, not Gregory the Great, not Emperor Constantine, and not even Peter. From a historical, theological and biblical perspective, the case for any of these candidates is weak. The answer, it seems to me, is found in Matthew 16:17-19. As John notes, the early Church was not a denomination. There wasn’t a second alternative. There was one Church, some obvious heresies, and religious groups which rejected Christ. So at what point does that one Church become a denomination? And why? Does it cease to be the Church, and become a “denomination” at the Great Schism, or the Reformation? If so, why? On what Biblical basis could we possibly derive that answer? Safely, we can say that Christ set up the Catholic Church and it is not, and never has been, a “denomination.” But John's perception of Her as such seems to lead to a lot of the confusion between our two views of the Church.

V. Some of the Finer Points
I feel like I've been quick to point out areas in which John and I disagree on the Church, but I don't want you to get the impression that the book is badly written, or an anti-Catholic polemic, or anything of the sort. John is careful to offer balanced and constructive criticism towards those who he feels are in error, even his elders, like the Catholic Church; my hope is that he'll appreciate the same done in kind to himself. In truth, the book has a number of insightful points. A few short remarks he made which struck me as succinctly addressing important points were:
  • “True Christian faith is not found in personal religious feelings but in the historical and incarnational reality of a confessing church. Therefore, if we refuse to come to groups with our past, our future will not be distinctively Christian” (18).
  • Everyone interprets the Bible. This truth may be abundantly clear to you, but I have that it is easily forgotten by ‘Bible-centered’ Christians. Quoting the Bible rarely settles disagreements. By themselves, Bible verses fail to promote unity” (79).
  • “Before there was a completed Bible, how did the church understand and confess the living message of Christ?” (79).
  • “As a young Christian, I was taught that the church was divided and confused immediately after the generation of the apostles. But the historical evidence fails to support this idea. Cults often suggest this notion as they seek to promote ‘new’ revelation. However, some evangelicals have also used it to argue against historical traditions” (86, my emphasis added).
  • “We are saved as the people of God called to live in community. There are two traps to be avoided here – (1) pseudo-pious sentimentality in which we fail to see that the church must have organization and (2) institutionalism in which we fail to see that the church is a living organism” (105).
  • “Combined with Western individualism, this stress on personal salvation misses the narrative (story line) of the Bible and gives people another reason not to care deeply about the church. The biggest problem with the Western emphasis is that it misses the cosmic dimensions of the gospel – ‘the universal nature of God’s work in all of history.” (114, quoting Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World?, p. 24).
  • “The question is really not ‘Do I believe in tradition?’ but ‘Which tradition will I follow?’ Every evangelical subculture is laden with traditions peculiar to its own history.” (122, quoting Robert E. Webber).
  • “In the first several centuries of Christianity, there is no doubt that Christianity was passed on primarily through oral tradition” (123).
  • “Many evangelicals opposed Christian tradition because they pit the spiritual against the historical. This is a false antithesis. Those who dispense with tradition always create new traditions” (123).
  • “In the New Testament, there are two types of tradition: (1) the ‘human traditions,’ which are strongly condemned by Jesus in Mark 7:6-8, and (2) the holy or apostolic tradition, referred to by Paul, who tells us ‘to hold fast to the teachings [traditions] we passed on to you’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15)” (124).
  • “My appeal here is simple: The modern church desperately needs both ministers and nonprofessionals to read the patristic writers” (127).
  • “I do not wish to overdramatize my point, but evangelicalism’s two-hundred-year approach to tradition has been an unmitigated disaster” (130).
A number of these, you may have noticed, come from his chapter on Tradition. That was the chapter I felt perhaps the most comfortable in, although the chapter I found the most interesting was probably his chapter on whether the Church is or isn't the Kingdom of God. Another fascinating section is when John addresses Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict XVI's) book The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood. In it, John says that Ratzinger “appealed to the biblical basis for cooperation and argued that love can be perfected through God’s fatherhood, Christ’s divine sonship, and our brotherhood. Ratzinger wrote of two communities – Protestant and Catholic (and everything he says applies to the Orthodox as well). He admits we are not yet in the one visible mystery of the same church, which he believes to be the Roman Catholic Church. But he explains how our two communities can now receive each other as sister communities, treating individual Christians as ‘brothers to each.’” (117, quoting Ratzinger, Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, 87-91). That's pretty directly on-point to John's desire: Ratzinger's answer seems to be, 'the doctrinal issues are worth working out, and we'll keep on working them out until we have One visible Church again (or the Lord comes back, whichever comes first); but until then, let's make sure we're embracing each other as brethren in Christ.' Or, in his own words:
Admittedly, the brotherhood between Catholics and Protestants includes the fact that both belong to a different traditional community - includes, too, the separation, and the pain of the separation, and thus presents a constant challenge to overcome it. Indeed, it is important not to ignore the element of separation which is inevitably part of this brotherhood and gives it its particular quality; to ignore it is ultimately to become reconciled to it, and that is just what we must not do.
(117, quoting Ratzinger, Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, 91). I think that sums up both John and Benedict's points on how we should behave pretty beautifully.

VI. Conclusion
I clearly disagree with some of John's conclusions, and I'm longing for him to go into greater depths on the Catholic questions, since so many times he seems to flirt with the Catholic position, and then withdraw without an immediately obvious explanation. But the book's first major redeeming strength is that it's incredibly thought-provoking. It's second is that, for all of the ecclesiological disagreements John and I may have, I think we can unite around the common cause that we should embrace one another as Christians and go into the world, arm in arm, to help bring about the Kingdom. And that, more or less, is the entire point of his book.

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