Friday, October 29, 2010

The NIV on Tradition and Teachings

In my opinion, the NIV is one of the nicest versions of the Bible.  It's easier to read and understand than the NASB; doesn't pretend God speaks in King James English; and stays more faithful to the original Scriptures than "The Message" and similar versions. More technically, it's a good mix of dynamic and formal equivalence, capturing the meaning of the Greek, while trying to preserve the precise wording as well.  These are all reasons I enjoy the NAB, as well. while we're on the subject. 

But I have one huge beef with the NIV: its translators, headed by Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals, were so phobic of Catholicism that they altered texts of the Bible to avoid Catholic interpretations.  The easiest example of this is in the NIV's strategic translation of texts referring to Tradition.
 Tradition or Teachings?
One of the major disputes between Catholics and Protestant so-called "Bible Christians" is whether the Bible is to be a stand-alone set of documents, or if it's part of a large "Deposit of Faith."  This is a question that not a few Christians have been troubled by, and an obvious place to look for answers is Scripture.  The trouble is, going to the NIV gives a very misleading answer.  Look at these verses:
Matthew 15:1-9
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "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? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
"'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
The parallel passage in Mark 7 is pretty similar.  Then you have Galatians 1:14, in which St. Paul says that before his conversion, "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers."  And Paul later commands 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.Those are the only times the term "tradition" appears in the NIV New Testament: it's always negative.  So someone reading only the NIV comes away thinking that tradition is something that is always at risk of getting in the way of right relationship with God.

But that's not all the New Testament says on Tradition.  Let's switch versions of the Bible for a second.  Here's the NAB version of a few critical passages:
  • In 1 Corinthians 11:2, St. Paul writes, "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you."
  • Likewise, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, he writes: "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours."
  • In the next chapter, 2 Thes. 3:6, Paul says, "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us."
In all of these examples, Paul is using paradosis, the exact same word used in Matthew 15, Mark 7, Galatians 1:14, and Colossians 2:8.  And he's treating Apostolic paradosis, that is, Apostolic Tradition, as something vital which all believers must be held to: ordering us to follow the.  But unless you're a really careful reader of the NIV, you'd never know this.  Why?  Because whenever paradosis is used in a negative sense, it's translated "traditions," and whenever it's used in a positive sense, it's translated "teachings," with a little footnotes saying "or traditions."  Most folks likely miss that footnote, and these positive texts don't come if you use the BibleGateway search feature to find "tradition" mentioned in the NIV. 

Now the word didaktos, used in Matthew 15:9, actually does mean teachings.  But frankly, even though it's not the most accurate translation, I'm not opposed to paradosis being translated "teachings."  Just don't selectively translate it so that it's a teaching if it's good, and a tradition if it's bad. Nothing in the original text supports that.  That's just altering the text of the Bible to fit a Protestant belief, rather than deriving that belief from the Bible.

This is a huge diference, because it misleads Christians who are trying to find answers from their Bibles.  While the NIV acts if the Bible condemns all tradition, the original Greek texts of the Bible make a very clear distinction: tradition from the Jewish elders, the so-called "traditions of men," are condemned (or at least viewed with suspicion), while traditions from the Apostles are praised. In fact, we're ordered in the name of Jesus Christ to shun anyone who doesn't follow Aposotolic Tradition.

The trouble is that the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals have a long-standing tradition that tradition is bad, and were willing to warp Scripture to accord with their tradition.  As Christ said in Matthew 15:6, "Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Eucharistic Poem

A friend of mine wrote a Eucharistic poem that I really enjoy, and he gave me permission to post it here.  It's beautiful, and I think it explains the theology of the Eucharist quite well.  Enjoy:

On the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
"I AM and I am sacrifice,
Eternal Lamb of God."
Two natures hung upon the cross:
The broken Son of Man for men to sense,
The broken Son of God for sins, which does
Repair the rift that from eternity
Did tear us and enslave each man to time.

"This is My Body, broken for the sins of every man,
Who fearing Me and trembling does approach me with no stain
This is My Blood, the covenant, shed once for all to bathe
The saints, in robes of white, with palm boughs bowed before My throne
Who sing of My eternal glory.”

Thus Christ, eternal, once in time for all His sheep did make
Eternal sacrifice, but for His sheep did give them shepherds;
Endowed with God’s own power they can bridge the great divide;
Between eternity and time, each calls the Breath of God
To consecrate each species into God’s entire Son.

The sacrifice upon the Altar is the Lamb of God,
While in our memory It is the Son of Man once slain.
For in His Body, glorified, the nails that pierced His flesh
And lance that pierced His side to give birth to His bride, the Church,
Still mark the Lamb, we see His sacrifice upon the cross
is part of His eternal Body.

We do not sacrifice again the Son of Man once slain,
But actually participate in that same sacrifice
On Calvary of our eternal King.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interesting NY Times Article on Conservative Catholic Bloggers

The New York Times has an article entitled "Catholic Bloggers Aim to Purge Dissenters."  As you might have guessed from the silly title, it's about conservative/orthodox Catholics.  The article tries to understand why at this moment in history, we're seeing a sudden surge in conservative Catholic blogs online, and why their often hostile to their own bishops.  There are four sections which, taken together, paint a good picture of what's going on in the Church in America today.

First, there's the opening paragraph, which is excellent: "Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it's not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn't Catholic enough. " It accurately notes that liberals have been agitating for changes in the Church for decades, and that theological conservatives (note how the author distinguishes from political conservatives) are now pushing back.  But why now, and why online?

The article also notes that this is occurring in the midst of a sea-change in the episcopacy, with the old liberal guard dying out, and a younger, more orthodox, episcopacy replacing them:
The rise in lay conservative fervor comes at a time when the need for activism would seem less urgent. The U.S. hierarchy has seen a wave of retirements in recent years that has swept out leading liberals. The men taking their place are generally more traditional and willing to take a harder line against disobedient Catholics, from politicians to parishioners.
This tidbit alone shows that the whole notion of "theological progressivism" is false: the "progress" is against theological innovations, and active Catholic youth are a more orthodox bunch than their elders.  This actually hints at the answer, but I'll wait to explain that below.

The third tidbit explains gives a much clearer sense of why the Internet has been where this has all gone down: "The activists also say that since the 1970s, after the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, liberals have filled the bureaucracy of the church, hiding dissent from the bishops they serve. " This is really two points in one: the Church bureaucracy is filled with people who have agendas often diametrically opposed to Catholicism; and these people are in a position to filter the news that gets to bishops.  The first point is certainly true; the second one, I can't speak to.  Some bishops, like Abp. Chaput, are Internet-savvy, fielding and responding to e-mails and generally aware of the world around them.  Other bishops, particularly older ones, probably still rely on assistants to tell them what's going on, and that's far from ideal.  In my own experience, I had two troubling incidents in which I had cause to speak to Bp. Finn of Kansas City, MO.  The first time, I had his e-mail address (somehow), touched base with him and he responded right away, helpfully.  The second time, I couldn't find his e-mail address, and left a message for him with a secretary, and never heard back.  Whether he ever got the message or not, I can't say. Related to this is the last tidbit:
Many of the conservatives most active online had spent years raising the alarm about dissent on their own in their local dioceses without much effect. Now, they feel they are finally being heard online.

"There's a general sense among many faithful Catholics that no matter how much they write their bishops, no matter how much they go to the pastors, all of these unfaithful things keep getting taught," Voris said. "I think enough Catholics are saying, 'That's it. I've had it.'"
The short answer is simple: the older generation was liberal, and are still in power in many chanceries and parish offices; the younger generation are much more conservative, and aren't in power institutionally ... but are really good at using the Internet, unlike their elders.  The slightly longer answer is that the aftermath of Vatican II saw a generation of Catholics who treated it as a green-light for anything and everything.  In this, they were often supported by the instutitional Church, sadly.  Time Magazine once praised Cardinal Luigi Raimondi, who served as Apostolic Delegate from 1967-1973, as "a liberal who knows his limitations," and "a likable man who wants to be liked," while his successor, Abp. Jean Jadot (1973-1980), was a liberal who knew no limitations: together, these two men were responsible for the appointment of a lion's share of the nation's liberal Catholic bishops.  And these liberal bishops weren't hesitant to use their power in the name of what they considered "progress."  In a rare public move, Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island denounced discgraced Abp. Weakland for using "his own persona and authority to impose his vision of the Church upon his own fiefdom in Milwaukee, easily dismissing those who opposed him as conservative, right-wing nuts."  Weakland was far from alone.  This is why many orthodox Catholics love the Church, but struggle to love their bishops, and are hostile to Church bureaucracy.  Now, we've got an increasing number of orthodox bishops, but they're surrounded by the old guard, and are often a bit tone-deaf on important issues.  But more importantly, orthodox Catholic laity have simply stopped assuming that bishops and priests were going to do the job of evangelization, and are finally taken up the mantle themselves, in a forum the laity are well-suited for, the Web.  There's much more that could be said about the Times article, but this is what I find most important.  All in all, it's worth a read, as is Long Island Catholic's take.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Historical Claim for Catholicism

Hilaire Belloc's historical case for Catholicism is a simple enough two-part argument: (1) the early third century Church [the point in Church history where we start to get a substantial body of Patristic evidence] was clearly Catholic; and (2) the views of the Church in the third century are the views of the Church of the first.  This avoids any question of, "looking at these sayings of Christ or the Apostles, how might I interpret them?" and instead asks, "how did the earliest followers of the Apostles interpret them?"  I looked at the first of these two parts yesterday, but the important thing for today's post is Belloc's conclusion:
So much for the Catholic Church in the early third century when first we have a mass of evidence upon it. It is a highly disciplined, powerful growing body, intent on unity, ruled by bishops, having for its central doctrine the Incarnation of God in an historical Person, Jesus Christ, and for its central rite a Mystery, the transformation of Bread and Wine by priests into the Body and Blood which the faithful consume.
For now, suffice to say that this conclusion is well supported by the Patristic evidence, and if there's anyone in serious doubt on this point, I'd welcome debate on the point.  From this starting point, we can trace backwards.  The central question is whether it is likely that the third century Church is apostate, or how somehow gravely misunderstood the Apostolic teaching.  Belloc puts it quite simply:
[...] the false history which has had its own way for so many years is based upon two false suggestions of the first magnitude. The first is the suggestion that the period between the Crucifixion and the full Church of the third century was one in which vast changes could proceed unobserved, and vast perversions of original ideas be rapidly developed; the second is that the space of time during which those changes are supposed to have taken place was sufficient to account for them.
It is only because those days are remote from ours that such suggestions can be made. If we put ourselves by an effort of the imagination into the surroundings of that period, we can soon discover how false these suggestions are.
In response to the first of his opponent's two arguments, Belloc says:
The period was not one favorable to the interruption of record. It was one of a very high culture. The proportion of curious, intellectual, and skeptical men which that society contained was perhaps greater than in any other period with which we are acquainted. It was certainly greater than it is today. Those times were certainly less susceptible to mere novel assertion than are the crowds of our great cities under the influence of the modern press. It was a period astonishingly alive. Lethargy and decay had not yet touched the world of the Empire. It built, read, traveled, discussed, and, above all, criticized, with an enormous energy.

In general, it was no period during which alien fashions could rise within such a community as the Church without their opponents being immediately able to combat them by an appeal to the evidence of the immediate past. The world in which the Church arose was one; and that world was intensely vivid. Anyone in that world who saw such an institution as Episcopacy (for instance) or such a doctrine as the Divinity of Christ to be a novel corruption of originals could have, and would have, protested at once. It was a world of ample record and continual communication.
Belloc is, if anything, understating his case.  This is a Church which loudly fought over whether Christ had one or two Natures; whether He was one or two Persons; the nature of the Trinity; whether the Son was co-equal to the Father; even the seemingly academic question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, or the Father alone.  She fought over the question of how, and under what conditions, apostates could re-enter the Church, a dispute so heated that early Saints exchanged surprisingly harsh words; perhaps most tellingly, excommunications were issued in response to a controversy over ... which day to celebrate Easter.  And we're to expect that a Church this obsessed with having pure and perfect dogma would just ignore, without comment, the rise of novel heresies?   This is a Church in which "this is what we were taught from the Apostles" is considered a game-winning argument: such was Her hatred of theological novelties. Belloc continues:
Granted such a world let us take the second point and see what was the distance in mere time between this early third century of which I speak and what is called the Apostolic period; that is, the generation which could still remember the origins of the Church in Jerusalem and the preaching of the Gospel in Grecian, Italian, and perhaps African cities. We are often told that changes "gradually crept in;" that "the imperceptible effect of time" did this or that. Let us see how these vague phrases stand the test of confrontation with actual dates.

Let us stand in the years 200-210, consider a man then advanced in years, well read and traveled, and present in those first years of the third century at the celebration of the Eucharist. There were many such men who, if they had been able to do so, would have reproved novelties and denounced perverted tradition. That none did so is a sufficient proof that the main lines of Catholic government and practice had developed unbroken and unwarped from at least his own childhood. But an old man who so witnessed the constitution of the Church and its practices as I have described them in the year 200, would correspond to that generation of old people whom we have with us today; the old people who were born in the late twenties and thirties of the nineteenth century; the old people who can just remember the English Reform Bill [of 1832], and who were almost grown up during the troubles of 1848 and the establishment of the second Empire in Paris: the old people in the United States who can remember as children the election of Van Buren to the office of President: the old people whose birth was not far removed from the death of Thomas Jefferson, and who were grown men and women when gold was first discovered in California.
Now, Europe and the Faith was written in 1920, so let's update his argument ninety years. In place of the old people who were born in the late 1820s and 30s, these would be the old people born in the 1910s and 1920s, the people who barely remember the Roaring 20s, who were almost grown up at the outbreak of World War II and the establishment of the Third Reich; the old people in the United States who can remember as children the election of Coolidge or Hoover to the office of President; the old people whose birth was not far removed from the death of Woodrow Wilson, and who were grown men and women when the Hindenberg exploded.  

Belloc then steps back one lifetime more: just as the elderly man assisting Mass at the dawn of the third century would remember, as a boy, the Christianity of the middle of the second century, so too would he remember the (then elderly) Christians who'd met the Apostles:
Well, pursuing that parallel, consider next the persecution under Nero. It was the great event to which the Christians would refer as a date in the early history of the Church. It took place in Apostolic times. It affected men who, though aged, could easily remember Judea in the years connected with Our Lord's mission and His Passion. St. Peter lived to witness, in that persecution, to the Faith. St. John survived it. It came not forty years later than the day of Pentecost. But the persecution under Nero was to an old man such as I have supposed assisting at the Eucharist in the early part of the third century, no further off than the Declaration of Independence is from the old people of our generation. An old man in the year 200 could certainly remember many who had themselves been witnesses of the Apostolic age, just as an old man today remembers well men who saw the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The old people who had surrounded his childhood would be to St. Paul, St. Peter and St. John what the old people who survived, say, to 1845, would have been to Jefferson, to Lafayette, or to the younger Pitt. They could have seen and talked to that first generation of the Church as the corresponding people surviving in the early nineteenth century could have seen and talked with the founders of the United States.
Updating, we might say that the persecution under Nero was to the old man assisting at the Eucharist in the early third century was no further off than the Civil War was to the old people of our generation: and an old man in the year 200 could certainly remember witnesses of the Apostolic age, just as an old man today remembers well men who saw Reconstruction or the Industrial Revolution.  The old people who had surrounded his childhood would be to St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John what the old people who survived, say, to 1935, would have been to William Jennings Bryan, to Wilbur Wright, or to Queen Victoria.  They could have seen and talked to the first generation of the Church as the corresponding people surviving in the early twentieth century could have seen and talked with the generals of the Union Army.

In other words, the chasm from the Apostles to the beginning of the third century isn't as hard to cross as we might imagine: there were, in the second century, elderly Christians who had learned from the Apostles in their youth, living with and teaching young Christians who would grow up to see the third century.  Considering that the Apostle John is believed to have died around 100 A.D., there were likely those even into the latter part of the 100s who remembered him well.  Belloc concludes, rightly:
 It is quite impossible to imagine that the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Rite of Initiation (Baptism in the name of the Trinity), the establishment of an Episcopacy, the fierce defence of unity and orthodoxy, and all those main lines of Catholicism which we find to be the very essence of the Church in the early third century, could have risen without protest. They cannot have come from an innocent, natural, uncivilized perversion of an original so very recent and so open to every form of examination.

That there should have been discussion as to the definition and meaning of undecided doctrines is natural, and fits in both with the dates and with the atmosphere of the period and with the character of the subject. But that a whole scheme of Christian government and doctrine should have developed in contradiction of Christian origins and yet without protest in a period so brilliantly living, full of such rapid intercommunication, and, above all, so brief, is quite impossible.
Thus, even if we had no evidence whatsoever of what the Christians of the first or second century believed, the mere fact that we do have historical evidence that there was a stable Christian community obsessed with doctrinal accuracy, loathing theological novelty, and holding fast to what they claimed was Tradition into the early third century would make it quite likely that theres was the authentic Apostolic Faith.  But we're not left with only third century writings.  Those relatively few post-Apostolic first and second century writings we do have are in complete harmony with the picture of the third century Church, and show the Church as an institutional structure much earlier than 200 A.D.:
Such is known to have been, in a very brief outline, the manner of the Catholic Church in these early years of the third century. Such was the undisputed manner of the Church, as a Christian or an inquiring pagan would have been acquainted with it in the years 160-200 and onwards.
I have purposely chosen this moment, because it is the moment in which Christian evidence first emerges upon any considerable scale. Many of the points I have set down are, of course, demonstrably anterior to the third century. I mean by "demonstrably" anterior, proved in earlier documentary testimony. That ritual and doctrine firmly fixed are long anterior to the time in which you find them rooted is obvious to common sense. But there are documents as well. Thus, we have Justin Martyr. He was no less than sixty years older than Tertullian. He was as near to the Crucifixion as my generation is to the Reform Bill—and he gave us a full description of the Mass.
We have the letters of St. Ignatius. He was a much older man than St. Justin—perhaps forty or fifty years older. He stood to the generations contemporary with Our Lord as I stand to the generation of Gladstone, Bismarck, and, early as he is, he testifies fully to the organization of the Church with its Bishops, the Eucharistic Doctrine, and the Primacy in it of the Roman See.
Tertullian was born in about 160, and was in active ministry during the period Belloc's describing.  Justin Martyr was born about 103, and died about 165.  When he wrote his First Apology (about 150 A.D.) with its full description of the Mass, he was well past "over the hill," had been an adult for nearly three decades, and yet we were still not 120 years past the Crucifixion.  Ignatius, being forty or fifty years older than Justin  (actually, some sources place his birth as far back as 35 A.D.) was simply a generation younger than those who heard Apostles.  He stood to the contemporaries of our Lord as I stand to contemporaries of John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon, and as Belloc notes, his letters are chock full of Catholic doctrine.

Conclusion

This is the Catholic historical claim in a nutshell: that whether one believes or disbelieves the Catholic claim, it's nigh upon undeniable that the Catholic claim is as old as She claims it is.  You can claim "the Catholic Church is wrong," or "the Pope is wrong," but you must recognize that you're saying, in essence, is "the students of the Apostles were wrong," and really, that "the Apostles were wrong."  And just to hammer this home, you'll note that this argument doesn't require you to first assume the Catholic Church is infallible.  It requires you only to consider the ancient historical evidence, and consider the likeilhood that the Church, such as it was, could have so thoroughly accidentally misunderstood the teachings of the Apostles.  Because remember: at the end of the day, there's no dispute that the early Christian martyrs gleefully went to an early grave to honor Christ and to avoid embracing heresy. It's just unthinkable that a group which gave their lives so willingly for the cause wouldn't know what the cause was, given that they had living resources (in the form of innumerable eyewitnesses) capable of correcting them at any turn.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Early Church Was a Single, Organized Church

Today's post is the first of what I forsee as two outlining Hilarie Belloc's solid historical case for Catholicism from Europe and the Faith.  He makes two major points: first, the Church in the early 200s is clearly Catholic; and second, the Church in the early third century  accurately reflects what was taught in the first century.  Both of these points, as he was quick to note, are sheer history, not theology:
I would beg the reader to note with precision both the task upon which we are engaged and the exact dates with which we are dealing, for there is no matter in which history has been more grievously distorted by religious bias.
The task upon which we are engaged is the judgment of a portion of history as it was. I am not writing here from a brief. I am concerned to set forth a fact. I am acting as a witness or a copier, not as an advocate or lawyer. And I say that the conclusion we can establish with regard to the Christian community on these main lines is the conclusion to which any man must come quite independently of his creed. He will deny these facts only if he has such bias against the Faith as interferes with his reason. A man's belief in the mission of the Catholic Church, his confidence in its divine origin, do not move him to these plain historical conclusions any more than they move him to his conclusions upon the real existence, doctrine and organization of contemporary Mormonism. Whether the Church told the truth is for philosophy to discuss: What the Church in fact was is plain history. The Church may have taught nonsense. Its organization may have been a clumsy human thing. That would not affect the historical facts.
So that's the ground on which this exploration occurs: ideally, any unbiased researcher, regardless of faith, could agree upon these set facts.  With that, let's look at his first point: that the Early Church was an Organized Church.

Setting the Stage 

Belloc begins by establishing that at the beginning of the third century, Christianity is the Catholic Church. He's chosen the dawn of the third century for good reason: there's a lot of historical evidence from the Church Fathers.  A Church History website gives the following timeline of the First Era of Persecution, leading from the time of Nero up to the early third century:
  • 64        Nero burns Rome
  • 70        The Destruction of Jerusalem
  • 81        Domitian Persecution Begins
  • 98        Trajan Persecution Begins
  • 100      Justin Martyr is Born
  • 108      Martyrdom of Ignatius
  • 117      Hadrian Persecution Begins
  • 130      Conversion of Justin Martyr
  • 130      Irenaeus Is Born
  • 138      Antoninus Pius Persecution Begins
  • 150      Clement of Alexandria Is Born
  • 153      Justin Writes First Apology
  • 155      Martyrdom of Polycarp
  • 155      Tertullian Is Born
  • 160      Justin Writes Dialogue with Trypho
  • 161      Marcus Aurelius Persecution Begins
  • 165      Martyrdom of Justin
  • 178      Irenaeus Is Bishop of Lyon
  • 178      Celsus Writes True Reason
  • 185      Iraneaus Writes Against Heresies
  • 185      Origen Is Born
  • 189      Clement of Alexandria Begins to Write
  • 193      Septimius Severus Persecution Begins
  • 197      Tertullian Begins to Write
  • 200      Cyprian of Carthage Is Born
  • 211      Caracalla Persecution Begins
So this is an era in which some of the most famous Church Fathers lived and died (often as martyrs).  We have written evidence to that faith which they died for, and at this point, there's no serious risk that the Roman Empire is somehow manufacturing Christianity.  They are, after all, mortal foes at this point. 

How We Can Know This Was an Organized Church

Belloc, describing this point in history, makes a few important observations:
  1. There's a clear three-tiered Church structure.  There are bishop, presbyters, and deacons.  The mythical two-tiered structure which we discussed last week isn't even a possibility, since the documents we have clearly distinguish between bishops and presbyters.
  2. You either were, or were not, a member of the Church.  A Roman who sympathizes with the Christians, models his life off of Christ, and has leanings towards believing in the Divinity of Christ, but who isn't a Baptized member of the Church... isn't a Christian, at least in the sense the early Church is using the term.  This isn't to say that the Church wasn't already plagued with multitudes of lukewarm Christians: She was.  There were certainly many Baptized who disgraced their Baptism, but that's the key.  Take, for example, the practice of many early believers to put off Baptism until late in life: the reason was that they knew that once Baptized, they were Christians, and a whole lot more was expected of them than as sympathetic pagans.  Or take the controversies raging in the Church about the Baptized Christians who, under pain of torture, renounced Christ.  There were real questions about how to handle such people, precisely because Baptism (as a one-time event) couldn't be repeated, and these individuals had fallen into startlingly grave sin. 
  3. Membership in the Church was membership in a society: Belloc calls the Church a "State-within-a-State," and the term is accurate.  The Church of the third century polices Herself, excommunicates those She feels aren't abiding by Her rules, and onwards.
  4. Doctrine is clearly defined, and believers aren't simply free to interpret doctrines anew, coming to contrary conclusions to what's been established.
In a moment of pure brilliance, Belloc then points to the nature of the early heretics to prove his point:
The reader may here object: "But surely there was heresy after heresy and thousands of men were at any moment claiming the name of Christian whom the orthodox Church rejected. Nay, some suffered martyrdom rather than relinquish the name."
True; but the very existence of such sects should be enough to prove the point at issue.
These sects arose precisely because within the Catholic Church (1) exact doctrine, (2) unbroken tradition, and (3) absolute unity, were, all three, regarded as the necessary marks of the institution. The heresies arose one after another, from the action of men who were prepared to define yet more punctiliously what the truth might be, and to claim with yet more particular insistence the possession of living tradition and the right to be regarded as the centre of unity. No heresy pretended that the truth was vague and indefinite. The whole gist and meaning of a heresy was that it, the heresy, or he, the heresiarch, was prepared to make doctrine yet more sharp, and to assert his own definition.
What you find in these foundational times is not the Catholic Church asserting and defining a thing and then, some time after, the heresiarch denying this definition; no heresy comes within a hundred miles of such a procedure. What happens in the early Church is that some doctrine not yet fully defined is laid down by such and such a man, that his final settlement clashes with the opinion of others, that after debate and counsel, and also authoritative statement on the part of the bishops, this man's solution is rejected and an orthodox solution is defined. From that moment the heresiarch, if he will not fall into line with defined opinion, ceases to be in communion; and his rejection, no less than his own original insistence upon his doctrine, are in themselves proofs that both he and his judges postulate unity and definition as the two necessary marks of Catholic truth.
No early heretic or no early orthodox authority dreams of saying to his opponent: "You may be right! Let us agree to differ. Let us each form his part of 'Christian society' and look at things from his own point of view." The moment a question is raised it must of its nature, the early Church being what it was, be defined one way or the other.
All of this is simply true, as a matter of history, and can be easily discerned from the writings of the early Church Fathers, and even the writings of those opposing the Church Fathers.  Both the orthodox Church and the heretical dissenters shared a common view of the Church, at heart: a view of the Church largely lost in the Protestant world: that it was a single entity which was to have a single body of doctrine. 

Belloc describes the Church of this period as "a definite, strictly ruled and highly individual Society, with fixed doctrines, special mysteries, and a strong discipline of its own." In short, we see quite plainly the Catholic Church, more or less as She looks today.  What we don't see is modern Christianity, with a multitude of politely (or impolitely) disagreeing denominations which simply consent to live apart.  Now, as discussed above, we may disagree on whether the Church in this era was right or wrong, but that's a separate question from what She was teaching.  Tomorrow, we'll follow this Catholic Church back through history, and consider whether it's likely the third century Church is apostate or an historical aberration.

Edit: Part II is now available here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Wonderful Ministry

There's a great Christian Science Monitor profile of Don Ritchie, an elderly Australian man who has saved countless lives through a little Christian charity.  He own a house near the edge of a cliff that's popular for suicide jumpers, so he does his best to invite anyone suspiciously close to the edge in for a cup of tea or a meal.  These little acts of kindness, over the course of years, have saved hundreds of lives.  The article profiles one:
Over the decades, Ritchie says, many of the faces of the people he's saved have blurred. But some he still remembers clearly, such as the woman he spotted from his bedroom window early one morning, sitting right on the cliff's edge.
"I quickly got dressed and went over," he recalls. "She had already put her handbag and shoes outside the fence, which is pretty common. They very often leave something behind – sometimes it's a note, but generally a piece of clothing.
"I said to her: 'Why don't you come over and have a cup of tea?' She came with me, and Moya made her breakfast. When she got home, she rang to say she was feeling much better. Two or three months later, she walked up the garden path with a magnum of French champagne."
It's a wonderful, inspiring story, although it's tainted by the grim fact that there are some 50 people a year he's not able to save.

Yesterday, I was talking with Fr. Arne Panula about these tiny acts in our lives that have disproportionately large effects.  The context there was on entrance into the Church: a surprisingly high number of ex-Catholics left for interpersonal reasons.  A curt reply, some brush-off, or potentially something much worse, tainted their vision of the Faith as something ugly.  On the other hand, a little Christian warmth goes a long way, particularly when someone is discerning whether they're being called towards the Church.  We can shake our heads at these tiny acts, and argue all day that these little actions don't prove or disprove the central claims of Christ and Church, but the truth remains.  Whether we like it or not, our entire lives bear witness for or against Christ, and most of the time we're not even aware we're bearing witness.  Like I said to Fr. Arne, I shudder to think of the number of people I may have turned off to Catholicism because of my own sinfulness. 

I'm reminded of Matthew 25:44-45, in which we hear the damned say:
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Of course, it's preceeded by the saved saying the same thing, where the Don Ritchies of the world ask:
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'  (Matthew 25:37-40).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three Quick Notes

(1) Catholic Information Center is hosting Yuval Levin from 6 PM onwards tonight as part of its monthly CIC Young Professionals Happy Hour. The name of Levin's speech is "Beyond the Welfare State," and CIC has issued an open invitation to "Gather the Jews," a the Jewish counterpart to CIC Young Professionals, and is offering kosher plates to try and encourage a solid Catholic and Jewish turnout.  These events are always packed to the gills, although most people don't get there until closer to 7 (when the talk actually begins).  Levin is Jewish, but his wife and kids (if I'm not mistaken) are Catholic, and he's one of the authors thanked in the front of Robbie George's Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.  It sounds like a pretty fascinating event, and CIC's previous happy hours have been outstanding: Fr. Paul Scalia, Hadley Arkes, etc.

(2) If you can't make it to that, perhaps you'd rather watch Jeopardy!  My friend Matt DeTura has been on the show this week.  He's won three days in a row, tonight being his fourth.  He taped the episodes two months ago, but has given absolutely no indication how well he's done (if anything, his non-chalance made it seem like he would have lost by now).  He's Georgetown's Ken Jenning.  On a personal note, he tried for a while to get a friend of mine and I to do Monday night trivia at a local bar, but we couldn't because of class.  You can bet I'm kicking myself on that one.  As a new lawyer, I'm sure Matt has some compunctions about the whole notion of Double Jeopardy!, but once he discovers he can get rid of student loan debt by knowing which bill or coin has a president's estate on the back of it, I'm sure he'll get past it.  (The answer is the nickel, which features Monticello, and knowing this won him Game 1).

(3) Let it be known that Cardinal Burke is the only St. Louis Cardinal I will ever support.

The Eucharistic Martyrs

Yesterday was my first Men's Group with our new priest, Fr. Kelly, and I've got to say I'm pretty thrilled.  We were talking about the upcoming readings for this Sunday, and he drew a parallel which ties in perfectly to the last post on St. Ignatius. 

In this Sunday's Second Reading, 2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18, St. Paul begins, "I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand," a sentiment very similar to the one he expresses in Philippians 2:17.  Fr. Kelly noted that this is extremely Eucharistic: the libation is the wine which is poured as a sacrificial offering.  In Exodus 29:38-41, for example, the Israelites were to pour a quarter of a hin (about 2 liters, or a half-gallon) of wine onto the sacrifical lamb as part of the consecration of priests.  It's no stretch to say that this prefigures the Eucharist.  This is best seen in the consecration Jesus performs in Mark 14:24 at the Last Supper, where He says, "This is My Blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many."  He's at the Last Supper, fulfilling in His very Person the Paschal Lamb, and then He shows that He's also fulfilling the pouring of the wine through the shedding of His Blood.  He "poured out His life," as God foretold He would in Isaiah 53:12.  So Paul's viewing himself as on the verge of being poured out as a sacrificial offerring for Christ, like the wine of the Old Testament and the Blood of Christ.

Fr. Kelley then connected this with St. Ignatius of Antioch, who said in his letter to the Romans (which we were looking at yesterday), "I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." These are some of the most beautiful, and most Eucharistic, things I've ever heard.   Paul's mere blood, like the wine of old, is of no real value of itself; likewise, Ignatius' body, like the wheat of old, is of no real value of itself.  But in offering these things up to God, becoming a libation, or God's wheat, you unite your sacrifice to Christ's, and just as the mere wheat and wine at Communion become the Body and Blood of Christ, in offerring up their own bodies and blood in martyrdom, these two saints shared in the divine nature of Christ as well.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ignatius of Antioch on the Structure of the Early Church

Called to Communion has a great post up exploring what St. Ignatius of Antioch said about the structure of the Church in his seven letters.  Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch from about 70 A.D. to 107 A.D., when he was martyred for refusing to worship the emperor.  And his letters are chock full of (1) references to the three-fold structure of the Church (bishop, priest/presbyter, deacon); (2) instructions to obey your bishop; and (3) a recognition that each city had only one bishop.


I. Are Bishops the Same As Presbyters?


All of this is really helpful to note, for two reasons.  First, many Protestants argue that bishops and presbyters are different titles for the same office, because the Bible is less than clear on whether it's one office or two being described.  At least part of this confusion stems from the fact that bishop, presbyter, and deacon mean "overseer," "elder," and "server," respectively, and it's not always clear when they're using "overseer" as a formal title, and when it's just as an adjective.  Ignatius clarifies any confusion about the structure of the Church, by referring to the bishop and the presbyters of the Magnesians by name:
“Since, then, I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ, [I now write to you].”
This is from Chapter two of the Epistle to the Magnesians.  If you pay careful attention, this passage also offers one possibility for why the Bible sometimes seems to treat bishops and presbyters as interchangable.  After all, Magnesia apparently has a total of one bishop, two presbyters, and a deacon (although, of course, it's quite possible that there were more that Ignatius never met).  It's certainly not unthinkable that in the earliest days of the Church, a single individual was the only ordained priest in a city with a small Christian population, serving both as both priest and bishop.


In fact, in nearly every letter Ignatius writes, he instructs the faithful to obey their bishop (singular) and the presbytery and the deacons.  I'm not going to go through all of the evidence, both since it gets repetitive quickly and because Called to Communion does, but other than his epistle to the Romans (which we'll get to below), Ignatius hammers this theme constantly.  Whenever a church starts to go astray, he says, essentially, "Obey your bishop!"  He also notes that in his absence (since he's been arrested), Syria is without a shepherd other than God Himself.  It couldn't be much clearer that there's a single bishop in charge of each city. 


II. Was Rome Run by a Group of Presbyter-Bishops?


But the second point of confusion that this lays to rest is this notion, created in recent years, that in the early Church, everything was run by a body, the presbytery.  This argument specifically comes up in regards to Rome.  One of the cleverest attacks on the notion of the papacy is that while Rome may have been pre-eminent in the early Church, She was run by a group of presbyters in college, not by a single bishop supported by presbyters.  Keith Mathison argues for it on page 51 of The Shape of Sola Scriptura:
Although Rome traces the origin of the papacy to the Apostle Peter, the historical evidence indicates that there was no monarchal bishop in Rome until sometime between A.D. 140-150 [footnote 5]. Instead of a single bishop, it appears that the Roman church was organized under a college of presbyters of presbyter-bishops. No evidence exists for any claims to jurisdictional supremacy by Rome in the first century. The first historical instances of Roman bishops claiming any type of jurisdictional priority outside of Rome occurred in the late second and early third century.
Mathison's really making two points: the early Church at Rome had a two-fold structure, and Rome wasn't in charge.  The book which Mathison is citing in footnote 5 for the first of these points is Antioch and Rome, and it's pretty good, from what I've read of it.  It treats the Church Fathers seriously, although far too much is read into silence, and the notion that the early Church had a two-fold structure isn't very supported.  Still, it's worth hearing what the authors of Antioch and Rome say of Ignatius' letter to the Romans (on page 202 of their book):
Ignatius' greeting "to the church that presides in the chief place of the country of the Romans" is more fulsome and laudatory than that to any other church. The Church of Rome is "worthy of honor, worthy of felicitation, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of holiness.” [...] In particular, it is a church “preeminent in love” (see also 2:2, 3:2), a church that has never been jealous, indeed a church that has taught others (3:1).
All of this is true, and irrefutible, from Ignatius' letter.  So already we see Ignatius being surprisingly deferential to the Church at Rome.  The reference to the Church at Rome as one "which presides" at Rome is frequently misread as if Ignatius is saying it "resides" at Rome.  He's not.  He's saying that the Church at Rome is running things from Rome.  That's a claim to Roman primacy.  So is the idea that Rome is Church which is "preeminent in love."  Recall Christ's instructions for leadership in Luke 22:25-27, and you'll see that Ignatius is saying that they're leading lovingly, as they're called to do.  Also, in John 21:15, the commission of Peter is tied to the fact that he loved Christ more than the rest of the Apostles did -- as many commenters have noted, this establishes in no uncertain terms that Petrine leadership is to be done in love, not through blunt force.  So when Ignatius says that Rome is "preeminent in love," these words should also recall Christ's: "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? [...] Feed My lambs." Finally, Ignatius recognizes that they're already instructing other churches.  The authors of Antioch and Rome get what's going on, at least partially.  On page 165, they say of Rome:
Any Christian community (especially a preeminent community with an apostolic heritage) may have had the right in Christ to correct another community, but in fact Rome seems to have exercised this right more frequently than any other church of the period and seems to have felt that such an exercise was expected. […] One can never discount the possibility that the church of the capital city of the empire felt some responsibility for Christianity throughout the empire; but the chief source of Rome’s care is more likely to have had religious rather than political roots.
So they acknowledge that Rome has an apparent role of religious leadership in the early Church (although they stop short of, and indeed reject, that this is jurisdictional primacy, since the authors are both liberal Catholic priests).  But they argue that Rome, and Rome alone, "still" has presbyter-bishops at this point.  And their arguments on this point are remarkably weak. First of all, they concede the argument in part I of this post, that Ignatius attests to the three-tiered structure of the Church:
Instead of a group of prophets and teachers, we find a clearly delineated three-tier structure of hierarchy of one bishop, a group of presbyters (the council of elders or presbyterion) and a group of deacons (e.g. Magnesians 2-3).
Clearly, the bishop is the leader. Without him, nothing is to be done, no rite is to be celebrated, including baptism and the eucharist.
But then they try and argue that Rome is the exception. Why? Two reasons. First, in Ignatius' letter to the Romans, "No single-bishop is mentioned in Rome, probably because the church still had the twofold structure of presbyter-bishops and deacons."  (page 202).  They repeat this argument from silence on page 163:
Indeed, the signal failure of Ignatius (ca. 110) to mention the single-bishop in his letter to the Romans (a very prominent theme in his other letters) and the usage of Hermas, which speaks of plural presbyters (Vis. 2.4.2) and bishops (Sim. 9.27.2), make it likely that the single-bishop structure did not come to Rome till ca. 140-150.
But then they make the polar opposite argument in a footnote:
As Meier has shown (p. 77 above) to explain Ignatius' insistence on and defense of the threefold order, one must posit that the single-bishop model appeared in Antioch and Asia Minor ca. 100. In the period under discussion Rome shows itself slow to accept innovations.

So if Ignatius mentions a three-tiered structure, this must mean that nobody believed in it, and he has to "defend" it, and if he doesn't mention a three-tiered structure, that must mean it didn't exist in that city.  So no matter what he says or doesn't say, we can thus conclude there were presbyter-bishops.  That's pretty terrible scholarship.  After all, if Ignatius only wrote about the three-tiered structure to defend the notion of this novelty, we'd expect to see him only write about it to Rome, since apparently only Rome didn't practice it.  Why would he be convincing the Christians who already agree with him, and then not bring it up to the Christians who don't?  Anyways, here's a much better conclusion from the facts: 
  1. Ignatius mentions, but doesn't defend, the single-bishop structure.  That is, he recognizes it exists in the context of telling rabble-rousers in the churches he's writing to that they need to obey their bishop.  Nowhere does he attempt to defend the idea that there are three tiers, he simply assumes his readers know it's true -- his emphasis isn't "there are three tiers," but "you need to obey all three tiers."
  2. He doesn't give this exhortation to Rome for two obvious reasons.  First, they're already obedient: he makes this clear.  Second, unlike his other letters (which are encouraging the churches to obey their leaders), the letter of Rome is to thank them for their support on his way to martyrdom.  It reads almost nothing like the other letters, because the theme and tone are totally different.
  3. Ignatius mentions the single-bishop structure to the Romans, but doesn't defend it.  Namely, he says in Chapter 2 of his letter, "Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared; that, being gathered together in love, you may sing praise to the Father, through Christ Jesus, that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west." In Chapter 9, he says, "Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it]."  So he is treating the Romans as if they already are acquainted with the idea of having a single bishop.
This doesn't require any absurd mental gymnastics, or any far-fetched conclusions from silence, the way that the conclusions in Antioch and Rome do.  That leaves the last bit of evidence in favor of "presbyter-bishops," that Shepherd of Hermas refers to bishops, plural.  This is true, but irrelevant.  The section deals with the global Church, and everyone believes that there are multiple bishops throughout the Church. 

Conclusion

Given this, let's go back to Mathison's two claims: (1)the early Church at Rome had a two-fold structure, and (2) Rome wasn't in charge.  The first of these isn't true, as we've seen: there's not any good evidence that Ignatius is innovating here; in fact, the overwhelming weight of the evidence is that he's not.  Ignatius even says himself, in Chapter 3 of his letter to the Ephesians, of the single-bishop structure of the Church:
“For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ.” (c. 3)
So Ignatius is writing about how this is the global characteristic of the Church.  And we're to believe that this was some novelty he'd crafted, and that it wasn't practiced for another generation in Rome, the center of Christianity?  That explaination doesn't hold any water.  The second of Mathison's claims, that Rome wasn't in a position of authority, is also false, and here, Antioch and Rome is instructive, since it draws out the fact that Ignatius viewed Rome as the presiding Church, preeminent in love, and teaching other churches.  Nope, Ignatius attests to a global three-tiered structure in existence as early as the beginning of the second century.  And Ignatius is a student of the Apostle John: we can trust that he isn't intentionally perverting the structure the Apostles created, nor is he ignorant of what the structure of the Church they established is.  So if Ignatius says the Church has three tiers (and he does, over and over again), we can believe him.  Finally, if you're interested in reading more about what the Church looked like in the time of Ignatius, you should check out Called to Communion's post.

Two Great New American Cardinals!

Congratulations to Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Cardinal Burke (formerly of St. Louis) on their ascension to the College of Cardinals. The pope today made a big announcement: he appointed a whopping 24 new bishops as Cardinals.  You can find the full list here. The few men on this list that I know anything about make me very pleased with the choices Benedict has picked overall. These men will choose, with God's help, our next pope.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Protestantism's Catch-22: Schism or Heresy?

The Protestant Problem
A Presbyterian and a Calvinist Baptist, after months of carefully studying Scripture, and maybe even extra-Scriptural sources, become convinced that the other person's church is correct on the question of infant baptism. That is, the Presbyterian concludes that the Baptist view is right, and vice versa. What should they do? Split from their church, or submit to teachings that they now believe to be false?  Or put another way, should they conclude it's their church or themselves that's wrong?

Between Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists, this is almost the only issue dividing the two.  We're not talking about a liberal v. conservative Christian, or a nominal v. a dedicated one.  We're talking about two groups of serious, God-fearing Christians who strive to obey God, and who hold each other's denomination in generally high esteem.  In fact, Calvinist Baptists are in many regards closer to Presbyterians than they are to other Baptists, but this question of infant Baptism has proven a real sticking point.  And rightfully so: even if it were the only issue which divided them (and it's not, at least, not quite), it's a huge one, on the level of "is my kid a Christian?" and "do I need to be re-baptized, now that I'm an adult?"  The importance of the second question is enormous.  If you're supposed to get Baptized and don't, that's a soul-imperiling sin, while getting repeatedly Baptized is also dangerously sinful.

So that leads to the catch-22 I referenced in the title: do you choose heresy, submitting to a false doctrine you know to be wrong, or schism?  Scripture damns both: 2 Peter 2:1-3 makes clear that false doctrine is damnable, while Galatians 5:19-21 condemns schism: namely, "discord," dissensions," and "factions."  So whichever choice you opt for, you're potentially imperiling your soul.  A Protestant seminary student I'm friends with sort of threw his hands up about this issue a couple nights ago when I asked him about it.  His original feeling was that, "I think schism, as bad as it is, better then adherence to wrong theology."  But when I pointed out that Scripture says that schismatics won't inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, he replied: "So then what is the option? To live under and accept wrong theology?"

Catholicism offers a way out of this Catch-22, and to my knowledge, the only way out of this Catch-22.  Catholicism claims of the Church that She's the final arbiter of Truth, and has the Authority to settle controversies dividing the Body of Christ, when necessary. She claims to be both infallible and protected by the Holy Spirit, and freely speaks on His behalf.  In this, She follows closely the example laid out in Sacred Scripture in places like Matthew 18:17-18, 1 Timothy 3:15, Acts 15, along with a litany of other verses.  She says to Her followers, in short, "When in doubt, trust that I have the answers and will never steer you into heresy."  But Protestantism rejects all this, and the result is an utter disaster.

Protestantism has no such institution or organization that anyone can look to and say, "This body says the Bible means x on this point, therefore it HAS to mean x."  At its best, when Protestantism is healthy, you have the best guesses of holy men based upon their careful reading of Scripture. That's good enough much of the time, but on a handful of issues, including some incredibly important ones, even holy and brilliant Christians disagree.  At worst, you have something much worse: denominations changing to keep up with the times, jettisoning timeless truths to seem relevant.  And the appalled believer is left with a terrible choice: to leave his denomination for another (one he perhaps doesn't agree with, either, but is right on whatever issue strikes him as particularly important), or to simply go with the flow, even when he sees the waterfalls ahead?

This has lead to a disturbing phenomenon, one from which the Catholic Church has not been immune: namely, individuals decide that Christianity teaches, or ought to teach, a certain doctrine.  If their own church doesn't teach it, they then quit that church and finds one that does (or give up on organized Christianity as a whole, or start their own church).  Rather than submitting to the shepherds God placed over us (Jeremiah 3:15), the laity are demanding that the shepherds submit to them.  The whole balance of authority laid out in the Bible gets flipped on its head.  But while Catholics and Protestants have both suffered from this, the Catholic Church can at least sanely declare: this is schism, and it's sinful.  A similarly-situated Protestant can't say that.  Perhaps it's sinful schism, or perhaps the person leaving is simply the next Luther.  After all, either the Baptist or the Presbyterian Church is seriously and dangerously wrong on infant Baptism.  They have to be: their positions being opposites, they can't both be right.  So at least one of the two men discussed above is right in contemplating jumping ship.  Trouble is, how can you tell which one?

The Catholic Answer

Catholicism provides a clear answer here: both men should "jump ship," and get to the nearest Catholic church.  Both the Presbyterian and Baptist churches are man-made creations, and weren't set up by God - thus, the sin of schism doesn't attach.  On the other hand, Catholicism isn't man-made, it's Son of Man-made.  That's why it's a sin to leave Catholicism, because rejecting the Church is rejecting the manner in which God asks to be worshiped and followed.  Or to approach the question from a different direction: Christ set up a Church in Matthew 16:17-19.  While Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants disagree on much in this passage, I think we can all agree that when He says, "I will build My Church," He means He's going to build a single Church which is elsewhere called both His Body and His Bride.  He called His followers to complete unity within the Church (John 17:20-23) so that there would be "no division" within His Body (1 Corinthians 12:24-25), and His followers, particularly Paul, repeat that call to oneness in the Church (Philippians 2:1-2, Romans 15:5-6, Galatians 5:19-21, etc.).  And the early Church was called to be One: the Apostles never say in their epistles, "Maybe it's best we just separate, and worship God in our own way."  Rather, they condemn this approach, telling us instead to look out for the rest of the Body, and to be as they were, in "one accord" and "with singleness of heart" (Acts 2:46).  John 17:20 makes clear that this isn't just something for the first generation Church, but for all of us who come to believe in Christ through the teachings of the Apostles.

So was Christ, and the rest of Scripture, commanding us to obey a sometimes-heretical Church, or a perfect One?  I mean, we're told in no unclear terms in Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." If the Church sometimes teaches heresy, how could this passage possibly be true?  Look at the example of much Protestantism: when a Presbyterian decides his church is wrong on infant Baptism, he becomes a Baptist, and vice versa, submitting to the church only insofar as the church agrees with them (which is to say not submitting at all).  Hebrews 13:17 becomes null.  But Catholics, the verse is, along with all the others I cited before it, very much alive.  There are times we feel the Church is erring, yet we know that it is She, and not us, protected by the Holy Spirit. 

So Church infallibility has to be true.  If the Church can fail, She eventually will.  And when that heresy comes, believers will have to choose mortal sin (schism) or mortal sin (heresy).  Fortunately, infallibility isn't just the logically-necessary result of Christ creating One Church we're bound to obey (as seen in these last few paragraphs), but it's also both directly promised (John 14:26; John 16:13), and demonstrated in the early Church (Acts 15:28). 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lamb of God, Bread of Life

I was struck in last Thursday's post by the references in Exodus 16:8 and Ex. 16:12 tying the manna with the quail meat: "meat in the evening, bread in the morning."  It struck me then, and still strikes me, as rather Eucharistic.  Then I started to think about the other places we see this.  Two stand out as obvious choices: Exodus 12:8, at the Passover, commanded the Jews to eat the lamb and the unleaven bread.  And in John 6:48-58, Jesus describes Himself as the Bread from Heaven, and then commands that His Flesh be eaten, calling it "true food"... only the food in this context isn't bread, but meat.  There are other, perhaps less obvious, references as well.  1 Corinthians 5:7 says, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed," drawing the unleaven Bread and the Lamb together once more.  Mark 14:12 also notes the obvious parallels between the Passover Lamb and the Passover Feast of Unleaven Bread.  And strikingly, "Bethlehem" means "House of Bread" in Hebrew and "House of Meat" in Arabic, a pretty incredible clue as to the Eucharist subtly embedded into language. 

But on Sunday, I finally noticed one so obvious I'm a bit embarrassed it hadn't struck me earlier: in the Mass itself, we proclaim this connection in the middle of the Eucharist: the Agnus Dei.  We pray, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world" three times, twice ending with "have mercy on us," and the last time ending, "grant us peace."  So we affirm that Jesus is Lamb precisely because it is as the Lamb of God that Jesus is Sacrificed; then we affirm Jesus as Bread of Life, because that's what Communion acknowledges.  It's two different roles of Christ, but interconnected: when the Christ is offered to God the Father in the Eucharist, it's in rememberence of His role as Lamb, a role that continues eternally (Revelation 5:6), while the species of bread and wine are themselves recognition of the fact that Christ is the New Manna, the Bread of Life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Songs of Praise and Prayers of Worship

It's important that we take time in talking to God to step back from praying for things, and remembering just to praise Him for being God.  And when it comes to true "worship" hymns and prayers, nobody beats Catholics (although there are some great non-Catholic contributions in this field, for sure).  Anyways, I thought I'd share some of my favorites today, ones which we hear, sing, and pray so often that it's easy to overlook the beauty of what's being said about God. 

(1) Gloria in Excelsis Deo
The version I'm used to goes:
Glory to God in the highest

and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
Almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.


Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.


For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Granted, the second verse is a prayer for forgiveness, but the focus is squarely upon the majesty of God, so I'll stand by it.  Anyways, I discovered in looking up the text thtat there are a lot of other versions, and that ICEL (the Catholic liturgical folks) actually published a version that I might like even better.  The first verse of the ICEL version goes like this:
Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise You,
we bless You,
we adore You,
we glorify You,
we give You thanks for Your great glory,
Lord God, Heavenly King,
O God, Almighty Father.
It's beautiful, and it's modelled off of the prayer of the angels in Luke 2:14.  We raise these hymns of praise with the choirs of angels.  Intense.

 (2) Sanctus
This is another prayer from the Mass, and one which might get lost in the beauty of the other Eucharistic prayers.  In English, the prayer goes:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Again, the prayer is modelled off of the hymns of the angels in Scripture: this time, Isaiah 6:3.  It's beautiful.  Once you know what's being said, I think the Latin version is actually more beautiful, if only that
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.
It may just be that, for me, praying it in Latin hints at the prayer's transcendence. That is, we're not just offering up the intentions of our hearts, but we're offering them up with the saints around the world, and the angels and saints in Heaven, in a harmonous symphony to God.

(3) Te Deum
The Te Deum used to be a part of the Roman Liturgy, but isn't in the newer form: its absence is surely felt. In English, it goes:
O God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
believers.
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Precious Blood.
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.


V. Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance!
R. Govern them, and raise them up forever.


V. Every day we thank Thee.
R. And we praise Thy Name forever, yes, forever and ever.


V. O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.


V. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R. O Lord, in Thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.
When St. Edmund Campion and the other Jesuit martyrs were condemned to death for the faith in the sixteenth century, they broke out in praise to God for the honor of being martyred, and it was this song they raised.   Truly, Lord, "The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee."

(4) Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
It might be cheating to include this song, since it's based on the Te Deum, but it's sufficiently distinct to be worth mentioning separate.  It's a wonderful song:

Holy God, we praise Thy Name;
Lord of all, we bow before Thee!
All on earth Thy scepter claim,
All in heaven above adore Thee;
Infinite Thy vast domain,
Everlasting is Thy reign.


Hark! the loud celestial hymn
Angel choirs above are raising,
Cherubim and seraphim,
In unceasing chorus praising;
Fill the heavens with sweet accord:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord.


Lo! the apostolic train
Join the sacred Name to hallow;
Prophets swell the loud refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow;
And from morn to set of sun,
Through the Church the song goes on.


Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;
While in essence only One,
Undivided God we claim Thee;
And adoring bend the knee,
While we own the mystery.
The song is simple, in the sense that we're not asking for anything, we're not apologizing for anything, we're just saying, essentially, "You're God, and that's incredible.  That's outstanding.  Let us worship you."  I've never heard the third verse sung, but it's nice to know that it exists, because it corresponds to the middle part of the Te Deum.

Anyways, those are four of my favorite hymns and prayers of worship.  If you've got other picks, I'm interested in hearing what they are!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why an "Obligation" to attend Mass on Sunday?

A friend asked me yesterday about the basis for "the Sunday obligation."  It's a good question: the Catholic Church says that, as Catholics, we must attend Mass on Sunday (or the Vigil Mass the night before, which can be considered part of Sunday, based on the Jewish calendar), and that if we deliberately skip without good cause, we're committing mortal sin.  It really raises a few questions:
(1) Why is missing Mass a sin, rather than just a bad idea?
(2) Why do we have to attend on Sunday?
After all, if someone goes to daily Mass Monday through Friday, and again on Saturday morning, but decides not to go on Sunday or to the Saturday night Vigil, we're going to say he's in a state of mortal sin?  Yes.  And it turns out that there are a few reasons.


(1) Why Missing Mass is a Mortal Sin

The idea that deliberately missing Mass (and here, the Church is clear that this "deliberately" doesn't include good reasons like illness or taking care of infants - see CCC 1281) is sinful is found in Scripture, namely Hebrews 10:23-25, which says:
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near."
The Epistle to the Hebrews doesn't just warn against it, but provides two good reasons why it's wrong to "forsake our own assembling together":
(1) So we can "hold fast" in our own faith, and
(2) So we can encourage one another.
It's easy to think of Mass as something which we do for us, that if we skip, the only people we're hurting are ourselves. But that's not true. If you've ever been to a half-hearted parish, you'll recognize the enormous importance solid communal worship has on each of our journeys towards God.  It's naïve to think that our surroundings don't impact us, particularly at something communal like the Mass.  We're not talking about a private act, like reading silently praying, in which you draw away from the world and your surroundings, but the Mass, which draws you into the world, your neighbors, and your surroundings.  Just consider how much more enriching something like the Papal Masses are, with their throngs of Mass-goers in the hundreds of thousands, compared to an almost-empty church.  So when we skip Mass, we not only deprive ourselves, but those around us, since our presence enriches their Mass experience, whether we mean it to or not.  It's also at Mass that we most fully experience God, and grasp our relationship to Him. As Catholics, we're called to a personal relationship with Him, but also more than that: a corporate relationship with Him and each other, as members of the One Body He heads.  Since the the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is both the highest act of worship, and a communal act of worship, depriving ourselves of the Mass means depriving Him of the worship we owe Him in the form most pleasing to Him. 

That communal worship is what He seeks is clear to anyone who's read His meticulous plans for His Holy Temple, and carefully read the pattern in which Jesus formed concentric circles around Himself: His Holy Family, the Twelve, the other disciples sometimes referred to in the Gospel, the crowds, and then the world.  With the exception of His special plans for Peter, Jesus' emphasis with His followers isn't on simply following individually and privately, like Joseph of Arimathea, but openly and together.  Acts 2:42 supports this vision of what the Church is modelled to be.  Given all this, intentionally thwarting God's plans for us, because we don't think we need what He's prescribing (and don't notice or care about the impact our refusal has on our neighbor) is - to put it quite bluntly - arrogant and selfish, and an offense against God and neighbor.  So the Church makes clear it's an obligation.  Obviously, the healthiest situation is that everyone at Mass wants to be there, and understands why their presence is importance for themselves and others, but even when we don't see why we need to go, we have an obligation to obey God.  Scripture is clear on this: it's not, 'go whenever you want,' but 'do not forsake the assembly of the brethren.'


(2) Why the Obligation is Tied to Sunday

The Mass is prefigured throughout the Old Testament, most clearly in two areas: the manna and the Sabbath.  The manna from Exodus 16 shows the ideal of Mass attendance.  Exodus 16:4-12 says:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days."


So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?" Moses also said, "You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD."
Then Moses told Aaron, "Say to the entire Israelite community, 'Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.' "


While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

The LORD said to Moses, "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.' "
So the faith of the Israelites is to be tested and strengthened by daily relying upon God for sustenance. They're to receive their daily bread once per day, and twice on the day before the Sabbath.  That this is a prefigurement of something is made clear from the instructions Jesus gives us for how to pray the Our Father, in which He tells us to pray, "give us this day our Daily Bread" (Matthew 6:11).  So what's Christ referring to?

Well, the first clue is grammatical.  There are at least two different Greek words for "daily" used in the Bible which are used in the New Testament,  But here's the thing: the word used in Greek in the Our Father, epiousios, is found nowhere else in the Bible -- only in Matthew and Luke's accounts of the Lord's Prayer.  But here's where it gets fascinating: the word used here seems to have been made up -- that is, it's not just that it's the only time epiousios is used in the New Testament, but the first time it was ever used in Greek.  Like "Peter," Jesus (or the New Testament authors, depending on the language Jesus was speaking in Matthew 6) felt the need to make a new word to describe a reality apparently beyond existing language.  That's a huge hint that we're not talking about ordinary bread.

The second clue is Patristics: St. Jerome translates epiousios in Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer as "daily," but when he gets to Matthew's, he translates the same word, in the same prayer, as "supersubstantial."  He seems to be signalling meanings beyond simple need-fulfillment.

The third clue, of course, is Scriptural.  Namely, in John 6:48-51, Jesus declares:
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;  this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
This, He ties directly with the Eucharist, declaring in Jn. 52-58,
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
So the New Manna is the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ.  It's suddenly clear why, in Exodus 16, the quail and manna, described by Moses and by God as the bread and meat, are tied so closely together (see Exodus 16:8,11). This is also what's meant when we hear of the blessing and breaking of the Bread thruoghout the New Testament (essentially the only food we ever hear of being blessed in Scripture, as I outlined here). So Exodus 16 prefigures the ideal for Mass-going.  We should want to go daily, and if we go to the Vigil, twice on Saturday (once for Saturday, once for Sunday), just as the Israelites received physical bread daily, and twice on the day before the Sabbath (once for Friday, once for Saturday).  Just as the Israelites learned from this to walk by faith in the Lord, we'll do the same, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ.

Then there's the Sabbath, tied from the beginning with the manna: it's in Exodus 16 that God introduces the practice of keeping the Sabbath, even before Moses has received the Ten Commandments from Him ordering him to do the same (Ex. 16:23-25; Ex. 20:8).  If the manna represents the ideal, the Sabbath represents the bare minimum.  From the beginning, it's a commandment from the Lord (Ex. 16:23) to keep the Sabbath.  Certainly, it's a commandment dispensed with for good cause, and one made for our sake (Mark 2:27), but it's still a commandment.  Now, that commandment is tied to the Mosaic Law, but God makes it clear in the Ten Commandments that the Sabbath is holy from from the structure of Creation: "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Ex. 20:11; see Gen. 2:2-3).  So it precedes the Mosaic Law, and survives it, but in a different form.

Just as the Saturday Sabbath celebrated God's Holiness and His Creation, so the Lord's Day, Sunday, celebrates God's Holiness through His new Creation, expressed primarily in the Resurrection (John 20:1).  It's the first day of the week on the Jewish calendar, signifying the dawning light, as well as new creation (see Genesis 1:1-5; John 1:1-5; Rev 21:5).  Christians quickly understood this as the focal point of Christian worship (see Acts 20:7, for example).  St. Ignatius of Antioch, at the beginning of the second century, makes it clear that Christians view Sunday as a fulfillment and replacement of the Sabbath, and why, in his letter to the Magnesians:
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death—whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher?
So even by the time of Ignatius, although many Christians would attend Mass daily, Sunday was clearly set aside as a special day which needed to be observed and lived by, the focal-point and center of our lives.

Conclusion

To answer the question I posed earlier, about someone who attends Mass all week, but deliberately skips Sunday, that person's in grave sin for a pretty clear reason. He's not going to be saved by whatever good works going to Mass daily counts for.  Rather, he'll be judged by his faith, and faithfulness - his obedience to God.  If God-breathed Scripture says not to forsake the assembly of the brethren, and the assembly of the brethren meet on Sunday, you can't deliberately avoid it without sinning against God, regardless of whatever other good things you might do.